Readers Push Back on Ads and Blocking

This week, I’ve followed a couple of threads on ubiquitous internet advertising and why we block ads. Some of us find all ads inherently intrusive, but most of us just reserve the right to decide when ads become obnoxious or outright offensive.
The dilemma is that our free content providers depend on this ad revenue to pay their writers and their bills. “Not our problem,” some say. I disagree; I think it’s a problem that belongs to all of us, and I think we CAN do something constructive about it. From my posted comment to “Destructoid,” a gamer site with an interesting editorial:

I got here via a Slashdot link. Don’t use game sites but I wish you the best solving this dilemma. If a user posts abusive and offensive comments in this window, you’d be entirely justified in editing or deleting it. In fact, you might have an obligation to do so to protect the editorial integrity of your site.

So why do we have a different standard for offensive web ads? It’s time for content providers to push back against advertisers and exercise some plain old content control. You don’t see dating services, nose pickers and and “pictures of horny men” in the National Geo. Does anyone else remember when advertising was actually informative and – gasp – interesting?

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Spam Insights

What a hoot! Below is some spam boilerplate some idiot left in my Comments queue. Now we know how all that “original” drivel is created!

{ Great information | Good info | Wonderful information } { I’ll check back | I will be back | I will check back } { for any info | for more info | for information } {related to | about | in regards to } HCG. I {have heard|read}|have seen|browsed} a lot {about|on|regarding|in regards to} the hcg diet, and it {appears|seemslooks like|is apparent} there are {mixed reviews|differing opinions|several points of view|great reviews}.

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pbpBB Forum Taken Down

I removed our Summitlake “Forum” today, to devote our time to more rewarding projects at Summitlake.com. It took dozens of hours, perhaps a hundred, to install, configure, tweak, update, monitor and baby-sit the phpBB product. It took 20 minutes to back it up, delete the database, uninstall the site application, and remove links to the forum today.

We’ve had a forum of some sort or other for a long time, about five years according to the file dates on my local machine. It started with “Megadb”, a flat-file database I wrote myself as a training exercise. I upgraded to “YaBB” (“Yet Another Bulletin Board”), an early, plain-jane, perl-driven flat file bulletin board. I moved to the popular php-driven phpBB product shortly before my own web host rolled it out as?part of their stable of free house applications.

phpBB’s popularity was probably its major undoing, as far as we’re concerned. No, NONE of those forums were ever popular at Summitlake.com.

If you’ve ever seen an abandoned tract home project from the air, you’ll grasp the metaphor. You see the roads laid out like an aerial map, everything bulldozed and graded meticulously out of the dust, and, here and there, a structure 30,000 below. But nobody’s home.

We like the idea of having a “safe space” where our readers could exchange notes and interact, if they wanted to. Realistically, Summitlake.com has never been the kind of site where surfers “hang out”, nor have we tried to be. Honestly, we are oriented more toward to the solo reader who stops by to read the occasional article before moving on.

And we’ll probably try yet another bulletin board at some point down the line. Why? Just because we like the challenge.

What went wrong here? As a sophisticated free SQL database product with a thriving community of “plug-in” add-on coders, phpBB has placed enough sites out there to attract spammer attention. We spent most of our phpBB time maintaining bogus membership registrations; by use of email and website fields, they promoted the “V” drugs, gaming sites, occasional porn sites, and even their own advertising services. We’d write the registrants asking for verification that they wished to become forum members, and the emails would bounce, or there would never, ever, come back an answer of “Yes, because we like your site.”

Did these folks ever post to the forum? No. Were they perhaps just interested in phpBB’s Instant Messaging (which I disabled)? Maybe, but I have no interest in hosting secret chat rooms for the general public on my own nickel. Whatever happened to that horrible Microsoft IM that nobody can get rid of?

For a while, it was a challenge. After a while, it became a question of how to best invest our time. And, baby-sitting folks who get their kicks breaking the rules is not our idea of a good time. So we just pulled the plug. Happily, there are still some solutions for which no spammer can come up with a workaround.

