Tag Archives: plugin

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Update to Altocumulus WordPress Tagging Plugin – version 0.2

Screenshot of my tag cloud WordPress plugin in action

Everyone has tag clouds all over the web, but are they really useful?  Altocumulus is an attempt to use tag clouds as a real navigational system in WordPress blogs.

Install the plugin and it will automatically put a cloud of related tags at the top of all your Category and Tag pages.  Hopefully this will serve two purposes:

  1. Users who end up on a general category page can click through to a more specific (or more relevant) tag page, and
  2. It should give users a general idea of the topic of the posts on that archive page, increasing the information scent.

Next version I’ll add an options screen where you can change the number of tags, placement, etc.

Please drop me a note if you run into any bugs or are using it on your blog.  Let me know if you have any ideas you’d like to see implemented, too – I am all about implementing and studying folksonomies.  The more folks who are interested, the more likely I am to add features.  Thanks.

Download the Plugin Here

How to keep spam off your blog, bulletin board, or forum

Columns of gears in the difference engine Spam, it’s not just for breakfast and email anymore.  Webspam is a huge problem – if you run a blog or a forum, you’re probably familiar with the gobs and gobs of gibberish being posted all over the web by spammers.

This humble blog, which only gets a few hundred visitors per day, has had over 17,000 spam comments since I moved over to WordPress last year.  Having your site inundated with comment spam can be just as big a headache as getting hacked.  No one wants to spend hours every day sorting the good posts from the bad.  I’ve already written about how to totally clear out a spammed forum and erase all traces of it’s reputation-marring existence, but the best solution is prevention.

Here are some steps you can take to help prevent spam on your blog or forum.

Keeping Spam off Your Blog

This section assumes you’re hosting your own blog and can add plugins and make configurartion changes, and my examples will be WordPress-heavy because I’m more familiar with WordPress.

Option 1:  Close or restrict comments. Most blogs give you some options to restrict who can comment on articles.  In WordPress, you can require that users create accounts to comment under Settings -> General.  This might not help too much since I’ve seen hundreds of automated user accounts created right alongside the spam.

You can also require that comments are approved before they appear – in WordPress look under Settings -> Discussion.  This will stop your blog from being graffitied without your knowledge but also requires manual effort.  You can also disallow trackbacks and pingbacks, which are really cool in theory but a major avenue for automated spam.

You can also shut down comments completely, or disable comments on old posts.  At that point you may be throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but it’s certainly effective.

Option 2:  Make sure commenters are real people with a captcha. Even if you’re not familiar with the term, you’re familiar with captchas.  They’re the little widgets at the end of a form where you have to decipher some scrambled text from an image.  Many blogs have captcha options built in, but if you’re looking for a captcha plugin be sure to balance usability with security.

I’ve used the Did You Pass Math plugin with some success.  Jeff Atwood has used an extremely simple captcha for years on his high-traffic blog.  Recaptcha is a really cool project that helps fight automatic posting and digitize old books at the same time.

Option 3:  Use an automatic filtering system. If you’re using WordPress, I have three words for you:  Akismet, Akismet, Akismet! Seriously, Akismet is so good at automatically marking spammy commetns and trackbacks that it’s almost scary.  If you’re not using WordPress, you may still be able to find an Akismet plugin for your blogging platform.  There are other systems worth trying as well such as Spam Karma but I have less experience with those.

Keeping Spam off Your Forum

Again, I’m assuming you are hosting the forum yourself or can otherwise make config changes.  I’ll use phpBB (version 3) as an example because I’ve used it in the past.

Option 1:  Restrict user accounts. This can be a tough call, because when you start a forum you want to make it as easy as possible for people to join in the discussion.  Unfortunately, allowing anyone to register and begin posting without any admin approval also opens the door for spammers.

In phpBB this setting can be found in the Administration Control Panel under Board Configuration -> User Registration Settings.

Option 2:  Again with the captchas. Captchas aren’t 100 percent garanteed to remove spam but they do help.  If your forum software doesn’t have a captcha or a captcha plugin, I would seriously consider upgrading to a version that does or switching forums completely.  I know it’s a huge pain but waking up one morning to find 10,000 spam posts is even worse.

In phpBB3 look under Board Configuration -> User Registration Settings for a setting called “Enable visual confirmation for registrations” and make sure it’s turned on.  You can change the details under Board Configuration -> Visual confirmation settings.

Option 3:  Try to find an automatic filtering system. This is harder than for blogs.  There was an Akismet phpBB mod but it’s apparently not being maintained.  There’s a workaround involving the Spam Words mod that you can read about here.  The Spam Words mod might be worth trying on it’s own too.  Here’s a thread with more options for phpBB2, search around and find what’s available for your forum software.

Even without automated filtering, you can try to slow down the spammers by setting a time limit between posts (most human beings don’t type as quickly as spambots do).  Other options, such as disallowing links and BBCode, are pretty drastic but might make your blog less enticing.

Just for fun:

Spam, spam, bacon, and Spam

Embedding Google Docs and Spreadsheets into your Blog Posts

I just wrote a post about buying a new camera, and because I want to compare specs on several different cameras and lenses, I’m going to need a spreadsheet.  Luckily there are some great online spreadsheet programs to chose from.  I’m going to use this as an opportunity to explore how to use Google Docs and Spreadsheets in blog posts.

Before you get started I’m assuming you already have a Google Docs spreadsheet ready to go.

1.  You can always just link to the document. By default your docs will be private so you’ll need to make them available to your readers.  To do so you’ll need to either go to the Share tab and check “Anyone can view this document WITHOUT LOGGING IN at:” or go to the Publish tab and publish the doc. Either way you’ll get regular URL to post, like this one:  http://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=ppevxmL24UqmeiZSbqIU1DQ&hl=en

Links aren’t very exciting though, so how can you embed into a post instead?

2.  You can embed the content into the post.  If you’re wondering how to do it in WordPress, one solution I’ve come across is the Inline Google Docs plugin at Broken Watch.  This plugin gets the actual text/html of the spreadsheet and places it inline in your post.  So if you have a wide blog template, or a spreadsheet with relatively few columns, it should blend right in.  On the other hand, there’s no editing or other fun.

Here’s an example of what the output looks like:

NOTE: I had to disable this, it was throwing errors once I upgraded to WordPress 2.7. You mileage may vary.

3.  You can put the doc directly in the page with an iframe. This works really, really well with Google Presentations but is a bit trickier with a doc and even less optimal with a spreadsheet. You’ll get the best-looking results if you publish the document and use the published URL in the iframe. On the other hand if you use the shared URL collaborators should be able to make changes right in your blog post.

You’ll want to create some code like this:

<iframe src=”http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=ppevxmL24UqmeiZSbqIU1DQ” width=”500″ height=”400″></iframe>

Make sure you put the code in the “HTML” editing mode of WordPress rather than “Visual” mode.  As a result you can see some of the info I’ve gathered about possible camera / lens combinations in the spreadsheet below.

The main issue here is the relatively small iframe window size. If you use a wider blog template this technique might work really well.

Why bother? Spreadsheets aren’t the most exciting thing in the world for most people, but play around with all the features of Google Docs and Spreadsheets and you’ll see why this can be pretty cool.  You can embed questionnaires and surveys, cool charts and graphs with Gadgets, and anything else you can think of.