Those Ubiquitous Bots

February 24th, 2012 • 0 comments

In all my years of designing and developing sites for the web, one phenomenon has me more amazed than the rest: the prevalence of “bots,” those annoying automated programs that cause havoc for web users and programmers all over the internet.

Bots are designed for all sorts of purposes, and some of them can be useful — like the crawlers that index websites for search engines to publish.  But the irritating ones I am referring to are those whose designed intent is either malicious or, at the very least, a nuisance to website owners and developers.

These parasitic programs are all over the web, filling out forms and collecting email addresses. Bots can seek out all sorts of online forms — like comments on WordPress pages — and populate them with gibberish, or perhaps vaguely pertinent content, solely for the purpose of creating a link back to their own desired website. They can also use contact forms to send their own spam emails.

Why all this nonsense? Once installed and running, bots work continuously, quickly, and for free. The link generators are intended to achieve a better page ranking on Google for the site they link to. (See my page on search engines.) And the email-related bots are intended to help create more spam for your inbox.

Fortunately, we developers have techniques to thwart the form-fillers. I hesitate to publish my techniques for stopping the form-filling bots, because their creators eventually get hip to these techniques and design ways around them. And you can thank your ISP or email program for its spam filter. Spam filters routinely cull out an average of 1,000 emails per person per week from email inboxes. (Can you believe it?)

The challenge keeps increasing as new bots are developed and deployed, and web developers must constantly keep one step ahead of this growing annoyance.

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