Blog Comments, CAPTCHAs and Comment Spam

January 28, 2013

What would you do? I want to know! Let’s talk about comments, CAPTCHAs and comment spam and I’d like you to tell me what should be done.

First, let’s talk about the CAPTCHA. Typically it appears as a distorted series of characters that you need to enter to prove you are a human. I know you hate them. I hate them too. Yes, I know it can be difficult to type it right even when you are a human. So my question is not if you like CAPTCHAs or not because I already know that answer. The problem is what happens when I turn them off.

What happens? I get bombarded by comment spam on the blog. To be more exact, I get at least 25 completely spammy comments. The goal of those leaving this junk is to get a link to their Web site. No, this isn’t something even remotely related as I don’t mind links if they are relevant. Don’t believe me? Look at the sample below. I’ve included it as a bitmap (a screenshot from my e-mail) to avoid the spammer getting any credit for it.

You’ll notice that many of these comments start out by praising the blog or asking a somewhat relevant question. Yet they all end with a link to something totally unrelated. These comments are not made by humans. It is all software driven. Dealing with all of these bogus comments takes at least a small part of my time to make sure they don’t get published. Google does filter out almost all of them, but I still have to check to make sure.

I can make the comment stop immediately by simply enabling the CAPTCHA. Unfortunately some of my loyal readers are unable to post legitimate comments when I do this. So do you think the CAPTCHA should be on to prevent the spammers (and make it harder for loyal readers) or off to allow them to waste my time?

Many of you receive the blog via e-mail each day. For those who don’t, you should consider signing up for free! Rather than posting a comment, they simply reply to the e-mail. I don’t mind hearing from readers via e-mail, it simply means that the conversation (about the blog post) is only seen by two people. So if you are an “comment e-mailer”, would you please think about posting a comment on the blog instead? If I’m getting more legitimate comments, the spam doesn’t seem as annoying.

How do you comment from the e-mail you receive? Below is a screenshot sample of the top of the e-mail for the blog post Clipart Unleashed and ROMCat Team Up to Find Right Artwork.

I have circled the post title in red. Just click on the title in your mail reader and it will take you to the blog post on the Web site. Then simply scroll to the bottom of the post and enter your comment.

Why should you post a comment rather than sending an e-mail? First and foremost it does help the blog receive more traffic. So I definitely appreciate it! Just as important is that everyone can see your comment and you do have important information to share. Sometimes you add to what I’ve said, other times you challenge what I’ve said. As others read the post and the comments, they can chime in with more information. In times when I’m asked for more information, my answer is seen by everyone instead of just the person who sent the e-mail. Also note that many times it is a comment that gives me the idea for future posts.

Go ahead and give it a try on this post. Let me know what settings I should use for the CAPTCHA, and why.

Post Discussion

17 Comments

  1. Rus Hardy

    If it saves you time and adds to the quality of the blog I’m all for leaving it on. Granted IE in Win8 has some problems with CAPTCHA and a lot of web forms but I run a dual boot win 7/8 system so I can always use 7. Thanks for the blog.

    Reply
  2. Bob

    Do a post on various CAPTCHA’s… some are fairly easy to read, others next to impossible. Where do I find the easy to read CAPTCHA’s to use on my sites?

    Thanks for all the helpful information you provide on a daily basis. Posting daily is not an easy task!

    Reply
  3. Foster D. Coburn III

    Bob, unfortunately I have no choice about what CAPTCHA is used. There is just an on/off switch. Beyond the blog, I haven’t investigated them much as we don’t use them elsewhere. Posting daily is not easy so I’m glad to hear you find it helpful.

    Reply
  4. goaskal

    I’m with Rus on this one. You already give so much with your blog. We readers shouldn’t mind a little extra effort on our part. Otherwise we risk having you discontinue the blog some day and that would be truly awful.

    For the record, I hate captcha and often find myself guessing what to type but I am not complaing about sites that use it to keep their sites going.

    Reply
  5. Foster D. Coburn III

    This post has had an interesting effect on spam. Spammers must not like being called out. As I write this comment, the post has been live for nearly six hours. The last spammy comment came 13 minutes before this post went live.

    If only I had known that writing about spammers would stop them, I would have done it a long time ago! Thanks for all of the supportive comments. For now, I’ll leave the CAPTCHA turned off. Should the spam start again, I’ll turn it back on.

    Reply
  6. stilman davis

    There should be a method of intercepting spam comments before they get a chance to be seen by anyone — even you — and you should be able to screen all comments before they are published. I know this works in WordPress, but I don’t know what backend you are using here.

