I don’t get to do it very often, but this weekend I sat down and took care of some maintenance on Subtraction.com. The first order of business was to get the majority of the pages on the site to validate as XHTML 1.0 Strict — finally. This modest goal had been made inadvertently difficult by my frequent inclusion of links to New York Times articles. In order to provide stable links to articles that might otherwise be removed from the Times’ public archives over time, I process nearly all of them with Aaron Swartz’s invaluable New York Times Link Generator.
Unfortunately that free service produces validator-hostile URLs; if before today you had run a typical page from the Elsewhere section through the W3C Validator, you’d get about a jillion errors back. So I installed Nat Irons’ excellent Amputator plug-in for Movable Type, which allows me to automatically reformat those NYT links so that they will fly through the validator, and with only a bare minimum of edits to the Movable Type publishing templates. Fantastic.
I also spent an unexpectedly long time last night crafting a ’Comment Pending’ template for Movable Type, which is what results if you try to add a new comment to older Subtraction posts or if you’ve never posted here previously. This is yet another example of how we all pay the price for comment spam: it essentially tells users that, until I can review your remarks and be sure it’s not another automated attempt at using my weblog to hock Viagra, it will be held in a kind of quarantine. It’s a piece of contingency design that I admit I’d been irresponsibly neglecting for some time — what you used to see before today was an unformatted and impersonal system message that abruptly interrupted the user experience. I felt so bad about it, I spent about twenty minutes re-writing the three or four lines of text for optimum friendliness.
No More Email Addresses in the Display of Comment Authors’s Names
And finally, I’ve altered the display logic for comment authors. For those who enter a URL, your names will link to your Web site, but for those who enter only an email address, your name won’t link anywhere now. The prior logic seemed to be a tacit kind of punishment for people who don’t have their own sites (or don’t enter URLs), leaving the author’s email address visible to for spam bots. To be sure, I was using Movable Type’s “spam_protect” argument, which rudimentarily modifies the email addresses, but I was never convinced that was much protection. This change short circuits potential community building a bit — hey, if I can help make lasting friendships or bring couples together through this weblog, I’ll make every effort — but I’m guessing more people will appreciate the fact that their email addresses are suppressed.