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.
The virtual file folder is bulging at the seams but none of the topics I’ve collected for today are large enough to merit a standalone article. There should be something for just about everyone here today, something new, or old, or refurbished or random.
Haines Shoe House
Wouldn’t you visit the Haines Shoe House if you were up in York Pennsylvania over the weekend? What could possibly be more entertaining than visiting a house shaped like a shoe? Well, plenty of things if you ask my family but that still didn’t deter me. Arriving at the shoe and finding it CLOSED certainly deterred me though. That’s why I have only a single image of this roadside oddity rather than an entire article and photo montage devoted to it.
Incidentally, how does one close a shoe? I discovered it’s apparently not by tying a knot in the laces. No, it’s accomplished by placing thick chains across the driveways. My disappointment dissipated when we arrived at Mount Joy about twenty minutes later for dinner at Bube’s Brewery. They had a great biergarten out back with live music and great beverages on a perfect springtime evening. Shoe House? What Shoe House?
That Horribly-Named Andean Bear
"They" say a bad name will haunt you forever, and Chaska is a really bad name. Recall about a week ago when we had an opportunity to name an Andean bear after a geo-oddity. The polls closed, the votes were tallied, and the National Zoo reports that "Chaska had edged out Paqarina by merely 72 votes (garnering 1,799 votes, or 37 percent of the total). Chaska, meaning the ‘dawn star,’ was submitted by the Embassy of Peru."
Wait a minute — Roraima didn’t even make it into the top two?!? Don’t people realize that she would have been named after the mountain that hosts the Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana tripoint? Punks. I weep at the state of geographic education in public schools today.
Incidentally, it turns out that Chaska is also a town in Minnesota. Maybe the name isn’t so bad after all.
Random Entertaining Street View Images
New reader Joah stumbled across my recent Inuvik post and he decided to share a related image. Apparently there isn’t much to do way up north because look what they’ve done to the roadside along the Dempster Highway
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You can find a bunch more graffiti that’s similar to this set along other roadcuts just to the north.
He also shared a random odd image that will likely change in the future so I’m provide this as a screen print. For now the error continues to appear in Street View but it will likely be erased the next time a camera car rolls through town. Either that or there’s a sideways house built on a really steep hill outside of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Then I got a message from loyal reader Steve from CMTQ with another Street View anomaly. It was quite the exciting day with all these great Street View images rolling in. Here Google forgot to erase one of the car’s windows when it processed the image. It will disappear someday so enjoy it for now.
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I’ll Never Mention a Certain Radio Show Again
We had a fun time discussing a rather lamely written trivia question, but apparently every spammer on the planet searches rss feeds looking for the name of the show that generated the question. I’ve gotten hundreds of attempted spam comments on the blog, almost all deflected prior to reaching to the moderation queue, and dozens of junk links from fake blogs that I’ve deflected via moderation ever since we mentioned that show in the comments. That show must generate absolutely amazing amounts of traffic if spammers target ferocious intensity on those who merely mention it.
Every comment on Twelve Mile Circle is moderated. If you’ve taken the time and effort to respond to one of my posts with something thoughtful you can be totally assured that I’ve genuinely read it. A few months ago I had a growing problem with spammers. Thankfully I found a solution that keeps that junk away from my pages automatically. I almost never see it anymore. Spam comments now approach zero on my site although I see from the web logs that 276 attempts were blocked in just the first twelve days of September!
Spammers are a resilient bunch however, and there’s another less-common method they sometimes try: setting up phony blogs that reference posts in legitimate blogs. In WordPress, the software behind Twelve Mile Circle and millions of other blogs, a blog posting from another site that happens to reference one of your blog postings can be allowed to appear as a "comment" on your blog. I still moderate them and soundly reject them when inappropriate of course, but I guess the spammers work on the premise that people will be less vigilant if it’s an incoming link from another blog. Anyway, I thought it would be fun to geolocate a few of the more recent fake blogs that have come knocking on my door:
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Admittedly this is a very small, self-selecting and unscientific sample but it still results in some interesting patterns. First, it’s a worldwide scourge: Europe (France, Latvia), Asia (Pakistan, India, China), North America (United States) and South America (Brazil). Greed is truly an international phenomenon. Second, that segment of U.S.A. population that grumbles about motives and ethics of foreigners should note that about half of the sleazebags in my sample are homegrown.
It’s all about backlinks, the links that come onto a website from external sources. And by extension, advertising revenue. There is a presumption that if a page has lots of external links it must somehow be "better" than one with fewer. Search engines take this into consideration in their algorithms to determine the websites they will display to their users and in which order. Coming up sooner on a search result means more viewers referred to the website, and more viewers equals more advertising revenue. The ethically challenged often use link farms, or collections of websites that reference each other, in an attempt to game the system. Search engines have been modified to catch a lot of this, so in this constant cat-and-mouse game, spammers are finding method to generate backlinks from "legitimate" websites.
With the external blog comment method, typically what I see on fake blog postings is a block of text copied word-for-word from one of my postings with a link to my post. Usually there are 30 or 40 other websites similarly referenced on the same page of the fake blog. Generally there is a unifying theme or key word that ties all of the websites together, but the context is jumbled and doesn’t quite make sense. Invariably these pages are also festooned with the maximum allowable units of Google AdSense or Yahoo! Content Match advertising. They’re hoping that by referencing lots of blog postings they will generate sufficient backlinks to score high on search engines results and thereby get those eyeballs on the advertisements. The fact that search engine results produce bogus, useless suggestions, with viewers gets zero benefit is irrelevant to the miscreants who produce fake blogs. It’s all about the money from the ads.
There’s sufficient similarity to the bogus blogs that leads me to wonder if perhaps there’s a master spammer out there somewhere who’s created a turn-key package to generate these sites, and who is selling the solution to others. It must not be too difficult technologically to auto-generate maybe several tens or hundreds of thousands of these fake blog entries along thematic lines. If each of several-thousand fake posting results in just a single hit each day, it’s possible to see that someone living in Lahore, Pakistan, or Riga, Latvia, or Laurel, Mississippi, might be able to live pretty well. I still think it’s unethical but I can see how it might be tempting to those with a "get rich quick" mentality.
That doesn’t mean I have to help them, though. I will continue to reject any comment — whether posted directly on the site or coming indirectly as a reference from an external blog posting — unless it truly adds value to my readership. One is judged by the company one keeps. If all the comments on my site were crap then the whole site would be crap. That’s not going to happen.