Blogs have a way of keeping track of who is linking to them using trackbacks or pingbacks. It’s a good idea in theory because it helps you follow the discussion as it spreads to new areas, but in practice it is mostly filled with spam because getting a well-placed trackback on a popular website can be a good source of traffic.
Trackbacks were designed without any kind of authentication mechanism whatsoever, not even the most trivial test that the person who is says they are linking to you really is linking to you. So screw spammy trackbacks. Screw them in their naughty place. Take them out of your blog themes and blog engines and let’s build something better.
Here’s the idea: instead of showing a list of trackbacks for spammers to abuse, show a list of referrers.
Using the Technorati Rank as a measure of blogging hierarchy is so 2005. Deciding if a blog is part of the top 100 purely by the number of other blogs linking to it is one way to measure popularity, but there must be other ways. In nature you can track the population increases of Bambi, Thumper and friends by the co-related increase the number of hunters going around killing their mothers. Could there be another way to measure blog worth other than Technorati?
If only there was some parasitic relationship that fed off the blogosphere the way predators feed off of prey?
Of course! Spam.
I’m joking about quantity of spam as a measure of blog worth. But what I’m not joking about is how much more spam I am getting now compared to a year ago. I’d like to think it’s because my blog is so much more popular now, but the sad truth is that spam is an epidemic that’s affecting bloggers from all walks of life. Even Robert Scoble.
The War on Spam
Comments spam is an infection and it is spreading further and further. It attacks our blogs and stands out like a rash. There are several over the counter remedies to comment spam, but sometimes the medicine is worse than the disease.
- Force users to login to a verified account
- Which means no one will bother to comment unless the login is part of a larger network like a Google account or Typepad account
- Captcha image response algorithms
- Which means no one will bother to comment because they are impossible to read and a complete pain in the ass
- (I’m talking about you, Typepad)
- Simple captcha (math, unscrambled word)
- Works except for the 90% of the time I forget to fill it out
- Akismet filtering (what we use at wordpress.com)
Akismet – Building Spam into Haystacks
One of the limitations about being hosted at wordpress.com is that the only vaccine I have for fighting off comment spam is Akismet. Which is great when it works, but, uh, not so great when it doesn’t. Akismet does a very good job of identifying ham from spam, but the problem is that it doesn’t do anything to decrease the sheer volume of spam you get. Akismet will help you lead a normal day-to-day life, but it won’t keep you from having the occasional sore on your lip for all the world to see.
I get around 1500 spam a day now. Sometimes Akismet isn’t strong enough or isn’t vaccinated against a new strain and I’ll have between 5-15 spam sores to manually delete for that day. Other times Akismet gets overzealous starts attacking the valid comments as spam (which often happens on blog posts where I ask people to post links). It’s easy enough to correct the situation if I can find out it happened. But finding that one valid comment is like trying to find a beauty mark on a leper — it ain’t pretty no matter which way you look at it.
That’s why I created the Akismet Auntie Spam for Firefox extension to make the anti-spam (ham) stick out more from all the obvious spam. In an update I never officially announced, our little old Auntie will now mark all Akismet-marked comments that have common spam words in red so that we can completely skip over them while dumpster diving through the caught spam folder. Akismet Auntie Spam helps me heal the lepers.
How to Reduce the Volume of Spam
But that still doesn’t stop the fact that I’m getting 1500 spam a day. For someone who likes to write about productivity and making the most of your time I am wasting entirely too much time being a good netizen and monitoring spam. We often call it the War on Spam but it’s a war I’m not winning. The only intelligent decision is to stop wasting my time and energy and to pull out. Like any social disease the underlying problem is that I’m being way to promiscuous. Everything I’ve ever posted to my blog is tarted up in a short skirt on a dark alleyway, just waiting for trouble, with nothing but Akismet and hope to avoid the clap.
It’s not working.
So I’m following in the footsteps of many other members of the wordpress.community and I’ve turned comments off for all posts that are over 60 days old. It isn’t because Akismet doesn’t do the job, it’s because even with Akismet doing most of the work, that last little bit takes too much of my time. It’s time for me to take my blog posts off the street and into a private school and hope they start running with a better crowd.
If the spam rash clears up appreciably, I’ll create an automated program like my Tag Cloud Generator for disabling comments on older posts so that everyone can enjoy having one less thing to worry about.
The .info domain was created in late 2000 / early 2001. Since then it has been very popular with over 3 million registered sites. Most of those sites are used for “independent businesses” aka spam. It really should have been called .spam to do everyone a favour.
