Thursday, December 13, 2007

Blogger.com's new commenting system: Is Google being evil?


I didn't notice it until I saw the posts by Amrita, Ruhi and Jawahara: Blogger.com has quietly introduced a change in its commenting system: if you don't use your blogger account (which does not force you to have a blog on the blogspot domain), it does not allow you to leave your website/blog's URL. In other words, it treats you as an anonymous commenter (with a nickname, if you so wish). Since other blogging platforms don't do this (yet), it has created a bit of an uproar, with some bloggers calling Google evil, and urging a boycott of Blogger.com.

But, hold on a moment! This is a good deed by Blogger.com (though it introduces a little bit of inconvenience), because it prevents identity theft. Here's the comment I left over at Amrita's blog, with a bit of editing:

In the earlier system, people could impersonate anyone — you, for example. They just needed to use your name, and leave your blog in the box for URL, and say any old thing they wanted. [And some people did! See Rahul’s post on this issue.] There was no verification, because verification of non-Blogger commenters was impossible.

Under the current system, though, if your name is to be associated with a site, you are forced to login as a Blogger user. Now, verification is possible. All the others are treated as anonymous commenters (and if they wanted, they could use a nickname, but that’s about it).

For a non-Blogspot user/commenter, there is a simple workaround: login with a blogger id (You don’t need a blogspot blog for getting this). I know that this is a little bit of extra work, but you will have to decide if it is worth it.

As of now, Blogger’s user profile page allows you to list your website or blog. When Blogger decides to diable this feature, I will then get on board and start calling Google evil.

I also said, "BTW, I think Wordpress should also implement such a system (and when every blog platform gets on board, it may force us to think in terms of a unified identification mechanism such as OpenID." This is a sentiment expressed in this comment by Karthik who blogs here but has a Blogger.com membership presumably for the purpose of commenting (I can't think of any other use!).

* * *

This brings up another point. As Danny Sullivan pointed out about a month ago (via Siva Vaidhyanathan), Google is not keen on promoting "openness" in areas where it is strong. On the other hand, in those segments where its market share is small (social networking, for example), it takes the lead in supporting open, inter-operable mechanisms (the OpenSocial initiative, for example).

While blogs are a mature part of the interwebs, the comment system is still primitive. Here's a situation where OpenID is a great way to protect commenters from identity theft. Will Google take the lead in promoting the use of OpenID for its comments? No way! With the change in its commenting system, it has clearly indicated that it's not interested in doing something that is good for the users. If anything, it is Google's unwillingness to do the right thing (OpenID or some such mechanism) that we should be upset about.

Having said all this, Google seems to be getting some well-deserved flak from Philip Dawdy for the way his AdSense account has been yanked. Once again, the link is via Siva's book blog Googlization of Everything, where you will get a lot of dirt (and some good stuff) on Google.

8 Comments:

  1. Lekhni said...

    Abi,

    I don't agree with you on this. I don't know how frequently identity theft (someone else commenting in your name) happens in the blogosphere, I have never come across one. I am probably living in a cave, because I think even if someone did use your name, it's not such a big deal - as I said in Amrita's blog, it's not like we exchange legal documents in the comments section.

    I do have an issue, though, with Google trying to capture the details of non-blogspot bloggers and force them to use gmail to log in, track all their blogging activities, IP addresses they visit etc. I certainly don't think Google is doing this for bloggers' or readers good. Especially given the sneaky way they introduced this.

  2. test.wordpress.com said...

    Does this not work ?

  3. sharathrao.wordpress.com said...

    "In the earlier system, people could impersonate anyone — you, for example. They just needed to use your name, and leave your blog in the box for URL, and say any old thing they wanted."

    - I am not sure. How about this comment ? I am still free to leave any URL as my nickname ? Yeah, the link appears as a text rather than a link but then if the purpose of impersonation is discrediting someone, thats achieved already.

    Above comment is a test from me.

    - Sharath

  4. Guru said...

    Dear Abi,

    As Sharath notes above, the system can get rid of impersonation, if, and only if, URLs are not allowed in the post itself (For example, in my two previous comments on Watson's DNA studies, I did sign off with a link to my blog at wordpress).

    Guru

  5. sharathrao-period-wordpress*DOT*-com said...

    "if, and only if, URLs are not allowed in the post itself "

    Guru - even that might not be adequate because really there is little difference between a URL and text. We will then get into the same war between spammers and anti-spam format email addresses.

    I would then leave my URL like I just did.

    Its really tricky. So I would be surprised if Google is able to justify that on these grounds.

    Yes, an advantage of disallowing URLS would be they wont get picked up by an indexer and will not contribute to inlinks/pagerank and such. But if impersonation is directed towards humans, the message is through already.

  6. nkaisare said...

    "If anything, it is Google's unwillingness to do the right thing (OpenID or some such mechanism) that we should be upset about."
    Sorry... I just logged in using my AOL account

  7. Amrita said...

    thanks for head's up, Abi! I just tried the new system out to mixed results, so let me just try once again.

  8. Karthik said...

    I used to be on blogger. Hence the membership. But yeah, I continue to use it only for commenting on blogger blogs. :)