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Akismet: All Our Comment Spam Fighting Eggs in One Basket

Recently, Blog Herald’s Abe Olandres wrote “Are We Betting Our Blogs on Akismet?” and he’s right.

Most of us running WordPress practically rely on Akismet to combat spam and according to its overall stats, 93% of all comments are spam (the real figures would be a bit higher than that). Today alone, there are close to 2 million spam being filtered out by Akismet. But what if Akismet fails again and the next time would be more disastrous? Thousands upon thousands of comments to either manually moderate, delete or flag as spam. That task could take hours and maybe even days especially for blog networks with dozens or hundreds of blogs to maintain.

The few times went down during its early testing days, the level of comment spam many experienced was moderately horrible. Twenty-five to a hundred or so comment spams got through during the precious couple of hours Akismet was offline.

However, today I often get more than a thousand comment spams per day. If those were to suddenly plow through into my comments while I’m on the road for a couple of days, I’d come back to a flooded comment area and a lot of work and frustration. Akismet recently added a feature to “recheck” your comment’s list for comment spam, just in case there is some problem with Akismet and your WordPress Plugins, but still…it makes you think.

If Akismet goes down, don’t think you’re safe because you don’t have a WordPress blog. According to the Akismet Development List and Resources, Akismet works with Movable Type, Drupal, phpBB, Blojsom, Bloxsom, Geeklog, Serendipity, Nucleus, b2evolution, PunBB, Express Engine, Coppermine, Lifetype, Simple Machine Forums, and others. More blogging platforms are taking advantage of the “community-support” technique of all bloggers working together to tag and stop comment spam provided by Akismet.

The team has stabilized their servers and have backup systems in place, so this is not a sky-falling opinion. However, I agree with Racoma that we need to have some form of backup on our own blogs, just in case something happens.

bloggers depend upon Akismet. Full version users have other options that work well with Akismet and offer a form of stop gap and backup. These include Spam Karma 2 and Bad Behavior 2.

I highly recommend you do not rely upon CAPTCHAs or torture tests for comments as those appear on your blog at all times, not just as a stop gap measure or backup. With the invasion of human comment spammers, this things don’t work. And they do a good job annoying your readers who want to comment.

Do you worry that your blog is becoming too dependent upon one comment spam fighting tool? Should you diversify?

Honestly, I think it’s time to stop comment spam at the root and start retraining those who think comment spamming is a good idea. Why should bloggers be punished with comment spam we don’t want? Let’s punish the comment spammers instead. You with me?

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22 Comments

  1. Posted March 26, 2007 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    I’m with you, Lorelle! Did you mean to say “turing” test… because I can see your thinking in calling it a “torture” test, too. I hate those things. Used to have one for a while when I was on Movable Type. I have found, however, that a combination of Bad Behavior and Askismet works beautifully. Maybe I’ll check out Spam Karma, also, just to be on the safe side.

  2. Posted March 26, 2007 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Oh, yes, I’m with you. Let’s punish the comment spammers. It’s easier to root out the problem than to keep putting up barriers. I do rely on Akismet.

  3. Posted March 26, 2007 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    You’re right about relying on just one. SK2 with Akismet is one of the best options.

    I put the Math plugin on my blog and have blocked all automated comment tests. I just need to take care of the trackbacks now. Any good suggestions?

  4. Seth
    Posted March 26, 2007 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Just curious if you’ve ever managed to speak with anyone over at Akismet. I’ve twice submitted a reasonable question via their online contact form (the only type of contact they offer), and my question remains unanswered. One can’t help but worry about relying so heavily on these guys when they don’t offer any meaningful responses (and this was a question that was likely to lead to the purchase of one or two of their commercial licenses, so there would be all the more reason for them to respond).

  5. Posted March 26, 2007 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    I got so tired of comment spam I actually took comments off for a couple weeks. At least it cut the porn spam down a bit. There drug spam still continued to show up in the filter.
    How can I get spam when comments and trackbacks are off?

  6. Posted March 26, 2007 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Apologies for being off topic, with comment spam being as important as it is. Just wanted to let you know, Lorelle, that for the past two days, I have really enjoyed being able to read your entire post in my feed reader and not “have” to come to the site, unless I am posting a comment. Thanks!

    Go Boldly!

  7. Posted March 26, 2007 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Dana: Thanks, I meant “torture test”. Anything that gets in the way between the reader and leaving a comment is a torture test, including math quizes, guessing games, and stupid questions like “Hi, my name is Sam. What is my name?”

    Ajay: The math question is a torture test. The blocking methods you are talking about are short term fixes. Gimmicks that only work for a short time. Akismet and Spam Karma (and Bad Behavior) take care of comment spam AND trackbacks. Why put more effort into things that won’t work over time? Focus on the more important things and use Akismet to mark comment spam and trackback spam to the information gets back to the entire community.

