I have just, for the first time in my period as a blogger, unsubscribed from a fellow blogger’s site. I thought long and hard about my decision (after all I hope no one ever feels the need to unsubscribe from newauthoronline.com). However, having given the matter serious consideration I determined to click that unsubscribe button/link.
The blogger in question (who I will not name as it is not my intention to publicly shame anyone) has, over the past few weeks been bombarding me and their other followers with articles from one particular news source, almost invariably with no comment as to why the piece in question was being shared. The individual in question is an author and as such I fully expect him/her to have an interest in matters other than writing (we authors after all do not exist in a vacuum but have interests outside of writing. In my case this does include current affairs, but not to the extent of being bombarded with nothing other than such material over the past few weeks).
Approximately 12 months ago the same blogger went through a phase of automated tweets inviting me and his other followers to purchase their book. Needless to say I somehow resisted the temptation to reach for my virtual wallet and do so! At that juncture I was sorely tempted to unsubscribe, however I determined to give the site owner in question another chance and refrained from doing so, what an error of judgement that was on my part for, having been silent for a protracted period the bombardment of articles from a particular source began.
It goes without saying that every blog/site owner is entitled to blog whatever material they choose, provided of course that it does not break the law by, for example being an incitement to religious or racial hatred etc. However activities such as those described above are, in my opinion certain to alienate fellow bloggers (not just myself) and I wouldn’t be surprised if this person suffers a mass desertion of followers.
In the below post references to sharing do not include copying content (unless, of course you have the content owner’s permission to do so). By sharing I mean utilising options such as Twitter and the WordPress reblogging facility.
Your blog is full of great content but no one is sharing it. That is wholly inexplicable, right? Well in some cases you may be unlucky and, if you fall into this category I wish you the very best of luck in future for there is nothing more frustrating than one’s content being ignored.
Most blogs and/or sites have buttons allowing content to be easily shared. For example my blog (newauthoronline.com) allows sharing via a number of channels including Twitter, Facebook and, of course reblogging. I have, however come across blogs lacking any facility to share content. In such instances the person wishing to share has no option other than to copy the link into a post on their own site and share in this manner. This can be time consuming and in many instances can lead to a blogger who would otherwise have shared content deciding not to do so.
It is, of course a matter for site owners to determine what sharing buttons (if any) appear on their site. However the absence of easy options to share can (and often does) prevent informative and/or entertaining content from being shared. Shares can equal new readers so by not utilising sharing buttons site owners are limiting the growth of their site’’s readership.
Over the past 12 months or so I have noticed something peculiar about WordPress. Today I received a notification that my blog, newauthoronline.com has a new follower. I am, of course always delighted to welcome new readers. However the latest recruit turned out to be someone who has been following this site for some considerable time. I know this as the blogger in question has liked and commented on my posts and I distinctly recollect receiving a previous notification of them following.
Today’s incident is by no means the first time this has happened. I recall one person who regularly liked and commented on my work suddenly disappearing. The person in question was still blogging but was no longer reading my posts. Had I said something with which they so profoundly disagreed they had ceased to follow me? All was explained when I received a communication from the blogger in question saying that I had, for some reason disappeared from their Reader and they had now added me.
Now it is possible for people to accidentally click on the unsubscribe link. However given the number of instances where someone who I know is already a follower suddenly refollows my blog I can only conclude that a WordPress glitch is at the bottom of this mystery. Has anyone else experienced the mystery of the disappearing (only to reappear) follower?
I like to follow other people’s blogs. Interacting with others is, after all part of the fun of blogging as sooner or later you get bored talking to yourself! Likewise I love receiving comments and commenting on other people’s blogs. To me a blog which does not accept comments is a dead entity. It may well contain interesting content but without the ability to interact with the blogger his/her site does, in my view lack a certain vibrancy.
