The GASP/Akismet Experiment

It’s not often I do an experiment based on a post I read on another blog but I decided it was time to give one a shot. In this case it was based on a post that our friend Ileane wrote (yes, she actually does sometimes write posts on here blog lol) titled 5 Popular WordPress Plugins You Need to Ditch Now! One of the plugins she talked about ditching was Akismet, which I’ve always kind of had a love affair with, and thus I had to confront her, nicely of course, about the recommendation.

Has the NSA spying gone too far?
greg lilly via Compfight

(Growmap Anti-Spybot Plugin) would get the whole job done without Akismet help. It was developed by Andy Bailey of CommentLuv fame who, interestingly enough, said in an interview I did with him in 2009 that most plugin developers shouldn’t start off by trying to go after Akismet, and years later that’s exactly what he did. 🙂 I wasn’t really sure about it, but I told her I was going to experiment and write about it; this is that post.

A brief bit of history for the uninitiated. There have been a lot of people that have complained that Akismet does two negative things. It can put people on a negative list and thus always have every post of theirs showing up in spam or even being deleted before it ever reaches the spam filter. I’ve always said I had never noticed it and thus it didn’t impact me, but then Gail Gardner of Growmap did an extensive test last year on it and found that some of these issues might be true.

I still dismissed it because Akismet has always done a premium job for me, so it seemed. But I was compelled to do this experiment, and here’s what I’ve kind of come up with.

First, this week I’ve had less spam showing up in my spam filter than ever before. That’s both a good and bad thing mentally because often I had legitimate comments showing up in the spam filter, and over the past week I’ve only had one show up. I don’t know if this means it’s deleting legitimate people who it thinks is a spambot or if this week most of the people that comment have gotten it right.

Second, once I started the experiment I checked the box to allow trackbacks because I wanted to see how it handled them. I did get a lot of those in two days showing up in the spam filter, but not a single legitimate trackback so I turned it back off quickly enough. No trackbacks since.

Third, let me mention the spam filter. I wasn’t sure what would happen if I turned off Akismet and spam came in, but bad messages will still go to the spam filter, so that’s a good thing.

Fourth, if you saw my post about my comments problem you’ll see that I emptied a large folder through PhpMyAdmin that was holding all these statistics from my Count Per Day plugin, which I’ve also inactivated. When I went back I noticed my second largest file was something called wp_commentmeta, and it turns out that’s the file of everything that Akismet collects on comments it’s passed through and denied. Supposedly the WordPress program is supposed to empty that sucker here and there, but mine had never emptied over the years. Since I’d inactivated the plugin I was also able to empty that folder, and now I have so much capacity I feel like I need to start writing more. lol Yes, you can empty that folder safely, even if you’re still using it. And it seems there’s no files being created or filled up by GASP (which I’m still trying to figure out how I got ranked #1 on Google for ‘GASP anti-spybot’).

In my opinion, the GASP plugin has provided some peace overall to this blog, and that’s not a bad thing. I think I’m going to keep things as they are until I see there’s a reason to activate Akismet again, which I’m kind of doubting. And I’m going to do it on my other blogs as well. See, I can learn something from others. lol
 

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Strange Looking Spam

What is it with spam? Truthfully, I get the part about trying to get backlinks by almost any means necessary. But some of it is even confusing to me because it really makes no sense.

Over the past couple of weeks, in high volume no less, I’m getting stuff that looks like this:

Star2Pros – Get off the lower ladders…

[…This trackback notifies you of the usage of…]…


sarcodosis skin problems…

[…]the time to read or visit the content or sites


Effective Weight Loss Programs…

[…]below, are a few not really different sites than this one, but still the sites are absolutely worth checking out[…]…


1.) Home Security…

2.) […]here are some links to sites that we link to because we think they are worth visiting[…]…


1.) Keys, locks and more…

2.) […]we came across a cool site that you might enjoy. Take a look if you want[…]…


Weight Loss Secrets…

[…]even though the URLs we hyperlink beneath are completely not that similar to ours, we posit that they are worth visiting, so have a look[…]…


If I’m getting stuff like this, almost everyone else has to be getting this type of thing as well. My question is twofold. One, if I’m running the GASP Anti-Spambot program, doesn’t it mean this stuff is getting through because someone is deliberately doing it? And if so, who in their right mind would think that anyone who’s paying attention would look at this stuff and say “yeah, that looks legit, I think I’ll keep it around?

