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Comments November 2, 2011

New phpBB2 Modifications

Filed under: MOD Writing, Performance Tuning, phpBB — Dave Rathbun @ 12:22 pm Comments Off 

What has Dave been working on lately? Not blog posts, obviously. :) Here are the headlines…

  1. Full-Text Search
    I created a full-text index on the post subject and text over a year ago to see if maintaining that index would cause any performance issues. I’m happy to say that I have not seen any challenges from inserts / updates with this index in place. I’m going to be altering the search screen to allow the full syntax offered by MySQL on this type of index and hope to release that in a few months. Some of the challenges I have not yet decided how to solve are things like limiting forums – either by security or user preference – and other criteria that can be entered on the standard search screen.
  2. Capture Post Revisions
    I’ve also added some code to capture post revisions. We’ve had a couple of folks that come back to our board and edit their post, removing all of the text and leaving only something like “…” instead. This destroys the continuity of the topic, and as a result we’re going to now track post revisions by capturing the post text history. If needed a moderator will be able to review and then restore a prior post, and ultimately lock that post from further editing. As with the full text search I have done fairly extensive testing on how this is implemented in order to ensure that performance does not suffer, and I’ll have a few blog posts about that process. This MOD is completed and I expect to roll it out onto the main board in a few weeks. (FWIW, I first talked about this post several years ago, and am just now finally getting it completed.)
  3. Moderator Posts
    I’ve added a new field to the post table that allows a moderator to designate whether it’s a moderator post or a user post. For example, moderators can certainly participate in a normal board conversation as a regular person. But they may also add posts in their role as a moderator. This new feature will format those posts differently so they stand out, will automatically remove the “personal” aspects of a post such as signatures, and does not increment a moderator post count for this type of post. It is intended to be a way for moderators to be able to separate out their moderator posts from their board participation posts. This MOD is also completed and expected to be released shortly.
  4. Including External Content
    I’ve added some cron jobs that parse RSS feeds from several blogs owned by board members. Their blog posts are automatically set up as part of their signature (as “Latest Blog Posts”) and updated once an hour. For bloggers that our community wants to recognize, this is a great way for them to get additional exposure without having to manually update their signature every time they publish a new blog post. This part of the MOD is already in use on our board. Only board admins can currently enter blogger information, as we want to go through a review process and certify blogs rather than allowing just anybody to link to an external site. This was done by altering the administrator user edit form and leaving the regular user profile form alone.

    As an extension to this, I’m also pulling in the content from the blog post and storing that in a hidden forum. As the blog posts are added to the forum they are obviously added to the full-text index because they’re part of the same table. I am also adding these posts to the standard phpBB2 search tables at the same time. That way if someone searches for term “X” and that’s found in an external blog post, they’ll see a link in their search results. The blog address is stored on the topic table and a different icon is used to show the user that they’re leaving our board and heading to an external site. I have all of the main work done; the last requirement is altering search.php so that it offers the ability to include / exclude external content and then react to that setting accordingly. I hope to get this completed in the next few weeks.

  5. Social Media Profile Links
    I’ve added Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn fields to user profiles. These are displayed along with the other profile links, using smaller 18×18 pixel logos. I’m planning on going back and redoing the other profile links to use the same form factor but that part hasn’t been done yet. Here are the images I’ve made, using logos or other material provided by each service provider.

One thing that many of these MODs have in common is my concern for performance. We’re over 750K posts now, and still running extremely well on a server that is hosting several dozen sites, although none of them as active as our big board. Every time I touch the code performance is a primary goal. Another MOD that I’ve been planning is to port the phpBB3 posting form back to phpBB2 since it does a better job of supporting modern browsers as well as proving some additional formatting features. I haven’t even started on that yet, but I think it would be good. Now that I’ve personally switched to Chrome as my standard browser I’m noticing some interesting quirks. :)

So that’s what I’ve been up to for the past few months. 8-)

Comments June 14, 2011

Oh, The Irony…

Filed under: Anti-spam, Board Management — Dave Rathbun @ 9:23 am Comments Off 

One of my other blogs had been hit and hit hard by spammer comments advertising headphones. This morning I noticed this one here on this blog:

That’s specifically aimed at human-powered paid-to-comment spam. I would rather already have excellent-quality comments than the next quantity of comments.tour headphones Sadly, I’m nonetheless getting an awful lot of spam comments (what’s up, Akismet?), so I think it’s time to install some additional defense layers.

