Archive for December, 2007
We can’t resist publishing the story of a spammer, who yesterday ended up on a blog using
FormSmarts for their weblog comment facility.
After finding the blog on Google, the spammer confidently tried to submit an outrageously spammy message: FormSmarts form spam filter gave the comment a score of 739, where anything greater than 0 is considered to be spam. That is — and by far — the most spam-looking message we ever recorded.
FormSmarts would like to thank this spammer for this amusing moment.
A major FormSmarts upgrade was rolled out today. Changes include:
- New features in the form generator, like the ability to delete a field in a form
- A simplified user interface for generated web forms
- A major upgrade of the form spam protection engine
We plan to offer the ability to use FormSmarts as a form spam filter for third-party forms within a few months. This will effectively allow users of other form processors to benefit from FormSmarts’ form spam protection on their existing HTML forms, with very little change. Details and availability will be advertised here.
If you have forgotten you password, you may now change it without contacting FormSmarts Support.
It’s a user-contributed video (thanks Dan), so don’t expect professional making and voiceover. If you can do better, let us know.
Most visitors will notice that they are submitting a form not from your website, but from FormSmarts.com. For users to be confident they are sending information to the right person, include your name or website name in the form title.
For example, “Contact Edgar Poe” is a more informative and useful title than “Contact Form”.
Did you ever wonder how comment spammers discovered your blog?
Crawling the Web
One possibility is that the spammer sent out a bot to crawl the web from blog to blog. This requires some infrastructure, and is becoming less effective as more bloggers use some kind of comment spam protection mechanism.
It then becomes more effective for the spammer to simply use Google,
searching for all the pages with the phrase post a comment, but without the terms sign in, register, log in, etc.
And as an additional benefit, blogs come already sorted by “importance” in the seach results.
Extending the query to restrict results to blogs not using Captchas is left as an exercise to the reader.
What This Means to You
Avoid standard phrases like post a comment on your blog. More creative phrases like Reply to this Post, share your views or letters to the editor may be safer.
Many organizations don’t publish any email addresses on their website because of email spam. On those sites, a contact form is the only way for a visitor to reach the site owner. This should imply that website designers take a lot of care to ensure that web forms are usable by anyone, as email is.
The accessibility issues associated with CAPTCHAs for visually impaired people are well known, so I’m not going to discuss this further. I’m going to talk here about people fortunate enough to have normal sight and hearing, but who may also have a hard time using web forms.
Many CAPTCHAs systems are difficult to read because they were designed to defeat automated attempts to read the image using OCR. As the designer of a CAPTCHA system, I’ve been trained more than the average web user to reading them. Still, I’m surprised by how often I miss the correct code on the first try. A high level of image obfuscation may be needed for very large websites like Google or Yahoo, for which it is realistic to believe some people would be ready to invest a lot of effort to break the system, given the potential payoff. But it’s very unlikely someone will try to break the CAPTCHA of the average website. So those should at least be easy-to-read and short, if CAPTCHA there has to be.
Not every web user downloads images. More and more people browse the web via cellphones, on which web usage is charged per megabyte. Users are then inclined not to load images to reduce costs. This is even the default setting on some low-end cellphones. Those users won’t see the CAPTCHA.
Audio CAPTCHAs are commonly accepted as a good complement to visual CAPTCHAs for the visually impaired. Besides the technical reasons for not being able to listen to an audio file on a computer (e.g. no sound support, no loudspeakers or earphones fitted), there are also social reasons. First, there are social environments where it may be rude or prohibited. For example in public libraries and open space offices. Second, the web is global and non-native English speakers may not be able to understand what is said in the audio CAPTCHA.
What’s specific about FormSmarts form handler? Compared with other web form handlers, FormSmarts may not offer yet the richest set of features. We currently only deliver form results by email, although other form delivery methods are under development.
We believe our Ajax-based form builder allows our users—including those with little technical knowledge—to get an HTML form ready in very little time, and that’s something we wanted. Simplicity, efficiency and usability were our primary design goals.
That being said, FormSmarts is best viewed as a web spam blocker with form handling features, rather than a form handler with form spam prevention features.
Form accessibility is another strong point of FormSmarts: our web forms are usable by anyone, using any HTML-capable browser.
Unlike most other form handlers available today, FormSmarts was puposedly designed to block form spam. We didn’t simply add a CAPTCHA to an old formmail script. The same applies to our form builder: our care for usability and accessibility didn’t come as an afterthought.
You can specify Form Filling Instructions for your web forms. Although this field is optional, we encourage you to make use of it. It will help your visitors complete the form more efficiently, and also help you build trust with them. Here are some information you may want to place in the Form Filling Instructions.
Remind users of the purpose of the form to avoid people submitting the wrong form.
Precise the intended content of particular fields. This will help your visitors complete the form accurately and efficiently.
Include the name of your website, so visitors can be confident they are contacting the right person or organization.
Whenever relevant, give an estimated response time, e.g. “we normally reply within 2 working days”.
Links & Formatting
You may insert links in the form filling instructions and add basic formatting with this wiki-like syntax.