No easy way to combat blog spam

Updated on April 1, 2006

I’ve been thinking about blog spam today.

Not your typical weekend thrill subject but it was on my mind as I cleared out 218 spam comments and 1,696 spam trackbacks from my experimental Movable Type blog, all sitting in the comment/trackback moderation queue so none had made it to the live blog. I’ve let that blog sit quietly, with no posts or any activity, during the past couple of months.

Coupled with a steep increase in the amount of comment and trackback spam that I’ve seen hit this blog during the past couple of weeks – and be stopped in its tracks by Akismet – it looks like the spammers are certainly more active these days.

This is borne out by this post on the Akismet blog earlier this week:

I have no idea why the sudden uptake, but spammers seem to be on a ball this week. Yesterday they broke a new record, with 239 thousand spams being caught by Akismet. That’s more than we used to get in an entire month.

I’m impressed with Akismet. I have it activated on this blog. It comes standard with the latest WordPress versions (see these FAQ for details on how it works). Since this blog went live towards the end of February, there have been 611 comments and trackbacks in total of which Akismet trapped 249 of them as spam, or roughly 41 percent:

Only 3 comments and trackbacks out of that total trapped by Akismet were not spam. Not a bad false-positive/negative success record. (By the way, the image above shows everything as comments as WordPress lumps comments and trackbacks together under the general label of ‘comments.’)

41 percent is actually well below the average, according to Akismet’s Live Spam Zeitgeist, where it says that 83 percent of all comments and trackbacks in blogs are spam.

And then I encountered some more reading about spam, this time a post by Dr Dave, the creator of the Spam Karma anti-spam plugin for WordPress, entitled The State of Spam [Karma]. Dr Dave has some interesting commentary on the overall picture re blog spam, especially a tech-ish analysis of spam bots and what they do.

Part of what prompted my thinking about spam today revolved around what I was able to do on my Movable Type blog to stop spam getting to the blog that I cannot do on my TypePad blogs – turn off comments and trackbacks site-wide for all posts, including historical posts.

Why on earth would you want to disable one of the principle benefits of having a blog? you might wonder. That ability for people to engage in conversation on your blog or link to what you write from their blog?

For me, the reason is simple. My TypePad blog is now an archive. I don’t write it any longer (I write here instead) yet all the posts are still open to anyone to leave a comment or a trackback link. Given that the only people now doing that are spammers, I want to stop them. The only way to do that is to disable commenting and trackbacks on posts, especially historical posts – that’s the important thing as I’m not writing new posts on TypePad any longer.

I can’t do that on TypePad, though. All I can do is choose from two settings – enable or disable comments and trackbacks on new posts:

So I’ve done that, which does not really help my situation where I want to disable those capabilities for all historical posts. My only option would be to manually change the settings on each individual post. With 1,470 posts, I don’t think so!

With Movable Type, I have two specific choices:

1. Disable/enable comments and trackbacks throughout the whole installation. So if I have more than one blog, I can make a setting that applies to all of those blogs:

2. Disable/enable comments and trackbacks on a per-blog basis (click the image for a larger and more legible one):

I’ve actually done both even though my MT version 3.2 installation has just the one blog.

The end result on my MT blog (at the moment, an historical archive just like my TypePad one) is that every historical post now displays neither a comment area nor a trackback URL. All existing comments and trackbacks, though, are still there and still display. In contrast, the TypePad blog still displays a comment area and a trackback URL in every post.

So high up on my TypePad wish list is item number 3 in the Comments + Trackbacks section of John T Unger’s 40+ Ways that TypePad Could Rock Even Harder list on TypePad Hacks:

It should be possible to turn off trackbacks or comments for all archived posts, rather than having to do this individually for each post.

While Movable Type supports multiple blogs under a single installation, standard WordPress doesn’t, so no system-wide enable/disable option. What is does offer you, though, for an individual blog is better control than with TypePad (click the image for a larger and more legible one):

However, WordPress is like TypePad – while you can enable/disable comments and trackbacks on new posts, you cannot apply such a setting change to historical posts.

So, I’d say you’d generally have the best control with Movable Type over how comments and trackbacks appear or not in your posts. This is one of the features where MT really does stand out. On the other hand, you have Akismet with WordPress which, in my view, is the best anti-spam plugin.

None of these measures will actually stop spam. But at least you can see the choices you have on different platforms to help you stop it appearing on your blog.

More reading:

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Craig McGinty

    Hi Neville

    I wonder if it possible to ‘cut out’ the comment box within the individual archive of a Typepad post.

    It needs someone a little more confident in changing Typepad templates than myself, but this may just leave past comments and mean spam software can not use the comment form.

    Then all it would need is to republish the site.

    Others may be able to help out with this one???

    Regards

    Craig

  2. neville

    That would be a great hack, Craig.

    With TypePad, you’d need to have access to the templates (you can only with the Pro service level) and know a bit about template tags. Not too difficult to figure out, though, what you’d need to edit and in which files.

    The same with WordPress – knowing which PHP codes to edit and in which files as, the same as with TypePad, you would need to edit a number of files. With WP, you have access to the templates (not with the hosted WP, though).

    It would be great to have a hacker guide for this, especially for TypePad! No, I’m not volunteering ;)

  3. Craig McGinty

    Yes you are right that you would need the Pro level so that you can edit the entry-indivual template, but looking at the page I think you would cut this:

    But deleting that and then republishing the site leaves the existing comments and gets rid of the comment form.

    People may consider it worth spending a little extra to upgrad to the Pro level, and once it becomes easier to turn off comments on all posts, then you downgrade!

    Regards

    Craig

  4. neville

    Craig, whatever you included for ‘cut this’ didn’t make it into your posted comment (I guess re the limitation in HTML that you can use here).

    Upgrading/downgrading to/from Pro is the only way I know of to get access to those templates.

  5. Phil Gomes

    I don’t see what the big deal about blog spam is:

    – Step One: Capture IP
    – Step Two: Geolocate
    – Step Three: Have spammer killed

    Why does everything have to be so damned complicated?

  6. Dennis Howlett

    It was a reason to move to WP – with which I can turn off comments/trackbacks after a specified period. Given the nature of the medium, that’s a reasonable approach IMHO.

  7. neville

    Nice and direct, Phil! Nuke the buggers! Why mess around, eh?

    Dennis, I think you can do that as well with Movable Type. Not with TypePad, though.

  8. Bud Parr

    Hi, saw this post at TypePad Hacks – Inspired me to put up a post of my own for a (admittedly cumbersome) way to shut off comments. In general, export your posts, change “ALLOW COMMENTS: 1” to “ALLOW COMMENTS: 2” delete the old posts (at your own risk), and import the adjusted posts. It is cumbersome and a control panel feature would be better, but if you need to change them and don’t want to switch to advanced templates or want to be able to keep the option open for the future, this may be the way to go.

  9. neville

    Thanks, Bud. I read your post. A great-sounding tip.

    I might try it myself once I hear from someone who has had 100% success with it and no disasters when restoring the backup ;)

  10. Inner Sanctum

    Trackbacks – a benefit and a curse…

    I have decided to start using the trackback feature of my blog. Why? Well, there are several reasons to this theory.

    The feature is built in. No escaping it, so why not use it?
    Trackbacks are great for your Technorati rating. Plus, if you are like me,…

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