The words “tour headphones” were a link, of course. Subtle, it was not. :lol: But I found it extremely ironic and ultimately amusing that the comment itself talked about spam. If you pick a few phrases from that comment you’ll find the exact same thing on other blogs / boards as well, or at least I did when I searched.

I’ve decided to contact the headphone manufacturer directly and let them know that I will never buy their products. Ever. Might not change anything, but it will make me feel better.

Oh, and I added specific code to my anti-spam process to look for this particular type of link. 8-)

Comments June 9, 2011

Mobile Application Versus Mobile Template

Filed under: Board Management — Dave Rathbun @ 10:58 am CommentsComments (4) 

I have had a couple of requests now for Tapatalk or something similar on my board. The Tapatalk application does not currently support phpBB2, but iPhone / Android support is becoming more of an interest to folks. Tapatalk is not a template or theme, it’s an application designed to interact with a discussion board (they support phpBB3 as well as several others).

I have to admit that I find this to be a far more intriguing idea than a mobile template. The folks behind Tapatalk offer a free API that would allow developers to extend the app to different forum systems. It would be interesting to see if anyone is currently working on phpBB2.

Tapatalk

I’m registering on their “Forum owner” area and will see what things look like.

Comments September 14, 2010

Load Balanced Proxy Configuration = Bad Session Management

Filed under: phpBB — Dave Rathbun @ 4:34 pm CommentsComments (3) 

A few weeks ago I stopped being able to log in to my phpBB2 boards from work. Ha. Did they think that would stop me from wasting time? :lol:

In all seriousness, my main board is directly related to what I do at work, so there’s no reason for them to have blocked access to the site. And they didn’t, at least not on purpose. What happened was the IP configuration for our proxy load balancers got updated in some fashion. Now I don’t work for the network team so I don’t know exactly what configuration was changed and where. But I can tell you that instead of the last octet of my IP address potentially changing as I move from page to page, now the last two octets are changing. And that’s causing a problem. More…

Comments August 7, 2010

Delayed Spamming

Filed under: Anti-spam, phpBB — Dave Rathbun @ 1:58 pm CommentsComments (4) 

I’m sure I’m not alone in seeing this new spammer tactic… I called it delayed spam. How does it work?

A spammer registers on a board. They might not do anything for a while. Then they try to post something that looks legitimate, using generic language that could be appropriate anywhere. Stuff like:

You make some good points, please keep posting

I find your arguments compelling, can you link your sources?

Thanks, it helped me

None of those add anything to the discussion, but they’re not really spam. What happens next? The spammer goes quiet for a few weeks, hoping that the topics they have posted in will fade from the front page. Then they carefully go back in and edit their post. They might change the text of the post itself, or they might add a signature that wasn’t there before. They are relying on the fact that phpBB (and other boards as well) do not bump a post back to the front page if something is edited, only if new content is added.

Very frustrating.

So far I have not come up with a programmatic solution to the problem. I am working on code that will capture the edit history of a post and allow board moderators to revert to an original version, so that at least would let me prove how the spammer added their content after the fact. That doesn’t solve the problem, it just provides an audit trail should I decide to try to take action against the spammer.

A frequent suggestion at this point might be something along the lines of preventing someone from posting URLs or links until they reach a certain level of post. That doesn’t help either, as the spammers often have five or ten posts under their belt before they come back and edit. Plus it impacts the legitimate new users that come on board with questions that require links. It’s not my favorite concept.

So today what my moderator team does is a manual process. When we get a suspected spammer, they will do a web search for either their username, their email address, or both. If they find the same username on hundreds of different boards that’s a good indication they’re a spammer, especially if the user is recently registered on all of them. They can also pull up posts from the user on these other boards. If they look similar to what they’re posting on our board, that’s another indication. All of these steps are used to decide whether to preemptively ban the spammer before they spam, or decide to wait.

