Comment Editing

A non-technical explainer about a recurring complaint.

This site, like a large number of blogs and other websites, runs on WordPress, “a free and open-source content management system written in PHP and paired with a MySQL or MariaDB database.” It’s pretty powerful and, over time, has made it easier for non-tech types like myself to manage their sites.

For whatever reason, while WordPress has enabled the option, if turned on by site administrators, for users to comment on posts, the public interface for doing so is incredibly rudimentary. It essentially requires site visitors to know HTML markup language if it wants to do anything more than enter plain text.

It does not, organically, come with the markup boxes that allow WYSIWYG bold/italics/underline/link insertion and the like. Nor does it come with a Reply feature. Or a mechanism for other commenters to vote on other users’ comments. Or, to the topic of this post, to edit comments once posted.

All of that functionality, then, comes via plugins developed by third parties, usually for free. All of them, however, interface with not only the WordPress software, which updates with some regularity, potentially “breaking” existing plugins, but also with any other active plugins installed on a site. All of which also interface (in ways I don’t really understand) with the aforementioned PHP and MySQL (which I really, really don’t understand). Not surprisingly, the functionality of all these plugins can be sporadic.

Further, while there are dozens of plugins that do various things regarding blog comments, there appears to be only one left standing that allows users to edit their comments. It’s called Simple Comment Editing. It’s been around for years and was updated as recently as four days ago. It’s what we have installed. Alas, it works sporadically, presumably a function of the order in which it loads on a given instance.

It’s conceivable that, with enough hours invested, our IT guy could figure out how to make it work more routinely. But this would cost a lot of money and might not work. Or it might work until the next update of WordPress or one of the other plugins breaks the workaround.

We could scrap the organic WordPress commenting system altogether and go to Disqus, BuddyPress or some other (also plug-in enabled) system. But that would likely not play well with the 1,318,107 existing comments on a site that’s been running for going on two decades. And it would require users to register and login each time. It would likely also cost a not insignificant sum to have these styled in such a way as to integrate with the existing theme. I’m not inclined to do this.

Alternatively, we could require users to create accounts within the OTB ecosystem. That, too, would require registration and logging in. But it would almost certainly work. I have no trouble editing my own (or user) comments when I’m logged in. This works much better on a PC than on a phone, though, as the latter doesn’t do a great job of retaining my passwords.

I don’t know that any of these solutions are worth the trouble, to be honest.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, OTB History, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. CSK says:

    Checking to see if I get the edit function in this thread.

    Yes, I did.

  2. Barry says:

    James, thank you for taking the time to do this!

    I for one wouldn’t mind commenters having to create a user account.

  3. Mu Yixiao says:

    But if you fix it we won’t have anything to complain about. That wouldn’t be any fun! 😀

    To be honest, I see 99.44% of the complaints as us just being grumpy old men, not an actual issue that really bothers us.

    ETA: And the edit showed up! 😀

  4. flat earth luddite says:

    I’m perfectly happy grumph-ing about having something to grumph about. Don’t care if I’m Waldorf or Statler. While I’d be ok registering (I thought that was already part of this, but then I am frequently confused with being a confused old doofas), I’m happy as long as you keep this blog-o-ramic thing going. Thanks for your efforts mein hosts!

  5. gVOR08 says:

    Minor problem at worst, even if I do seem to always see some typo I missed as soon as a comment posts. I sometimes bitch, but more as a running gag than serious complaint. I would also have no problem with registration. And congrats on keeping OTB going for roughly as many years as days Trump kept his blog going.

  6. Neil Hudelson says:

    1,000,000+ comments. Man. You’ve creating a thriving community full of intelligent people commenting on the issues of the day for nearly two decades.

    Whereas I just ate two spoons of peanut butter and a glass of water for lunch because Ive forgotten to go grocery shopping for four days running.

    Considering this is a side project to your other important work, this is quite an achievement. Congratulations. This site has brought me a lot of joy since I started commenting here as an undergrad in 2008ish, and I really can’t thank you enough.

  7. inhumans99 says:

    Since folks are chill with folks who generate quite a few typos in a comment on a post on this great site, I say pass on having to spend more money and add to your day to day workload to put in a reliable Edit option (that could still be broken by any number of updates from the plug-ins you use to keep OTB as free a blog to interact with as possible).

