Travails of blogging 6/21/21

Life has been difficult — I’m not coming back to anything like life in the Before Time — but added to the mix have been some WordPress blogging travails. One old issue, and two fairly fresh annoyances.

Same old same old. WP’s reporting on readership continues to be deranged. Its statistics can’t be right, but they’re the only gauge I have of what my audience is like. According to WP’s stats, though in past times I got around a thousand views a day, the figure has been steadily declining over a year or so to around 600 now; and new postings get maybe 40 or 50 views in their first two days and then decline to maybe one view a day. I know, from comments in various places, that I’m not really dying by inches on the net — but I have no idea what the truth is like.

Spam comments. I’ve written before about WP’s scheme for protection from spam comments. It’s a serious issue; according to WP’s records, since this blog started in September 2008, the spam filter has deleted over 4 million spam comments. The scheme involves two steps that are essentially out of my hands — an initial culling that happens entirely automatically (through an algorithm that is entirely mysterious), and then a file of candidates that are offered to me for examination before deletion — but since that file has on the order of 500 to 5000 comments in it each day, I can’t possibly deal with it, so it too vanishes without any judgment from me.

The scheme is supposed to weed out comments from addresses / urls that I haven’t approved (yet) and are suspicious on internal grounds. That leaves relatively innocent-looking sources that are probably just new commenters (or old commenters posting from a new address); these I get sent to me by e-mail, one by one, for my inspection. The expectation is there won’t be a lot of these, and most of them will be innocent. This expectation has held for over 12 years, but is now crumbling fairly dramatically.

In recent weeks, my moderation task has climbed from one every few days to today’s 15 (a bit later: 18), and they aren’t easy to inspect; their identity as advertising for dubious products is concealed inside complex addresses or urls, so it takes some time to detect.

Even more alarmingly, with a few exceptions (mostly putative comments entirely in Korean, Hebrew, or Arabic, which I dismiss without investigation; I would do the same for comments in Japanese or Indic languages or Turkish, or for that matter Italian or German, if they came my way), every comment I get for moderation turns out to be spurious. This is alarming, because it suggests that perfectly innocent comments have been automatically dismissed, as a side effect of a wave of spurious comments; remember that in most of this, human beings play no role, and cannot play a role, because almost all of the process is completely controlled by algorithms, and has to be, since the number of candidate comments is of an astronomical order.

I now suspect that this has in fact happened.

Commenting on my postings. To understand the issue, you need to know that (a) for whatever reason, a fair number of people don’t want to subscribe to this blog, or even just to follow it (and get notices that I have posted something here), but want to get notices via Facebook or Twitter, and (b) that I have accommodated them by crafting a notice in the appropriate format each time I post here (in effect, posting in three different ways to suit my readers). As a result, people reply to my postings in all three places (and sometimes by e-mail as well), and I end up having to carry on exchanges in all three places. When I think the comments are especially of value, I will ask the commenters elsewhere to put the reply on this blog, so that my readers here will have the benefit of these responses (the alternative is for me to copy their comment, reformat it myself, and add it as a comment on my blog).

It then turns out that some of these people find that they can’t add their comment on this blog. When they try, nothing happens. They get no error message; their comment just doesn’t show up. That’s what happens when a spam filter has axed the comment; of course, there’s no error message. And presumably they will never be able to comment directly on my blog, since there’s no way for any human being to intervene in protections against a paralyzing gargantuan wave of spam.

In any case, I then have to transfer the comment myself. And we all gnash our teeth in frustration.



5 Responses to “Travails of blogging 6/21/21”

  1. kenru Says:

    I am not a spammer! I am a free man!

  2. Gary Vellenzer Says:

    I see all your posts on my RSS feed. I only click through on some of them. My (rare) comments have all appeared in the past. Let’s see if this one gets through.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      The first time you tried to posted, back in the past, the spam filter didn’t eliminate you, and then I personally approved your post. WP then marked you as an approved poster, forever (at the address you first used). So you could post your note above.

  3. Earl Crane Says:

    I am curious to see if my comment makes it through the filter.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      This comment did get to me for moderation. But I’m curious about why you are engaging in this exercise. You give your name as Earl Crane, which is the name of a professional cybersecurity expert, but your gmail address looks it comes from David Metevia of Saginaw MI.

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