Request for Comment - Shall we kill spam with a charge for posting?

Dear forum users,

Although our QS Forum is relatively low traffic, we seem to have finally attracted the attention of dedicated commercial spammers. Ernesto and I, along with your other admins, have to spend time every day now banning spammers and erasing posts. I know from experience that this is a hard battle to win. Paid spammers need to make a living too, so they think hard about how to succeed. It is very hard to outwit them with simple technical solutions like quizzes and captchas.

One think I know would work would be to charge a small fee for Forum Membership. Reading the QS Forum would be free, but only members could post. By charging, say, $10/year for a forum membership, we could eliminate almost all spammers.

BUT, this is a big change, and would put a significant barrier in the way of participation. (It’s not the money so much as the the process of making the payment.) So Ernesto and I are far from certain about taking this approach. Will you share your opinion? Would you join the forum if you had to make a small payment in order to be a registered member and post? Do you think this is a good or bad idea?

Thanks for your feedback, we’ll be listening carefully.

Honestly I haven’t had time for the forum. I support a membership fee to post if it’s the only way to make it work. What about volunteers to take the burden that Gary and Ernesto are facing?

Hello Gary and Ernesto,

10 dollars annually seems a bit too steep, if it only covers access to this forum. However, 9.99 for access to the forum and premium sections of site (e.g., videos, or videos plus transcripts, special tools, product reviews, etc.) sounds reasonable to me. You could also try a multiple-layer subscription model - e.g., 4.99 for access to read, 9.99 for access to post and comment, and for USD 99 a year person gets his/her own blog on ( uses this model, and it works very well - influentials and influentials-wanna-bes pay for the access to large audience).

This, however, may impact readers from developing countries where 10 dollars is a lot of money.


Thanks for these quick comments, very useful! I’ve also had a private comment from an active participant who says that if the goal is really just to kill spam then .99 should be enough. So that would be another approach.

I think a CAPTCHA would go a long way toward curtailing spam on the forums as well, and if people don’t like the CAPTCHA maybe offering them a way to pay to verify that they’re a human is a good option. :slight_smile:

Also, I would gladly pay $10/year to support the QS organization regardless of benefits provided.

Eh, I wouldn’t bother paying. I guess I’ve never paid to comment yet, to me that is me providing value…

I was thinking the same thing.

As a practical matter, how do you put up the paywall? Is this straightforward?

on the Shangri-La Diet forums, I found that banning is unnecessary, just deleting posts is enough. Deleting is much faster.

I think charging $1 for membership would probably work.

I personally do not use the forums enough to want to pay to use it. I do like the idea of having a kind of premium QS membership that includes forum access.

Paid membership offers many advantages to the management of QS. I can’t come up with many reasons [not] to charge some fee for the ability to post. Many cash flowing websites use this exact method to monetize their membership.

That said, outsourcing your anti-spam solution isn’t overly complicated either. A simple Paypal account eliminates many spammers (whether you charge anything substantial). Captcha is nothing but a giant pain. Once I’ve proven myself not to be a spammer, then making me just through hoops is just annoying. Also, captcha doesn’t stop a dedicated (paid) spammer.

Facebook Auth along with other authentication methods to verify a user will improve your ability to limit spam. I like grading, especially crowd grading. So, if someone is marked a spammer, their comments are queued for review (all of them, would be best) until admins determine the complaint is untrue.

I concur that I don’t use the forums enough to justify paying solely for access to them. However part of the reason I don’t use the forums enough is because I don’t get email prompts. I received an email prompt for this thread, so now I am responding. I would participate more if the process of signing up for and receiving email prompts was more intuitive. It wasn’t clear to me whether I could reply to the email I received from Gary–although none of these other comments appeared in that email thread…and I had to come to the website to read them…that severley limits my ability to participate.

This leads me to believe that the problem may be with the PHP software stack that is being used for these forums. In addition to basic features being obscured, like simple email integration being difficult to find–there are several participation options that are now outmoded (ICQ address anyone?). Before going down the paywall filter path, I suggest that the underlying content management framework and technology stack for the forums be reassessed.

Happy to lend a hand if others agree.

Hey there,
thanks for your continued effort to keep this forum going. A place where extended, structured discussions are possible is important. The facebook group is a nice place for sharing opinions and news, but for our purposes it often isn’t enough.

Well if I was just a regular guy who had a question, paying a small amount really would make a difference, whether it’s 10 USD (way to much if you ask me) or 10 ct (would work, but also costs time). I might just go someplace else.
However, those small questions are important because they give food for thought and discussion.
If you want to offer premium service you need to offer something extra. That might also be actually something you can think about, some people will actually pay to get a decent answer! Or maybe a couple of people would each pay a little to have someone solve a common problem: crowdfund to pay someone to hack the most recent gadget or write a script to crunch some data…

But for just resolving the spam issue it’s a bit too much. (I’m happy to help deleting comments, by the way. Maybe ask a couple other active members to help? Might also help to shift discussions to the forum as well…)


First of all, I join the others in thanking Gary, Ernesto, and the other admins who keep this forum clean and on-topic. I don’t visit as often as I probably should, but I will try to contribute as an active user more in the next few months.

I’m surprised that MyBB forum software doesn’t have a simple post up/down voting or reporting facility, so that hidding spam becomes a natural process done by the forum community. It already has a user reputation feature, so why not post reporting is puzzling.

