Those of you expecting a geography topic may be a bit disappointed with this article. Feel free to jump down directly to the “totally unrelated” section or return in a couple of days when I get back to the usual content. Today I diverge completely to another one of my favorite topics, my ongoing battle with spammers who try to stuff my comments box with their worthless drivel.
I started experiencing a new kind of comments spam within the last few weeks: it’s generated by real humans instead of bots. I’m mildly giddy in a sense. It feels like a sign that I’ve "arrived." It’s also a bit disconcerting because it skillfully sidesteps all of my automated deflections. I become the sole line of defense. I have to read each comment and decide consciously whether I should accept it or not.
Meet Joe. Everyone, say hi to Joe. [Hi Joe!] You’ll get to know him better later.
Twelve Mile Circle isn’t exactly a high-value, large volume target like Google Sightseeing. I do generate a modest yet reliable traffic stream as one can ascertain from little ClustrMap along the right column. Is that why they are attempting to evade my quality assurance mechanisms? Ah, who am I kidding? Maybe everyone with a blog gets this stuff now.
My arms race with the spammers has resulted in a ratcheting of progressive efforts:
- I’ve never allowed unmoderated comments. That’s simply an invitation to trouble.
- Bots discovered 12MC within days of its creation and started stuffing the moderation queue almost immediately. I added a one-minute delay. That’s generally not a problem for humans because we usually take more than a minute to draft a well-crafted comment, although I realize it’s sometimes an inconvenience if you wish to post a quick note.
- They also bypassed the articles entirely by going directly to the "wp-comments-post.php" file. I replaced that with a randomly-named file. This one simple step eliminated the majority of bots which are rather unsophisticated. I would have received an extra 5,208 fake comments to sort through without this simple solution in October 2011 alone, some 168 per day!
- Then the spammers discovered that ping-backs were a back door into WordPress blogs. I disabled ping-backs.
- They also began to use more intelligent bots. I had to close comments on all articles more than a year old to cut that down to a manageable level.
- A few still managed to slip through the cracks so I became very aggressive about filtering and deleting messages with certain keywords. I guess it’s possible that one of you might legitimately mention a medication or body part in one of your comments, but if you do it will go directly into the trash and I’ll never see it.
Here’s what Joe had to say after visiting my recent discussion of European Capitals of New York.
Hey buddy! This is a great research you worked with. I’m pretty much surprised European capitals diffused within the state. It’s tremendous news and I’m glad you did it successfully. Cheers
I know! It’s just like real spam except it’s personalized with a phrase pulled from the first paragraph of the article. I tried to do something similar with a few of my other articles to see if could have been bot-generated, but the phrases didn’t make sense. I think it’s better-than-even odds that this one is human-generated.
What leads me to believe it’s spam and not a sincere attaboy? Go ahead and look at that photo of Joe again and consider the facts.
- He claims his name is Joe
- His email address (that I can see but you cannot) says his name is Frank Adalbert
- His web address (which I deleted ’cause I’m the editor and I have that power) promoted an online telephone directory
- His syntax implies that English isn’t his native language
- I’m receiving suspiciously similar comments with different names and faces.
- His IP Address corresponds to Augere Wireless Broadband Bangladesh Limited. At the risk of playing to a stereotype, does Joe look Bangladeshi? Just saying.
Someone in a Bangladeshi sweatshop is getting paid to post spam with links to specific websites, to increase their page rank and come up higher in search engine queries. I don’t have a particular problem with the person at the far-end of this transaction trying to put food on the table in a place with considerably fewer opportunities than I am fortunate enough to experience. The slimy company that uses these nefarious techniques to sell SEO services by artificially increasing page ranks and the company that purchase these services, however, deserve to be cursed. The joke is on them: all comment links on 12MC are tagged so that all major search engines will ignore them in page rank scores.
Joe, if you are real, I owe you a big apology.
I’ve noticed two geo-oddities in the news recently:
First, Carhenge is for sale. My favorite quote from the article is, "motorcyclists riding to the annual summer rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, jokingly consider Carhenge a curse because it lures them into Nebraska, which requires bikers to wear helmets."
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Second, Arizona is thinking about turning a small length of Interstate 15 that clips a corner of the state into a toll road. Utah, predictably, is in a bit of a snit. I don’t think it’s any worse than the long-standing Delaware Border Tax though.