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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?



5:15 pm on Dec 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator webwork is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

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?


7:13 am on Dec 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Would requiring a form of ID (Credit Card?)keep out those who have been problem posters?

Supporters forum doesn't have this problem, right?


7:35 am on Dec 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I'd say you need to profile your membership first.
Exactly who do you want joining in, and who not.
Only then can any sort of sensible filtration take place.
Once that's clear, we can discuss methods and means more sensibly. -LH


8:28 am on Dec 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Taking some ideas from slashdot. Maybe instead of forcing all new members to take a sign-up test, you could allow members with >100 posts to be allowed to make a request to take the test. Once they request to take the test, you look over their recent posts and see if they would make a good entry level moderator. Give the entry level moderators the option to +1 or -1 point to another members posts. Repeat this procedure for members with >1000 posts except with a much harder test. This time give them the ability to +10 or -10. A new signup can get banned with -100. A >100 poster needs -1000. The only way a >1000 poster can be banned would be by you. Remember, not everybody gets to moderate, only those who you allow to take the test and also pass the test. A person would also need +10 points to start a new thread. A good exmple of this system would be a person posting something harrassing and getting -200 points. That person could then post an apology and earn some points back.

For the test you could create about 20 different random timed flash tests in a password protected area. Flash would allow the test to be timed and by sending them a random flash test they wouldn't be able to just download the swf and practice.

Another forum I know of forces new members to wait 9 days to post after signing up. I imagine this delay would allow them to watch for irregular trends in sign-ups. Nine days might be overkill, but a day or two would frustrate the bots also.


8:55 am on Dec 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Adding a "Why do you want to signup" box to the signup area might weed out some people, blocking free email accounts is also good as well. The only real way to block all the garbage signups however is to manually vet each and every one of them.


9:09 am on Dec 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

give people posting rights based on other established members recommendations, like in the mob


9:28 am on Dec 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I judge new user by their actions, not by their mail or IP adress etc...

I use the feature "Usergroups" extensively on my forums and they work like a charm...

You start as a newbie only allowed to post one post an hour. Once you hit 10 posts you get a review of all your posts by the mods and admins then we decide if that person gets to the next level where it is less restricted... and so on...

never had any problems...

people that really have someting to say and want to participate go through the restrictions at first, the rest gives up pretty fast..



9:36 am on Dec 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

"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."

Exactly. The end result is stagnation.

Instead of playing more games, how about ending the current games, the forums have been known for since the inception of the bulletin board utility. You have 4000 registered users, who are actually 1000 or less individuals. At least 100 of them are 'normally' the board owner, which were setup to create threads and make the board look active in the beginning. Another 100 or so are about 10 to 20 of his friends. There is no credibility.

These faux unique users form roving bands of cyber rambos that can chase away substance posters. One person. One account. Take the time to verify, and assign user names based on real names, so you can take people seriously. Otherwise, you have a community that appears to consists of children trick-or-treating wearing masks. That is where the dignity is lost, not in people who don't know things, and are willing to admit that publicly, in order to learn.

If you want legitimate intelligent posters on a board, set it up so there is integrity from the beginning. Don't chase away people you deem not bright enough to join your clique. A business owner (webmaster) forum that is a service to the industry, should not require a Mensa exam to join. Are you kidding me? If you want to take an exam to show how bright you are, join Mensa.

What happened to the noble concept of having those who know, teach those who don't, which was the foundation of the web, in the beginning? Have you forgotten our roots as you climbed the ladder? Without the posters who come to learn, you end up with a bunch backslapping, yes men, yes women, attaboys, attagirls who only post to their peers to increase their egos. There is nothing at all noble about that.

Seems to me you want to filter out the life blood of the board. Why would you want to do that? It has been done before, many, many times with disasterous results. Take a look around. The real problem is posters who are willing to sacrifice their user name #22, because they have 21 others, so they can toss dirt into the forum. Had they been verified, with credit card, that problem would be minimal.

How about wearing your intelligence on your sleeve, by showing you have learned from the lessons of the past, and then not making the same mistakes as those who have walked in your shoes before have made? There is a unique thought.


10:30 am on Dec 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Charge fees for sign-up as Webmaster World does (even a small amount, say $5). Visitors would then value their membership a good deal more than they would with free sign-up. If you can then ban members for misbehaviour, repeat offenders will be charged $5 for each incident.


1:19 pm on Dec 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Damn, beaten to the punch. Yeah, charging nominal fees is a great way to go. Only serious folks will join. The only drawback is that it might deter a few people who are good and would otherwise participate.


