Fighting spam in Discussion: new techniques

Spam, and the future of Briar Press

Dear everyone at Briar Press,

As many of you have witnessed, a flood of spam posts recently overwhelmed our Discussion pages. We’ve deleted them, but more may arrive. Robotic spammers move faster than we can.

Launched in 2005, eons ago in internet years, this fifth version of Briar Press is reaching the end of its useful life. (We launched the first Briar Press website way back in 1995, when even Google was just a dream.) The time has come for us to consider another overhaul of the website: Briar Press version 6.

Spam is just one of the motivating factors. We’ve collected a long list of improvements that we — and you — would like to see. Unfortunately, we can’t make those improvements to the current codebase. The site needs to be rebuilt from the ground up.

Redevelopment is an enormous undertaking. Even thinking about it makes us a little queasy. Elizabeth — my mother — and I are not professional web developers; she is retired and I tend to be quite busy with my job as a graphic designer. We will need to balance our dreams for the site with what we can afford, both in terms of money and time.

We tend to keep a low profile, so you won’t be hearing from us every day, but we will be asking for your input and feedback as this process moves ahead. For now, as we consider our options, we’d love to hear your general thoughts about Briar Press v6: What should change? What should stay the same?

As far as the spam is concerned: it might get worse before it gets better. Please hang on and we’ll try to get through this together.

Eric & Elizabeth

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I live in Tasmania and my partner Joanne and i enjoy our experience of printing in our private press. Briar Press is something we look at every morning and night. I’m an old hand but I love to experience the collective efforts from around the world which for us bears fruit on your wonderful site. I have learn’t so much from reading of the efforts of others as we all push the arts of printing forward. You truly deserve medals for the joy and enrichment that I sense we all get from the Briar Press. Spam is just spam. Bloody annoying but we will overcome the cretins who do this stuff.
Lets just push on with this!

Hip,hip, hurrah! to sentiments by Lasimp. — Alan.

Maybe we as a collective should send them hundreds of pages of crap in return ? Oh ,the spammers i mean !
I have no idea what goes on in the background of briar ,a lot of work i think. so grateful of the efforts and entertained by the end results.

How hard would it be to code the inbox for postings to reject anything that does not have a code word, like “Briar”, in the subject line? Then post to all legit users that the code word is required in the subject line — posts without it will be rejected. A little awkward but perhaps serviceable.

Bob

As someone with a degree in multimedia & web design, I say don’t code anything. There are tons of solid, already built forums out there that can be installed. These days I pretty much build any site that I do on Wordpress. I highly recommend it.

A little research into some of the popular forums would probably provide an easy choice. They all have decent anti-spam functionality built in.

There’s a great one that printmakers are pretty active on called “Inkteraction” and it’s sister/brother “Print people”

http://inkteraction.ning.com/

http://printpeople.ning.com/

Both are built on the NING platform, perhaps this is something to look into

http://www.ning.com/

More of a “forum” than a website

But worth looking at

*(and worth knowing about for some of you who don’t!)

