Bloggers Declare War on Comment Spam

USC Annenberg’s Online Journalism Review has an interesting piece today entitled, “Bloggers Declare War on Comment Spam, but Can They Win?” It details the techniques used by spammers to boost their Google rankings by spamming weblogs with bogus comments containing their URLs and the manifold countermeasures employed to stop this practice, including a good discussion of Jay Allen’s MT-Blacklist, which I used to good effect when OTB ran under Movable Type.

Inevitably, the discussion turns to the question of whether comments are worth the aggravation:

More recently, the godfather of blogging Dave Winer, former CEO of UserLand, told me that comments are not an intrinsic part of a Weblog and have basically failed after a brief honeymoon period in the early history of blogs. “I think a blog is a publication, and publications have proven that letters to the editor are useful,” Winer said. “But blogs with comments are not letters to the editor. Letters to the editor are edited, they’re selected, and that selection process is a very important aspect of it.” Instead, Winer thinks commenters should simply run their own blog if they want to comment. While he thinks that all the war tactics by bloggers will ultimately fail, he says that Google itself could solve the problem by adjusting PageRank so that it doesn’t weight links from comments as heavily as links within blog posts or on other pages.


Duncan Riley, editor of the Blog Herald in Australia, thinks the dynamic will likely shift in the blogosphere, with mid-tier bloggers abandoning comments altogether. “Blogging will survive comment spam, however the blogosphere as we know it today will not be the same as a result of it,” he told me via e-mail. “The ability to comment on blogs has been a large part of the phenomenal success blogging has had over the last few years. Expect a correction in blog numbers as the industry suffers from burnout, suppliers fold, are bought out or merge, and as the novelty for some wears off from newer distractions, less time and intolerance of comment spam.”

I agree that comments aren’t an essential feature of a blog, given that some of the most popular bloggers (Glenn Reynolds, Andrew Sullivan, Josh Marshall off the top of my head) don’t have them. And, as I’ve noted in earlier posts, comments don’t seem to work once a blog reaches a certain critical mass of readership (20,000 daily visits maybe?) because the comment section devolves into something aking to usenet group.

While spammers will likely be able to circumvent any countermeasure over time, I’ve found a precipitous decline in comment spam on OTB since leaving Movable Type and switching to WordPress. Requiring two steps for comment posting (making “preview” mandatory) seems to help a lot as well.

Hat tip: Jeff Quinton

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Rodney Dill says:

    The usability of comments seems to be a scalability issue. If the larger sites had comments they would end up with hundreds of comments, (that few people would read in their entirety) in a day if not in hours. On OTB or Wizbang which I read regulary 10-20 comments is fairly common, 30-40 plus occurs occaisionally on more interesting subjects. These seem to be a good size for usefulness of having a comments section.

  2. jen says:

    I think you have to consider what types of blogs are out there. I’d venture to guess than the vast majority of blogs are not intended to be pundit style blogs, but rather are personal – a way to vent your spleen on a variety of topics that may include current events. Since most blogs are smaller than Instapundit, et. al., then I do think that comments are an intrinsic part of the blog. Small bloggers use their blogs for actual conversation – you can’t converse with the comments feature.

    I’ve always maintained that I’m far more interested in my comments than my referral stats. I couldn’t care less how many hits I have in a day. But if a post generates a conversation in the comments section then I’m a happy, happy blogger.

  3. McGehee says:

    I think if my blog got to the point where it didn’t make sense to have comments, per Rodney, I’d quit blogging. For me it’s the interactivity that makes it worth doing. And that’s also why there are only a very few blogs on my ‘roll that don’t have ’em.

    And I only read a couple of those regularly.