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Strategies for screening or filtering new members at sign-up time
Blocking sign-ups by email addy, by IP address, etc? What other approaches?
Webwork

WebmasterWorld Administrator webwork us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 668 posted 5:15 pm on Dec 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

I'm interested in entry level filtering or prescreening, the possibilities for automated screening of new member sign-ups.

Anyone block new member sign-ups by IP address? Banning sign-ups from regions known for rampant online fraud, for example? (Yes, there's always proxy servers.)

What about blocking sign-ups by email account, such as blockin Hotmail or Yahoo accounts? "Sorry, but . . ."

Here's the gist of the question: When, if ever, would such a membership prescreening approach make sense or be viable?

Clearly, if you wish to run a "professionals only" forum you can require some form of credentialing. However, what if your forum had a broader topic and you wished to reduce the volume of kiddies, spammers, etc.? Wouldn't you want to "clean the member stream" a bit, right from the outset?

Any suggestions about "how"? Any theories about how it might work, even if such methodologies don't currently have broad application?

What are the various methods for prescreening or prefiltering new member sign ups?

Here's an idea: A test. "Answer the following questions." Change the questions from day to day, to avoid problems with answers being circulated. (Might actually go viral.)

What else?

 

rogerd

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 668 posted 5:51 pm on Dec 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

Preventing baddies from signing up by filtering is a challenge. Blocking known bad IP addresses is good, but of limited effectiveness.

Blocking "free" emails like Yahoo or Hotmail is used by a few forums, but to my mind that's a losing battle. There are thousands of free email address domains out there, and blocking all of them is impossible. Also, many international users rely on sites like Yahoo, Hotmail, and Gmail for their primary email addresses.

If I've had spam/promotion problems from a particular domain, I've blocked signups from that domain. Sure, they can register with something else, but their email domain won't be a visible advertisement.

Doing image verification of new signups will keep most spambots out. Yes, these can be beat, but usually the financial reward isn't big enough to justify the effort.

It's a good idea to screen signups and prohibit user names that contain "moderator", "admin", etc.

If your software permits, you might find flagging certain registrations to be a good idea, e.g., those that share an IP with past problem members. They could still register, but would be flagged in some way to alert staff to keep an eye on them.

What would the purpose of the questions be, Webwork? Discourage bot registration? Or something more subtle to psych out troublemakers?

Webwork

WebmasterWorld Administrator webwork us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 668 posted 6:00 pm on Dec 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

A test could measure a level of knowledge or sophistication, thereby screening out kiddies and sending a message that a certain level of competency is sought in new members.

Of course the kiddies might labor to search out the answers, but the forum might not be opposed to such industrious types.

I think a test presents some interesting possibilities and, like I said, the questions would have to be varied to avoid elemental or easy scamming.

Might not be for everyone, but that's exactly what prescreening is supposed to accomplish.

Wonder what other model might work besides an entry test?

Again, what I'm attempting to explore in this thread is the world of automated possibilities of prescreening new members. Methodologlies that might apply across a broad spectrum of websites.

For example, using the "testing model", if one wanted to initiate a member review site (pick a topic: travel, cameras, music, etc.) one might ask a series of questions that only someone with a fundamental working knowledge might know.

And yes, it might also make the bots work a little harder. :)

So, I'm interested in discussion possible or theoretical methods for prescreening new members.

In my mind, testing is one such model. Feel free to build upon or attack the idea.

Yes, there are limitations and consequences to testing. Care to point any out? Such as language barriers.

Other models are also open for introduction and discussion.

bradley phil

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 668 posted 7:48 pm on Dec 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

i've nver considered the possibility of testing members before - what an interesting concept! hard to predict whether it would just unnecessarily put off visitors from signing up, or would have benefits like (as you said) sending out a message about the competence needed; this would be very beneficial as the members would subconciously think better of your site and stick around longer.

Making a forum slightly more closed off to the outside world can improve the community feel of the board; but this has to be compromised with scaring away new registrations. Finding the balance is tricky

FourDegreez

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 668 posted 7:54 pm on Dec 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

I used to filter IPs and ISPs due to problem users, particularly AOL. Now I've got a much more complicated system.