Excuse my rambling post but I’ve been thinking about this a lot since the spamming started.

~~~

I just checked and briarpress.ning.com is available, should you decide to go that route. Having a URL that points to briarpress is a good thing and keeps the spirit of the site, SHOULD you decide to go that route, but I don’t know whether ning will allow a url to point to a forum (this can probably be done with a simple re-direct though).

All told, at current membership base*, it’d be about 1,000 dollars a year @ the most premium plan.
(*70,000+, which frankly, is not likely entirely active- see below)

I do not know what sort of ownership ramifications this implies, but there are some to consider and there have been other collectives/sites that have seen a bit of a…. similar transition and some flux problems, which is why I’m also suggesting going for the beefiest most inclusive plan.

If we assume BP has 5,000 active/willing members, and you were to have every ACTIVE member contribute 25-65 cents ($USD) I’m guessing you could arrange to have that occur for 1-2 and a half years and also pay the taxes on the ‘income’ the gov’t would view this contribution as directly from the income.
There are fundraising sites that would be applicable to this need, such as gofundme or (shudder) kickstarter etc., and you could arrange the correct one to make this happen or setup a donation paypal etc.

Tangent: How have you set up Briarpress as a business entity? Is it an Inc? Do you own the rights to the name? You own the website/url/domain, but is it a company outside of this, and would you consider making it one- not for the sake of monetary gain, but rather, for legitimacy?

Going back to fundraising:
If you were to hold a lottery of some sort to raffle off an item that was donated, sell the tickets for whatever the ‘rate’ would be for the good of the site, and make the raffle a simple item (a print? A shirt? The items you’re already selling?) this could be a solid plan for annual renewal AND a purse for the interim.
In other terms, you raise 2 years worth of fees to host the site on NING or whatever service and move into the first year not having to organize anything.

Need help re-grouping Briarpress? This is an undertaking that would require a solid amount of effort.
If you were to have members contribute assistance with organizing this effort, I’m certain there are some who would find it worthwhile. (speak up, don’t be shy y’all, if you would be willing to do so). The site could be re-laid out and the old BP kept in effect during the transition period; roll out the new forum and prepare it aesthetically and rules/layout wise and introduce features before membership re-convenes. Leave a splash page with the link in a .jpg or direct link to the new forum and people who come back to the original briarpress will note it’s relocation.
ALso, archiving the site but disabling posting- to store and keep the current wealth of information available on this site- would be a good idea.

Another additional helpful point I can make about relocation is that the new incantation would serve to ‘clear house’. Active members would transition; non-active and non-legitimate members would not.

Maybe some of this seems like crackpot logic, and really I’m not an experienced person with this sort of undertaking, but it seems to me if you’re really going to reincarnate the site a 6th time- something really major and more open source needs to be done in order to remove what you both seem to see as a plausible burden; I can’t speak for all, but I would HOPE none of us would like you to feel as if this WONDERFUL blessing to US is a burden for you, and we really all see a value in this place and thing- again I echo the heartfelt thanks for providing this forum and your efforts towards making it great.
I am certain no matter your decision as to what to do, you will find the right one and I hope you feel we’re behind you, regardless of how my suggestions are taken I certainly am!

fundraising can be a lot easier. I’m on one active forum that every year just posts a “fundraising 2013” or states the goal. Say XXX dollars for whatever hosting/coding/whatever costs. Then users are just free to contribute. Enough people use the site and find it useful enough that without any nagging, within a few days the total is met.

Do you use Mollom? If not, it would probably help.

High quality, reliable hosting can be had for as little as $10-$20 per month. The forum software? Free.

Simple ads on the site along with affiliate links could easily raise that amount of money without ever asking for a dollar.

Not sure Eric & Elizabeth meant “start from scratch” or move BP to a cloud-cms-thing … BP is unique and should stay that way. Moving it to some other platform doesn’t make any sense since this would mean loosing all existing posts (or spending a huge amount of time to export/import/sync them).

I also don’t think hosting or traffic is an issue here (money-wise).

I would start by collecting ideas for improvements (functionality-wise). After sorting out the nice-to-haves and really-useful ones someone should have a look at the current system/backend to see if those new features can be intergrated easily or not (afaik BP is build on Drupal, there shouldn’t be any limitations in extending). That someone should also estimate the effort for doing so. Depending on that effort, there should be a call to active members to donate …

I think moving to a more standardized forum software would be great, even if it meant that active users would need to re-register.

Let’s face it, this one is far from attractive, and lacks most of the features that most forums have had since 1999.

The old archive of posts could remain online and searchable.

I disagree. If it is based on drupal, it’s as standardized as it needs to be. I love Briar Press for what it is and would really prefer not to see any of the features so common with most out-of-the-box forum software. Avatars? Thumbs up and down reviews? I don’t think any features need to be added to the forum, or the basic aesthetic update. Just add a plug-in to fight the spam or otherwise use other methods (better moderation, captcha etc)