Here’s comment on the first question. I’m at the point now where I’m starting to think someone has come up with software to get around the plugin. I say that because I’ve always been under the impression that if someone didn’t check that box, nothing was getting through. I knew that some stuff would still end up in the Akismet spam filter, but I didn’t think it would get to voluminous so quickly, and it has, across all 4 of my blogs. I know Sire discovered that some nefarious folks are actually paying people to post blog comments, but I can’t believe anyone would pay someone to post junk like above.

Here’s my comment on the second question. I don’t think anyone really cares about the message so much as they care about seeing what they can get away with. With all of the messages above having the same style, it seems more possible that the set up of the message might have something to do with how it all gets through the plugin. I’m not technical enough to know how it could be related, but the proof is in the pudding (another saying I have no idea where it comes from).

The thing is that it gives the impression that it’s trackback spam, but it’s not. I’ve gone to a couple of the websites that end up being shown as the domain name and there’s never any mention of one’s website or blog post, thus it’s not that. Still, I’m trying the option GASP gives you in eliminating the ability of anyone to send trackbacks to your blog, just to test it for a couple of days. I don’t have much faith that it’ll stop, since I don’t think it’s related to trackbacks.

Man, these spam people are just so smart and creative, aren’t they? I guess we should be thankful that they’re not trying to figure out how to take money out of our bank accounts before it even gets there.

But we’re not. 🙁
 

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Akismet Is, Well, Too Good?

The latest update to Akismet has been an interesting one. There are some changes that are apparent because of it, and one that’s kind of driving me nuts.

The first changes concern the extra notification on both comments and on spam comments. On the first, you see something telling you that they’ve approved the comment being there. That’s pretty obvious since the comment is there, so that seems redundant. If you make a change, such as sending a comment to spam or trash, it tells you what you did. That’s redundant as well since WordPress tells you that same thing. Oh yeah; it actually flagged a comment I wrote as needing to be moderated; that’s never happened before. And when I finish writing my comment, it tells me it’s approved it; interesting as well.

As it regards spam it tells you that it’s decided a post is spam. That’s obvious because it’s in the spam filter, and thus it’s redundant. And if you move it out of spam it tells you that you’ve moved it out of spam, which is redundant because WordPress tells you that as well. So, both of those moves were unneeded.

Here’s the biggie, though. Immediately after I upgraded on all 3 of my blogs, suddenly I had tons more spam. I was used to getting a lot of spam a day, but I could check in a 4 hour period and I might have between 15 to 20 spam messages; that was okay. Suddenly I was getting between 30 and 80 every hour; what the hey? And trying to be conscientious, I was looking through all of those messages, and out of 3 blogs I only found 2 comments that I thought were legit. Suddenly spam was an issue, and not because Akismet wasn’t working.

Where did all those messages suddenly come from? Freaked me out, to be sure. The first thing I did was go to the discussion tab under settings and change one of the parameters to close comments on all blogs more than 90 days old on all 3 blogs. But that troubled me because I don’t really mind getting legitimate comments on old posts. Then I realized I did have an option, and decided to go for it on two of my blogs.

I decided to go ahead and try the Growmap Anti Spambot Plugin to my other two blogs; I haven’t added it to this one. Most of you know it adds a little box for people to check to prove they’re not spammers. Frankly, I don’t get as many comments on those two blogs, and they both seemed to be getting way too many spam messages. I added it, then waited an hour and checked both. All that spam… gone. Whew!

So why haven’t I added it onto this one yet? Strangely enough, it’s because I’m actually on this blog most of the day, or at least have the administrative area open. I check it often, and thus it’s easier for me to keep up with all the spam. For now, I can still deal with it all. But I’m not going to be hesitant to add it if things get out of hand. It does work well, which I figured it might. I don’t want to add something extra that might impede comments, but one sometimes has to pick their battles.

