Posts by Adam Franco

 
 
 

Reduced comment spam in blogs

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

During the past few months we have been seeing an increased amount of comment spam coming into WordPress (sites.middlebury.edu) that follows a distinctive pattern: the comment text is useless, but unoffensive and contains no links itself, while the Comment Author Website field contains the URL of a commercial site. Because the comment text doesn’t contain any links, the comment doesn’t get picked up by WordPress’s existing spam filters and until now would be held for moderation.

Here is an example of this type of spam:

Comment Author: canada goose kensington parka
Comment Author Email: Lan….o@yahoo.com
Comment Author Website: http://www.canadagoosejakket…rk.eu

You made some respectable points there. I regarded on the web for the issue and found most individuals will go together with with your website.

The point of these spam comments is to use the Comment Author Website field to plaster the web with links back to the spammer’s site in order to make the site seem more popular to search engines.

WordPress’s built-in anti-spam tools ignore the Comment Author Website field and only look at links in the comment text. This used to be sufficient since it is unlikely that most readers will click on the comment-author’s name and follow through to their website. As well, adding links in the comment text allowed spammers better control in how to present the link so that it had the most impact on search engines. Because of the success in filtering of the comment text, spammers have now moved on to other techniques, just trying to get their links to exist anywhere on the page, even if they aren’t ideally positioned.

To combat this form of spam we have removed the Comment Author Website field from the comment form. There are few legitimate needs for this field and it was originally added to allow people to link back to their own blogs — a nice feature, but not necessary. By removing this “attractive nuisance” we can instantly mark as spam any comments that submit a value for the Comment Author Website even though this field is no longer shown in the form.

As of today, this type of comment spam will no longer even be held for moderation — it will be dropped into the “spam” category right away. In the first two hours since this change has been in place it has blocked 70 spam comments that would otherwise have required moderation by the target blogs’ administrators.

New Course Hub Feature: Create Lab/Discussion Sites

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

As of today, instructors can create Course Hub sites for lab, discussion, independent study, and other section-types that do not have Course Hub sites automatically created.

Lab/discussion Course Hub sites are not needed for the majority of courses as the lecture/seminar sites usually suffice. However, they may be useful in the following cases:

  • The lab is taught by a separate instructor with its own resources and syllabus.
  • You wish to create separate resources (e.g. Moodle sites) for each discussion section.

Below is a brief screen-cast describing how to create additional Course Hub sites.

Basic steps for adding an additional Course Hub Site:

  1. Go to your Course Hub dashboard.
  2. Click on the Manage Course Hub Sites link for a given term.
  3. You will see a list of all sections you are teaching in that term.
  4. Click the Add Course Hub Site link next to any section.

Class Photo Rosters now in the Course Hub

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

For more than a decade the Web Applications group and its predecessors have provided a popular “class photo roster” through the online directory to help instructors match names to faces. We are pleased to announce that as of today, the class photo roster is now a feature of the Course Hub.

As with the old version, the photo roster is only accessible to the instructor[s] of a course. We hope that by moving the photo roster into the Course Hub it will be easier to use and more readily accessible. While we don’t have a shutdown date yet, the old version of the photo roster will likely disappear when the online directory is next rebuilt (not until sometime after the current semester).

Faculty, please give this new feature a try (look for the Roster links in the Course Hub) and give us any feedback you may have.

Subscribe to feeds on private blogs

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Today we released a new plugin for WordPress that allows you to subscribe to the RSS feeds of private blogs using any RSS reader.

When you are logged in and viewing a private blog, the RSS feed links will now contain a special key unique to you and the blog that gives your reader access to the feed. There is nothing special you need to do, just subscribe as usual and feeds from private blogs will now work without redirecting your reader to the login page.

Oops, I emailed my private feed link to everyone!

If you accidentally share your personal feed link with others, you can go to your profile page and revoke your key for the blog in question.

Profile Screen Shot, showing the ability to revoke keys.

Note that you will need to resubscribe to the feeds yourself if you revoke a key.

FAQs

  • If someone finds out my key, can they use it to access my other sites?
    No, keys are per-user and per-site.
  • I removed a user from my private site, will they still see updates?
    No, the feed keys just authenticate the user, they still are checked against the subscriber list before showing them content.
  • Will my feed key let me edit without logging in?
    No, the key only grants access to feeds, nothing more.

WordPress feeds can now include pages

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

During the past few years new versions of WordPress have made this system much easier to use — and our community has made use of these new abilities to make a wide range of sites structured in many ways.

Most of the content in WordPress sites are Posts, chronologically ordered entries that make up a ‘blog’ or news site. Pages on the other hand, are non-time-dependent content that can be arranged in a hierarchy. Traditionally, Pages in WordPress sites were used mostly for describing the blog, contact information, or other content that rarely changes and isn’t ‘newsworthy’. (more on Posts vs. Pages)

Recently, a number of sites have been making increasingly large use of Pages, such as to hold curricular resources that are then referenced from Posts describing assignments that use them. For sites that make significant use of Pages, site-owners can now enable the RSS Includes Pages plugin so that new pages are added to your site’s main feed. For course sites in WordPress, enabling this plugin will allow page additions to be fed into the Course Hub as updates.

