Last week, JS-Kit’s Echo commenting system came and went very quickly on my blog. After my dishonest experience with JS-Kit’s support staff, the over-promised/under-delivered system won’t ever be coming back to these pages. Here’s why…
As part of my recent reboot of Chicago Carless, I’ve been looking for a way to update the commenting system to give readers an easier, more enjoyable experience here on the blog. I wanted to roll out a meta-authentication system. You’ve seen these–that’s when a site gives you the opportunity to sign-in using OpenID or your favorite social-media or chat screenname. One of such commenting system, the plugin-based JS-Kit’s Echo, was recently adopted by Cnet’s Deep Tech blog and promised to automatically work with both comments and trackback pings.
The other two leading comment authentication systems, Disqus and Intense Debate, offer to do the same thing. I figured I would try them both sequentially if Echo didn’t work out. I perused JS-Kit’s support forum to see whether other Echo users were happy and they seemed to be.
Trusting the honesty of that support forum was my big mistake. I should have dug a little deeper. But I probably trusted more than I should have since Echo is a paid service–$12 a year for basic users, hundreds more per year for commercial users.
Immediately after rolling Echo, I discovered several industry standard commenting features were missing. In order to allow comments to be editable, outbound trackbacks to be sent, or inbound trackbacks to be recognized, I was forced to manually add snippets of code into my WordPress template pages. I only learned that after digging through the support forum for help. There, I found a regular stream of Echo users complaining that these features weren’t baked in to a paid service like Echo.
Echo representatives responding to these complaints directed users into JS-Kit’s support Wiki. I managed to find the code. However, I wasn’t sure if it was the right code. That’s because parts of the support Wiki was written in a haphazard style that glossed over key details. As I would soon learn, my confusion was also because JS-Kit had not bothered to completely update the support Wiki since renaming and updating their WordPress plugin in mid-2009.
I followed the instructions I found in the support Wiki as best I could anyway. I managed to get commenting editing to work. Trackbacks, however, remained unseen by Echo, no matter how I played with the code. For a deeply internally linked blog like Chicago Carless that tells a narrative story over time, not having trackbacks working would damage my strong rankings in Google search.
I went back to the support forum and left this comment reporting the support Wiki’s outdated trackback information:
“The instructions on the Wiki page to add code for receiving trackbacks on your primary theme’s comments page seem to be outdated, although the page was edited three weeks ago…The instructions seem to be for an older (pre-echo?) version of the service. So is there currently a way to enable Echo to recognize incoming trackbacks? And what specific code would I have to put where to make that happen? (Right now I have trackbacks queued in my wordpress comments queue, but of course I can’t get to them.) Thanks!”
After waiting more than 24 hours without a response, I took Echo off Chicago Carless and returned to the standard commenting system in order to capture new trackbacks. Another 24 passed before JS-Kit finally responded to my forum query. Early this morning, to my surprise, JS-Kit staff had grouped my comment into a new thread with several open tickets from other disgruntled users drawn from the past several months, all complaining about the inadequate Wiki and JS-Kit’s poor and untimely response to the problem.
Points at least to JS-Kit for announcing in their late reply that the support Wiki had finally been updated. Points taken right back away when people in the forum told JS-Kit that the new instructions were still inadequate to get trackbacks working. I wondered why my searches of the support forum hadn’t turned up these disgruntled user posts two days earlier. Although it’s worth noting, two days earlier I also wondered why the support forum for a paid service like Echo had so many open tickets and obviously canned responses, but very few people saying they were giving up on the service. Thoroughly disappointed in both JS-Kit and Echo at this point, I submitted this comment explaining why I was turning down their invitation to stick with the service”
“Igor, respectfully, no thank you. After reading all the comments in this merged thread, I have no confidence at all in JS-Kit’s ability to provide acceptable support. Changing the name of your plug-in, updating it, and not having a fully updated support Wiki on the same day isn’t acceptable. Neither was waiting 48 hours for an answer. I would think you guys want we rank-and-file bloggers to be your brand ambassadors. The story told in this merged thread suggests otherwise. I have taken Echo off my site and have returned to plain, old WordPress baked-in commenting. Why? I have never once had a problem finding the info I needed in the WordPress codex. If I ever put another meta-authentication commenting system on my blog again, it won’t be yours.”
This morning I learned why JS-Kit’s support forums seemed unrealistically rosy given the persistent problems with core features, and it’s a pretty unsavory reason. I got an automated email telling me a JS-Kit staffer had deleted my comment about losing trust in the service from the support forum. Poof! Gone. I was also disallowed from submitting a support-forum grievance regarding the deletion.
That’s no skin off my nose. There are other meta-authentication systems out there and right now Chicago Carless is doing just fine with the standard comment system. But it’s a dishonest way for any business to deal with an ongoing problem affecting core features.
I’m now forced to wonder how many other user comments expressing dissatisfaction have been similarly deleted by JS-Kit staff from their own support forums? If I had known that their loudly promoted trackback feature had been widely inoperable for months, I would never have rolled out Echo on my blog in the first place. I wonder how many other potential Echo users will end up saying the same thing now that my comment has been added to what I can only imagine to be a lengthy deletion list.
In the end, though, JS-Kit’s actions here are a great example of how not to engage your customers on behalf of your brand. As I’ve written before, the blogosphere rests on a bedrock base of transparency. Covering up problems with your paid product and acting in a dishonest manner with customers who are simply seeking a solution is a great way to develop online brand ambassadors. Just not for your brand.
I won’t tell you not to use Echo. I’ll just leave you with my story and let you decide for yourself. I left a final note on JS-Kit’s support forum protesting the comment deletion and letting them know I’d be sharing the story with my readers and followers.
I bet you know what their staff did with that comment, too.
Michael Thaddeus Doyle
I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.