Get Recent Comments is probably the WordPress plugin that I’ve used for the longest time. If I remember correctly, it’s been displaying recent comments over on Choking on Popcorn since 2004. Back then it took template editing to put those on your sidebar, and even then they didn’t look very nice. But even the current ‘recent comments’ widget falls far short of what ‘get Recent Comments’ can do.
For one thing, it actually displays the comment! In fact you can specify just how much of it you want to show. It also protects you from long words that would otherwise break your blog’s design by forcing the sidebar too wide. And it does gravatars. But the best feature is the way it handles HTML markup.
The options page for the plugin is actually a sort of HTML editor that lets you specify the exact output by mixing HTML tags and special codes the represent a comment’s values. This may sound complicated, and admittedly it does require knowledge of HTML, but it is really ultimately flexible. And if it’s all too complicated for you, leave the markup as it is. The default still bests WordPress’ widget.
I’ve set it up on the sidebar of this blog, and I feel the little gravatars look great and the short comment snippets are far more likely to spark discussion than simply naming the commenter’s (nick)name. I’ve also opted to filter out trackbacks, another great feature. Highly recommended.