This week’s I’ll talk about the new features available since the upgrade of our blog server earlier in the week.
What’s the blog server?
Um, right, I guess not everybody knows that. The blog server is a system where anybody at WOU can keep a blog; if you aren’t familiar with the idea of blogging, please take a look at the FAQ at https://wou.edu/ucs/faq/blogging.php. If you’ve never used the blog server before, you probably want to take a look at the original blog server FAQs; part one is at https://wou.edu/ucs/faq/blogserver1.php, and contains a link to part 2. Both have been updated for the new blog server version.
So will I have to relearn a bunch of stuff?
Not really. The new version added a bunch of features, but didn’t change or remove much that was already there. The most notable new features are the spam filters, improved list handling, and improved searching.
Spam filters, you say? Why would I need a spam filter on a blog?
A few of you of you are probably laughing bitterly at this question, but bear with me. Some blogs, especially those with a lot of activity, attract spammers who post comments that have nothing to do with what you’re blogging about. This is generally different than email spam; the main goal of blog spam is to get many links posted, to affect search engine rankings for spam websites. I’m not going to try to explain how this works, but trust me, once it starts happening to your blog, you will be glad to have a spam filter! Also note that everything I say about comments applies to trackbacks too, if you have them turned on.
I already get a ton of spam on my blog, so how do I turn on the spam filter?
It’s already on. The upgrade process was supposed to sort through all existing comments and junk any that looked like spam, but this didn’t work for any of the blogs I checked. However, it works great for new comments coming in since the upgrade; it has cut the spam level in my blog from several hundred a week down to just fifteen in the three days since the upgrade. If you have turned off commenting in your blog because you were drowning in spam, you might want to turn it back on again now.
How do I change the settings of the spam filter?
The default settings are pretty good, so most people won’t need to mess with them. but if you know what you are doing, or just want to look at the current settings, here’s how to find them. Go to the blog administration toolbar and click settings. Below the page setting you will see two tabs: Settings and Plugins. (You’ll also see a link named “Switch to Detailed Settings”, which gives you more tabs, but you don’t need to click it if you don’t want to.) Click the Plugins tab, and scroll down. There are actually three spam filters; one that uses a blacklisting service, one that checks links in comments, and another that checks keywords. I won’t describe them in detail here, but feel free to take a look at them.
What happens to spam comments caught by the filter?
In your comments list, you’ll see a new tab: Junk comments. Clicking on it shows a list of all comments judged as junk by the spam filter, and gives you a handy button to empty the junk folder without having to select them all and hit delete. It also seems like many spam comments simply aren’t showing up at all, even in the junk folder; I have no idea why this is, but as long as it means I’m getting less junk, I don’t care very much.
I still have a bunch of old spam comments in my blog. How do I get rid of them?
This is where the second feature comes in: improved list handling. You can go to the Comments page (via the link on the blog list page, or in the blog admin toolbar) and see the list. Before, this would automatically list all comments, which could take a while if there were a few hundred (or thousand as happened sometimes.) Now, it lists a more manageable number. By clicking the “Show Display Options” link at the bottom of the list, you can pick from several different numbers of items to show per page, or even pick your own by choosing “Another Amount…” There are other miscellaneous options in the display options box as well, and you can close it by clicking the “Show Display Options” link again when done. These options are available for all lists; whether lists of entries, lists of comments, lists of blogs, etc.
But that doesn’t help me get rid of my old spam comments?
It does help you manage the list better. But here’s something that really will help you get rid of that ton of old spam comments. You’ve probably already noticed that at the top of the column of checkboxes at the left side of the list, there’s a checkbox that, when you click on it, selects every item shown in the list; this makes it easy to delete the whole list.
That would be useful except that I’ve got some comments I want to save, so being able to delete the whole list doesn’t help.
If you’ve used the Display options to break your list down to a manageable size, you can delete a screenful at a time. Or if you’re like me and you have your display options set to show the whole list on one screen, you can use another method of list handling: a filter. Filter options are at the top of every list. Often there will be a “quickfilter” link you can click on to apply a commonly used filter, such as showing unpublished comments only in a comments list; this makes it easy to find and delete spam without accidentally deleting comments you’ve already approved. Each list has several filter options; feel free to play around with them. When a filter is active, there will always be a “reset” link to the right of the filter options, which will remove the filters.
OK, enough about this geeky list management stuff! Didn’t you say something about searching too?
Right, that’s the last topic I’ll cover this week. Any page with a list also has a search bar that lets you look for specific text within the list. But the really powerful new search stuff is available when you click “Search” in the blog admin toolbar. That takes you to a screen with all the search options in one convenient place. Use the tabs to control the type of object you are searching for, and the checkboxes below the search box to apply various options. The “Limited Fields” checkbox is especially useful because it lets you restrict your search to only the title of an entry, for instance, or only the name of a commenter.
Really, why should I care about all this stuff?
Because blogging can be an effective and fun way of expressing yourself. Plus, more professors are beginning to use blogging in their classes, so if you know your way around the blog server, you’ll be a step ahead. Don’t forget, everybody at WOU has a blog you can start using whenever you want; just read the FAQs listed above to see how to get started.
To help get the word out, I’m going to be creating some pages that show the most recent blog entries made, and keep track of the most active blogs. If you have a blog but do not want it listed in anything like that, be sure to let me know! The WOUPortal will also soon be able to view blogs, to save you the effort of checking multiple blogs to see if anything is new there.
And I just realized this is the fiftieth FAQ I’ve done here. So, a really big thank you for all your time and attention in the last two years!