My sign up page asks a series of questions. Based on the answers, points are awarded or subtracted. Are they in my target age range? Did they enter a hotmail email, or a .edu email? Are the open-ended answers long, short, or left blank? Do any answers contain swear words or "netspeak"? Have I logged past attempts to sign up with this cookie or IP address?

So a score is assigned, and if it is below a certain threshhold, the account request is automatically declined. The system works real well at screening out the most undesireable people. The account requests that make it past this part are then placed in a queue for manual review by volunteer members, who accept or decline them. Accepted members are put into a sort of newbie purgatory for a few days, with limited abilities, before being given more priveledges.

Yes, truely hard-core. It's a site I run as a hobby, not to make a profit. I've had a lot of headaches in the past from bad users. I am head-ache free with my current system. The few users willing to jump through all my hoops tend to work out well in the community.

rogerd

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 668 posted 8:05 pm on Dec 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

Sometimes I would swear that members who are capable of writing posts are unable to read, or at least can't follow simple directions... perhaps a quick reading comprehension test might work. ;)

lorenzinho2

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 668 posted 8:36 pm on Dec 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

Interesting topic.

The vast majority of forums / communities don't have the luxury of putting in additional obstacles to joining - the number one problem is how to get to critical mass.

With so many new web 2.0 community driven sites launching every day competing for people's time, I think i would recommend making it pretty damn easy to join, trying to influence who your user base through the site experience (as opposed to a screening process), and using traditional moderation tools to weed out the trolls.

rogerd

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 668 posted 8:54 pm on Dec 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

Good point, lorenzinho2. New communities in particular can't really afford to make joining difficult. I'll run new forums without registration in the early days just to help build critical mass.

A successful, established community can perhaps be a bit more selective. I haven't found any magic gatekeeping formula, though, so my selectivity tends to be more along the lines of swift elimination of members who violate the TOS or otherwise aggravate the community.

It's appealing, though, to think that some simple pre-qualification could improve the community overall.

Xedium

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 668 posted 8:55 pm on Dec 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

I just read this after completing my Google Sitemap's signup.

Since this is a Webmaster's World, would it be unreasonable to make them put a blank file with a random name in their webspace root? I know it could be a hasslesome process for some, and it might drive otherwise beneficial people away. It would depend on them having a website and access for it.

wxman2

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 668 posted 9:41 pm on Dec 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

I just ran into a similar problem with one of our clients. She wants me to set up a message board that will have content that's considered for "mature audiences only", but not the adult porn type. She wanted me to come up with a login system that would allow only adults in. I told her that I don't think there is one that can guarantee the underage will be blocked out, even if we asked for something like a credit card number. Knowing my clients way of thinking, I think she would like your idea of some kind of questionnaire though.

isorg

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 668 posted 9:55 pm on Dec 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

A problem with the test is that if your forum is intended to be broad, then you may end-up selecting out a particular sub-group i.e. those who can answer your test. To use this forum as an example, if you ask questions about HTML, then you may bar a top web graphics person from joining. If you ask a simple question about SEO, then you may bar a HTML guru from joining. If your forum is broad, then people may WANT to join to share their current expertise and learn something new. So you would have to craft your test very carefully - broad enough not to exclude legitimate candidates, but not so broad as to be meaningless.

The idea from Sitemaps about proving that you have access to a server is good... but not all SEO people necessarily have access to a server / know how to upload files to it. They just know about killer link building strategies maybe.

One possibility is that you allow people to join on the recommendation / sponsorship of others who are already on the forum. Have a core group of x number of members, and anyone who wants to join must approach / make an application to an existing member who can then assess suitability.

This may be labour-intensive for those involved in sponsoring candidates, but would probably go some way to your target.

Another possibility is that the candidate must upload his CV / resume / portfolio and have a panel of human screeners who can sift through the applications and accept/decline each one.

I know that you say you want an automated system. But to get the balance right between being too easy to get in vs. too hard to get in - this is very difficult to automate. This is something a human can do better and quicker. I wouldn't get too hung up about being 100% automated - a human can recognise a face faster and more accurately than a computer can. That's just the way it is, IMO. So if you have hybrid human / automated system - an automated application process, and a human selection process, this might be a good compromise.

Finally, money always focuses the mind... ask for a refundable $10 fee to be paid by credit card on signing up, (which can be refunded after a month's membership)... That should keep the bots out.