    James: As I said, you can use a torture test, use gimmicks that work temporarily, even turn comments and trackbacks off (by the way that only turns off sending trackbacks, not receiving them so you are hurting yourself) and you will still get comment spam. Use the right tools and work publicly to hurt those who comment spam in the first place and comment spam will go away. As for the feeds, don’t get too excited. It’s a test. It might not last.

    For all fans of the math question tests, read TechCrunch has 15,000 Spam Comments Per Day and Entrepreneurs Journey on why math equations don’t work for information on why quick fixes and torture tests do not work.

  8. Posted March 26, 2007 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Seth: Since you left no email in your comment form, I cannot forward your request to Akismet, but they do respond. They had some server difficulties recently, so your contact might have been lost in the jumble. I recommend you try again through their Contact Us page, and if you don’t hear from them, let me know, though I do not have any direct influence with them. I would just forward your email to them.

  9. Posted March 26, 2007 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    Maybe it’s time to recompile the unofficial list of plugins every WordPress user should have.

    Askimet has saved my duff every day. If those bad guys got through to me (and Askimet didn’t exist), I probably would have turned off comments for good. i still remember seeing spam comments on my first Blogger blog…

  10. Posted March 27, 2007 at 5:01 am | Permalink

    I’m with you 100%. Good reason to bring back the thumb screws.

    I use Akismet, SK2 to back it up and the Simple Trackback Validation plugin to back up that particular feature of SK2. I haven’t tried Bad Behavior yet but I need to revamp my theme/scripts I’m running (decrease the validation errors to only a dozen or so) and when I do I may add that to the fray as well.

    I’m ready to run up the Jolly Roger and run out the guns that’s for sure. When my small personal type effort in blogdom has 100 or more spamments in it’s queue, it’s time to do something.

  11. Posted March 27, 2007 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    How do we punish the spammer?

    It seems to me that the spammer wants us to follow a link and provide them with business. Is there a legal way to punish them by messing with their business?

  12. Posted March 27, 2007 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    I would love to punish the spammers instead, but as danithew says, HOW? The problem is, spammers only need a tiny fraction of a percent of positive responses to make it worth their while to continue the spamming. I personally know one person who was taken in TWICE by the nigerian spam three years back. This guy was a mortgage broker! So…that’s all the motivation they need. They are fraudlent advertisers, but of course siccing the FTC on them only is of limited benefit when they are overseas. As a global problem, it will probably take a global approach to eliminate or squish down to something manageable :-P

    Internet2 might have at least part of the answer: a completely authenticated, identifiable, nonforgeable protocol so everything can be traced back. Problem is, there’s a legitimate need for anonymity on the net and I don’t know if that need is addressed or not.

    I have wondered/worried about a DOS attack on Akismet, for example. I think it’s very important for all folk relying on anti spam software to use several for this very reason.

    I don’t remember where I first came across it (could have been here!) but Bad Behavior is an excellent companion to Akismet, and there’s several others.

  13. Posted March 27, 2007 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been using SK2 exclusively and it does an excellent job on its own. I’ve considered turning on Akismet, but I’ve never seen the need to.

  14. Posted March 27, 2007 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    How to punish comment spammers? It’s easier than you might imagine. I explain a few mthods in What Will Stop Comment Spam?.

    If you see a comment spam from a company you do business with, write the company and tell them you will not do business with them because they are using and supporting comment spam. Check with your own company, bank, airline service, whatever business you use and ask them if they do comment spam.

    Comment spammers are not all “in a foreign country”. They started out in your country and may still be going. Find out where they are based and write letters, blog about the founders, point negative fingers in their direction.

    Contact your political representative to develop legislation to stop comment spammers. Contact ad agencies and organizations to them them know that you do not want them to support, encourage, or permit the continued existence of these vile advertising methods and that you want them to stop it.

    Report splogs and use Akismet to “turn in comment spammers” to a centralized location. Hopefully, Akismet will work with government agencies or groups to identify and bring criminal action against the source of comment spam once legislation is in place to bring force against them.

    Publicize the evil doing of these businesses to encourage your readers to NEVER click on comment spam and help them to understand how vile this business is.

    And never, never, click on comment spam yourself. Don’t respond to email spam, either.

    Bloggers are a powerful consumer and united voice. Use it. You want to change the world, let’s start with stopping comment spam wasting precious bandwidth and wasting every one’s time and money.

    Is that a few good how tos? ;-) I’m sure you all can come up with even more ways to stop comment spam.

  15. Posted March 27, 2007 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    Hi Lorelle. It was Abe who wrote that. :)

    Anyway, lately I’ve been getting an influx of comment spams, I was beginning to wonder whether Akismet was down again. Sometimes I’m tempted to turn on moderation for all comments, or even asking readers to sign up before being able to write comments. But I’m an advocate of accessibility and usability.

