Badly configured blog comment spam adding to global warming. Probably.

 by Martin Belam, 13 March 2007

This is going to be a rant about blog comment spam.

However, it isn't going to be your run-of-the-mill rant - so you can click away now if you were gearing up to lecture me on how I wouldn't have this problem if I was using Wordpress / Bloxsom / such-and-such Movable Type plugin / hand-crafted everything using vi and the command line alone.

The thing is, I don't detest comment spam. It is an occupational hazard of blogging. I still think back fondly on the day I got the first spam comment on currybetdotnet. To me it confirmed that my URLs were discoverable, my HTML was clean enough for the comment form to stand out, and that my cgi-bin and Movable Type install were configured properly. And even if nobody was reading a damned thing I wrote, then at least somewhere a lonely computer program was being fulfilled by posting cheap viagra adverts.

So, no, comment spam per se doesn't bug me.

What really bugs me is badly configured comment spam generation software.

I mean, this stuff can hardly be the work of a rocket scientist.

You have some URLs you want to promote. You have some snippets of text that you are going to use as the comments. You have some names you are going to post as. You have a set of spoof email addresses.

Yet look at the nonsense that ends up in my comment in-box.

There is the comment spam where the person configuring the software is so keen to get their valuable inbound anchor link text that they couldn't be bothered to make up some realistic sounding names for the fictional commentator. I mean, what confidence would you have in "Free Antivirus Software" from somebody who couldn't configure spambots properly?


Then there are the people who do take the time to come up with a pseudonym, but then misconfigure their software to issue spam comments with browser-unfriendly characters in them.


Then there are the people who try and smooth-talk you into approving their comment even though it is patently junk. Sometimes they take a pretty counter-intuitive form, and here I am specifically thinking about the wave of "Hi, if you good moderator, you don't kill my message ;)" comments I got swamped with a couple of weeks back.

I mean, despite the bizarre way they chose to draw attention to the fact the comment was spam, you might fall for it once if you weren't paying attention - but to fall for it repeatedly? With exactly the same wording? Left on ten different entries in the space of a few minutes?


At least they had all had something to say so far. Dominic keeps a lot to himself, as he repeatedly posts one URL to a pr0n site accompanied by a comment that consists of one full stop. Period.


My utmost contempt, though, is reserved for one special category of comment spam ineptitude - those who can't manage to inject a well-formed URL into their comments. I mean, the whole purpose of comment spam is to generate backlinks to websites to boost their search engine ranking - so you'd think getting the URL right would be a pretty central part of the enterprise. Not so with some guys.

And I'm not just talking about missing off the http:// or spelling the domain name wrong here.

Donnie, for example, doesn't seem to be able to output his random url values correctly judging by the judicious use of $rndurl$ in the comments he sends.


And sometimes I'm talking about such utter misconfiguration of comment spambot software that I end up with messages in my comment in-box that consist of nothing but empty HTML anchor tags.


I'm surprised, actually, that nobody has yet fingered blog comment spam as a contributory factor to global warming. If it can be calculated that server farm power takes up something like 1.5% of the electricity consumption of the USA, then presumably you can calculate something like number of blogs x average number of spam comments per blog per day x 365 x electricity required to send a spam comment x electricity required to receive a spam comment. That should give you a yearly figure for energy consumption caused solely by comment spam. And from that you could infer the corresponding impact on global warming. Of course, that is if you if you still believe in man-made global warming after last week's Channel 4 programme.


Climate change issues aside, there is also always the problem of the false positive to contend with when dealing with a tide of badly configured spam whilst moderating the comments on currybetdotnet that haven't automatically made it straight into the junk folder. For example, I instantly dismissed as spam a comment starting:

Funny this should be the topic as i was talking to a 93 year old lady and she said...

Despite sounding like the opening gambit of a comment spam shaggy dog story, it actually turned out to be a genuine enquiry on my post about 'Bee poo at the Beeb'!


nice comments

Climate change issues aside, there is also always the problem of the false positive to contend with when dealing with a tide of badly configured spam whilst moderating

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