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13th December
2010
written by Chris

Despite my somewhat lacksidasical updating of Nephandus, my tiny handful of posts has gathered some 1,288 comments, of which perhaps 5 – charitably – are actually worthwhile.

The others are spam. All of them.

This despite trying a range of various CAPTCHA solutions, filters, etc, these I’ve been unable to stem the tide. Indeed, those 1,288 are just the ones that got through. Another ~900 were identified as SPAM by WordPress and blocked automagically.

Bluntly, this is absurd and, as I think about it, the possibilty of designing around such issues is equally absurd.

Even Gmail’s spam filters are not perfect, despite the unthinkably large data store from which they can pull and the absurd resources that Google is prepared to throw at the problem.

Practically – at least to my eye – this problem can not be completely solved by computer science. The solution lies, instead, in the field of economics.

Spammers do what they do because the cost is effectively zero and the preceived value is greater than zero. With zero cost, even if the marginal utility – the preceived gain from each individual action – declines with each message or post, it never drops below the cost.

It is thus always profitable to spam.

The solution lies not in attempting to block spam, which is difficult, annoying, and labor intensive, but in reducing the preceived value of a spam message.

The “no follow” link convention implemented by Google helps — links so tagged (and most in blog comments are) are not given weight by Google’s search algorithms, thus eliminating the value of spamming for page-rank. Of course, that is not the only reason people spam.

Some are looking to sell a product – and view spam as free advertising. Others are looking to ensnare victims in some sort scheme – either financial or technological.

In both cases, spammers are hoping that humans, not computers, will follow their links. Some social networks like MSNBC’s Newsvine have taken to banning linking entirely – at least on recently registered accounts. Spammers then break up URLs or instruct users to search for certain phrases.

Ineffective? Sure, but again, with a marginal cost of zero, who cares?

Perhaps it is not possible to reduce the value of spam postings to zero without destroying the possibility of meaningful comment as well. If so then the only remaining option is to find a way to raise the cost of posting.

CAPTCHA was an attempt to do this, though one that obviously has met with limited success. Back in the 1990s the notion of a pay-to-send email system was floated with micro-transactions supporting the system and making bulk-spam mailing actually cost something.

That was 20 years ago, however, and there’s been little meaningful progress.

Sadly, I have no profound conclusion to offer you, dear reader, save this one. Markets work both ways and the simple fact is that while I can not make it economically prohibitive for spammers to post, they have made it economically prohibitive for me to maintain a comments section on this blog.

Effective immediately, therefore, commenting on Nephandus is disabled. In reality it has been for some time as the volume of new-post notifications from WordPress lead me to simply ignore them and instruct Gmail to automatically delete them several months ago.

Comments are closed.
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