Update – As of the 12/17 update, it looks like Akismet has removed those notifications from the comments area; thank goodness! I haven’t noticed a change in spam just yet, but I’m going to be monitoring my other sites to see what goes on.


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When Things Get Personal On Blogs

This is a rant post, and I’m naming names. I’m going to try to be fair, but if I’m not, part of me doesn’t care, but the other part almost apologizes up front; almost, that is.

black-man-rant

There is a post on a blog called Growmap that’s ranting against Akismet. Okay, Akismet might not be perfect, but I’ve been a major supporter of the program for almost 4 years, and I’m not going against them now. The writer, Gail, has done some testing and supposedly she has seen that some comments end up being killed by Akismet. Not moved to the spam folder, but killed overall.

Or so she says; one never really knows if a post was accidentally deleted by someone when they emptied their spam folder or if a post was deemed as being spam by the reviewer. I know many bloggers who say they never check their spam filter; that’s not good, but it’s their blog so life is what it is. I will say that in reading other posts of Gail’s that she tends to be very thorough, as much as one can be.

Anyway, she and a few other people have gone on a crusade against Akismet, even though Gail states that she doesn’t hate it. Okay, that’s fine. I put a comment on her post saying I support Akismet and was a major fan. It wasn’t all that long a comment, and it wasn’t the first (update 6/2015; she updated the post & removed all those previous comments, including mine).

However, the response I got was way out of proportion to my original comment, and other people were skipped; to me, that was intentional and personal, and I didn’t like it one bit. And me being me, well, I don’t demure from certain things, so I commented back, trying to temper my language (I don’t curse, but I can be kind of mean spirited at times when pushed), and I think my response was okay.

Next thing I know, I receive responses on this blog from two of her supporters, one writing from a place called Linda Christas, which is supposed to be an online training organization of some sort (no, I’m not linking to them). They’re supporting Gail, which is fine, but they wrote these long comments on a post of mine that has nothing to do with the subject matter I wrote about.

In my mind, that’s spam, and I don’t appreciate it, and I went to Gail’s blog and said as much. There’s a point at which things cross the line and get truly personal, and I don’t take that kind of mess kindly, especially when the people saying stuff are trying to hide, in their own way, who they are.

One of the people, a woman named Leone, wrote with the email address of this Linda Christas. There’s this woman who either really works there or is a scam of some sort who calls herself Dr. Ann. This person has posted comments on my blog and other blogs.

At first the comments seem to match up to the content. Then they go off topic and start this rant against Akismet. It seems Linda Christas is on a crusade against Akismet, and they’re trying hard to pull other people into the process.

If you think I’m the only one who sees this and is calling it out, check out this post on TechPatio titled Comment Spam, She’s Back: Dr. Ann Voisin From Linda Christas College. And if you want to see his first post on this person and this college, which was only days earlier, check this one out as well, titled Akismet Blocking Your Blog? No Way, Just a SPAM Trick!.

Of course my respect for this college is gone, especially since I just saw a post on their site, unordinarily long, ranting against Akismet, and frankly it parrots the same type of tripe I’ve seen coming from a few other places. At least Gail did a study of some sort, which I applaud her for (see, I’m trying to be fair here).

Gail also called me out on her blog asking if she’d ever written anything that I considered as spam on this blog and I had to tell her yes, the last time she visited, which was June 2009. So, this could color her idea in some way of what spam just might be. Her last response to me, before I got mad because of the other people who came from her blog to post their “threats” about not visiting this blog again, was not in attack mode, and I appreciate that as well.

I need to say this. I have gone on attack mode on other people’s blogs, so I’m not totally innocent here. However, if I do that, I do it for one of two reasons.

One, you don’t get to go after any of my friends without a confrontation from me; that’s what loyalty is all about, and if my friends don’t breach the rules of proper decorum in another place, I’ve got their back.

Two, you don’t get to get away with racist or misogynist or any other type of hateful speech and think I’m going to let it go. Too many people decide to turn the other way and let that kind of thing go by, and that’s why we end up with some of the problems we have in this world.

