First impressions: Defensio anti-spam WordPress plugin

Akismet has for long, been a worthy dominating force in the anti-spam section of WordPress plugins (and some other platforms like bbPress), but many bloggers have noticed that the accuracy of Akismet has dropped sharply in the last few days.

Coded by Matt Mullenweg, also the co-founder of WordPress, Akismet was considered the gold standard in anti-spam plugins, has been praised by top bloggers, and blocked millions of spam comments on various sites. Akismet is also now bundled along with the default install of WordPress.

However, the sheer number of spam comments slipping through to the legitimate queue worried me, and I was tempted to try out Defensio, a competitor. I had also promised to write down my thoughts on Defensio, and here are my first impressions about Defensio.


Defensio is a Ruby-on-Rails application, developed by Karabunga Inc, a small firm consisting of three developers. After months of alpha/beta testing, Defensio was launched on November 7, 2007. The launch created a lot of buzz, but sadly, the hype seems to have died down since.

Design and ease of use

Defensio offers configuration and comment moderation pages that are very similar to Akismet’s. This is probably a conscious decision, to make sure that switchers do not feel ill at using it.

Using Defensio requires an API key, much like Akismet. Getting the API key is a matter of signing up on Defensio’s website (which then offers useful graphs and extra information). The configuration page also sports a control to hide comments that are obvious spam (the threshold can be set manually).

The comment quarantine page shows the spam comments, and some statistics below it (accuracy, spam and legit comment figures, and a link to the web panel with more details).

Web panel

As you can see from the screenshot below, the web panel is designed with rounded corners and other web 2.0 goodness, and shows a graph and other statistics. Overall, the web panel offers little more than the WordPress admin page, and I would recommend sticking to the plugin page rather than logging in to Defensio’s web panel.

Final thoughts

My initial usage has given me mixed results, with some blatant spam comments slipping through. However, Akismet is even worse, and Defensio states clearly that initial accuracy will be volatile until spam comments are accumulated and detected (or corrected, occasionally). I see myself sticking to Defensio for the near future, or unless Akismet recovers magically (whichever happens earlier).

I have also heard from reliable blogging friends that commercial license of Akismet (which costs $5 per month) works fine. The first thought that obviously sprang to my mind was that Akismet might be luring users to the commercial variant by decreasing efficiency of the free version. If that is the case, we might soon see a mass exodus to Defensio (similar to the one from Movable Type to WordPress when the former became paid).

Download Defensio

Update: The plot thickens! Shortly after publishing this post, Matt Mullenweg commented on ‘Has Akismet become less effective‘ post about contacting Akismet support. Oddly enough, his comment was caught in the Defensio spam queue. Now ponder over that.

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