[edited by: isorg at 10:10 pm (utc) on Dec. 5, 2005]

linear

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 668 posted 10:09 pm on Dec 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

Heh, that got my attention too.

Make them respond to a particular http request with a given HTTP code, and don't give instructions how. :D

"Make your server return 415 when our bot requests /challenge-12345/ and you can be in the club."

JudgeJeffries

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 668 posted 10:10 pm on Dec 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

Webwork,
Exactly what is the problem you are trying to address?
No one takes any notice of most of the idiots who post here anyway.
If its signal to noise youre worried about there are already existing alternatives.
It worries me a little that guilty until proven innocent might prevail thereby removing the potential stars who just dont know too much right now.
I only wish the moderators of the public forums would remove more of the 'off topic' and 'me too' posts to discourage those of that disposition.

Herath

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 668 posted 10:12 pm on Dec 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

Always use cookies to detect multiple accounts by same mamber. Don't rely on IP.

goldminer

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 668 posted 10:14 pm on Dec 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

This is more a post-sign up cheap trick, so please don't take notice if i am the idiot in this topic :) :

A x minutes flood interval for new members till they reach a certain amount of posts works great in my forums.
Combined with old fashioned moderation, It avoids us headhaches with spammers, kiddies, people that can't read, can't write correctly, can't use internet, agressive ones, banned coming again...
For most common trolls, x minutes repeated y times is just too long to wait.
For those that insist, it lets moderators the time to act quietly.

Whereas quality members overcome it taking time to read and discover the forums, as we gently advice them when they try to post during the flood interval.

Key_Master

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 668 posted 10:42 pm on Dec 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

Is this forum the website or a content site with a forum?

I use software to monitor and self-censor threads on a fairly popular forum I run so I don't need to ban members very often (maybe once or twice a year). If I had to, I would consider a registration system that allows posting to a "foo" only category for a period of 72 hours. This would be a good time to introduce them to the community and see how they interact with others. Presuming they pass the "community prescreening", they would then be able to contribute to other categories after the 72 hours or so are up. I think that would cut a lot of the hit and run spammers out.

skibum

WebmasterWorld Administrator skibum us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 668 posted 10:53 pm on Dec 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

Invite Only?

Webwork

WebmasterWorld Administrator webwork us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 668 posted 11:10 pm on Dec 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

Exactly what is the problem you are trying to address?

One answer might be "kiddies", though I won't labor to define the term, other than to say "management headache" or "far more trouble than contribution".

Behavior problems is one reason someone might be interested in the possibly of methodically prescreening members.

"Attempting to filter out problem behavior" is an easy answer, but not really "the answer".

The real answer to "why have I presented this issue" is that I've raised the subject to explore the possibilities of such an approach.

Possibilities including approaches to prescreening members that might work, how to optimize those approaches and what the downside of any approach might be.

Lorenzinho, I understand the part about "critical mass" but here's a question: Are problematic new members a drag on the acceleration to critical mass?

What if, instead of spending time "growing them up or getting them out", you instead spent that time crafting new, interesting threads? Might that accelerate reaching critical mass?

Here's a thought: Any prescreening by test would naturally be tailored to the mission of the forum. So, if one purpose of the forum is educating neophytes you would not present a test that involves advanced knowledge. However, if you define neophyte as having certain basic competencies, you might screen out some beginners. You might have some tutorials that cover the basics and once someone has mastered the basics the "test" would be a breeze.

I see a number of possibilities that arise from requiring even the most basic "admission test", but you could take it as far as you want. It certainly would turn some people away, but that's the point of the idea. "Show me some intelligence, some ability, show me what you can grasp, show me how you express your ideas." Or not.

So, anyone's gears now turning? Who else has seen this in operation? Bad idea? Wrongheaded? "Oh, there goes the www." "Don't judge people!" "Elitist!"

Or, is it true you don't allow just any old stranger to walk into your house?

Webwork

WebmasterWorld Administrator webwork us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 668 posted 11:33 pm on Dec 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

FourDegreez, that's pretty interesting stuff. Thanks for sharing your approach, your experience and your expertise. Nice contribution. Anything other insights or suggestions you might care to share?

Did your approach produce any unexpected benefits, or downside, that you had to tweak to "get right"?

