Spam Solutions?

2009 December 12
by David Platt

Since starting the blog, I’ve had to deal with a certain amount of spam in the comments fields. Not huge quantities, by any means, and this spam certainly didn’t have the irritating feature that ProjectForum spam used to have of creating a new page for every link included in the text that I would then have to hunt down and delete. Still, it remained and remains a minor source of irritation.

Hormel Food Sales strongly discourage the association of images of their product (SPAM) with internet Spam.  Instead, here is a cropped film still from the famous Monty Python sketch. © 1970 BBC.  Vikings are also more appropriate to an archaeology blog.  Obviously.

Hormel Food Sales strongly discourage the association of images of their product (SPAM) with internet Spam. Instead, here is a cropped film still from the famous Monty Python sketch. (© 1970 BBC with some modest Photoshop tinkering from yours truly). Vikings are also more appropriate to an archaeology blog. Obviously.

My original method of dealing with this was to simply hold all comments from first-time posters for moderation. Although this did succeed in stopping my few blog entires being snowed under by bots saying how interesting my information was and here’s a link to [insert brand, consumer product, or service of choice here], I still had to review these things as they came in. And, while I did my best to approve or zap comments quickly, it has been pointed out elsewhere that this can kind of thing can lead to people submitting multiple comments or simply giving up in disgust.

Consequently, I have decided it was time to start looking into plug-ins for WordPress. A quick search on Dreamhost’s user forums produced this enlightening, if brief, thread on the topic. Askimet comes with WordPress but requires that I actually sign up with WordPress to get an API key. This is probably much less of a nuisance than I imagine it to be and, considering its ratings, Askimet may eventually turn out to be the way to go. For now, however, I’ve decided to give SI CAPTCHA Anti-Spam a whirl.

One thoroughly convincing piece of advice that I read was that one should make the process of providing feedback as painless as possible for the reader (I’m afraid that I can’t remember on which blog about blogging I found this — sorry). With this in mind, there are three things about the change to comments on this blog that one should note:

  • The first-time poster no longer has to wait for my approval until he or she can see the comment(s).
  • My main reason for choosing this plug-in was that it doesn’t require that the reader use Java in his or her browser — one less hurdle to get over. (Although I suspect that most people accessing WordPress blogs do have fairly up to date versions of Java. I think that I may be misunderstanding the reasoning behind not requiring Java here.)
  • Unfortunately, it does require that the person posting a comment does read and re-enter one of those distorted word images (or a captcha) — actually throwing up a new barrier, albeit one that delays the poster for only a few seconds rather than as many as several hours. I’ve also tried to get around the problems identified by the American Council of the Blind by enabling Flash audio, so that the captcha image can be read aloud by a computer.

I do hope that the captcha system presents a less of an impediment for comments than my previous system. Other avenues that I might explore are Hashcash and Spam-Karma. These are still early days and I’m still very much feeling my way. There’s plenty of time for me to change to my mind about … oh, everything to do with how I set up this blog.

As ever, I’d be grateful for any thoughts, comments, clarifications, etc.

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