Skype Outage – December 22, 2010

December 22, 2010 by +Marj Wyatt  
Filed under Marj Wyatt's Musings

Like most online entrepreneurs, Skype is a staple of my business and one of my first logins everyday after having my 2nd cup of coffee.  :)  Today, I was relieved to learn that the problem is not related to Skype hackers or phishers … a rising trend on Skype.

Major Skype Outage - 12-22-2010After being unable to login through the client interface, I immediately went to the website to assure myself that my account had not been compromised somehow.  I was able to login and verify my account there, although that capability has since gone down.

While I was logged in, a brief visit to the support page revealed that Skype was aware of the problems that people were having with logging in.  I followed recommended steps to remedy the problem, which included shutting down my home network and resetting the routers.  I guess that should be done periodically anyway so, even though it didn’t solve the Skype login problem, it wasn’t a complete waste of time.  :)

This is probably quite an embarrassment for Skype in the advent of their upcoming IPO.  For the rest of us, we can breathe a sigh of relief that our Skype accounts have not been hijacked by the hackers and phishers who prey on Skype users.

Eliminating Blog Spam on Your WordPress Website

December 20, 2010 by +Marj Wyatt  
Filed under Featured, Website Design

The longer your wordpress website is online, the more pages that are listed in search engines.  Getting pages listed is good for your business, for sure, but it also makes it easier for blog spammers to target your site in their efforts to get links to their own sites.  One method of doing this is referral spam.  Perusing some of the comments blocked naturally by Akismet, it is fairly clear that they were not written by a human.  Even though some of the malformed subjects and content created by spinning tools can become a source of amusement, having to manage your blog spam queue is a PIA and waste of time.

Blog Spam EliminationTo keep your site healthy, you have to learn something about how things work and keep code up to date.  Another term for this is website maintenance.  Over the years they have been online, I have tried several things in my efforts to overcome my blog spam at GetIncomeBlog.com and my WordPress Website Development business site.

Within this post, I offer some alternative solutions and details about the one that I’ve settled on which is working perfectly for me.  :)

Disabling New Comments

Within the WordPress dashboard, under Settings –> Discussion, there is an option to automatically close comments on articles older that a user definable time frame.  This is probably the easiest counter-measure against blog spam but I’ve never enabled that option because most of my content is not time sensitive and I don’t want to disallow comments for people who might find it weeks, months or years after the post has been published.

Plugins

For a while, I used the Antispam Bee plug-in.  It was effective against blog spam but it didn’t allow me to review comments that had identified as spam.  Because there have been times when I’ve found comments from people that I know which have been marked as spam by Aismet, I didn’t want to risk it.

Referral Blog Spam Comments

Referral blog spam is generated by software and used by people who are looking for links back to their pages.  These people are banking on the fact that their blog spam will land on blogs where comments are automatically approved.  I’ve never set up a site that way and I’ve never allowed any of my WordPress Website Development clients to do so either.

The biggest headache for me was referral blog spam.  Recently, I implemented some changes.  After 72 hours of testing, I’m satisfied that I’ve found a solution that is worth sharing.  Bona fide comments are still delivered and there been ZERO referral spam comments.

What a gift!

Eliminating Referral Blog Spam

The  technique that I used involves three things:

  1. WordPress configuration
  2. Modification of .htaccess
  3. Captcha plug-in
  4. A little vigilance

WordPress Configuration

First, here is a screen shot of how my Discussion settings are configured at all of my sites:

Eliminating Blog Spam by GetIncomeBlog.com

Recommended Dashboard Settings

Some of these are defaults but others are not.  I do not automatically approve comments from people whose past comments have been approved.  By way of explanation, the reason that I only request notification when a comment is held for moderation is because that second email that comes after I’ve looked over a comment and approved it was redundant.  :)

.htaccess changes

To completely eliminate referral blog spam, you must add a few lines of code to your .htaccess file.  This is a file that resides on your server and was created at the time you installed the wordpress application.  It is critical that you retain a backup copy of this file because your site may become non-operational if you do not get it right the first time and you need to recover quickly when things go wrong.

# DENY ACCESS TO NO-REFERRER REQUESTS

RewriteCond %{REQUEST_METHOD} POST
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} .wp-comments-post. [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !.*YOURDOMAIN. [OR,NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} ^$
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ ^http://YOURDOMAIN.com/your-page/ [R=301,L]

These lines of code are placed just above the line that says # BEGIN WordPress. You will need to customize the code to agree with your domain names and destination URLs. This post does not endeavor to teach you the function behind the above code but, in summary, what it is doing if diverting comments that are not originated through the comment form on your site and, if someone’s software is trying to do that, they are directed to a page on one of my other domains that counts down the time until Christmas.  Granted, referral spammers will never see that page but it gives me a way to track their attempts when I review statistics that are logged by the Statpress plug-in.

