Blog Comments: Tradeoffs

Having comments is great. However, old posts tend to attract annoying spam messages, so once posts are more than about a month old, and no longer appear on the blog’s main page, I usually close them to new comments.

But a problem with doing this is that once in a while somebody leaves an extraordinary comment on an old post. Some of these comments come months after the original post and are from people who have some connection to the subject of the post.

See, for example, here, and the last comment here. And check out the last comment on this old post about the Mongolian army, which was made just last night by a Mongolian army reservist who lives in the U.S. These comments got through only because in the first two cases I was not yet in the habit of closing comments on old posts, and in the case of the Mongolian post I hadn’t yet gotten around to closing them for the latest batch. (I have left the Mongolian post open to comments in case anyone wants to respond to Amar.)

So does anyone know of a better way to handle comments? I hesitate to use the “copy this number” anti-spambot system that other blogs, e.g., Samizdata, use (for an example, see here and scroll down to the “Post a comment” section), because it’s burdensome for users. I thought of closing comments, but also posting a conspicuous message suggesting that commenters email us if a thread is closed, but that’s burdensome too. Another alternative is to leave comments open longer, but also to hack Movable Type so that the editing window displays more than the five most recent comments (Steve does something like this). In that case we would still get spam but it would be easier to find and remove.

Any other ideas?

14 thoughts on “Blog Comments: Tradeoffs”

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  2. Hmm, interesting suggestions, Scott. It all seems vaguely familiar yet somehow I can’t quite remember where I’ve heard it before. . .

  3. I’d say anyone whose time is so valuable they can’t type in six digits should probably not be wasting their precisous seconds commenting on even this, one of the finest blogs in the sphere.

  4. What I want is for additional comments to a topic I have posted a comment on to be emailed to me.

    Some blog or comment systems do this now, and it sounds like MT are adding it from what Mike saya above. RSS feeds don’t normally push new comments, which is why I don’t use them.

  5. David, in my experience, these work better in threaded discussions. Some comment threads get quite large and drift farther away from the original topic; when they don’t turn into flamefests. The early subscribers would get a ton of email they don’t necessarily want. So pretty quickly, you want to opt out. With threading, you do get those comments posted as a reply to your own only. It sort of filters things.

    I wonder if RSS clients can help here. (Assuming comments are part of the RSS feed in the first place)

  6. The “type this number” approach is painful, but works.

    It is not easy to do, but if you can get a real address they can be sued in small claims court. Courtesy of JunkBusters some time ago –


    I, John Anderson, do not want to receive uninvited solicitations by email. I am unwilling to receive Junk Email freely because it costs me time and money. If you send me any Junk Email other than on the terms of the offer set out in the following nine points, I will take this to mean that you plan to use what I offered you without paying for it. If you ever try to do this I reserve my right to take any action available to me without further reference to you. Actions available to me include taking proceedings against you for negligence or breach of contract, which may result in substantial damages being awarded against you by a court. The unauthorized use of my computing facilities may even be a crime. I offer to receive all further email from you on the terms set out below. If you send me any solicitation by email without my express prior written consent this will be taken as your acceptance of this offer. 1. For the purposes of point 2, you will be taken to have sent any email sent by any entity apparently associated with you for the purpose of sending email solicitations. 2. You must pay me ten US dollars for each such item of email that you send me. 3. You must mail payment by certified check to me within five (5) working days of the transmission of the email. If you do not know where to send payment, you must state this in the email and give me an easy way to tell you. 4. Each email item must be uniquely identified, and each payment must clearly identify the relevant item or items. 5. You must tell me your name and full business and residential addresses in each email message. I may vary the terms of or terminate this offer at any time (even after you have accepted it). Any new terms will apply to all email you send after you have been notified of a variation. ====================================================================== The copyright of the above text is held by Junkbusters Corporation and is used here in accordance with the GNU General Public License, copies of which are available at or from the Free Software Foundation, Inc., 59 Temple Place – Suite 330, Boston, MA 02111-1307, USA __________________________________________________

  7. One thing you might do is set up how often people can post comments. I’ve got a two minute limit, which works pretty well. It means that I get (at most) two spams per attack, which are easy enough to remove. I think it’s installed in the newest version of MT, though you may have to get a plugin (I forget offhand).

    Making people register to comment is silly, and I don’t think I’ll set that up when MT3 comes out.

    Good luck regardless.

  8. A lovely solution is to just go to and install the MT blacklist. Suppose you get hit with 500 spam comments from You just enter the address, and the blacklist stops any more comments with that site mentioned. Then you click the despam button, and it clears up all 500 spam comments at once. Easy as can be. And it is free. Of course, you have to know how to install the program. I am the world’s least competent programmer, so I went back to the folks at Sekimori and had them do it for me.

  9. Hmm. I didn’t know about that feature to the blacklist.

    Does it cover trackbacks too? Apparently the spammers have figured out that they can spam trackbacks as well.

    I don’t know why these people have these attacks. Unlike general e-mail users, most bloggers seem capable of eliminating spam one way or another, so there’s no way most people are seeing these messages.

  10. I don’t know either, but I wonder if it’s simply because the spammer can raise his Google ranking during the brief period before most of the spams are removed. (And probably some of the spams are never removed, so there may be a permanent benefit, however small, to the spammer.)

  11. Depends on how much programming you do. Why not simply reject any comments after a certain date that contain a link (Any http://) or email address (any @)? If you can’t put one of those in the comment, not much point in a comment spammer posting it.

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