Club vs. Lojack solutions: the ever-changing Club

If  you haven’t yet read Mark Pilgrim’s “Club vs. Lojack Solutions” article from 2002, go catch up, then come back here.

“Otto” on the wp-hackers mailing list brought up the tried and true “hidden form field” solution for comment spam, remarking on how well it worked for him.  It didn’t take long for people to point him to Pilgrim’s entry and tell him that if it were implemented in WordPress core (or even as a popular plugin), it would cease to be effective.  The exchange reminded me of a “P.S.” to Pilgrim’s entry that I’ve been throwing around in my head:

Club solutions can be fairly effective if your Club is different from everyone else’s Club, and is constantly changing.

So hooray for Club makers.  They have what it takes to put a huge dent in their comment spam.  But what about everyone else, who doesn’t have the technical knowhow to invent a new Club every couple of weeks?  We need a shape-shifting Club.

Andy Skelton told me about his shape-shifting Club at SXSW:

\'What is the movie with Milton?\'

Who is “Milton?”  You’ll have to read the post to find out.  So, essentially, for each post, he’s defining a unique question, and a unique answer.  He said that besides the anti-spam benefit, it also has the potential to weed out stupid commenters, or lazy commenters who didn’t read the whole article (he often makes the questions about something in the article).  The downside is that he has to craft a new question/answer for each post.

So this is a good example of a shape-shifting Club that doesn’t require technical expertise.  But what would be better is a Club that could shape-shift without user intervention, or at least with less user intervention.  It would also have to shape-shift in a way that spammers couldn’t predict.  Start thinking.

11 thoughts on “Club vs. Lojack solutions: the ever-changing Club

  1. the problem being that most “club” challenge questions have simple, one word/one number answers. If the correct answer to andy’s question in this case is “Office Space”, is “office space” wrong? What if the film in question had an apostrophe in the title (c.f. the many spellings of Guns N’ Roses)

    It’s a great idea, but i’m not sure a machine can be trusted to validate a more complex question than “what color is snow”, which even tempts me to answer “yellow”.

  2. Many years ago I worked for a small pizza restaurant as their weekend delivery guy. After taking the order and confirming it was correct, and collecting the caller’s name, address, and phone number, the order taker would say, “We’ll call you back in a minute with your total.”

    The call-back was to ensure that the call wasn’t a prank (we were in a college town). If the number the caller had given didn’t pan out, then we weren’t out a pizza.

    I wonder if a commenting system that required an email response from the commenter wouldn’t work. Perhaps with a non-HTML link to respond to, i.e., not something that could be automatically clicked on by a script.

  3. Why not just have a plugin that randomly selected a word/paragraph combination from your post, and then presented an input as per Andy’s solution above, but say “What is the xth word of the yth paragraph in the post above” (or just the nth word or whatever).

    Have the plugin store the required word as postmeta (and make sure it’s updated if the post is edited!) and you’re done, no?

  4. “The downside is that he has to craft a new question/answer for each post.” If this is the only downside, it’s all up for me. I enjoy writing the quiz. Even if it only takes a few seconds, the process forces me to consider my audience and sometimes results in last-minute edits.

    “…independent studies alleged that Lojack actually deterred crime, presumably by making it much more likely that criminals (and entire criminal organizations) would be discovered after the fact.”

    Comment spam is not like car theft. Chop shops have scant in common with spam operations. Notably, authorities don’t get excited about taking down spammers. Only those who feel that their property rights are infringed (bloggers, hosts, ISPs) will act. Excepting vigilante justice, Lojack is irrelevant to the problem at hand. The 2002 post is alluring and even clever but it does not put us closer to a solution to comment spam.

    sunburntkamel: Quiz has a very weak comparison algorithm: strtolower everything. In crafting a question, I try to minimize ambiguity in the answer by keeping it simple or giving it away in the post. The author must consider the audience.

    Mark Nichols: think about that long enough and you’ll invent CAPTCHA all over again.

    beau: that is a “club” and not a hard one to defeat with a script.

    After long consideration, I concluded that an accurate predictor for my evaluation of a comment is a red herring.

  5. Perhaps beau, but doesn’t that just put us back into the territory that sunburnt is talking about? I.e. do words like isn’t count as 1 or 2..?

    How about a mixed method approach where the user is asked to pick the x number word, not of the post but of a random paragraph that is emailed to the user. Annoying? Perhaps, but it doesn’t necesitate a link in an email.

  6. The 2002 post is alluring and even clever but it does not put us closer to a solution to comment spam.

    No, it’s more about what doesn’t work.

    How about a mixed method approach where the user is asked to pick the x number word, not of the post but of a random paragraph that is emailed to the user. Annoying? Perhaps, but it doesn’t necesitate a link in an email.

    Questions like this are easy for spammers to process. There are plugins that do math captchas — but that’s easily beatable. Clicking e-mail links or responding to information sent in an e-mail is a hurdle, but it’s beatable in an afternoon of coding.

    If this is the only downside, it’s all up for me. I enjoy writing the quiz. Even if it only takes a few seconds, the process forces me to consider my audience and sometimes results in last-minute edits.

    Say, I don’t know if I asked you, but have you noticed any effect on the number of off-topic or stupid comments? If it reduces those (as well as comment spam), it’d definitely be worth it for me.

  7. have you noticed any effect on the number of off-topic or stupid comments?

    Yes. With these, we may never know whether it was a “club” effect (finding quiz too much effort, trolls go bother someone else) or a true deterrent (surprised by quiz, would-be troll says something worthwhile).

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