All posts tagged ‘spam’

File Under: UI/UX, Web Services

Google Groups Fail: JQuery Dumps Google Over Spam, Interface Problems

Much of Google’s success rests on the fact that the words “Google” and “suck” rarely appear in the same sentence.

There is one notable exception: Google Groups, which lately has started to look more and more like an abandoned service. The mailing-list and discussion-board service has remained short on features since Google launched it in 2001. Meanwhile, Groups has become overwhelmed with spam, and one the most popular Google Groups — the JQuery mailing list, with more than 20,000 members — is jumping ship.

John Resig, the lead developer of JQuery, a popular JavaScript Library for developing complex web applications, recently posted a sharply critical look at Google Groups.

“As far as I’m concerned, Google Groups is dead,” he writes.

Resig isn’t the only one with problems. Google Groups began life as a way to rescue the Usenet archive, but as our Epicenter blog recently reported, the Usenet portion of Google Groups is fundamentally broken. Google has since addressed some problems highlighted in that piece, but even newly created groups, like the JQuery group, feel neglected and overrun with spam.

While Resig is careful to note that Google Groups remains a workable optionfor private mailing lists, but for large public mailing lists like JQuery, Google Groups’ inability to combat spam, its poor moderator tools and general neglect have made the platform unusable.

“The problem mostly lies in the use cases that we’re trying to support,” Resig says in an e-mail to Webmonkey. “We need to support people who are actively trying to help new users, and we also need to support people who just want a simple question answered.” Spam, awkward filtering tools and a lack of support have driven JQuery to look elsewhere for a platform that connects its users, he says.

From an end-user point of view, the problem might not be immediately noticeable, especially if you’re using a good e-mail client which can filter out the spam for you. However, it can be a bit shocking to visit your favorite Groups’ homepage and discover it’s been overrun by spammers.

While Gmail is good at filtering spam, Google Groups is so bad, it’s almost as if the company isn’t even trying. There is a moderation option, which helps a bit. For example, compare the Django Users Group homepage (which uses moderation) to the EveryBlock Group (which doesn’t use moderation). As you can see, there isn’t one legitimate message on the Everyblock Group homepage, while there’s hardly any spam in the Django Group.

Sadly, as Resig points out, moderation makes joining and posting to a Google Group much more complex for the first-time users who have come seeking help, and the tools provided for moderators aren’t nearly as slick as you’d expect from a Google product.

Compounding the problem, spammers have figured out that spoofing e-mail addresses works swimmingly in Google Groups. So even with moderation turned on, spam will inevitably get through. Even worse, it’ll look like it came from legitimate list members, or even the moderators. In the end, the moderators have to moderate their own e-mail addresses to truly stop Google Groups spam.

Resig tells Webmonkey that JQuery is still looking for a suitable replacement for Google Groups. The top contenders are Vanilla Forums, which allows people to subscribe to all new posts and comments by e-mail, and Stack Exchange, which is essentially Stack Overflow customized for a specific topic.

Unfortunately, based on Resig’s account, it looks like Google’s Data Liberation Front hasn’t trained its data-export vision on Groups just yet — there is no way to export all the messages from a Group (there is, however, the ability to export a list of all members). In the JQuery Group’s case, that means some 120,000 messages in the group will have to exported by hand.

As for the future of Google Groups, well, the handwriting might well be on the wall. As blogger and former Yahoo engineer Andy Baio points out, “If you want to know which areas of big companies are being ignored, watch for spam taking over.”

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File Under: Software & Tools

Friending Fights Facebook Spam

Example of Facebook tagging 'spam'As a feature Facebook photo tagging is innovative and useful, for sure. Is it game-able?

Sam Lessin warns of a Facebook hack using the photo tagging feature:

“People have begun to upload a photo of something they wish to promote (perhaps a candidate or event) and then ‘tag’ as many ‘influential’ friends as they can into the image.”

Longtime Facebookers have probably seen this countless times from trickster friends. But they were never looking to gain anything from tagging you as the talons of an eagle.

The tag then enters in the news feed and the friends of the tagged click to view the picture. Free advertising.

Facebook has some tools in place to counteract inappropriate tagging. Those who are tagged can remove the tag from the photo. Anyone can report the photo. Perhaps the best way to avoid these spammings is in the left column of the offender’s profile, all the way down on the bottom: “Remove from friends.”

The hurdles to standard email spam are low. All you need are email addresses and there’s little, outside of filters, to stop your message from being seen.

Spamming on social networks, like the photo tagging that Lessin describes, has a larger hurdle. First of all, the spammer has to become friends with many influential friends. Then, the spammer has to maintain those friendships despite transgressions.

A problem arises when people no longer apply a barrier to friendship, when those influential friends aren’t really friends. That is combated with a similar method: remove the influential friend.

Unlike unsolicited email, there is a social barrier protecting Facebook spam from becoming widespread. We just have to use the tools.

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File Under: Web Basics

The Safest Way to Publish Your Email Address

At the dawn of time, including your email address on a web page didn’t seem like a horrible idea. Now, that’s the easiest way to get on every spam list around. Sadly, this makes it a little more difficult to solicit email from site visitors.

Silvan Mühlemann decided to find the best way to safely publish an email address. He started his test almost two years ago and recently published the results.

Silvan created nine email addresses and use a different method of obfuscation–nine different ways of hiding the actual address. Of the methods he tested, three of the email addresses never received a spam message.

The simplest method is to add markup with display: none styling so it doesn’t show:

email@<span style="display: none">null</span>

The other two methods are reversing backwards text with unicode declarations and simple ROT13 encoding using JavaScript to decode. Next on the list, receiving just a few spam emails, was the popular email AT example DOT com method. Silvan did not test the email-as-image method, one employed by Facebook on its profile pages.

These methods probably won’t work with a mailto: link for easy clicking. Still, they all allow copy-pasting, instead of laborious re-typing, so they’re worth a shot. And yes, I know you could just use a contact form, but isn’t that a little impersonal? I think so.