Sure, I don’t expect the majority to always step in to help fight these things because it’s not in their interest; they have nothing to gain by speaking out for those who they indirectly believe are less than themselves, even if they don’t express it. So, if anyone goes to Gail’s blog and reads my initial post and thinks I attacked her in any way, please explain to me how I did it.

So, I have no respect for Linda Christas and the type of people it seems to put out; yes, that’s an attack. If people representing them believe they can come into my house and spit on my rug, it’s not happening.

I left the other comment on my previous post, even though it had nothing to do with the topic; believe me, that won’t happen again, and if someone wants to cry censorship, tough. I pay for this space, and there are comment rules; don’t follow them, don’t expect anything extra-special coming your way on my part because you feel you have the right. That mess won’t be tolerated.

If it happens on this post, it might be tolerated, since I’m in attack mode, so to speak. But we’ll see. Meanwhile, I’m going to continue using Akismet, and I don’t care who likes it or doesn’t like it. People who use Disqus or Intense Debate know I don’t like those things, and yet they continue using it. Because it’s their right to use it, just as it’s my right to use Akismet. We can debate the merits of it; no problem. But when it goes further, when it gets personal… I’ll stop there.
 

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How To Tell A Post Is Spam

You know, I wouldn’t think that most people couldn’t identify spam when they see it. However, I’ve been to enough blogs and seen enough spam even on those blogs where people seem to usually monitor what’s going on in their comments area.

Heck, I know spam is getting pretty sneaky. Sometimes it’s hard to tell a good comment from a spam comment. If you’re not paying attention a new spam comment will show up on an old post, which is why I recently talked about making some posts private.

Still, you must be vigilant in fighting the great spam battle. If you don’t, not only will the spammers win, but those savvy visitors of yours that see you can’t tell spam from the real thing might decide to stay away. So, let’s see if I can help you out in some fashion.

1. Watch out for insulting spam. There are obviously trolls whose job, so they feel, is to make everyone else’s life miserable. Insulting spam is usually pretty easy to determine, though; it’s never on topic.

2. Watch for spam that’s not on topic. Maybe I should have started with this one, but I’m bringing it up now. There is spam that looks pretty good and you might miss it because you don’t read to the end. If a comment starts out intentionally evasive, it’s probably going to continue being so, or else it will introduce something that makes no sense whatsoever.

3. Set your spam filter to move a comment with even one link in it to your spam folder. Sure, every once in awhile you’re going to get a legitimate post in there, but what I’ve seen most often is someone following up a post with a link in it with a second post saying “hey, my post didn’t show up”, or something to that effect. I hope everyone checks their spam folders.

4. One line comments. Unless you know the person, you should probably just delete all of these anyway. Keeping something that says “nice post” is an insult to your blog, and is most probably spam.

5. Check out the email addresses. Most people aren’t using Hotmail anymore, but even if they are, if the name before “@” doesn’t make sense it’s probably spam. If the name you’re given is of one sex but the name in the email address is of another sex, it’s probably spam.

6. It used to be that spam didn’t come with images, but now it does. Make sure you read the comment instead of relying on the fact that there’s now a gravatar attached.

7. Now spam can come in your name. That used to be an easy tell as well, but some of the more sophisticated spam can read who the author of the post is and add it to their comment.

8. If the comment is written to the “webmaster”, it’s spam. Who really uses the term “webmaster” anymore anyway?

9. If the post is in another language and you’ve only ever written in one language, it’s most probably spam. Back in the day I used to copy some of those messages into translation websites to see if it was saying anything pertinent; just scrap it and move on.

10. Finally, if you’re not sure, even with these tips, you can always test the waters by sending an email to the email address. Write a short post saying something like “just seeing if this email is valid before I allow the comment on my blog.” If you get a rejection back, or heck, if you get nothing back, consider it spam and kill it. Even if it’s not really spam, if the person on the other end doesn’t respond, then they probably had no intentions of coming back to your blog, in which case you didn’t need their comment anyway.

I hope that helps. Of course, if you have Akismet on your blog it will help even more.

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