Comments and spam

October 24, 2010 — Leave a comment

I talk a lot about spam (unsolicited and inappropriate messaging, not the quasi-meat product). I don’t have much of a problem with it since using a few different tools, all of which are sadly proprietary. I will get to those in a moment.

I’ve noticed lately that on a lot of the sites I am visiting I would like to leave a comment, but I have to register an account first. I just think this is ridiculous. If you look at it from a pros and cons point of view, it is obviously not the best choice to combat spam. I personally have a severely adverse reaction to creating additional accounts on some random website.

That is me; I need to create a lot of accounts due to the work I do. However, most people will just carry on, unless they are either a) new to the internet, b) really angry, or c) ready to be part of your community. The C group is what people want, but I imagine they end up getting a decent share of A and B as well, which might as well be spam in many cases.

I think there is a lot of value in those other folks, who will comment only once, either acknowledging your view, or leaving some interesting opinion or link (yeah, people can actually leave valuable links). Requiring the process of creating an account (with a password and perhaps a validation e-mail) will create friction for those folks, and that isn’t what you want.

Before I go any further, let me just put this out there: is there a different reason someone would require registration to comment? If so, please tell me, because that is the only angle I can see (besides creepy behavior such as trying to gain accounts and the impression of activity).

So, there are three services I use to combat spam, and I have to say, they work pretty well. They are Akismet (for WordPress), Mollom (for Drupal), and Google mail. They work because they are all based on the same model: the more people who use them will increase the system’s ability to catch spam. An interesting fact about the first two services is that they are both created by the creators of publishing software (Matt Mullenweg and Dries Buytaert). It was an obvious response (and possible trend) to the spam problem.

Akismet is pretty awesome, and I’ve been using it since the beginning. Granted, I don’t get a lot of traffic, but over the years it has maybe not caught about two messages that were spam, and it has only marked a message as spam incorrectly once that I know of (and the message in question was “spam-y”, so I don’t blame it). It requires you create a WordPress.com account to get an API key, and of course any service is going to have their caveats for usage, but most people I know are going to use the free version guilt free. I use it on all the blogs I host, and I don’t think anyone has spam problems.

Mollom is just like Akismet, but with some added functionality that I am not exactly sure how it works. In addition to doing the spam thing, you can grade content based on how well it is written, so if someone is trolling or something, it can be marked as such. I only ever use it for policing comments in Drupal, since the Akismet module isn’t maintained. Mollom does a good job of handling comments, and I use their service for my clients, having registered their accounts marked as such. I am not sure if that will allow me to move them over if I ever stop working with them, but it is an interesting idea.

One thing that Mollom supposedly does, but I haven’t been able to set up is the ability to filter other fields (besides comments). We had a content-type that was open to the public (anonymous submissions), but it wasn’t catching any spammed entries. I am not sure it was configured properly, so I will reserve my judgment for later.

Side rant: What is up with Drupal’s commenting system? The way WordPress holds the first comment from a person in moderation, and then publishes them afterward is such a great system for keeping spam from showing up, without making visitors wait to be part of the conversation. And yet, I have never been able to get that set up in Drupal. I wonder if D7 has something like that…

Note that both Akismet and Mollom have plugins/modules for various software projects beside WordPress and Drupal. It just so happens that I use them only for those projects, respectively.

The other major area of spam for me was from e-mail. It got to the point that I would be careful of giving out my e-mail address, lest it fall into the clutches of some seedy spammer (they don’t have hands, they can only clutch things). That was when my e-mail was hosted on DreamHost, and I had to use their SpamAssassin filters. I fine-tuned it over the years, but I still got a lot of junk. When I switched over to Gmail the reverse happened, I now occasionally check my junk folder for false positives, but I hardly ever get spam in my inbox. I put my addresses out there with reckless abandon (maiki@interi.org is one of them), and I just don’t worry about it.

Besides, I use Basecamp, and I still think e-mail is dead. ^_^

So, those are the services I use to avoid and ignore spam. It bothers me that they are closed systems, but I imagine that like all uses of software, it is only a matter of time that a really killer anti-spam system is released as open source software. I will be the first one to test it out. In the meantime I am just going to make fun of people who close comments or require registrations for their site. Shame on them!

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