1:33 pm on Dec 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator webwork is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

What about a "test" at sign-up that asks questions connected to the forum's Terms and Conditions of Use, and any other forum policy statements?

5 or 10 true/false check boxes? Questions that you would only know the answer to IF you actually read the TCU before signing up, as if often required?

Who says it's too much of a burden to actually read the rules before agreeing to be bound by them?

Besides asking a few questions to confirm that a new member actually read the rules what other types of basic questions might validate basic issues, such as minimum age, intent in joining, etc.?

Anyone care to bat around examples of questions that may serve a vaild prescreening purpose and that would be problematic to game?


4:14 pm on Dec 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

This goes along with a few previous comments. Have a single question at the end of the registration form. Like "How did you hear of us?" or similar.

Here's the trick, Previously, in the instructions that nobody reads, the ONLY correct answer was given eg. "Yes"


4:15 pm on Dec 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Anyone care to bat around examples of questions that may serve a vaild prescreening purpose and that would be problematic to game?

- What can we buy from you?
A : a miraculous solution to work at home and become rich fast.
B : Something even better than A.
C : Well let me get in, you'll know.
D : Sorry i m not coming here to sell some thing

- Why did you suscribe such an ISP/freemail? (question only appearing for some ISPs/freemail of your choice)
B : why "such"?
C : I was so young and inocent when i suscribed, please forgive me i promess i ll never do it agaaain! Pleaaaase!
D : Actually i m a big shareholder in this company.
E : Actually i m a small shareholder in this company.
F : Did my anon proxy told you so?

- System alert! We have seen your computer has virus! Clic here immediatly to apply a patch!
(tie-breaker, in fact a pitfall that puts a disqualifying life time cookie)

Thank you for taking time to answer.
Unfortunately we are having technical problems with suscriptions.
Time autoestimated to fix it : calculating...calculating...please wait...calculating......15 years.
Please also visit our college girls board!


4:52 pm on Dec 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Who says it's too much of a burden to actually read the rules before agreeing to be bound by them?

I never read the 20 page long licence stuff I have to agree on to install any software. Still I think I comply with what's inside.

citing the categoric imperative may be far-fetched, but you can easlily behave in a foreign community without taking a law-course. Well, unless you think you're always right.


7:39 pm on Dec 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

One person. One account.

Easy to say. Nearly impossible to enforce, especially on forums that don't require a credit card or similar. At my site I check if a user's cookie, IP address, or e-mail address is associated with any current account or past account request and flag that as a warning. I also run a daily audit on random accounts that cross-checks their logins with logins to other accounts from the same cookie or IP address. My site also has a form of "currency" that members can pass between each other, and my audit also checks for irregularities in those transactions. Despite these efforts, as well as stiff warnings against creating additional accounts, it is still technically possible for someone to maintain multiple accounts.


The problem I see with that system, especially for smaller forums, is that they can become clique-ish. I rather don't like when a group of people who know each other off-site come onboard. They bring with them inside jokes, "what are you doing Friday night"-type posts, and generally don't seem to blend as well into the community.

...closed society. It doesn't get any more arrogant than that.

IMHO, you'd have to be crazy not to have any level user screening these days. My forum is my private property. You are a stranger walking down the street. I don't know who you are. I used to let strangers like you in without a thought, and usually you'd get along okay. But sometimes you'd try to trash the place. Sometimes I'd try to kick you out but you wouldn't leave. So I put up a gate around my property. Tell me something about yourself, and if you sound like a decent guy I'll let you inside. If you won't do that for me, then be on your way. Maybe the next guy to come along will be a little more sharing, and he'll be let onto my property.

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

One benefit, I'd say, is that from the answers to the questions that I ask in the sign-up form, I can see which users will really shine, and may make special effort for them. I.e. Send them follow-up emails if they don't log in after I send their password, private message them on the site, etc. If you seem to be a "high value" user, you'll have more of my attention.

There are downsides.. bickering amongst the volunteers who accept or decline new accounts, new users complaining about not getting full access fast enough, the fact that potential users can't read posts without an account ("privacy" of the forum is something I advertise) which doesn't exactly entice people to join. I'm working on getting up some sample posts for people to look at before joining.

** Just for background, my site is general-interest. We take all kinds, within a certain age range. Our screening is more focused on watching out for disqualifying characteristics than anything else.


2:24 am on Dec 7, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I gave up on trying to fend off bad users. Just when you get rid of one, another pops up. My new approach is having moderators. Currently I'm screening my user base to find some top contributors... then I plan to invite them to become mods of the site if they would like.

