Blogging 'bout Blogging

Pontification and bloviating about weblogging. Dear God, please make this the smallest category on my site.

wp-spamspan Protects WordPress Blogs Against Spam Harvesters

Nearly two years ago, I published wp-spamspan in my Software Archive. Good things come to those who wait: I finally published it in the public WordPress Plugins Directory:

This plugin allows you to post email addresses (such as chip [at] unicom [dot] com) on your WordPress blog. The plugin filters the display text and automatically munges email addresses to something like:

chip [at] example [dot] com

Then, when loaded into a web browser, a dynamic script scans the page and converts the munged email addresses back to clickable links.

My experience has been that the protection is very good, and the plugin has been reliable.

By the way, I didn't invent spamspan. I just adapted it to WordPress. You can read more about it here:

New Wordpress Plugin Provides Anti-Spam Protection Against Email Address Harvesting

I've just released a Wordpress plugin to protect email addresses that appear in the body of posts against harvesting by spam 'bots.

The plugin is called wp-spamspan. It works by automatically rewriting an email address that spam 'bots encounter into a form like:

chip [at] unicom [dot] com

But for people, the email address appears as a clickable link.

The home page for the plugin is here:

Mar 18 update: Today, I received approval to add this plugin to the official Wordpress directory. Watch for it there (real soon now...).

The Wisdom of Dumb People

I'm told that in this way new web 2.0 world we're supposed to trust to the wisdom of the masses. User-generated content! Crowdsourcing! Digging and tagging!

That's great, except for one small thing: 50% of those people are below average—or worse! Trust to the wisdom of crowds? I'd rather trust to the wisdom of smart people.

I have a feature on my website that asks people to "rate this article". After about a year, I'm ready to declare the experiment a failure.

I've tinkered with the algorithm. I think I have the formula right, but the results are still bogus. All I've done is create a mechanism that identifies which articles are most visited by spammers. (For some inexplicable reason, spammers often click the rating widget before posting their link for penis pills.)

I know it's out of fashion, but I like it when smart people help me make choices. We have a name for those smart people: we call them editors.

You Can Blog (Tonight)

The People-Powered Media [un]Workshop is tomorrow. It's an all day event, for people who create media, as well as people who support community media. It follows the unconference format, in that the organizers don't prepare the sessions in advance. Any attendee can choose to offer a session, and everybody else votes with their feet.

I plan to offer a tutorial session called You Can Blog (Tonight). The idea is to present blogging for people who haven't done it and aren't quite sure where to start.

I suppose conventional wisdom is that blogging is old hat, and everybody knows how to do it. My concern is that once you assume that, stagnation will set in.

A lot of people observe the ebb and flow of blogs and declare that blogging is dying. I disagree: it's a sign of health—just so long as you don't lose that flow part. So I think it's important to continue to make blogging approachable for people who may have something to say.

The Unnecessary Evil of RSS Cookies

There is absolutely positively no reason whatsoever for cookies to be triggered by an RSS (or ATOM) syndication feed. They have no practical benefit to the user. Thus, they are a bad practice and should be stopped. Content providers should avoid advertising bureaus that use them.

The primary promulgators of this evil are advertising bureaus such as Pheedo and Google AdSense for Feeds. The cookie problem isn't caused by the syndication feed itself. Instead, the feed includes advertisements from a third-party bureau, and the included ads serve up the cookies.

The purpose of HTTP cookies is to "add state" to a stateless protocol. HTTP, the protocol used on the web, simply fetches web pages. Cookies extend the protocol to let the server note important information such as your username, your session identifier, and your pornographic preferences.

The New Blog Spam

I recently wrote about the increase in manually generated blog spam I'm seeing, and the limitations of tools such as CAPTCHA for stopping it. Let me back up a bit to talk about what that spam looks like. I've got some examples to show you, for your amusement and irritation.

Blog spam is a comment posted to advertise a URL. (As opposed to a comment posted to advance the discussion.) Most blog spam is generated by bots. Bot-generated blog spam usually is obvious. When I see a comment with propecia, viagra, or Texas hold-em in the title, I know what to do with it.

As I noted in that previous post, I've found that a simple "math puzzle" ("what's 4 + 5?") is sufficient to stop the bot spam on my blog. (That may change as bots get more sophisticated.)

Irritating Twitter Behaviors

Twitter reminds me of MySpace a year ago: it's a fundamentally bad application and worse implementation that's won on the basis of capturing critical mindshare. All the cool kids are there now, but someday they will begin to leave Twitter—just as many groups have migrated en masse from MySpace for Facebook.

There is only one compelling reason to microblog at Twitter as opposed to some other place, such as It's not the features. It's simply because the people are there now. That's the only thing keeping people from leaving for a better platform or service. So, someday, when that "better enough" service emerges, they will. Community lock-in is not a viable long-term strategy. MySpace learned that lesson the hard way.

Spam Economics and CAPTCHA

Almost everybody hates spam, but the simple economics make it work. The costs to send spam are so low that payoff is achieved with a minuscule success rate. This applies not only to email spam, but also blog and web form spam.

The goal of conventional email spam is different than the goal of blog comment (and trackback) spam. Conventional spam is intended to lead to a direct sale. Follow the link in your email and buy some pills to increase your manhood. The primary goal of blog spam is not sales, but to increase the number of links to the spammer's web site. The blog spammer is trying to game the search engines. That's because search engines tend to treat web sites with more inbound links as popular and authoritative, and thus make them appear more prominently in result listings.

Sensible Podcast File Names

Please give your podcast files sensible names. By sensible, it means I should be able to look at your podcast files on my MP3 player or server, identify they are yours, and easily sort them chronologically.

Here are some guidelines to help do that.

Briefly identify the podcast source. And I do mean brief. It only needs to make sense to a person who knows they've subscribed to your podcast.

The "Science Talk" weekly podcast from Scientific American, for instance, names its files something like sa_podcast_080813.mp3. The simple "sa" is good enough to identify the file as a Scientific American podcast episode. I'd argue the "podcast" part of the name is redundant, and thus noise. I think a better name would be scitalk_080813.mp3. (But probably not better enough for them to bother changing.)

Bar Camp Austin III

Bar Camp Austin III logoJust got home from Bar Camp Austin III. I had a phenomenally good time.

You usually hear at gatherings like this that the interesting stuff happens in the hallways, and the sessions just fill the time between. Well, not here. The sessions were excellent. I didn't have to suffer a single product demo. Every session was well facilitated, the participants engaged, and nobody boorishly hogged the discussion.

One of my favorite sessions was titled something "Weblog Vanity Sites and Thought Leaders". No, I don't know what that means either. The organizer never showed up. So a bunch of us just talked about blogging, circling the topic back to how to make a difference (and be noticed) with our blogging. The group conclusion seemed to be that being "A List" (or noticed by the "A List") is becoming less important to getting ideas recognized. What's most important is becoming a respected authority in a niche area--which may involve an offline presence in addition to your blogging.

Congratulations to whurley and all the organizers on a job well done.

Thanks to GSD&M for hosting the event. One of the things that made the day so great was the large number (five) of session rooms, and plenty of room to mill about between.

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