MUniversity of Minnesota

October 2006 Archives


October 10, 2006

Captcha installed and a word about comments

Hello everyone! If there is one thing bloggers have to put up with it is blog spam. Well, hopefully we have made it a little easier here at UThink: we have just added the Captcha plugin to the system. What is a Captcha, you ask? According to the Wikipedia entry on Captcha:

A captcha (an acronym for "completely automated public Turing test to tell computers and humans apart") is a type of challenge-response test used in computing to determine whether or not the user is human. The term was coined in 2000 by Luis von Ahn, Manuel Blum, and Nicholas J. Hopper of Carnegie Mellon University, and John Langford of IBM. ...

In other words, a Captcha enabled system usually makes you type in characters in an image before it allows you to interact with the system. A Captcha might look like this:

captcha.jpg

So, what we've done with UThink is put these types of images into the comments forms. If you are being bothered by spam you can choose to enable this plugin and hopefully kiss spam goodbye.

How do you enable this plugin? Good question. Unfortunately, Captchas by themselves usually aren't that accessible for people with vision problems. So, we couldn't just automatically install it on everyone's blogs. Sorry. There are two ways you can enable this plugin.

The easiest way is to create a new blog. One thing we did do is put the proper code into all new blogs (as of today at 1:00 pm) so that if you do choose to enable the Captcha plugin it is as easy as clicking a box to turn it on. If you have a blog older than today, things are a little more tricky.

Please note: If you have created your blog after October 10, 2006 at 1:00 PM, skip down to step 2! You already have the code in place in step 1!

  1. First of all, you have to take this piece of code:

    <script type="text/javascript" src="<$MTCaptchaJsURL$>"></script>

    And put it into three templates: the Individual Entry Archive, the Comment Preview Template, and the Comment Listing Template. To get to these templates login to UThink, click on your blog, click on Templates in the left hand navigation menu, and then click on the "Archive" tab to get to the Individual Entry Archive, and the "System" tab to get to the Comment Preview and Comment Listing templates. From there, you need to put the code inside the Comments form on each of these templates. Look for code like this:

    ...
    <textarea id="comment-text" name="text" rows="10" cols="30"></textarea>
    </p>
    <div>
    <script type="text/javascript" src="<$MTCaptchaJsURL$>"></script>
    <div id="comments-open-footer" class="comments-open-footer">
    <input type="submit" name="preview" id="comment-preview" accesskey="v" value=" Preview " />
    <input type="submit" name="post" id="comment-post" accesskey="s" value=" Post " />
    ...

    See the bolded text? That is where you need to put code above on each of these three templates. With me so far? Good. Let's do the last two steps now.


  2. The next step is to turn the Captcha Plugin "on." To do this click on Settings in the left hand nav menu of your blog administration, then click on the "Plugins" tab. From there, look for the Captcha plugin and the "Show Settings" link on the right hand side...

    captcha2.jpg

    Click on "Show Settings" and then click the checkbox next to "Enable Captcha." Then click "Save Changes." Be prepared to wait for a bit. The configuration file for the Captcha plugin is a text file, and it is huge. So, to make a simple change like this takes a bit of time.


  3. Now "Rebuild" your entire blog. Click "Rebuild Site" in the left hand navigation menu and "Rebuild All Files."

And now you are finished. Go to one of your previous entries and click on the Comments link. You should now see a Captcha image! If you don't see a Captcha image ... well, something didn't go quite right. Feel free to email me at snackeru@umn.edu. I'll probably just ask you to give me access to your blog. I'd be happy to help you out!

Finally, just as a reminder, UThink blogs are set to moderate comments by default. This means if you create a new blog, by default your blog won't publish a comment unless you give it the OK. A lot of users prefer to turn this feature off and allow comments from anyone at anytime, but I suspect most people leave comment moderation in place. If that is the case, you can still hook up this Captcha functionality, but it will only reinforce a pretty good spam blocking tool already in place. (To turn off comment moderation, see this post)

That's it for now. As always, let me know if you have any questions!

Posted by snackeru at 02:50 PM

October 05, 2006

Tips and Tidbits

First of all, let me say this is the most active semester UThink has ever had. Almost 1,000 active blogs and more posts every day than ever before. Success has its downsides, though, as the server has now become unacceptably slow at times. We are working on speeding things up so stay tuned for that information.

However, with all the new users and blogs I have some advice and tidbits you might find useful:

  • Don't use the "Extended Entry" -- I have found through statistical and anecdotal evidence that people rarely click on the extended entry link to read the rest of long entries. So, unless you are writing something so compelling that people won't be able to help themselves, keep the entire content of your post in the Entry Body. You have a better chance of it being read that way.

  • Google loves UThink: You may have already noticed this, but if you start blogging on UThink, a couple of weeks later your UThink blog will be very high on the Google search results screen when searching for your name (or maybe even a topic you've written about). Of course, this assumes that you have a unique name, but some people are rather stunned with this phenomenon. I don't have a definitive answer for why this happens, but it is probably because of the ".lib" in the domain name. Google is probably giving a higher page rank to UThink blogs because they come from a library. Anyway, this is both a benefit and a problem obviously, but on the bright side if you want to make a name for yourself, UThink may be a good place to do it.

  • Put a search engine on your blog -- Because Google does such a good job of indexing UThink blogs, it makes sense to use Google as a search engine for your blog content. If you are interested in having a search box on your blog that searches through all your old posts, follow these instructions:

    https://wiki.umn.edu/twiki/bin/view/UThink/SearchToolForBlogs

  • Save your posts periodically! -- If you are using UThink/Movable Type as a word processor of sorts to type out long, intelligent, compelling, and wonderful works of genius do yourself a favor and save your posts periodically! Movable Type has been known to lose these posts when a button is hit inadvertently, or if you accidently hit the back or foward button on your browser. When you are typing out a new entry, scroll down the page and find the "Post Status" section. It is set to "Published" by default, but you can also set it to "Unpublished" and, again, save your posts every once in a while as you are typing them. You can also use a word processor to type out a post and then copy and paste it into Movable Type. Whatever you choose to do, just do something so that you don't lose that wonderful post you are writing. For those of you that this has happened to, you know what I am talking about. Painful.

Stay tuned for more tips and tricks as the semester goes on. Also, for those of you concerned with the never ending battle against spam, we are plainning on installing the CAPTCHA Plugin. I'll keep you posted on that front. Talk to you all later!

Posted by snackeru at 02:43 PM