One of the difficulties with allowing comments is separating the wheat from the chaff. My site receives a fair number of wheaty (have I just invented that word)?! Comments, however the blog also gets bombarded by chaff (spam)! Akismet (the spam filter used by WordPress) captures the overwhelming majority of junk mail consigning it to a dedicated folder where it can be reviewed by the blog owner. The beauty of Akismet is that it does not entail the person commenting attempting (often unsuccessfully) to solve a visual Captcha. Captchas are visual puzzles which must be solved prior to those wishing to comment or contact the site owner being able to do so. For a brief period I maintained a site on Blogger. Blogger employs Captcha and low and behold not a single comment did I receive on my site hosted there. Given that I receive a fair number of comments on my WordPress hosted site (which does not utilise Captcha) and I had none while using Blogger, I attribute my success in attracting comments (on WordPress) to the lack of Captcha. Unless a person feels extremely strongly on a given issue they are, when faced by a tricky Captcha likely to give up and move onto a blog where the Captcha monster is not lurking ready to pounce on the unlucky would be commenter!
As a blind computer user I have a particular detestation of Captcha. Screen reading software such as Jaws (the package I use to convert text into speech and Braille enabling me to use a standard Windows computer) only recognises text (it is not able to recognise images). Many sites have no alternative to a visual Captcha. Others do have audio alternatives, however most of these are, in my experience more or less unintelligible so, if you employ Captcha on your site you are, albeit unintentionally locking out many visually impaired people from the possibility of participating fully on your site.
As a blogger I do understand the problem posed by spam. Spammers are selfish individuals who ought to earn an honest living rather than spending their time bombarding site owners and e-mail users with solicitations for fake products. However spam is not going to disappear any time soon and we will continue to be faced with the issue of how best to minimise it’s pernicious effects. Given the existence of Akismet I can not see a valid reason for anyone relying on clunky old Captcha. If you must use Captcha then please choose a non-visual version. For example “prior to posting please add four and 3 and type your answer”. Such a Captcha can be read by screen reading software and is intelligible to the overwhelming majority of the human population. It also has the benefit of preventing automated spam bots from wreaking havoc by spraying your site with spam. Better still use a programme like Akismet which dispenses with the need for Captcha altogether!
On visiting my Dashboard I was intrigued to observe that there are 4,106 comments in my spam queue. Does this mean that I have arrived as a blogger? I mean surely one could argue that the more spam one receives the greater the interest your blog is attracting. Then again perhaps not! To all those lovely spammers a big thank you for choosing my blog. My heart fills with joy whenever I see advertisements, in my spam folder for fake branded products. I no longer need to visit Marks and Spencers or any other store as, with one click of a mouse I am able to access a plethora of dodgy products which would make Delboy from Only Fools and Horses green with envy. Thank you dear spammers, it is good to know that instead of earning an honest living you choose rather to enliven my dull world with all those items I never knew I needed. Thank you!
Working full time has it’s advantages not least among them being the ability to meet those piffling little obligations known as bills together with other living expenses! The downside to being in full time employment is that I am usually fairly tired by the time I return home in the evening and my ability to write is, as a consequence diminished.
I want to spend time on long term writing projects which will entail me devoting less to blogging. My intention, at the moment is to cut down on my blogging to approximately 2-3 posts a week affording more time for long term composition. Some weeks I may blog more and others less. Rest assured that I won’t be disappearing so don’t break open the champagne just yet or, if you do, invite me along for a drink!
I am a blind computer user who is not able to read print. As a result I use Jaws (Job Access with Speech) which converts text into print and braille enabling me to have the content of the screen relaid to me. One of the major difficulties which I encounter as a user of access software is the need to solve Captchas prior to being able to post comments on websites or perform other functions such as contacting the webmaster. Captchas are visual puzzles which are rendered as images. Jaws and other screenreading software is not able to interpret images (the software sees a blank page), consequently many visually impaired people such as myself find it extremely difficult (sometimes impossible) to post on sites which utilise Captcha.
Some sites including blogger.com do have audio alternatives to visual Captchas which should, in theory allow access technology users to post in the same manner as non visually impaired people. However I know from bitter experience that many audible alternatives to visual Captchas are virtually unintelligible and that significant numbers of vision impaired people can not post independently as a consequence of the presence of Captcha.