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A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum …

Zero Mostel? Nope, more’s the pity, this isn’t about the immortal Broadway show and 1966 movie. It’s about our site’s installation of the ever-popular phpBB bulletin board forum.

For some reason, it’s become a magnet for spammers. The gimmick is, the spammer usually just registers as a member user, probably by “bot” at as many sites as possible. They rarely bother to attempt a post. If you follow their email and website links, these invariably point to poker sites and Viagra web pages. I deleted 150 such bogus “users” last night. Another one has since found its way through security to register their erectile dysfunction links.

You may wonder, why do they bother? Most of us aren’t dumb enough to click a link just to see what it does. You can see in the browser bar where the link points anyway (bottom bar on IE).

Well, Google scans all these pages, even those safely tucked deep in the site databases. A link is considered a point in the search engine?popularity algorithms, increasing the likelihood such links will float to near the top of a search results page. So, we don’t take?all this?personally.

Are we running out of patience? No, not yet. But, for a newly started?Forum with a scant 9 posts, it puts phpBB in the “very high-maintenance” category. This wouldn’t be so bad if the Forum was very popular, but it isn’t. If our experience with the mordant old YaBB is any indication, forums at Summitlake.com will never take off: unlike “Cloudy Nights”, we don’t have a critical mass of like-minded users ready and willing to devote an hour a night to exchanging ideas, info, witticisms and social bonding.

We’ll go the extra mile to support this poor ol’ feature, but don’t be too surprised if one day it simply disappears. Creating content is a lot more fun than wet-nursing the destructive, anti-social whims of spammers and taggers.

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Whither Spam?

Spam used to be a semi-edible canned meat product. Now, it’s more like the dust in a dust storm: it gets everywhere and into everything. Shake out those shorts, tuck in the shirt, lace the boots a little tighter, and hope for the best …

We just wasted an hour tightening up our other dusty wasteland, the new phpBB forum. Forums don’t seem to serve any real community function until there’s a congregation of a few hundred dedicated regular visitors. On remote outposts like Summitlake.com, forums seem to serve the same practical purpose as vacant lots: a weedy place of final repose?for discarded burger wrappers, ad throwaways and pizza flyers.

So, as of this evening, users will have to be registered to post on the phpBB forum. Our poor little fledgling forum has had one or two legitimate posts (mainly added as a courtesy by yours truly), and a small infestation of spam links. The next step might be to require admin approval for new registrations, and banning of offending IP addresses. But, we all know how effective a ban on static IP addresses is, don’t we?

Inevitably, the next step is going to be to take the board down, because I just won’t waste my time nursemaiding infantile parasites who may get paid one mil per post to harass our real user base, who don’t come to Summitlake.com?to look at that crap on our site anyway.

What a shame it’s come to this, you know?

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Goings-On

  • Q: How come some departments show an update in “AT A GLANCE” when there has been no recent activity? A: Blog spammers. I read they’re called “sploggers” now. Spammers have automated crawlers that leave comments on web logs. These are generally links to other sites which increase Google visibility, which gets somebody paid more advertising money. I have filters which almost always intercept and hold these postings, until I can delete them, but the files are all updated anyway to show “activity”.
  • Thanks to Dave N. for pointing out the broken “Write Us” buttons all over this site. In February I updated the Perl program which supports this function, in response to a server-mandated change, but failed to upload the changed file. “Write Us” works now. Hope I haven’t missed some more.
  • Dave and Swan continue to send fine contributions to “PHOTO notes”.
  • I am working on a major, almost scholarly review of the Darden Pyron biography “Liberace – An American Boy”. Analyzing the complex life of “Mr. Showmanship” has been a fascinating challenge. I am nearly finished with the article. I have some finishing positive touches I want to add, but I’m in no hurry to rush it through to completion. The article will be posted in WRITING when complete, and we’ll announce it here.

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