No Fancy Name
Friday, August 19, 2005
fighting splogs and spammers with "Flag?" and Captchas in Blogger Comments
This was a busy week for the fine folks who build/manage/maintain all that is Blogger. In addition to the new Blogger for Word tool, two additional items were released into the wild: Flag? and Captchas in Blogger Comments. These two items are just a drop in the bucket in the fight against splogs and spammers, but it's a really good start.

Oh yeah, splog? Spam + blog = splog. Say you're next-blogging [that is, clicking the "next blog" link in the Blogger NavBar] and you come across a blog like this, where the content consists of nothing more than spam content and/or google juice intended to raise the page rank of the offending site, so it ends up higher in search results, leading users to click on their advertising links, thus leading to money in the sploggers' pockets. Very roughly, that's how it works.


Flag a Blog for Objectionable Content [see figure 1]
When you visit a blog with the Blogger NavBar enabled, and you feel the content of the blog is questionable or objectionable, click the Flag? link to notify Blogger. Examples of questionable or objectionable content include spam blogs and sites engaging in or encouraging illegal activities. For more information on the specifics of this tool and what counts as "objectionable content," visit its Blogger Help page.

When you press the Flag? button, it will change to the Unflag? button, which is good because I've already flagged myself during a misfired attempt to press the Next Blog button.

Some things to note:
- Some people have removed the code from their template that spits out the Blogger NavBar. If a spammer has done this, you won't get a Flag? button. You can still report Terms of Service violations here.

- In order for the Flag? button to appear in the Blogger NavBar, if the NavBar is visible, the blog must have been republished sometime since the evening of August 17th. If a spammer has not added a new post to their splog since then, their Blogger NavBar won't have a Flag? button. You can still report Terms of Service violations here.

Now, on to Captchas in Blogger Comments. If you are using Blogger comments and not a third-party comment system such as Haloscan, then I highly recommend turning on comment captchas. When Flag? was announced, the first thing I thought was "now if they could only do something about the comment spammers." My idea was to add a "report as spam" checkbox to the comment deletion confirmation that a blog owner goes through to delete a comment from Blogger. Yes, users of Haloscan will recognize that such a feature is part of the Haloscan comment management system—something Blogger does not have. My thought was that it would enable Blogger to identify problem user accounts as well as IPs, for those spammers who were forced to use a Blogger login to do their spamming. [side note: if you get spam from someone using a Blogger account, follow the link to their profile and if they have a splog, flag it!]

The next day, we get the ability to enable captchas, which are a type of test used to tell computers and humans apart. In other words, spammers can't use automated spam tools because they must type the characters seen in an image—something a computer cannot read. Thus, the spammer must actually do the spamming manually, going through the captcha process each time. It will take considerably longer for them to do their spamming, and/or force them to hire spammer lackeys, thereby reducing the ROI on their spamming activities. Neener neener!

The flip side? Non-spammer commenters will have to type the captchas. Personally, I don't have a problem with it, but I have no accessibility issues and am speaking for myself. There are accesibility issues with enabling captchas, so each individual blogger using Blogger comments should think about your audience, the number of comments you get on your posts especially from repeat visitors (sometimes commenting can get almost IM-like between people), and the number of spam comments you've had to remove and if that number has increased in recent weeks.

If you decide to turn on captchas for Blogger comments log into Blogger and click on the Change Settings icon in the Blogs section of the Blogger Dashboard. Click the Comments link to access the commenting settings. Again, these instructions assume you are using Blogger comments and not Haloscan comments, and thus the "Show" radio button is checked for the Comments field on your Comments settings page. Further down the page you will see the Show word verification for comments? field. Set the radio button to "Yes" to enable captchas. The default value is "No". When you have finished modifying your settings, press the Save Settings button. From that point forward, captchas will be enabled for your Blogger comments. This figure shows the settings page and points out the items described above.

This figure shows comment captchas in action. The commenting interface is predominantly the same; the captcha is an addition and nothing has been removed. After typing the contents of your post and selecting your user/user type (if applicable), enter the characters displayed in the captcha in the Word Verification field. Press the Login and Publish or the Preview as applicable. If you fail the captcha test, your comment will be saved in the textarea and you will just be given another chance to pass the test, with a different image.

For more information on the new Word Verification in Blogger Comments, visit its help page.

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