    I almost now expect that Doug M’s comments will have lots of typos and if a post of his is 100% typo free I might wonder who hijacked his account, lol!

    I am also guilty of lots of typos but still get shown a lot of love on this site, so no worries James, you rock and this site continues to be one where you do not have to worry about the MAGA crowd taking over the comments section. Happy Monday folks!

  8. gVOR08 says:

    Also, nice generic laptop photo. Digby notes that Swallwell’s process server finally got to Rep. Mo Brooks, who’s been hiding for a couple months. In a tweet whining about it Brooks included a shot of his laptop, with a couple of taped on passwords visible. Tweet since deleted.

  9. CSK says:

    Were you here when occasional defenders of Sarah Palin would swoop in to uphold her honor?

  10. Mister Bluster says:

    Alternatively, we could require users to create accounts within the OTB ecosystem. That, too, would require registration and logging in. But it would almost certainly work.

    If I understand all of this correctly. Users creating accounts would be the only change to commenting here and would not increase cost.
    Sounds like a winner to me.

  11. Raoul says:

    For me anyways, the current system works perfectly.

  12. Joe says:

    Edit buttons are first world problems of the highest magnitude. While I am sure, Mu Yixiao, that there are more than men and more than the old commenting here, I like to consider myself more of a harrumpher, though I am both grumpy and old (unless I live well past 100, in which case I am simply middle aged).

    ETA: I am going to proof this post twice since I have just asked for a Karmic failure of the edit button.

  13. Jen says:

    I only mention the editing because its presence is so arbitrary…more of the “running gag” mentioned above.

    Thanks for all that you do, Dr. Joyner.

  14. PJ says:

    This works. It’s ok. No real need for a working edit button, I should just learn to proof-read before posting.

  15. Gustopher says:

    I think part of the charm of this site is the capricious nature of the edit buttons choosing whether or not to favor you with their presence.

  16. JohnSF says:

    The erratic edit is a character building feature. 🙂

  17. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Mu Yixiao: To be honest, I see 99.44% of the complaints as us just being grumpy old men, not an actual issue that really bothers us.

    Yes. If I didn’t have that to complain about I’d have to complain about my wife and that might get me in trouble.

  18. CSK says:

    I, too, am very grateful for this site. Being able to come here and read posts and comments from sane, informed, literate, and generally amusing people helped me through several things, including the week-long vigils prior to the deaths of my parents.

    Thanks to everyone, particularly our hosts.

  19. Sleeping Dog says:

    Those who mentioned that it gives us something to complain about are right. Mostly we’re a bunch of grumpy oldsters (some in heart) yelling at you to get off the lawn.

    And please, not disqus or another commenting system, they are the Facebook of blog applets requiring you to authorize 3rd party cookies in order to follow you around the internet. There are many blogs that I no longer comment on due to the disqus or similar.

  20. Michael Reynolds says:

    Our incessant bitching finally broke Joyner. Hello, Guantanamo? Have you tried demanding an edit function again and again and again and again and again and again. . .

  21. Michael Cain says:

    Just blathering based on the single WordPress site (something north of 800,000 comments now) where I do some of the technical maintenance.

    Reply-to is in the WordPress core. I know because it interacts badly with nested comments (or at least not the way we want it to function). Every time the editor-in-chief updates WordPress, I have to go in and do the same one-line fix to the WordPress core PHP code to make reply-to work the way we want it.

    The correct way to think about WordPress from a developer’s perspective is that it’s a giant pile of code fragments that get executed in some order to generate each page that goes out. It is possible, if you are really, really picky and willing to possibly hack your theme’s code and the plugins’ code to affect priority, to ensure those fragments will be executed in a specific order. Then there’s all the CSS fragments with their own different rules for what gets precedence.

    I’m inclined to the comment about dancing bears: the amazing thing is not how gracefully it dances, but that it dances at all. WordPress has managed to recreate all of the development nightmares that the industry worked so hard to get rid of back in the 1990s…

  22. Mimai says:

    If I may, I recommend that you leave the site as is. The glitches are a feature, not a bug. They perform an innocuous steam-release function on the pressure cookers that are OTB insides (I almost wrote “souls” but then self-corrected). Without these glitches, I shudder to think of the vitriol that would be spewed in your direction the next time you post on issues regarding trans folks, mental health, etc.