In adition to this site (newauthoronline.com which is hosted at wordpress.com) I have, in the past few days started a blog at blogger.com (http://newauthoronline.blogspot.co.uk/). This presents me with a moral dilemma as Blogger does, as mentioned above employ Captcha, (I face no such ethical issues with wordpress.com as it does not use Captcha. WordPress utilises Akismet software which automatically detects spam without utilising Captcha and places suspected junk comments/messages in a spam folder for the webmaster to review. Akismet is in my experience at least 97 per cent accurate and it is only on rare occasions that I find a genuine comment consigned to my spam folder). I wish that Blogger used Akismet or similar software rather than the cumbersome Captcha which the user is faced with. However given that Blogger does not avail itself of alternatives to Captcha what is the visually impaired user of my Blogger site to do? One solution is for users of Firefox to download an extension called Webvisum. Among other functions Webvisum enables the blind access technology user to solve Captcha by pressing alt, control 6 which sends the Captcha to be resolved. I haven’t a clue how Webvisum performs it’s magic, however it does work in the majority of cases and I’ve successfully solved many Captchas through using Webvisum.
While many tech savvy blind people will be aware of Webvisum other visually impaired people will not. Again some people do not like Firefox and prefer to use Internet Explorer or other browsers. For such people Webvisum is not an option as it only works with Firefox. This being the case what is the solution to my dilemma? The short term solution is to place an email address on http://newauthoronline.blogspot.co.uk/ so that those unable to solve the Captcha have an alternative means of contacting me, however this may have the effect of attracting spam so I will break up the address to reduce the potential for junk mail (For example john smith at mydomain.com). In the longer term sites such as Blogger need to explore alternatives to Captcha. Akismet is not the only option. One can, for instance ask the person wishing to post a comment to solve a simple question such as “what is four plus 2”. I really can’t imagine why Blogger and other sites choose to stick to inaccessible Captcha when there exist much better means of detecting spam while permitting visually impaired people the same access as sighted individuals.
(Kevin Morris is the author of The First Time which is available in the Kindle Store).
Postscript. Since composing this post earlier today I have come across a number of posts which explain how to turn off Captcha (word verification) in Blogger. For example please see http://britpins.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/tutorial-how-to-turn-off-word.html. A number of these postings argue that turning off Captcha does not significantly increase the amount of spam received while several comments in response to the posts state that turning off Captcha has increased the amount of spam received significantly. For the reasons set out above I wish to make commenting on my Blogger site as easy as possible while avoiding so far as is possible the menace of spam. I will (assuming that I can find the relevant settings on my Blogger Dashboard) turn off word verification and monitor the effects over the coming weeks. If spam is not a major problem then all well and good, however if turning off Captcha results in a large number of spam comments I may have to reniable word verification while including a contact me link on my blog so that those who experience difficulty with Captcha can get in touch.
The wordpress.com spam filter is, in my experience highly effective capturing approximately 99 percent of solicitations for fake viagra, cheap imitation watches etc. However, very occasionally it allows through a comment which should have been consigned to my spam folder. I was amused today to receive the following comment forwarded to my e-mail address by WordPress for my approval
“Do you have a spam issue on this website; I also am a blogger, and I was wanting to know your situation; we have created some nice
practices and we are looking to exchange solutions with other folks, be sure to shoot me an email if interested.”
I was tempted to respond as follows
“Thank you for your e-mail which WordPress somehow failed to consign to it’s rightful place in my spam folder never to see the light of day again! I do, on the whole find WordPress’s spam filters highly effective, however it does, on occasions allow through rubbish such as your comment which I have experienced great pleasure in consigning to my spam folder. May I respectfully suggest that you find something productive to do with your life rather than bombarding bloggers such as myself with your inane and time-wasting comments.
If I can be of further assistance please do hesitate to contact me.”
However I refrained from responding partly because I have better things to do with my life and, also because it would only encourage the company in question and other spammers to bombard me with further spam!
Rant over, K