Spam is the scourge of the internet. Spawn of Satan. Evil incarnate.

It’s bad stuff.

They say something on the order of 90% of all email sent is in fact spam. Blech!

Spam Defined

For those of you who live under an un-technological rock, here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia Spam entry.

Spamming is the abuse of electronic messaging systems to indiscriminately send unsolicited bulk messages. While the most widely recognized form of spam is e-mail spam, the term is applied to similar abuses in other media: instant messaging spam, Usenet newsgroup spam, Web search engine spam, spam in blogs, wiki spam, mobile phone messaging spam, internet forum spam and junk fax transmissions.

Spamming is economically viable because advertisers have no operating costs beyond the management of their mailing lists, and it is difficult to hold senders accountable for their mass mailings. Because the barrier to entry is so low, spammers are numerous, and the volume of unsolicited mail has become very high. The costs, such as lost productivity and fraud, are borne by the public and by Internet service providers, which have been forced to add extra capacity to cope with the deluge. Spamming is widely reviled, and has been the subject of legislation in many jurisdictions.

In other words there is little cost and effectively no adverse consequences to spammers so they continue to flood the planet with their electronic waste, and tie up huge swaths of bandwidth and countless man hours dealing with their mess.

And if you were wondering where the term spam originated, apparently some of the early computer geeks were fans of Monty Python and they saw all that junk as overwhelming things the same way the Spam song did in this skit.

Anti-Spam Tools

When it comes to blogs, comment spam is a huge challenge. If comment spam isn’t managed effectively it will overwhelm your site, the legitimate comments will get lost in the mess and ultimately whatever traffic you had will be driven away.

No one wants to spend time reading pages filled with viagra, porn, and gambling ads.

One of the premier anti-spam tools for dealing with comment spam is Akismet. It was designed specifically for use with WordPress products and does a fantastic job. I’m a big fan.

But a little healthy competition can only be good for everyone. The spammers are constantly raising the bar by getting creatively sneakier at getting their messages to stick.

A New Tool

Defensio LogoAnd that’s why I’m glad Defensio has come along. Defensio is a product from our Canadian friends up near Montreal. And I’ve been fortunate enough to be a private beta tester for them for the past few months.

I have to say has done a good job catching spam.

Defensio Screen ShotAccording to the stats tracked by the plugin, in the short time I’ve been using it here at SuccessCREEations Defensio has protected us from 9,832 spam comments. And it claims an impressive 99.83% accuracy rate. The plugin has let 159 legitimate comments through in that time, missed 36 spam comments (let them through) and incorrectly tagged 21 legitimate comments as spam.

I suspect that part of the reason it was missing some is because the program is relatively new. They currently claim something over 100,000 spam comments captured. This is a drop in the bucket to Akismet’s numbers as they are currently trapping over 10 million spam comments a day!

Akismet doesn’t show us these same numbers, but from my experience the success rate percentage seem pretty comparable.

Different Presentation

You can see from the screen shot on the right that Defensio presents their captured spam differently from Akismet. Defensio assigns each spam comment a “Spamminess” percentage based on how certain the algorithm is that the comment is in fact spam. It also gives each group with the same percentage a slightly different color to make it obvious where the breaks in spamminess are.

It is a useful tool to help speed up the screening process when you are going through the mountains of spam that are heaped on your comment box.

If the spamminess thing isn’t to your liking, the plugin gives you the option to sort by date as well.

I’ve got to say that after years of looking at Akismet’s presentation it took me a while to adjust to Defensio’s layout. I was at the point with Akismet that I could literally scan my spam comments as fast as I could drag the scroll bar down. Adjusting to Defensio slowed me down some, especially at first. The argument could be made that I didn’t need to look at every single spam with Defensio because once it gets above 90% or so on the spammines scale it was “certainly” spam.

But especially because it was still in Beta, I wanted to look at every one just the same.

One nice feature with Defensio is the check box to “hide obvious spam”. When you do this, everything with a spamminess percentage over about 70% or 80% is set aside so you don’t have to look at it. (I forget the threshold exactly ’cause I haven’t really used the feature myself.) As their database matures I suspect this feature will greatly decrease the amount of scanning that we do. For blogs that get tons of spam, this feature has potential to be a huge time saver.

A Minor Negative

There is one thing I found frustrating. The plugin only shows the first line of the comment text for each spam comment listed.

I understand why they set it up this way. And I suspect many folks would prefer this to Akismet’s displaying every spam in its entirety. Some spam comments are insanely long. (What are spammers thinking?) But I pretty much key off the body of the comment when scanning for trapped legitimate ones and I found it harder to screen them this way.

The good news is they supply a “View Full Comment” link under each one if you want to take a closer look. In my case that setup slowed me down a little.

But this is a very tiny quibble with an outstanding product.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is Defensio is a very capable spam filter. I suspect it will be a strong competitor for Akismet. And competition is healthy for everyone, something the folks at Akismet have enough class to acknowledge.

The months that I’ve had the Defensio plugin in place it has protected SuccessCREEations quite well, especially when you consider it was in private beta.

As of yesterday, they’ve opened up Defensio to the public. So now you too can go in and check out this top notch Akismet competitor. Try them both out. Decide for yourself which one you like better.

Either way you win. And the evil spammers loose!


SuccessCREEations is now Kingdom House Productions