Commentary Machinations

I can assure you, the visiting reader, that under the hood this website is a marvel of just-good-enough. So too for the comment system, which for many years has been set to moderate everything and only publish a submitted comment on manual approval by yours truly - a process which can take some hours. That has made it somewhat challenging to have an actual conversation in the comments here at Fight Aging!, and I greatly appreciate those of you who persevere nonetheless.

All comments have been moderated because (a) any and all online discussions of aging and medicine attract spam like flies to honey, (b) the last time I put any thought into this, good spam filtering was too computationally expensive to run locally with the tools to hand, and (c) change is slow in this neck of the woods. It took me five years to get from thinking of a site redesign to actually doing it, for example. A lot of smaller and obvious-in-hindsight improvements (such as better formatting for the news posts) have also tended to happen far later than they might.

So to spam: the automated spam robots are easy enough to block while a site remains small enough to avoid personal attention from those who write the spam scripts. Since few if any of these robots actually run the Javascript on a site (too slow when you are trying to hit as many vulnerable sites as possible), you can just make your comment submission form depend on some unique, easily changed, hard to read Javascript that must run in a browser. The gargantuan manual spam industry is harder to fend off, however: this is formed of some combination of people in poor countries who are paid a tiny amount to spam relentlessly, plus people in rich countries who haven't yet figured out that you don't build your own modest online brand by spamming links to your site everywhere with a text field, plus some oddities like captcha-solving networks and the like.

The spam robots, when I bothered to record their activities, accounted for a thousand attempted comment submissions each day at times. This is the consequence of Fight Aging! being fairly high in Google's search listings for some terms beloved by the "anti-aging" marketplace. Almost everything to do with medicine can command high prices in online advertising, however, and hence drive a great deal of spam activity. Dentistry accounts for a fairly high fraction of the medical spam I see, for example, which is interesting.

Unlike the automated spam, manual spam activity trends with how likely it is to work. Spammers talk to one another, and so a policy of 100% moderation works very well to get rid of them - since none of the manual spammers can see their comments getting through, they tend to give up. After years of this situation, I see as few as a dozen of these manual spam submissions a week.

So to come to the point of this post: I finally signed up for the Akismet spam detection service and stopped moderating comments. The upshot of this is that (a) your comments will (most likely) be posted immediately on submission, making conversations somewhat more viable, a radical idea I realize, and (b) I will see a growth in manual spam over the weeks and months ahead as the manual spammers figure out that there is only a commodity third party spam filter to worm their way past. It remains to be seen as to what degree Akismet will leave me cleaning up after the fact, either deleting spam that should have been blocked or restoring legitimate comments unfairly flagged, but so far (small sample bias) it's caught everything it should and passed the rest.


If spam is too much of a problem, perhaps you could off-load the commentary to LongeCity. We already have all of your articles auto-fed into the LongeCity forum and they often generate good conversation.

Posted by: Justin Loew at February 12th, 2013 11:47 AM

I appreciate that some good quality information can be found at LongeCity but I notice the forums lapse into advocacy for current dietary and medical interventions of highly questionable value. Fight Aging should try to avoid any appearance of association with quackery, useless supplements and people who have over-enthusiastic appraisal of their ability to take action personally for their own longevity. The general tenor of the advertising doesn't help, either.

Posted by: José at February 13th, 2013 3:17 AM

Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. New comments can be edited for a few minutes following submission. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.