Radio Userland Comment Problems

The other day I mentioned the problems that Scott Rosenberg was having at his Salon.Com blog with some folks who filled up the comments section of his site with posts that were hundreds of kilobytes long. The person(s) in question were posting so much text so quickly that according to Rosenberg it was bringing the server to a crawl. Because of the way the Radio Community Server is configured, Rosenberg and other users aren’t given the ability to delete such irritating and pointless posts, or IP block them, etc.

Userland appears to have responded with two interim solutions.

The first is pointless but harmless,

UserLand has implemented a maximum limit on the length of a comments thread. The good news is that this deals with the problem. The bad news is that this limits the length of comments threads.

Okay, that might help maintain the server performance, but it simply means that this spammer’s efforts will result in all of the threads on Rosenberg’s weblog being closed so no discussion can take place — not much better than simply turning off the feature in the first place.

The second solution (for Manila) is a personal pet peeve of mind that I’ve seen elsewhere and really gets my blood boiling — publicly displaying the IP address of people who post.

Jake Savin describes this new feature,

Today we released a new feature for Manila — IP address tracking. This feature helps to prevent spammers from attacking your site.

Whenever a new discussion group message or comment is posted, Manila now records the IP address along with the discussion group message.

People who might abuse public comment systems and discussion groups will be discouraged to do so if their IP address is made public.

I think publicly displaying IP addresses is behavior that is even worse than the spammers. Sites that implement this are making public a good deal of information about the person posting — information which, when combined with other things, could get people in a lot of trouble.

VegSource is a site that displays the IP addresses and illustrates the danger of posting this. For example, I once read a rather pro-animal rights post in the middle of the day on VegSource. Doing a DNS lookup it turned out that she was posting from a computer at a pharmaceutical company. Based on the things the person said, it was likely she worked in some sort of accounting department.

Somehow I don’t think this company would have been happy to find out that one of their employees as an activist posting to activist sites on company time.

In some cases you can get even more information. I’ll never understand why some libraries don’t use dynamic IP addresses for their public machines. Giving a public machine a static IP address is just asking for trouble (for example, one of my more irritating posters used to post from the same machine at a library in Cleveland — if I lived in the area, it wouldn’t have been too hard to track him down if I was so motivated).

Certainly site administrators have valid uses for tracking IPs, such as IP-blocking people who abuse their systems. But broadcasting the IP address of everyone who posts to the entire Internet? A Very Bad Idea (TM).

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