It’s all a manual process for now. So while I’ve been away from phpBB2 for a while because of other demands on my time, this has never really been far from my mind. I just haven’t come up with an idea that can be implemented in code versus a manual process.

Guess I should check in with the BB Protection folks, and see what they’re up to at this point.

Comments April 29, 2010

Registration Protection Isn’t Enough Anymore

Filed under: Anti-spam, Board Management — Dave Rathbun @ 9:58 pm CommentsComments (3) 

The focus for the past several years for board owners has been to prevent (or at least have some easy way to ignore) spammer registrations. When spammers thought it was useful to have an entry on a board memberlist they were often satisfied with getting through the registration process. They didn’t bother to activate their account. As a result, one of the most popular (and fortunately very easy) MODs for discussion boards was to prevent inactive members from showing up on the member list. This is the standard configuration for phpBB3, no MOD required.

Spammers reacted by altering their process so they can activate accounts. (I as well as other board owners have seen a dramatic increase in use of gmail accounts for this, so clearly Google’s registration process has been cracked and automated as well.) Like many board owners, I would like to have a “clean” database. But it wasn’t a huge imposition to get spammer registrations. If they never posted, they were not a contributing member of my board but at least they weren’t getting in the way. I had a MOD that prevented board members from entering a web site until they had a minimum number of posts on my board, so at least I didn’t get a member database sprinkled with unsavory web links. There are also MODs available that prevent zero-post users from showing up, and for pruning inactive or zero-post users after some specific period of time. All of these were okay in their day, but are not as effective anymore.

I’ve posted many times about my Checkbox Challenge code. It has served very well in protecting my blogs, several phpBB boards, and even my comment forms from spammers. However I am starting to see some issues, and that bothers me. Why? Because the new spam seems to be coming from humans rather than bots. I don’t know how we can combat that. Spammers seem to be quite creative with their posting strategies as well. More…

Comments April 19, 2010

Recognition Versus Reputation

Filed under: Board Management, phpBB — Dave Rathbun @ 9:33 pm CommentsComments (4) 

A few weeks ago I had an interesting conversation with a woman from England who is doing a thesis on the psychology of online communities (discussion boards). During the conversation she dropped a phrase that I immediately stopped and wrote down so I could think about it further. Here is the basic question that was invoked by her comment:

What is the difference between recognition and reputation? More…

Comments April 12, 2010

Libertyvasion 2010

Filed under: Libertyvasion 2010, phpBB — Dave Rathbun @ 9:53 pm CommentsComments (2) 

Well, this is what I get for skipping out of visiting phpbb.com for a while… I completely missed the announcement of Libertyvasion 2010 that came out last month. Now I have to go log in and see if there’s anything I can talk about this year. Last year I had fun pulling together a talk about board spam. I’ll have to see what I can come up with this year.

Definitely need to try to make it.

Comments April 1, 2010

April Fools?

Filed under: Board Management, phpBB — Dave Rathbun @ 7:23 am CommentsComments (1) 

In the past I have done a number of tricks to celebrate today. One year I posted a very official looking press release stating that the board had been bought out and would no longer be a free resource. Another year I used to tricky CSS to flip the “off topic” forum upside down.

This year I used a suggestion from my wife… it’s evil. :twisted: I will post what I did after today is over. 8-)

How about you? Any fun tricks to share?

Comments March 21, 2010

Survival of the Fittest

Filed under: Advertising, Board Management — Dave Rathbun @ 6:49 pm CommentsComments (3) 

I suspect that most folks running phpBB don’t get beyond the 5,000 member mark. Even fewer get beyond the 10,000 member mark, or three years of consistent growth. What happens when you get to that point and can’t afford to run your board anymore? Then it’s entirely possible for a board with over 100,000 members to simply disappear.

It happens.

I have posted a lot about the Adsense program over the past years, specifically related to advertising on phpBB boards. I currently do not use Adsense, but I did for many years. However I never relied on the revenues from that source to keep my board running. If I had, I might have ended up like this case study:

Warning to Webmasters: It can happen to you

The link contains a case study about Soccerpulse, a web site with over 100,000 members that closed up shop because their Adsense revenues declined and they could no longer afford to run the site.

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