Many moons ago, I lightheartedly suggested that we build a device to reduce the volume of stupid internet comments. The device would force you to answer a reading comprehension question before posting a comment. This would cut down on irrelevant drive-by insults and comments that misunderstand the entire point of the post. I called this imaginary device The Comprehender.
I’m now pleased to announce that The Comprehender is reality. My husband, programmer J-P Stacey, rose to the challenge and created a way for me to add a reading comprehension question at the end of each blog post. The commenter sees it as a set of radio buttons. I’ve been quietly trialling it on my blog, which doesn’t get many comments anyway, and I’m delighted to say that it works a treat.
My intention when I came up with the idea was simply to avoid irritating comments from other humans: people using my blog as a platform for a rambling story about something that happened to their dad, people using my blog as a platform for their views on a different topic, people using my blog as a platform to insult me personally, and so on. But The Comprehender has also had the effect, unforeseen by me, of killing spam comments stone dead. I didn’t retrospectively add it to all my old posts, but every time I get a spam comment on a post I slap a Comprehender question on that post. And bingo! That stops the spam on that post for good.
I assumed that spammers would get round the Comprehender by simply reading the posts they were spam-commenting on. Now I realise my conception of spammers was rather naïve; I was picturing a sort of cosy spam cottage industry, with individual human beings crawling the web together and saying “Hmm, that looks like a good place for my comment on cheap Rolexes.” Of course it’s more automated than that – which is great for me, because it means that the Comprehender doubles as a kind of weedkiller for spammers while still not being as painful as a captcha for genuine commenters.