Chris Watkins [opinions]
10/7/2010

Saving Identica and StatusNet?

fsmsh.com/3424 [spam] [identica] [statusnet]

There is a significant spam problem on Identi.ca, and it looks like some fresh ideas are needed to crush it. Here are mine, and a few ideas that I like from other people.

Identi.ca is the open microblogging site based on the StatusNet software. It's a fantastic service, with features that leave Twitter in the dust. But spammers are not being caught and banned quickly. Users are becoming frustrated.

Marketing accounts, with names like scooterforsale, cheapwidebeltsanders, mastercrafttablesawspowertools, bestbuyfinancialcalculator, ad nauseum, seem to make up more than half of the members of any Identica group. They often don't actually spam the group (though sometimes they do, and eventually get removed), but they make it hard to look through the genuine group members. This is a pity, as the "group" function is one of the features that sets StatusNet apart.

So, this is brainstorm time. Share your ideas in the comments.

Disclaimers: I am not a coder, and it's possible some of these features have been implemented without me finding them.

Anti-spam ideas

If there are more than n group addresses in a notice, prompt a CAPTCHA. Other triggers can be added - e.g. repeated @ notices. (Thanks tamasrepus)

Add a "sandbox" feature. Sandboxing would prevent problematic accounts from sending direct messages, having their messages appear in the public timeline, joining groups, or posting to existing groups if they're a member. Any @ messages would not appear in the target's timeline. The only way to view their posts would be to go to their profile.

If marketing accounts are considered acceptable as long as they don't send direct messages or post off-topic to groups (which seems to be the case), then at least add a "permanent sandbox" option. This is like regular sandbox, but either:

Use flagging to automatically sandbox spammers. (Based on the suggestion at the Status.Net wiki):

Define "trusted users" to be able to perform certain anti-spam actions - maybe their flags would count as x flags, or they could sandbox an account on sight. Obviously to be used with care, the greater the powers are. Start with a simple algorithm based number of followers, number of posts, number of posts to groups, length of time they've been registered, and number of times they've been flagged. (Perhaps, number of times they've been flagged by anyone who has been flagged less than n times.)

A spam-checking bot - I'm sure these exist already, but I'm thinking of one with the power to flag (at "trusted user" level) or even sandbox in extreme cases:

A public "maybe-spam" list for all messages that have been flagged at least n times, where dependent on a simple trust metric; or which have been added by a spam-checking bot:

There are more suggestions on the wiki, and people like antispam and spammer007 will have more ideas.

I'm not wedded to any of these suggestions, but something needs to be done. I think it's too much to expect more than a couple of these suggestions to be implemented soon, but my request to the StatusNet developers is: at the very least, auto-sandbox accounts after a certain number of flags. That one measure will empower the community, give us a quick reduction in spam, and give a quick boost in goodwill towards StatusNet and Identi.ca.

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This work may be distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License, version 3.0, with attribution to "Chris Watkins, first published in Free Software Magazine".

Notes on the author

Chris Watkins is the co-founder of Appropedia - wiki for sustainability, development, ICT4D.


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