Hopefully this approach will help the folks that really care about the site feel more valued while helping me keep the site under control and the content appropriate at the same time.


3:46 am on Dec 7, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator webwork is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

What is the effect or import of the word(s) or title that you assign to the process of what, for now, I'll call "prescreening" or "filtering"?

Does it make a difference if you call the procedure that you put in place at the time of sign-up:

  • A test.
  • A questionaire.
  • An application for membership.
  • A candidate profile.
  • A premembership screening.
  • A mandatory membership profile.
  • A confirmation process. (Did you, in fact, read the TCU?)
  • A new member assessment to evaluate resource needs.
  • A new member assessment to help build a community profile.
  • A new member assessment to assess forum educational needs.
  • A new member assessment to assign a membership designation (Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, Diety, No Admittance.)
  • An entrance exam.
  • A new member assessment to determine posting rights assignment. ("Only experts may post in the XYZ sub-forum".)

Does it matter what you call it? Does the characterization of the data collection make a difference whether you will choose to "play"?

What if you knew you would become a member in all cases but that the assignment of forum rights and privileges was based, in part, on the profile, survey, whatever you call it?

Would you not be willing to "take a membership test" but you would be willing to "complete a new member survey"?


6:01 pm on Dec 7, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

"Will you click the ads a lot?" ___yes ___certainly

(toungue in cheek, firmly)


11:25 pm on Dec 7, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Would you not be willing to "take a membership test" but you would be willing to "complete a new member survey"?

Obviously the way you communicate, the way you make people feel when they fill a form is very important, and that is kind of what i meant in my previous weird answer.

You can put specific humour in your questions, you can make it fun, or you can make the user feels the survey is usefull for him, and even that it is usefull for the whole industry.

You can even show him the global stats results when he passes. That may increase the feeling of usefullness as well as awareness of how are this forum members.

You can make those surveys a cool part of the member ship process that anyone accepts and like, a part of the community culture.

You'll be surprised how people like to answer surveys, when they feel it is an interresting one.
They also like to measure themselves to each others.

So why not make those tests a part of the membership, not only prescreening but all along?

Keeping the idea not to judge but to profile, to help member finding what he is here for, satisfying him the best way you can, you can get a lot of usefull info from your users, know them better, talk them better, evaluate/upgrade their membership...

Questions are not necessary paranoid ones like
"what is the TOS chapter 39 about?" or "What do you come for, you stranger?" "do you think we are weird?hm?"
You can ask your applicant how does he estimate his skills on a scale, what does he hope to find in this community, how long has he been reading before joining, his position on a usual very controversal topic...

After, there is open questions VS multiple choices answers.
Multiple choice are fine to make stats.
Open questions can reveal a lot on the user's state of mind. When you just ask people there location, or there name, see what you get.

I also like the idea of trap questions, but trap questions that are just fine.
Genius trap very revelating questions nobody feel despised or rejected.

Thank to this topic i see new horizons and may add prescreening features to my community. :-)


4:10 am on Dec 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I used to manage several mailing lists that were specialized in topic and of an intellectual bent and we didn't want spammers or those not qualified to participate or troublemakers in the discussions (one list had top intellectual PhD researchers on the subject from around the world--another was a quite volatile discussion where we only wanted rational participants).

I set up a list of questions where I didn't let on by the form of the question which might be the right answer, i.e., how do you feel about _____, what are your beliefs regarding _____, what is your experience with ____, what college degree do you hold in this area_____ etc.

I would set up several lists like this and rotate it so hardly no one gets the same set of questions.


3:27 am on Dec 13, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I check if the IP of validating users is a proxy or an anonymizer.

If they have to hide, I don't accept the registration.


11:58 pm on Dec 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member marcia is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

I would never join anything that was "invite only" and would quickly close a window with testing for eligibility and never go back. I simply don't like exclusionary good-ole-boys-clubs, never did and never will.

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

That's the key. Either it's an issue of scalability of the system, or the MIA's need to get their butts booted out and be replaced with those who have a level of commitment beyond wearing their "titles" and enhancing their "credentialing," professional or otherwise.


12:00 am on Dec 24, 2005 (gmt 0)

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

>>I would never join anything that was "invite only"

I think that varies by personality. I know plenty of people that would be reluctant to join something that anyone else could join, but who would be very interested in joining something that was perceived to be difficult to be invited to.

Of course, in the immortal words of Mark Twain, "I would never join a club that would have me as member." :)

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