Lots of good points here, I presented my point of view hoping there would be some good divergent ones and I’m as conflicted as I’m sure many of you are.

What to do?
Major uproot or minor revisions with additional tools?

Feels a bit like the onset of offset and then digital printing, and the ‘thing of the past’ element of letterpress that has it’s charms. Interesting notions about the parallels between an older but still perfectly functional mechanism for forums VS slick new bells and whistles. (mind you, I wasn’t suggesting the move so we could have avatars or vote ups- rather, ease of content management and various built in aspects that are on these sorts of forums.)

Anyhow, I’ve spoken my piece/deposited my 2 cents.

Haven, that was more than 2 cents, i’m still reading your last post.

I am an old guy who practices an ancient craft. I really enjoy Briar Press. I don’t need the latest app or program with the flashing lights and bells and whistles. The present format suits me just fine.
I am willing to help any way I can or as needed. I am not sophisticated with the puter, but I can contribute money or time.

E&E, and all Brirpress members and users,
Thank you so much for all of your time, effort, money and interest in supporting our letterpress community.

I too like the present platform for its functionality and simplicity of design.

I would support efforts to raise money using several of the suggestions offered above. Banner ads can certainly help finance the site and they would also help people find sources for various products. Although I personally would prefer not to have them clutter the site.

I would image becoming a commercial site would turn it into a business and change everything you have made the forum for all these years.

On the other hand, you never know, maybe Neenah or Mohawk or Boxcar would want to pay you big bucks for it?

Thx again,
Steve Varvaro

From what I can tell, all that is really needed is some sort of spam filtering like Captcha or other code system that web bots would not be able to bypass. I am actually surprised that spam is not more of a problem with the current system. However, I have no idea what is on BP’s wish list, so a ground up redo might be what is needed, esp if this code is 8 years old.

I do not think the answer is going to a boxed forum, no matter how stable. As a graphic designer, one of the things I like about the user experience here is the lack “extras” (avatars, who-joined-when, how many posts a user has made, user quotes). The interface is clean and sparse. One thing I have found is that changing someone else’s “look” and code to fit your own is just as difficult on a shoestring budget as creating the code and look yourself. I do like Wordpress, but it has taken me a looong time to get well-versed in the specialized code and CSS to get my sites to work and look like I want. I am sure there are quite a few graphic designers on here (myself included) who would be willing to contribute some to the new look, but I doubt there are very many who are knowledgeable enough in any of the well-known CMS systems to be of valuable help in transitioning BP over (for a reasonable cost). One good thing about Wordpress is the number of different ways (simple to complicated) to use its CMS and the number of code snipets already online (helped me a ton). But learning how all that works takes time.

As I said, I am a graphic designer by trade (and enough of a web developer to be slightly dangerous). So, Eric, if I can be of help, send me a PM.

Dear Eric and Elizabeth

I’m a very new printer, just getting set up over the last year, and Briar Press has been invaluable on so many occasions - thank you, and I hope you can keep going in whatever new form seems best. I would certainly be happy to regularly contribute to the cost. I have also been setting up a WordPress site for a church group I am involved with - I’m almost as much a beginner with this as I am with letterpress - but I have found it quite easy to work with. I am about to set up a ‘Capcha’ contact tab as a way of fending off spammers - this seems to work quite well on most sites.

Cheers, and grateful greetings from Murrumbateman, New South Wales.

You guys have been great help getting our college press up. I’ll gladly kick in a few bucks!

This is a valuable resource.

I’m with “inky” on this - Minor revisions please. I like the motive at the top where you click on through the type case. And that’s simple and nice too. Very Letterpress.
Incidently as isolated as I am its taken me a while to catch up with “Linotype the film”. its a great film. Get it, view it and tell your friends!

to all:

This weekend we are commemorating the 41 U.S servicemen who lost their lives June 14, 1943 in an air crash. All but one of the families has been traced by co-operation between Americans and Australians. Professor (Retired) Cutler is again here, his father was in charge of R&R here. The Editor (for a few years circa 1970, now retired) of local morning daily newspaper started the campaign for the memorial. The memorial now holds a large brass model of the B17C involved, cast by an American. It was special freight item on a regular passenger aircraft for transport to Australia. Two other men put a great deal of work into tracing, belong to our servicemen’s league (equiv to your Veterans). I helped the Editor a very tiny bit, assured him it was the “C” model, B17C. The tribute in our newspaper has the least errors of any similar work that I have seen, even to a pic of the actual aircraft, a year or two before the crash. Professor has written profiles of most of the lost. Professor has indications at least one American had an Australian fiancee, trying to trace. I think there is also a memorial in U.S.A., on ground which was handed over to Australia for the purpose.

We salute Our Gallant Allies (of WW2.

I find The Briar Press enlightening. Does anyone have keyboard layout of the Blower Linotype, just out of curiosity? Why is there no “u” in that word? Why does no one spell “size” and “seize” as “sise” an “seise”; and many other words?

Alan.

I am reading your comments and get the feeling that there is a general concern about too much work and too few people. Is this correct?

