Sunday, January 29, 2006

I disagree with Stephen's thinking on spam control

I gotta say, I'm a bit nervous posting this, but if I was Stephen I'd want to hear it if someone disagreed with me, and I'd do my best to set the cocky little upstart straight (in the nicest possible way).

Last week I was listening to Stephen's latest, and very interesting audio recordings from the Grand Yellowhead Seminar. In Part 3 he talks a bit about spam as the reason why educational organisations need to take control of content management. Best you listen to the audio, because my summary sentence doesn't seem quite right.

I pretty strongly disagree with Stephen on what he says about spam management though. Stephen suggests that educational organisations need to think about spam and consider hosting and serving their own content management systems to combat it. Stephen hosts and manages his own blogging and wiki software, where as I use free web based services. Stephen suggests that using free web based services leaves you open to spam and other sorded attacks on content, but I think hosting and managing your own software leaves you open.

I use Gmail, for example. I almost never get spam. Actually, I get a sh!t load, but Google's filter is working very well. When I worked for an educational organisation they expected me to use their email system, and I got a lot their too, but their filters weren't so good and most of it got through!

I use Blogger, and while it started off pure and beautiful, soon enough comment spam was creating quite a problem. Within a week or 2, Blogger offered not one but 4 ways to control unwanted comments.

Wikispaces was hit by spam once. And it was not light either. I think they learned from that. I haven't seen another hit since.

Basically what I'm saying is that schools and other educational organisations by themselves, even their State departments, have a very limited capacity to keep up to date with effective content controls as well as running the systems they have in place. From my experience, having used their systems, and now the free web based ones, it seems to me the free web based ones offer a whole heap more peace of mind compared to getting, hosting and managing your own server and apps.

But who know, maybe all these free web apps are part, or soon to become part, of the evil media empire and all the information I have posted along the way will leave me open to a much more effective form of spam advertising. But then, if that is a conspiracy going on at the moment, I really doubt the IT support section of my local school is on top of it either.

So it seems to me that the use of free web based applications offer simplicity of use and an ease of management that is hard to beat when compared to the systems in place within schools and colleges at the moment.

If I was an IT support dude, I'd be finding ways to work into these web app projects. Finding the open source versions and working with them to better service educational needs and keeping the bastards honest while they host the service and manage the content for you.

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James Byers said...

Hi Leigh,

I think you're right on about the tradeoffs between internally-maintained and hosted systems. I've got a bias, being one of the founders of Wikispaces, but I've also had the pleasure of supporting some big and messy IT apps.

Gmail had terrible spam filters for the first few weeks, nearly useless. As you say, now they're fantastic. When we got hit by wikispam, we ratched up our protections and saw spam disappear in a few days. It's our full time job to worry about keeping the site working well, and the more spam we get, the better we know how to fight it.

If an organization has the right resources in place, there are lots of good cases for hosting internal apps. If the app needs to be out in the public, resources are tight, or there might be a large userbase, a good host can ease a lot of pain.


Downes said...

I'm always happy to hear when someone disagrees with me - it's the only way I can learn things and I'd never do anything to discourage it.

I am pretty sure I wasn't talking about spammers hitting your external services like gmail or Wordpress. As you point out, these services have pretty good spam control.

I'd have to check the transcript to be sure, but I'm pretty sure what I meant was something like this.

Services that harvest the entire web (such as, say, Technorati or Pubsub) are fighting (and sometimes losing) an ongoing battle with spam blogs (splogs). So it's better to harvest from a selected subset of sites.

Also, when you sign up for external services (and especially if you sgn up for all of them, like I do) using your email address to register, then you will receive more spam.

Obviously, not all of these services take your email address and sell it to spammers. But (and the 1000+ spams filtered in my inbox every day is evidence) certainly some do.

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