"Invitation"? Now, who woulda thunk! That holds some possibilities, but is such an approach a bit more restrictive or subjective than a questionaire or test? Also, in the era of Web 2.0 and social network as imprimatir, it seems everyone knows someone who knows someone, who might grant person X entry, who then proceeds to flame the place to the ground. Still, the idea on "invitation only" clearly serves a prescreening purpose.

So . . . should expanding "social network invitations" still be subject to further qualification or examination?

"You received an invitation so you only have to pass test version 3.93: What is your name? What is your favorite color? What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?"

Leosghost

WebmasterWorld Senior Member leosghost us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 668 posted 11:38 pm on Dec 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

Didn't Groucho have it just about right ;)

goldminer

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 668 posted 11:54 pm on Dec 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

Ok.
I turned the question to "what can a truely interrested visitor think when he is sign up prescreened on your board?"

So "have you got visitors interrested enough?"
brings us back to the critical mass issue.

I believe if there is something inside interresting enough, that should not be a problem for them.
I have thousands users that have wait 5 minutes 50 times to become full members, a lot of users read us 6 months or more before they decide to sign in.
So what is a prescreening test?

Also i believe in a community like in a classroom in a certain way people need some less clever posters, that is very stimulating. Human nature! Concerns even high level professionals, big scientists... I mean you can't get the best of them if don't have at least some of the worst. So setting up how hard is your test could be important regarding this.

goldminer

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 668 posted 12:14 am on Dec 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

"Invitation"? Now, who woulda thunk! That holds some possibilities, but is such an approach a bit more restrictive or subjective than a questionaire or test?

And what about prescreened invitations where the invitor is asked about his invitee profile, and then the invitee gets a sign up test profiled with this data?
G should think about this one day!

Edwin

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 668 posted 1:07 am on Dec 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

One approach that helps works along the lines of the "broken windows" theory expounded in Tipping Point and elsewhere - if the environment is controlled, it controls behaviour to an extent in borderline cases.

On the forum I run, there are no avatars or signatures, and no advertising is allowed. Discussions are limited to a range of topics in the forum's niche, except in an "offtopic" forum that has additional rules. Because there are hundreds of thousands of archived "clean posts", no matter where the would-be troublemaker/spammer looks at the forum, they will only find more-or-less productive, on-topic discussions.

Combine the above with a core group of volunteer moderators, and it means that the few troublemakers who decide to chance it get picked up and booted out within minutes of their first post.

I don't know how scaleable this approach would be if you're running a super-massive forum, but it's coped quite nicely with volumes of around 500-700 new daily posts.

[edited by: Edwin at 1:08 am (utc) on Dec. 6, 2005]

hundredly

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 668 posted 1:08 am on Dec 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

It would be great if there would be a distributed identity that you could take with you while you are running around on the Internet. This would actually serve to make business transactions on the web move much more smoothly - if you could clearly identify who you are - and perhaps put a portion of your reputation at stake by engaging in disruptive actions.

For instance - what if typekey or an ebay sellers profile could be used as a source of identification? also - i think a big reason for the success of facebook is because they have a clear way of identifying users, and keeping out the ones who don't belong.

Actually - I think all these big social network sites are really missing out on a big chance - as a way of being a 3rd party authentication system. For instance - I've built up a pretty good network on LinkedIn. I would do even more to build up my reputation there - if I could take that reputation with me to other sites on the web.

Kirby

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 668 posted 1:13 am on Dec 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

>Exactly what is the problem you are trying to address?

One answer might be "kiddies", though I won't labor to define the term, other than to say "management headache" or "far more trouble than contribution".

We see this with SEO type forums all the time. I think what has helped here at WebmasterWorld is the skill and experience of much of the membership itself in helping newcomers.

"A rising tide lifts all boats"

Unless you want a members only community based on a specific criteria, filters may filter out real value. Kind of like what Google does with new sites.

<ducking for cover>

janethuggard

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 668 posted 3:04 am on Dec 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

It sounds like to me you are looking for a closed society.

So, make it closed, invitation only, and you have to have 2 members to sponsor you, and a group vote to confirm. Then, charge $1500 a year membership fees, payable by American Express credit card only, and proof that you are free, white, and 21. Any half wit could figure out the answers to any test, just by doing a G search.

You now have yourselves a bonified techie worldwide country club. It doesn't get any more arrogant than that.