We still recommend making use of Posts in WordPress sites to share new material with readers rather than heavily using Pages as Pages are still second-class citizens in many ways (such as support for tagging and categorization). With the new RSS Includes Pages plugin, Page-heavy sites can now feed new content to the Course Hub and others subscribed to their feeds.

DrupalCon 2011: Day 1

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

This week Ian and Adam are in Chicago for the bi-annual DrupalCon developer conference. Drupal is the software that we use to manage the Middlebury and MIIS websites, as well as a couple others.

Read on for notes on the sessions we attended.

Keynote Presentation: Dries Buytaert (video)

Dries is the original developer of Drupal and gives the “state of Drupal” kickoff speech each year. This presentation is already available as streaming video (see the link above). The rest of the session videos will be up after the conference and when they’re ready we’ll make a blog post linking you to a few that are interesting for site editors – especially a session on the webform module.

The big news in the keynote this year is that development on Drupal 8 is going to begin at this conference and the developers who work on the core Drupal software are going to try to move to a more regular release schedule for new versions. We are currently running Drupal 6 and will be working on moving to Drupal 7 this year. Other news is that Drupal 8 is going to add more support for mobile and HTML5. There is a very good overview of HTML5 online if you’re unsure what this term means.

Media module for Drupal 7

Not to be confused with the Media module we run, which is part of Monster Menus, the code we work with Amherst to develop for Drupal, the Media module for Drupal 7 does many of the same things, but is a lot more slick about it. In Drupal 6, the standard way to add files to a site is to make them their own nodes (this is essentially what we do with File Upload nodes) or attach them to existing nodes as fields. The first way makes it easy to reuse files, but hard to use them inside content and the second way makes it easy to use files inside other content, but hard to reuse them.

The Drupal 7 media module is an attempt to resolve these conflicts. It’s still very early on in its development and use, but has features like the ability to manage YouTube videos like other files, drag-and-drop uploads and drag-and-drop reordering for photo galleries. Their goal is for Media to become the standard file-management system for Drupal 8. As work on this continues, we’ll see how we can use this modules features on our site, either by adding them to our Media module or making this module work with Monster Menus.

    Drupal Security for Coders

    This session was a good overview of the content in Cracking Drupal, given by the author. It focused on preventing XSS and CSRF attacks.

    Rockin’ HTML5 with Drupal

    I’m wary of any presentation that includes a slide with the title “Web 3.0″, but fortunately here it was used as a bit of a joke. There was a high-level discussion of the new features available to you when you convert your site markup to use HTML5, and this conversion is one of our goals this year at Middlebury. She also discussed the HTML5 Tools module, which is used to re-write a lot of HTML that Drupal produces so that it is HTML5 markup instead.

    This is useful for all the forms Drupal creates, not just the webforms you add to your site, but the page settings form, and the node editing form, and the copy/move form, etc. HTML5 adds a lot of new form markup so that you can have a non-JavaScript date picker, type suggestions in the field, and my favorite example is that you can mark a field as “email” and mobile device keyboards will include an @ symbol, or mark the field as “number” and the mobile keyboard will automatically which to a number pad when you move into the field.

    Aphorisms of API design

    A good session on designing APIs in Drupal systems. Talked a lot about how to make modules pluggable and when to do so. The topics discussed will be useful as we refactor our modules for Drupal 7.

    Views for Hackers

    The talk was an overview of the Views module and how its concepts like “relationships”, “arguments”, and “filters” translate to code and database queries. Most of the information was already familiar to us, but it made some of these concepts easier to understand.

    Discussions with Amherst Developers

    Our colleagues from Amherst are also here and we got to chat with Victor, Anita, and James. They’ve already helped us patch two issues that were bugging me and helped explain what the new Monster Menus CCK module is. I’m burying this at the bottom of this blog post because this is a really neat feature and I’m not sure when it will be available, but we’ll try to add it very soon.

    MM CCK adds a new “node picker” and “page picker” field type to nodes. If you’ve ever created a News posting or Story on our website and needed to add an image to it, you know that you do this by starting to type the name of the image in a field which searches the entire site for all images and you pick yours from that list. With the new “node picker”, you’ll get a popup window just like you do when you put an image inline in content and you’ll be able to browse just your site’s File Uploads folder.

    We’ve had a good exchange so far and look forward to continuing our discussion as the conference goes on.

    GMail now allows you to turn off conversation view

    Categories: Midd Blogosphere

    For those who abhor GMail’s conversation view where all replies are grouped together, Google has just released a setting that will enable you to show individual messages in your inbox instead of only threads:

    http://gmailblog.blogspot.com/2010/09/turn-off-gmails-conversation-view.html