  16. Posted March 27, 2007 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    Oops, sorry about that. I thought you were the only brilliant contributor there. ;-)

    The influx of comment and trackback spam comes because of a couple reasons. One is the math. If 1% of all comment spam gets through Akismet, and last week there were 100 comment spams and this week there are 1000, you are going to get more coming through just because of the math. Comment spam is growing, not shrinking.

    Akismet works on part because of community participation. We mark comment spam and it is reported to Akismet and it “learns” from our submissions. If we delete the comment spam, there is nothing to learn. Comment spammers are trying all kinds of new methods to get past our defenses. Akismet learns as fast as it can, but we have to help.

  17. Posted March 28, 2007 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Lorelle,

    As always, you are on target! I also wrote an informative article about a three-fold strategy that can eliminate up to 99.9% of SPAM, using CURRENT WordPress plugins- some of your readers might be interested in reading it. Some of the plugins work with other HTML systems as well.

    One of the big problems with all of this is still allowing trackbacks and pingbacks to get through your safety net while still allowing comments. For many of us those things are part of the reason we blog!

    The article is entitled: WordPress Comment Plugins: Building A Fortress To Defend Against Spam!

    Thanks for all your help with WordPress, I know I read all the time!

    Joseph Pisano ~MUSicTECHnology.net

  18. Posted March 28, 2007 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    I have been getting some interesting comments about Captchas…Do the “big time” bloggers really feel that aren’t as useful anymore? And… do you all feel that they do annoy?

    Great big companies like DIGG many other social bookmarking sites still rely on them, so they most still have some value… I’d like to know what you all think…

  19. Posted March 28, 2007 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Sites which use a registration method to “sign up” will use some form of CAPTCHA as a filter to try to separate machines from humans, though they find that this acts more like a filter than a stopper. It keeps the stupid bots out but not the human spammers or more sophisticated bots. Still, if it reduces the number by 3%, they are still ahead of the game.

    Blogs aren’t the same. CAPTCHAs have been proven to not work because they do not stop the human spammers or sophisticated bots, nor trackback comment spam, but more importantly, they piss off readers. I’ve personally and repeatedly had to reenter a comment up to six times attempting to get the CAPTCHA code right, even though I KNOW it was right every time. Now I give up after two tries, but soon, I will give up before trying. For every other time I find a CAPTCAH on a comment form, it will not work the first time for me. That’s a 50% screw up rate that frustrates even the most determined commenter.

    When there are other methods, why torture your readers.

    And honestly, if you have to remove manually 3-10 comment spam a day, that is still no reason to take more drastic measures when 100-1000 comment spam are being caught on the same day. The idea of a perfect weapon is silly. With the comment spammers working overtime to come up with ways to defeat comment spam protection, you cannot take a 100% comment spam free attitude.

    I put my readers first, working my hardest to keep their experience here as easy as possible to read and comment and using the best tools to keep my site comment spam free.

  20. Posted March 28, 2007 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Lorelle,

    You, a fellow named “Otto 42″, and some others have managed to change my mind about using a “capthca” type of defense. I have switched it out with Karma 2. One thing that I was not aware of with Karma 2, was it’s ability to rule out definite “non-spams” and auto post them without moderation. There should be a lot more “hype” about that feature. I’m going to evaluate the new combination of anti-spam tools for awhile… Thanks!

    Joseph Pisano ~MUSicTECHnology.net

  21. Posted March 29, 2007 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    Just a quick question here. Have you ever heard any reports of Bad Behavior blocking statistics engines a blogger might use from polling their site. I wouldn’t think so but the thought did occur to me after i installed the plugin.

    Just wondering.

  22. Posted March 29, 2007 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    Best to ask the author: Bad Behavior 2.


12 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] I was just over at Lorelle’s blog, reading a post about comment spam and all the measures we c… [...]

  2. [...] So in the place of my challenge guard, I’m adding Spam Karma 2.  I’ll let you know how it goes!  You can see more about the conversations about this at Lorelle’s WordPress site. [...]

  3. [...] spam fighting tool, has surpassed one billion comment spam catches. Akismet provides protection for more than 15 different blogging services, including WordPress. Congrats to all at Automattic for the awesome work developing this powerful [...]

  4. [...] some concern that WordPress users are putting all of our comment spam fighting eggs in one basket with Akismet; the plugin relies on external servers to function, and a failure of those servers [...]

  5. [...] Akismet: All Our Comment Spam Fighting Eggs in One Basket [...]

  6. [...] protection. Use it in conjunction with other spam protection plugins if you don’t feel like putting all your comment spam fighting eggs in one basket. Akismet has proven to be a phenomenal tool at killing [...]

  7. [...] I was just over at Lorelle’s blog, reading a post about comment spam and all the measures we c… [...]

  8. [...] 2.  I’ll let you know how it goes!  You can see more about the conversations about this at Lorelle’s WordPress site.The original article follows: It’s remarkable, programs like Akismet have protected us [...]

  9. […] Akismet: All Our Comment Spam Fighting Eggs in One Basket […]

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