The old 'closed membership' BBSs did this. Each one slowly died. There are apparently not enough arrogant techie type people who don't have a life, and are lacking desire to work their website(s), thereby having the time to post on a closed BBS everyday to keep it alive.

Regulation is the quickest route to stagnation, and is the ugly step-sister of the wicked queen of censorship.

Oh wicked queen, shut me up quickly, before the truth offends those much brighter than I.

keno

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 668 posted 3:19 am on Dec 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

>>Unless you want a members only community based on a specific criteria, filters may filter out real value. Kind of like what Google does with new sites.

That sums it up – and I guess the question is what does this algorithm look like?

What would the variables of non-specific ranking criteria look like? Brain Storm Here:

Number of posts
Number of posts initialized
Number of flags to initialized thread (if WW)
Length of post
Length of thread (too long may be bad)
Number of quality posts (voting system?)
Membership age
Individual Maturity – Nah – Could be legally discriminatory
Buddy links
Sponsorship from senior members

Ranking allows different access levels.
Using WW as an example:

Level 1
Read and write to forums technical in nature
Read only to business level forums

Level 2
Read and write to business level forums
Read only to supporters forum (paid)

Level 3
Read and write to supporters’ forum (paid)

Considerations and Rhetorical Questions:
Would this implementation be controversial and worthy of word of mouth discussion?
Does it invoke the laws of scarcity? I can’t have it therefore I want it.
Does it promote better community relationships?
Will users appreciate their own good standing and respect the knowledge and good standing of others?

How does it affect your new members?
Will the real noobs scramble to climb the ladder?
Will existing pro’s think it is not worth the bother? (to climb the ladder)
Is the automation of membership rank too complex? (As previously mentioned in early post)
Should the natural “free for all” flavor of the community be preserved?

If your problem is errant community members, should the whole community suffer?
Does the idea of pre-qualifying forum members create more questions than answers? Does it create more problems than solutions?

<Where do you duck for cover around here?>

Webwork

WebmasterWorld Administrator webwork us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 668 posted 3:24 am on Dec 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

. . . and now, for an opposing point of view . . .

Whew! Points well made janethuggard et al, and fully expected to be made, though I think a bit overblown.

Why? Well, look around you. The entire world is built upon selection and entrance exams and tests and criteria and qualifying and fees and differentiation and so on.

Even nature screens applicants for survival.

Yes, I can see that a cloistered life may have its downside. However, the central premise of this thread isn't "how to establish a tiny little monastery". The theory of screening, by test or otherwise, could be applied to the building of a very big monastery, university size, 40,000 members or more. However, at some point, before entering the university or monastic life, members would be asked to demonstrate something about themselves in the course of applying.

Whatever that might be. Such as a basic knowledge of widget engineering, if the website is about widget engineering.

So, back to the basics: Any other ideas about how to implement this some say, despicable program?

larryhatch

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 668 posted 3:34 am on Dec 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

I like the idea of starting a forum on a high note from the start.
That's got to be way easier than cleaning up a forum that has gone to the dogs.
Sensible contributors head for the doors when the trolls and morons take over.

Some thoughts: Whatever filters you do set up, don't make them automatic.
Instead have them signal you immediately so you can look them over, maybe email a note to the applicant.

Possible filters:
* AOL email addresses, unless you want those who cannot spell, parse, think clearly
or string a sentence together ..
* Eastern Europe? Definite exceptions here.
* Much less a filter: Free email services. Good people sometimes use those.

I'd say this is going to require manual review. - Larry

oneguy

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 668 posted 5:49 am on Dec 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

from webwork...

A test could measure a level of knowledge or sophistication, thereby screening out kiddies and sending a message that a certain level of competency is sought in new members.

I'd find such a test insulting. I doubt you could ask questions where I couldn't find answers on the net in about 2 or 3 seconds each. If that's untrue, I'd print the questions and find answers, coming back later if my intentions were not good.

Unless you have a very stong forum that allows me to read first, I wouldn't bother to play that game with you - so I could come in and contribute to your property.

As far as free email addresses, that's hard to keep track of.

I'm not your average person, but I don't need your forum or wish to contribute if you waste my time in the process of screening me.

(I am involved in some private forums, but they are invite only, with a vote by the membership to allow someone in. Anyone already there can veto an invitee for any reason. Pretty much, it takes unanimous consent.)

If you're trying to screen kiddies and trolls, you need moderation.

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