Someone has recently realized how Akismet works and been sending a deluge of comment spam (one every three minutes) using .info domain names with only one or two keywords (changing the name and email used every time).
So it’s finally time for me to close the doors on .info. I can save a lot of hassle by automatically deleting any comments that contain .info.
I don’t know about you but my Akismet spam folder on my WordPress.com is filled to the brim (56 pages deep, which is ridiculous if you consider that anything older than 15 days is automatically deleted). It’s considered good form to take a peek to make sure that no one’s comments are being accidently deleted, but the sheer volume of spam makes that hard to do.
So I wrote a Greasemonkey script for Firefox that greatly condensed the view. With this script I can view 16 to 18 spam comments per page compared to 3 to 5 spam comments per page without it.
What It Does
- Moves navigation bar to the bottom instead of the top.
- Reduces text size.
- Truncates long comments.
- Click to open a popup with full comment.
With Akismet Auntie Spam you can go from 3-6 comments per screen of text to 17-20 comments per screen of text.
The Stupidest Comment Spammer I Ever Did See (Dirk Wagner, team4success.biz and PR Backlinks Generator)
Thanks for the false identity cut-and-paste comment. I don’t get enough of those in one day.
Let me get this right, you’re trying to sell me blog spamming software by spamming my blog? Just a thought — you might be targeting the wrong audience. Instead of marketing to people who want your software you are contacting the people who will be victimized by your software.
I love the part where you talk about “creating valuable backlinks to your websites” with comment spam. Might want to research rel=nofollow some time, bub. Having a ton of rel=nofollow links won’t increase the Page Rank of your website, it may actually flag it as spam in search engines.
After the break, more about Dirk.
These things are such plagues on the Internet. “Shaastra Thamesportal Zalecenia Autophytes Invernesshire” is one of those stupid Google SEO contests. But they aren’t really a problem if it wasn’t for people who go around spamming blogs in order to try and win it.
Why this doesn’t work
- Spamming blogs is against the contest rules.
- Whenever you leave links in a comment on a blog, those links have ref=”nofollow” attached so that search engines ignore them in terms of ranking.
- He’s screwed up the link for all the comments so that they don’t even properly link back to his SEO spam website
All he’s done is generated a lot of ill-will towards himself and towards the contest he is participating in.
I found this in the Comments Box this morning:
A new comment on the post #52 “Peter’s New Jobs and BrainHunter” is waiting for your approval
Author : Rob Palmer (IP: 18.104.22.168 , CPE-124-184-27-34.nsw.bigpond.net.au)
E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
URL : http://www.freelanceworkexchange.com
Whois : http://ws.arin.net/cgi-bin/whois.pl?queryinput=22.214.171.124
That sounds like a pretty neat system – great to be able to find jobs that aren’t being advertised on all the big job boards.
Well, it looks like a valid comment. The only hint that it might be spam is the domain name. Freelance Work Exchange sounds like they’re in the job board business. They might be trying to seed blogs by doing searches on Google and leaving comments. It’s a common practice, I do it myself sometimes.
WordPress.com comes with a default spam comment protection system called “Akismet“. It’s really good for catching comment spam. It works by a collaborative effort of where if one person marks it as spam then it is caught for everyone (okay, this is a bit of a simplification). Sure, they can mass post comments but since Akismet has an equivalent number of “eyeballs” watching the spam (from the distributed effort) it’s a zero-sum game.
In the two months since I started this blog I’ve been started to receive quite a lot from:
Domain Name: FINDremovemeMOREremovemePILL.COM Registrant: (edit: added removeme to the name so as not to direct any traffic to his site)
Kasturba Nagar (email@example.com)
Gorky Sadan, 3 Gorky Terrace, 700
Creation Date: 31-Mar-2006
Expiration Date: 31-Mar-2007
It would be relatively easy to catch the spam even without Akismet because he signs everything @hotmails.com. If you have the free time to play wack-a-mole with these guys here are the email address to get their splogs shut down.
- Geocities: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Tripod: http://help.lycos.com/newticket.php (choose Abuse)
- Quantasoft (QSH): http://www.qsh.eu/ContactForm.aspx (choose Complaints)
It’s not like reporting them even makes a dent, but it can be a quick release of frustration.
These guys are using splogs to promote other sites that they own. If something as nice and effective as Akismet kept a database of how to report different splogs and easily included that information in the spam report, then these sites would get shut down as fast as they went up.