I think you are at a point in time where you need to have a moderator or moderators to help you manage the site. I have seen other Web sites do this with some success on a volunteer basis.

Thanks for letting me share my opinion.

I work as a web developer and designer by day and I’d like to share my opinions on the matter:

I think it would be worth raising some money (donations or Kickstarter campaign?) to fund the export of the forum data and rebuild on a new modern backend, like Drupal. Briar Press is not a small site with inconsequential data. It deserves a professional to build something that will scale into the coming years.

Just because the site will be redone on the backend, doesn’t mean it has to look any different or add any new “busy” features to the front end. There will be some welcomed modern features, but we don’t need to add avatars, up-voting, obnoxious social buttons etc. if we don’t want to.

I’m a fan of Kickstarter and I think this would be the perfect use case for that service.

Michelle (my wife) & Michelle (my press) & I will be happy to throw a little money this way, we use it often for info and enjoy the stories as much as the info!

Add another hat in the ring for minimal change to a very functional, simply & attractively designed and intuitively navigate-able site. It’s a classic case of “it ain’t broke”, so please don’t go fixin’ it too much now ;-)

A singular upgrade that would benefit many (well, aside from the spam filter issue that gave rise to this string; tho’ I find these nuisances easy enough to just ignore) would be a more robust search function. The archives of Briarpress make up a rich resource that is not very easily accessed. How many times do we see a new user come on asking how to remove rust, only to be told (sometimes not very gracefully) to go do a search through the site? A more structured search function that provided more specific hits would be an invaluable assist. I’m sure 90% of the questions raised ant any given point have been discussed earlier - only it’s a random shot to finding the thread.

Having said this, I also want to thank Elizabeth and Eric for the work they put in on this. So many of us would know less, struggle harder, and otherwise go without a sense of a shared, communal experience.

Ladies of Letterpress is built on the Ning platform, and it’s very easy to use. You can use custom CSS, if you want, and have a custom url. Ning is getting ready to launch a new version that is highly customizable and could probably be made to look much like this site. It’s also pretty spam-resistant. I’ll be glad to talk with you about our experiences with Ning if it’d be helpful.

THE most valuable and well-formed letterpress clearinghouse on the web, your efforts have long been appreciated.

what about a modest Kickstarter initiative to perhaps hire a co-developer to take some weight off?

I don’t see anything in the code after a casual scroll to say it’s built on a framework, but it might make sense to build v6 over Wordpress, and take advantage of speed of dev to deploy, and the vast array of plugins, in particular, for spam control.

whatever you decide, I for one am entirely satisfied with the ux of the site.

thanks for making this happen.

mjb | interrobang

I owned a message for quite some times and I used VBulletin. It’s a bit for the current license, but they’ve been around for a long time and are very familiar with how to prevent spammers. Once you buy the license, you don’t have to upgrade each year if you choose not to. I think the version I had was about 5 years old.

You can change the appearance quite easily and it’s not hard to manage.

What we did was assign “moderators” that would field questions at and prevent spammers from signing in or posting.

If about 5 people could volunteer to be “mods” — that would be all you’d need.

Don’t know if it would suit this particular site, but it might be worth checking into.

I would be more than happy to assist with the setting up since I’m familiar with it. You can also transfer your database to the new forum — that takes a little bit doing, but if you know someone with that knowledge it shouldn’t take but a few hours to do.

Hy! From Argentina your site is indispensable for me and I assume for a lot of people. Im a graphic designer, non commercial printer and web developer. If you need some help -anything- I can give you a hand for free obviously. Many of us really need your site. I remain at your service.

I’m more than happy to be a subscriber, the subcription could cover the costs of site design and maintenance and provide an income for Elizabeth and Eric. William Amer, Rockley NSW

I found this site when I first became interested in letterpress and it’s been an invaluable resource for me ever since.

I’ve done a lot of backend programing and web design over the past 10 year and would be happy to volunteer my time developing a new site to keep the spam bots away. Get in touch if you’d like to discuss further. :)

Matching everyone else’s sentiment, I love Briar Press and would love to help if you could use any.

Briarpress:

I am a projects manager (US based, in Florida) that regularly handles web application development for major companies on a contract basis. My coders are based in India, mostly, to keep costs low.

What you’re proposing is a content migration of some kind which may be possible given whats out there these days (I haven’t looked at your source code), or it may be more appropriate to simply retire the legacy platform, keep it open for SEO purposes but direct and operate all future activities, including forum, on a modern content management system such as Wordpress, Joomla, or any number of free forum softwares.

In the year 1995, it was all about having code knowledge and knowing how to build.

In the year 2013, it’s all about having content and engaging your users. There is so much free-to-use scripts out there that accomplish essentially whatever you may want to do, there is no need for elaborate or expensive solutions to simple problems such as this.

If you need any guidance or consultation on this, drop me a line. No charge to you, as thanks for the information provided to me by Ad Lib Press via your forum.

This isn’t a big problem, no worries. Can he taken care of quickly with little interruption.