You can use any text editor to read and modify the .htaccess file.  When you are saving the file, you must use double quotes so the file extension is not “.txt”.

Captcha plug-in

After a little trial and error, I decided to use the SI CAPTCHA Anti-Spam plug-in.  All that I can say about my choice is that this one did not require any additional coding and it accomplished the task.

Vigilance

WordPress also incorporates the ability to blacklist commenters.  You can bar a comment that contains user defined words in its content, by commenter’s name, by URL, by e-mail, or by IP.  For those referral blog spam comments that slip through the cracks for any reason, this will be the final authority on whether or not you have to manually handle their unwanted comments.

Caveat

There is one caveat to my preferred anti-referral blog spam method.  It will only work with a self-hosted WordPress website.  In other words, if your blog is hosted at WordPress.com, you will either have to put up with referral spam or install one of the available plug-ins through your dashboard.

With all the outsourcing, is anything made in the USA anymore?

December 13, 2010 by +Marj Wyatt  
Filed under Featured, Small Business

Enough with all this outsourcing talk!  This is the season where many of us are overtly shopping.  Economic circumstances may be forcing greater frugality but, as you are scanning shelves for stocking stuffers and gifts, take a moment to read the labels.  When I did this yesterday, none of the products on the shelf were made in the USA.

If you’re thinking globally about the events that led up to where things stand today in the USA economy, it cannot all be assigned to fiscal irresponsibility on the part of individuals and/or government.  Simply put, the root cause culprit is greed and any business who is outsourcing to overseas resources is contributing to the problem.

During my adult lifetime, from automobiles to toothpaste production, I’ve witnessed the discontent caused when corporate financial decisions were made to improve shareholder earnings.  Opposing forces clashed at annual meetings as the affluent passed through the picket lines of the affected employees.  But it didn’t stop or slow down the processes that have embraced offshore outsourcing and speeding the erosion of the financial foundation of the USA.  Since the early 70’s when this began, more and more US citizens have been put out of work and entire communities have been hobbled by the closing of manufacturing plants and businesses that once enabled them to thrive.

A trending online business is training that teaches internet entrepreneurs how to use offshore outsourcing for parts of their business.  While this may enhance one’s bottom line, these business owners seem to have lost sight of the larger picture.  By sending their business offshore, they are contributing to the problem that their training seeks to solve, in my humble opinion.

outsourcingI’m not just ranting.  Over the years that I’ve been in the Online Marketing & Branding business, I’ve acquired new contracts with many USA business owners who have been burned by using offshore outsourcing tactics.  When those people seem to expect me to lower my rates based on their bad experience, I’ve had to remind them that whatever happened before they began working with me does not create an obligation on my part to make it better for them.

My rates are my rates, and I’m worth every penny!  :)

For new entrepreneurial technical talent who are just starting out, using freelance sites to acquire new clients without incurring advertising expenses is a valid but temporary tactic.  I only could do it for about 3 months because devaluing my services was not good for my business … or my self-esteem.  When buyers who had invited me to bid pursued me and begged me to reconsider, I would sometimes calculate out their proposed hourly rate in an effort to inform them that what they were willing to pay was below minimum hourly wages in the USA.

Pretty simple project. Please bid reasonably.

These are words that you might find in a post on a freelancer site.  What are the parameters of a “reasonable” bid?

outsourcing eroding US economyBudgets for gigs with statements like these normally range from $5 – $200 USD, and they assume they will win by outsourcing to an offshore developer.  When the low end of the proposed budget is $5 USD, the definition of “reasonable” is guaranteed to unreasonable for anyone who is trying to sustain a lifestyle in the USA.  Scanning through the requested deliverables, qualified AND experienced wordpress website design talent can see that the level of effort involved in meeting their expectations will consume no less than 20 hours of development and iteration time, including the iteration time that is part and parcel of the client not having a clear idea about what they want until they become aware of what they can have.

Much to my amusement, many such postings state they will only consider USA resources.  Either these buyers are lacking an understanding of what their outsourcing request entails or they don’t care to pay fairly.  I applaud wanting to control business operating costs but I can’t help wondering if they would ever consider a position that paid a maximum of $2 an hour?  And, with all due respect to anyone who has put something like this on a freelance posting, if someone is incapable of doing the work themselves in a few minutes time, how can they possibly characterize it as being simple?

More importantly and back to the point of my post:

When will those racing for wealth by using offshore outsourcing understand they are undermining themselves too?

Freelance outsourcing service values are only the latest in a long chain of progress that has cascading peripheral effects for us all.  As our country’s dependency on petroleum products shows no signs of lessening and the cost of a loaf of bread spirals upward, we all are feeling the pinch in our pocket books.  When manufacturing began moving offshore during the late 70’s, the source of our country’s expertise was described as being the service industry.  The train has left the station but which way is it heading?  After we’ve outsourced our services industry,  what will be left?

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