Blogging Basics: Comment Spam, Part I

Part I: Understanding Comments and Pingpacks

One of the main things that differentiate a blog from a Web site is the ability of readers to interact with what you post. This is done primarily through the use of comments.

Comment Basics

Most blogging software supports reader commenting. Typically, a comment form appears at the bottom of a post. Readers can enter their comments about the post, along with their name, e-mail address, and Web or blog URL. When the form is submitted, the comment is added to the post.

Post with CommentsThe screenshot here shows what a post on my blog, An Eclectic Mind, looks like with a few comments added, as well as a comment form.

Most blogging software packages offer the blogger options for handling comments. WordPress, for example offers several options:

  • Comments can be enabled or disabled by default or set on a post-by-post basis.
  • Commenter e-mail address can be required for a comment to be submitted.
  • Blog registration can be required for a comment to be submitted.
  • Comments can be held for moderation or automatically moderated based on a handful of options, including moderation and blacklist words or phrases.

Pingbacks and Trackbacks

Pingbacks (or trackbacks) are part of the commenting arena. A pingback happens when another blogger writes a post in which he links directly back to your post. He may have quoted your post in his and is linking back to the source. Or maybe he just wants to tell his readers how good your post was and send them over to your blog to read it. If his blogging software supports pingbacks or he has manually entered the link as a trackback, a special comment is sent to your blog with a link back to his blog.

Technically, a trackback is different from a pingback. A pingback is automated. The other blogger’s blogging platform must be capable of creating the pingback comment. Before automated pingbacks were widely supported, blogging platforms included a trackback feature that required the blogger to manually enter a linked post’s URL in a field when creating his post. Nowadays, these two terms are often used interchangeably.

In WordPress, you must have pingbacks enabled for your blog posts in order for WordPress to receive them. Pingbacks can appear with comments or, if the blog’s theme separates comments from pingbacks, they can appear separately. For example, my blog’s theme separates comments and pingbacks under different “tabs.”

Pingbacks look different, too. Instead of including a blogger’s name and comment, they include the name of the post that links to your post and a short excerpt surrounded by [...] characters. Here’s what a pingback looks like on a post in this blog:

Pingback Example

Comments, Pingbacks, and Reader Participation

It’s pretty easy to see how comments encourage reader participation. Comments give readers an opportunity to add or respond to your post. If enough readers comment and you respond, a conversation gets started. Sometimes that conversation can have more value than your original post.

For example, one of the most popular posts on this site is about a change in iTunes that affected how podcasts play back on an iPod. I identified the problem and created a workaround. A bunch of readers commented. One of the readers commented by sharing an AppleScript he’d written to automate my workaround. Another reader fine-tuned that script so it ran more efficiently. To this day, I use that script as my workaround. You can see the post and read the comments here.

Pingbacks also encourage reader participation, but in a less direct way. Suppose you read this post and think that your readers might benefit from it. You write a post on your blog that refers to it and adds your own comments. When you link to this post from your blog, a link to your post appears on this post. So readers reading comments here can go to your post to see what you’ve written about this topic.

Unfortunately, not everyone uses comments and pingbacks as they’re intended. The result is comment and pingback spam. I’ll discuss those in the next post of this series.

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2 thoughts on “Blogging Basics: Comment Spam, Part I

  1. Pingback: Battling Comment Spam | An Eclectic Mind

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