Bloggers Declare War on Spam
But Can We Win?
The doom and gloom naysayers are predicting that comment spamming will mark the end of blogging, (or at least as we now know it) and are advocating the removal of commenting altogether.
According to the Online Journalism Review spammers are forever creative in finding ways to gain Google search results. One method they use is to post links in the comments sections of popular blogs. But not for long because the makers of blogging software are banding together to keep interactivity alive in the blogosphere.
Just what the heck is “comment spam” and how did it get so many prominent bloggers up in arms? Basically, spammers have been using blogs to help boost their standings in Google searches by posting massive numbers of comments that include links to their pornography sites, scams and get-rich-quick sites. If your site is linked by a top-ranked site or blog, then Google will often raise your site’s ranking - at least that’s the thinking of spammers.
But Google and other software makers have decidedly put the kybosh on that:
Now, Google’s Blogger software puts links in comments through a redirected URL, taking away any PageRank boost. And Six Apart’s latest TypePad service and Movable Type software include multiple ways to stem comment spam, including Jay Allen’s MT-Blacklist and the TypeKey registration system.
Dave Winer has taken it even further by advocating getting rid of commenting altogether:
More recently, the godfather of blogging Dave Winer, former CEO of UserLand, told me that comments are not an intrinsic part of a Weblog and have basically failed after a brief honeymoon period in the early history of blogs. “I think a blog is a publication, and publications have proven that letters to the editor are useful,” Winer said. “But blogs with comments are not letters to the editor. Letters to the editor are edited, they’re selected, and that selection process is a very important aspect of it.”
The Bloke thinks that is radical surgery to cure a minor pestilence, for it is the interactivity of blogging that renders its appeal. Nevertheless, here are some of the more effective strategies that have been employed so far - along with its possible side effects:
1. Turn all comments - or at least old comments off:
Not everyone agrees with Winer’s view on comments not being essential for blogs. But if they’re causing more trouble than they’re worth, it makes sense to simply turn them off. Popular group blog BoingBoing turned off comments, and readers started their own discussion group on Tribe.net. Another option is removing or freezing comments on old blog postings, where spammers like to strike. There’s even a program called MTCloseComments to do just that within Movable Type blogs.
2. Don’t allow links in comments:
This would make it impossible for spammers to score any links on your site. However, turning off links in comments means that any person commenting on your blog would not be able to include links to stories they mention, their own blog postings or other important sources of information online. If links are the currency of the Web, then this idea might bankrupt your discussion.
3. Try a blacklisting service:
If you use Movable Type, the new version 3.1 includes the MT-Blacklist plug-in. That means comments that include links to known spam sites will be automatically blocked. Of course, no blacklist is perfect, and the universe of sites to promote via spam is seemingly endless. But this method will at least keep some repeat offenders off your comments.
4. Redirect all links from your blog comments:
If comment links all are redirected through a special URL, then the offensive URL will get no boost in search engine results. Google’s free Blogger software includes such a redirect via the link: http://blogger.com/redirect/?r=[URL to be linked]
5. Include registration steps or a comment preview page:
Any extra steps for comments takes away automated spamming techniques. Some bloggers have tried a “captcha” where people need to retype letters and numbers in an image before writing their comments. Others force every commentator to preview their comments before posting them.
And Six Apart created the TypeKey registration system so that commentators would have a universal log-in for every blog they want to comment on. Plus, Six Apart is providing code so that other software developers can implement TypeKey into their applications, making it a more universal service. Movable Type also has “comment throttling,” limiting the number of posts someone (or some robot) can make in a certain time period.
Six Apart co-founder Ben Trott told me that people running high-traffic blogs will start requiring registration for comments. “This can be of benefit,” he said, “since it has the dual effect of reducing comment spam and improving the general quality of the conversation because it tends to form a community of visitors around a Weblog.”
The downside of registration is that spammers could simply register first and then spam. Plus, registration sets up a barrier for people who want to join the discussion. Usually, there’s an e-mail verification for first-time commentators. But most bloggers would rather put a small burden on commentators than bearing the huge burden of fighting comment spam themselves.
6. Spell out the law:
One Irish blogger, Antoin O Lachtnain, was so upset after spending hours removing comment spam that he decided to post a special disclaimer for anyone who wanted to comment on his blog:
“Relevant comments are very welcome, whether you agree or disagree with what I have to say. However, advertising of goods or services is not permitted on this forum without payment of a fee. The fee per advertisement is 500 Euros, which is payable immediately by bank draft. If you post an ad but do not pay the charge immediately you have corrupted data on this Web site without my permission. As such, you are guilty of criminal damage under the Criminal Damage Act, 1991 and subject to a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a fine of up to 12,700 Euros…Please note that posting on this forum will have no effect whatsoever on the PageRank of any links that you post.
So the question is, will commenting on blogs survive the onslaught of spammers? Duncan Riley, editor of the Blog Herald in Australia, thinks the dynamic will likely shift in the blogosphere, with mid-tier bloggers abandoning comments altogether.
“Blogging will survive comment spam, however the blogosphere as we know it today will not be the same as a result of it,” he told me via e-mail. “The ability to comment on blogs has been a large part of the phenomenal success blogging has had over the last few years. Expect a correction in blog numbers as the industry suffers from burnout, suppliers fold, are bought out or merge, and as the novelty for some wears off from newer distractions, less time and intolerance of comment spam.”
Blog Bloke has a slightly different take on the problem. Interactiveness is what sets blogging apart from the old school static websites of yesteryear, and commenting is a big part of that success.
Spam will always be a problem, but remove commenting from blogs? The Bloke says no, for that would surely kill the communal appeal of blogging and in so doing lose it’s power and intimacy - something that has made blogging special. And what about group blogs such as Blogcritics.org that have created huge communities from the use of commenting? Removing comments would certainly sound their death bell.
The Bloke sees a brighter outlook for the blogosphere. Just as email hasn’t waned in the onslaught of spam, neither will blogging. Enact tougher laws, better technology to stop them or track and prosecute the culprits… whatever.
The bottom line is blogging is an empowering technology that is too important to slip beneath the cracks because of a few rotten apples. Once the spammers realize they are wasting their time they will (hopefully) disappear and move on to more lucrative mischief. And besides, if you are being spammed that means your blog is popular and is perhaps the price we will just have to pay.