Spring, and Return of the Botweed

Spring has come to Changing Way, with new content blooming. But weeds, the form of spam comments, are also appearing, and Akismet isn’t a completely effective weedkiller. I’ll help it, by manually marking the comments in question as spam.

I hope that the change of seasons is going well for you.

Teahouse in Spring 3I took the photo about a year ago, at Brookside Gardens.

Intense Debate Now Automattic

Automattic, the firm behind WordPress, has acquired Intense Debate, the firm behind… Intense Debate. The ID comment system fits neatly into Automattic’s range of projects.

In particular, ID fits between the WordPress blogging platform and the Akismet spam-fighting system. There have also been requests for ID at the hosted WordPress.com service; however, if the support forums are any guide, there have been more requests for Disqus, a comment system that competes with ID.

Jon of ID is excited about wider distribution and about integration of ID with the Automattic offerings. To balance that, he emphasized that ID will continue to work on other blogging platforms, such as Blogger and Movable Type. Similar points come from the Automattic side of the deal, from Matt and from Toni.

ID will remain a stand-alone service that can be used with WordPress as well as many other types of web sites (similar to the way we run our Akismet and Gravatar services). In addition, some ID features and technology will be built directly into future versions of WordPress and Gravatar.

It’ll be interesting to see how competing firms react. I’m thinking in particular of Disqus, which currently uses Akismet. In other words, one of its main competitors has just been acquired by the developer of a service it uses. Mashable Adam contacted Disqus, and his post includes a quote from CEO Daniel Ha, but there’s understandably little in the way of specifics.

Finally, the timing of Intensomattic deal is such that it’ll be overshadowed by the Google/T-mobile circus. That’s a pity, because it’s a significant change to the social media landscape.

Comment Systems and the Spam in the Sandwich

What does a comment system for a blog or other web site actually do? Let’s think about what needs to happen when you read a blog post and leave a comment. The system needs to:

  1. Display existing comments (or some subset of them or information about them).
  2. Allow entry of a new comment.
  3. Validate the comment. For example, has the commenter provided an email address?
  4. Assess the spam-ness or otherwise of the comment. This may involve a captcha.
  5. Store the comment as appropriate, depending on whether it is spam, requires moderation, or immediately joins the ranks of approved comments.
  6. If necessary, notify the admin of the action taken.

The comment system actually needs to do more than this: provide the admin with access to the moderation queue, for example. But I want to focus on the six-layer sandwich described above, and regard the admin interface as chips (or crisps) served to the side of the sandwich.

Having asserted that a comment system has those six layers, I want to focus on four ways in which it can be implemented. The comment system can be part of a larger system; for example, WordPress Classic (WPC) includes all six layers, as well as a whole bunch of other stuff. In an attempt to be clear, I’ll note that WPC refers to self-hosted WordPress.

I’ll turn to a table to highlight the contrasts between the four cases, and I’ll continue to use concrete examples. I’ll stick with WordPress for the examples; that said, the points I want to make aren’t WordPress-specific.

Spam filter is not a separate plugin Spam filter is a separate plugin
Comment system is not a plugin WordPress Classic (WPC) unplugged (i.e. with no plugins) WPC with Akismet plugin

WordPress.com, which uses Akismet

Comment system is a plugin WPC with Disqus plugin ?

The other cell of the top row represents the use of a plugin to handle step 4 (assess the spam-ness). There are many such plugins. A previous post focused on four of them. One of them is Akismet, which handles spam at the hosted blogging service WordPress.com.

Moving to the second row reflects the replacement by a plugin, not just of step 4, but of all the comment system steps. Disqus provides such a plugin; in fact, I just started using it at my WordPress test blog.

I know of no example for the last cell of the table: hence the ? The cell would be of interest to a blog admin whose preferred spam plugin is Akismet, but who also wants Disqus features such as a cross-site discussion community.

The idea of combining a comment plugin with a spam plugin is a little tricky. It’s probably tricky in technical terms: if Disqus ever invokes Akismet, it will probably use the Akismet API rather than the plugin.

The business trickiness is about revenue sharing. If a comment service invokes a spam service, and each service wants to make money, how should the money be divided? I believe that these tricky issues will be addressed. Disqus may hold to its own spam fighting. But, if it does, it will present an opportunity to competitors willing to work specialized spam services.

Comment Complications

It used to be so simple: if someone had a comment on a blog post, they could (usually) leave a comment at that blog post. Now commenting is complicated by questions such as the following.

  • Who is commenting? Is it even a person, rather than a spambot?
  • Where to leave the comment? Using the blog software’s own comment function? Does the blog use a comment service such as Disqus? How about FriendFeed, or Twitter, or Reddit, or…
  • Who owns the comment?
  • Where are all the comments on a particular post, or conversation of which the post is a part?

I’d say that the first two of the above questions are the more basic, but the last two are more interesting. The question of who owns a comment is addressed by the Commenter’s Bill of Rights proposed by Disqus Daniel.

As for how to pull together the comments associated with a specific post, that may be a great opportunity as well as a great challenge. If you provide the service that pulls the comments together, you have a chance to run your ads along with the comments.

I recently quoted Duncan Riley: blogging 2.0 is about enabling the conversation across many blogs and supporting sites and services. That sounds like a 2.0 release: interestingly different, but doesn’t really work. It’ll only really work when the conversation can be tracked and aggregated, rather than allowed to happen. When we get such aggregation, we’ll have blogging 2.1, the release that works.

Blogger Drafts OpenID

I’ve just left a comment at the official blog for Blogger in draft. I did so using OpenID. For reasons why it’s good that we can do that, just follow the link.

In OpenID parlance, Blogger is now a consumer of OpenIDs. To be more specific, Blogger proper will be a consumer once the “comment using OpenID” feature moves there from Blogger in Draft (beta).

WordPress.com has been a producer of OpenIDs since March, but has not (yet) become a consumer. I hope that this move from Blogger reminds WordPress.com about OpenID…