    Reply
  7. Foster D. Coburn III

    Stilman, the majority of spam comments do get flagged without ever seeing the public light of day. But I do get copies of all comments in my inbox and there is no way to stop that. I actually agree with receiving them in my inbox as I may never see a good comment that accidentally got flagged as spam.

    I can turn on moderation so that I must approve ALL comments before they get posted. While this sounds great, there will be times when I am not at the computer and it could take hours before I can approve them. In some instances (like vacation), maybe even days.

    Right now the backend (Blogger) is set to only require moderation on posts of a certain age as it is less common for someone to comment on older posts. There is no moderation on the newer posts, though I can easily remove spammy posts if they accidentally get through.

    Reply
  8. Brian Davies

    I agree with the other comments here – filling in a CAPTCHA is a very minor task, even if it has to be entered 2 or 3 times on occasion. Each of us dealing with one CAPTCHA is better than you dealing with loads of spam.

    I also appreciate all of the information (and the variety of information) you provide on a daily basis. Thank you, Foster.

    Reply
  9. Foster D. Coburn III

    Thanks Brian. What I’ve heard from users when the CAPTCHA was turned on was that they simply couldn’t get it to work at all. As the spam has stopped today, I’m willing to leave it off for a while longer to see what happens.

    Reply
  10. North45

    I’m a fan of Graphics Unleashed, however I’ve been guilty of communicating via email rather than posting public comments. As a freelancer who performs virtually all my work under confidentiality and/or non-competition agreements, I personally minimize my participation in social networking. I appreciate that this is not the “business model” of most individuals. My choice of email in the past was intended not to increase Foster’s work load, but to afford an environment of greater privacy. On those rare occasions when there has been a request to make a comment public, I’ve always granted permission.

    In view of this discussion, I’ll try to loosen up a little. I’m very appreciative of the information, products and services that are available through Graphics Unleashed.

    Reply
  11. RunFlaCruiser

    HI.
    For the captcha problem, I found the solution that works for me. I create my own captcha like methods. Seems hackers target known products more than custom ones. Once they find a weakness in a known product they have a field day. Known products are easy to find. A custom solution will be impossible to search for and if they do find it they will see it’s not worth it just to gain access to the one. I know a custom solution isn’t always possible though, usually has to be completely your domain.
    ~John

    Reply
  12. Foster D. Coburn III

    John, the CAPTCHA works great on the blog to stop the spammers. It is the real users who have problems with it. I believe you were one who did have problems leaving comments when it was turned on. Since this post went live, not a single spammy comment has been sent. We’ll see if that continues as new posts go live. It could be the spammers are smart enough to not post spammy comments on posts talking about spammy comments.

    Reply
  13. Unknown

    I have a forum, vBulletin. It’s so well known that the captcha barely works. I find that a tricky question really works to stop ALL spammers from registering. It’s even too tricky for some but they usually contact me:

    In this sentence: Starting with the first t in the word “Starting” copy all the way until the y in the first word “way”. Paste into the answer box. Make sure to include the t and the y.

    I think the Captcha works well in general but can be glitchy sometimes. A good example is eBay’s Captcha like system for asking questions. I can type exactly what is shown but it will not go through. If I choose the listen to option for the hearing impaired it reads of a completely different set of letters than shown. If I enter the text I hear it goes through fine. I guess as long as you can catch any glitches in the system and fix it works great.
    ~John

    Reply
  14. Unknown

    Oh. That comment above was me. I was logged in to anther Google account so it didn’t put my name correct.
    ~John

    Reply
  15. MadDog

    I can live with the CAPTCHA, both in fact and in spirit. My issue with it is implementations that are so doggone difficult to read that a character or two defy identification.
    Do what you have to, to maintain your sanity and sanctity.

    Reply
  16. Foster D. Coburn III

    The comment spam completely stopped for 24 hours and then there were a handful in the next 24 hours. Unfortunately it has now come back with a vengeance. For that reason, the CAPTCHA has been again activated. I hope you all can take that extra step and continue to give feedback on posts.

    Reply
  17. Janet ASU Retiree

    Foster, thanks for all the time you spend creating your blogs! I normally read them through my email and rarely reply or post on your blog since I’m officially retired. I always find at least something each week that makes me think, warns me of potential problems, or provides helpful information. Please do whatever it takes to keep spam from stealing your time.

    Reply

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Foster D. Coburn III

Foster D. Coburn III is author of 13 best-selling books on CorelDRAW and has been a contributor to numerous technology and graphics-related magazines. Foster has taken many projects, including this Web site, from the early design stage through to a finished piece. He has been a featured speaker at many graphics conferences. His first Web site was built in 1995 and he has been working exclusively in WordPress since 2013.

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