I’m not entirely sure about paying to have posting permissions. A micro-payment might be acceptable (bitcoin anyone?), but as others have mentioned, its effectiveness against paid spammers is questionable.

Perhaps something that might discourage spammers is a moderation phase for new and low reputation users, where their posts have to be approved by a moderator before appearing on the forum. I have no idea if MyBB has that option.

I’m sure you will not find a lack of volunteers for the role of moderators, as I can see from this thread.

Hi everyone,

I’m the infamous creator of the forum, and resource-strapped maintainer due to my current startup, Blueseed.

First, please accept my apologies for the various issues that have been highlighted here with the forum. Together with Gary, I’m going to lead a breakout session at the QS SF conference, looking for volunteers to help.

To address the main issues:

[]spam - CAPTCHA indeed didn’t work (I’ve tried). What worked pretty well (95% of spammers kept out) was a security question (e.g. Who co-founded the QS movement? A: G–y Wolf). The answer has been leaked apparently, so I’ve changed the security signup question and informed Gary and Ernesto of how to change it in the future. I’ll also look into a capable spambot registration prevention plugin this weekend. As a second line of defense, posts from first-time users can be moderated. I’ll install this if spam picks up again.
]email notification - yes, this sucks. Emails are ugly, and replies to them don’t end up on the forum. I’ll look into this over the weekend as well.
[]implementing a payment gatweay: the Bitcoin wiki has done this, charging a symbolic 0.01BTC. It has been extremely effective. In our case though, it will probably be a hassle, requiring wiring up with the forum code. Surprisingly, there is no PayPal plugin that does this. The anti-spam plugin (plus the first post moderation option) should solve the spam problem pretty well.
]which brings us to the entire PHP forum stack, MyBB. Picking a new forum software is a surprisingly hard problem. I spent two weeks back in 2011 (I was on a sabbatical back then…) and came up with two contenders that were open source, actively developed, reliable, scalable, easy to customize, and supported user-friendly URLs. MyBB was one, and is still the best forum software of 2012. For reasons somewhat obscure, forum software seems stuck in the 90s, with the exception of Discourse, which is modern, written from scratch for the 2010s by the team behind StackOverflow, but still beta quality. Migration of existing content would be a second issue, once a sufficiently better forum engine (making a switch worth) can be identified. MyBB itself has been moving to 2.0 since 2011, but it’s still in early development.

Hi Dan,

Thanks for your effort into this forum.

Funny that it was only after your post that I noticed the “Report” button on the bottom right-hand side of the post, and now I’m curious as to why it doesn’t solve the problem.

What exactly happens when users report a post? Does it automatically get hidden, or does it still require human admin/moderators to take action?

I very much appreciate the thoughtful answers here. AND Dan’s commitment as our Forum Admin.

For now I’m going to nix the "charging to post. Comments here have convinced me it is overkill at this stage. Dan’s changes have already brought down the spam. For anybody here who is going to be at the conference in a few weeks, DO join our forum conversation there.

While I would be happy to pay $1 for access to the forums (as a way to support the QS team’s efforts and discourage spammers), I think it will create a barrier for others to participate. I agree with @Jolly that it’s a little odd for people to pay to answer questions/help others.

I think a better solution would be to update the forum software to something that allows for community voting on posts (thumbs up/down), which will naturally bury/flag posts/comments that are deemed inappropriate. You can also look to massive communities like StackOverflow, Reddit, and Quora that have found ways to tackle this issue.

Props for getting this going and keeping it maintained. Apologies if I came across a bit harsh, my 23&Me report showed that I have a susceptibility mutation for electronic communication rudeness–so I am constantly overcoming my genetic propensities is a constant challenge…
I do realize that it is no small feat, what you have done here. And I will attempt to joint the breakout section at the Global QS, as long as my “real job” doesn’t pull my attention toward another concurrent session…
Now, since you are making a list: I was glad to see ktorn with the vote up/down feature request–I think we have seen from the amazing success of StackOverflow that this is rather essential.
Also, I’m not sure how deeply into the technology stack you want you want to reevaluate–but given the number of exploits on PHP vs. say Python-built systems…I know, that level of reengineering sounds terribly icky
Looking forward to in-person discussions and/or hangouts on air.

I’d suggest moving this forum to the StackExchange platform (which is what StackOverflow and its lesser know siblings are running on). Only, you have to demonstrate that there is enough interest.

On adopting StackExchange as a platform - I’ve been a StackOverflow user since 2008 and generally like the platform.

There would be a few benefits to adopting SE: more functional platform; better ergonomics; larger user base (though it’s unclear how much of a spillover effect there is - for instance, how many StackOverflow users know that exists?); better gamification.

Then there are a few drawbacks:

  1. The Q&A format. If we look at two years’ worth of threads on our forum, we’ll see that some discussions fit the Q&A format, while many others don’t. A Q&A format de-emphasizes discussions and comments, and aims for identifying solutions. While programming is perfectly amenable to that, Quantified Selvers love to share experiences, ask for suggestions, come back with new insights, and create a dialog in the process. StackExchange allows for comments but in a very cramped format - have a look at this topic for example, vs. our thread on the Zeo.

  2. The moderation attitude on StackExchange is, frankly, horrible: highly popular questions are closed out of the blue, deletion is getting out of hand and their management is oblivious to user requests confirmed hundreds of times. It’s not a problem of resources; rather one of stubbornness.