An open letter to Seed

The commenting issues here are seriously driving me nuts. I’ve just written another letter of complaint on the Seed backchannel, which always seems to mean that it will sink into neglect once again, so I’ve decided to also post it here, publicly. I hate to air dirty laundry like this because I really, really like Seed, I respect all the people running the operation for both their goals and their willingness to work towards them, but they’ve just fallen down on the job of maintaining the basic nuts and bolts of the blogging system.

Look. Fixing the commenting system has to be a high priority.

When I turn off comment registration, I can tell you fairly precisely how big a load spam is causing: spam outnumbers regular comments two-fold right now, and I know from past experience that the longer I leave the barrier of registration off, the more spammers will pour in. I have got a LONG filter file to try and catch the worst of it, so the majority of the spam gets caught by the filters. It’s not enough. Even with filtering, between 25-30% of the comments that manage to get posted on my blog are pure spam. If I don’t clean it up, the successful spammers also detect that and flood threads with garbage. Anyone with a popular blog (and I presume Seed wants all of us to have popular blogs) knows that spam can easily overwhelm the comments section of even the biggest discussion of science on the web and turn it into a wasteland. I have to monitor every single comment that gets posted and cut out the trash. Manually. Do you know how many comments I get? It’s driving me insane.

The alternative is to turn on comment registration. Currently, that technology is perfectly adequate to obliterate 99.9% of the spam. It made my life so much easier — I could ignore comments for days without worry, the only spam that made it through was the occasional hand-crafted variety rather than the usual machine-generated jackhammer of repetition, it was sweet. I want it on all the time.

Except that our FUCKING BUGGY IMPLEMENTATION doesn’t work for half or more of my readers. It is inconsistent and flaky and hard to use. It’s not because these readers are stupid and incapable of working with technology, either; sometimes it bugs out on me and I can’t comment either. I’ve had to resort to maintaining a direct html link to the typepad registration system that bypasses the crappy MT interface to get it to work reliably. This is ridiculous. It is intolerable. We have a solution available with the existing software, and it is so badly mucked up that it is unusable. Seriously, if I were running my blog on my own server and had access to the guts of the software, I would have sat down with it a year ago and patched up something that worked reliably and simply. I could have even stuck in a simple captcha system which, although some spammers are doing a good job of circumventing that nowadays, would still have reduced the spam problem by an order of magnitude. And I’M NOT A SOFTWARE TECH PERSON. I’m just a casual geek.

What the hell is wrong with Seed that they can’t fix this long-pending, serious problem?

I just turned off comment registration this weekend so the people blocked by our absurdly buggy system can have a voice for a little while. I’m seeing a lot of expressions of gratitude because they are so pleased to finally get a chance to say something. That’s what I want, for people to be able to freely converse. Unfortunately, it also means I’ve got a weekend of annoyances to deal with, because I’m going to have to constantly watchdog the comments section again (in just the time it takes me to type this, 6 more spam comments appeared). I can’t do this anymore. It’s going to drive me crazy.

That means I’m going to switch registration back on on Monday — I have no choice. And once again, there will be howls of protest from my readers who are being driven crazy by our buggy software, and even worse, there will be a lot of unhappy readers who won’t be able to protest because they’ll be silenced. Unfortunately, since I am a godless tyrant, when the choice is between me going crazy and many thousands of readers going crazy, I get to win and impose my will on everyone else. We are talking about seriously unhappy readers, OK? That should matter!

Fix it now, please. There is no excuse for this kind of incompetence.