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Cognitive Computing Authors: Pat Romanski, Yeshim Deniz, Liz McMillan, Elizabeth White, Jason Bloomberg

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RubyURL 2.0 on the horizon

RubyURL was a project that I built about 2 1/2 years ago as a late night attempt to see what I could build and deploy with Ruby on Rails in a night. It’s nearing 50,000 unique website links, has a Ruby gem that you can use with it, and rbot plugins.

I’ve rewritten it about three times in the past six months, to try out some new approaches, but haven’t deployed with a new version as I’ve been waiting for someone to help me with a new design. Chris has offered to help out and once we integrate his new design with it, we’ll be launching it.

Everything is not great in RubyURL land though. It appears that it’s become an easy target for comment spammers to abuse the site to generate rubyurls and paste those links in their spam comments. Several pissed off bloggers, forum administrators, and system administrators have emailed me to complain that I’m spamming their site. Sadly, even with a basic disclaimer on the site, they still like to blame me for their spam. It’s gotten common enough, that I’ve written a template email that I respond with that explains how the site works and that I’m not accountable for people posting links to my URL redirect tool.

You can see that it’s popping up around the net via a google search.

So, I’ve been trying to think of ways to make it easier for people to flag URLs as being abusive of the site. I’ve not come up with any elegant solution that doesn’t force the good users of the site to have more steps in their process to create a basic RubyURL.

The ideal (and current) workflow:

  • User navigates to http://rubyurl.com
  • User pastes in long url into text box/area
  • User submits form
  • User is provided with new (shortened) rubyurl
  • User copies the rubyurl and does what they want with it (generally… pastes into IM, IRC, Email, etc.)

Some people have suggested using a user system to do this, but I really don’t like that as a solution.

Another idea, which I built… and later removed from my new version, involved having the original url load in a frame, and then provide a way for users to flag it as ‘spam’, ‘nsfw’, or ‘dead’. Then, we could provide the user with a warning that the following URL was flagged before, are you sure you want to continue? I didn’t like this as a solution in this way as it felt very obtrusive to have a rubyurl frame at the top of the browser window.

One person suggested a captcha to try and verify that the user is human, but there are problems with this.

  • I really dislike captchas. ;-)
  • This doesn’t prevent spammers from using the ShortURL gem, which does everything via an API.

In regards to the API, this could be enhanced by requiring that everyone register an email address to get an API key, but only solves the API abusers.

I’m starting to brainstorm some solutions that specifically help the requests made through the web. I haven’t checked the logs enough yet to verify it, but I have a strong suspicion that much of the abuse is happening through a web-based bot, not through ShortURL… because Ruby developers are nicer than that. (I hope…)

So, I am curious… dear readers of my blog. How might you solve this problem without disrupting the user experience? Or, should I just stick with what I’ve got going and find a better way to respond to pissed off bloggers who think I’m spamming them?

Discuss…

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