    More seriously, thank you James for donating your precious time to our self-indulgent amusements. I am new(ish) here and had no idea of this blog’s history. A sincere tip of the hat to you.

  23. Andy says:

    I learned to adjust to the vagarities of the edit function. Would I like it? Yes, this is the 2nd decade of the 21st century after all. Is it worth the trouble, in terms of money, time, and lost hair follicles, for our gracious hosts to fix it? Nah.

    Well over a decade ago I pushed pretty hard here to change over to Disqus or some third-party alternative that would handle everything. That ship sailed too long ago. Like our Constitution and system of government, the OTB comments system will continue to imperfectly muddle through and that’s just fine with me. At least until the site moves to Substack 😉

  24. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Barry: If I had to create a user account, I’d probably revert back to just lurking. On the other hand, for some here, my reversion to lurker would probably be a reason to require creating user accounts. Got no dog in the fight of how it plays out as I don’t comment at any of the other sites that I frequent (infrequently) and they don’t miss my musings at all, based on my best analysis.

  25. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Sleeping Dog: My biggest complaint about Discus would be that it simply doesn’t work for me. I can’t load comments to read, I’ve only successfully posted comments on Discus-based boards once per board before the system fails for me, and my computer won’t save user names or passwords to autofill on Discus-based boards. Don’t know why, but don’t care either.

  26. grumpy realist says:

    What I find weird is that sometimes I’ll get the bold/italic/link/quote capabilities and sometimes I swear that bar will be totally gone. Aside from making comments from the peanut gallery I do like putting up links to weird/obscure/enlightening stories.

    (Oh, and don’t ask me about the Dijkstra algorithm. Just don’t.)

  27. Michael Cain says:

    @grumpy realist:

    What I find weird is that sometimes I’ll get the bold/italic/link/quote capabilities and sometimes I swear that bar will be totally gone. Aside from making comments from the peanut gallery I do like putting up links to weird/obscure/enlightening stories.

    Warning, geek ahead.

    Once upon a time I worked my way through the page source for one of the posts here. The formatting buttons are drawn by a piece of JavaScript code triggered when the page finishes loading. Except for the first comment, the page is not reloaded after a comment is posted. Since it’s not reloaded, the finished-loading event doesn’t “fire”, that particular JavaScript isn’t run, and the buttons don’t get drawn. The buttons come back if you click the refresh button on your browser because that causes the page to be reloaded. The countdown edit timer and edit button are also drawn — if some other conditions are met — when the page is reloaded. That’s why refreshing sometimes, but not always, gets a comment’s edit button to appear.

    While our host didn’t mention it, some amount of WordPress functionality is provided by chunks of JavaScript running in the user’s browsers rather than PHP on the server. Many plugins load their own JavaScript. Different programmers don’t coordinate how they approach things. In this case, one programmer assumed comment posting would use the default WordPress method, which reloads the page. A different programmer chose to use a method for posting comments that doesn’t reload (presumably to save bandwidth or something). So they don’t quite work together properly.

  28. DrDaveT says:

    @Michael Cain:

    The buttons come back if you click the refresh button on your browser because that causes the page to be reloaded.

    If only. Sometimes that works. Sometimes they come back after another comment has been posted. Sometimes they come back after someone besides me has posted another comment. I can’t swear there aren’t times when even that doesn’t bring them back.

    That said, it’s fine. I have memorized the codes for quoting and italics and boldface and strikethrough, and I’ve found that if the “link” button isn’t available I can just paste in a URL and it becomes clickable in the published comment. Not as elegant, but it works. Certainly not worth any change that might break something else, or discourage participation.

    (There you go, James — that’s the most conservative thing I’m liable to say this year…)

  29. de stijl says:

    If comment editing is not offered as an option, I hop back to OTB Main page, reload that, then click on the thread, and usually the edit button is available then on my comment. Basically, a reset.

    It has saved me from regrettable spelling and grammatical errors.

  30. de stijl says:

    @de stijl:

    Oddly, the 15 minute countdown still works and calculates correctly so be quick.