A New, New Focus: VaultPress

Two years ago I posted about “A New Focus“, where my time at Automattic adjusted to be centered on Akismet. Back then Akismet was catching 500,000,000 spam comments per month (see the sidebar chart at http://akismet.com/about/). Today it is catching just over 2,000,000,000 spam comments per month (with a peak of nearly 2,500,000,000 at the end of 2011). Even with all that growth Akismet has continued to perform well, maintaining a high level of accuracy and performance, something that has been great to be a small part of.

This summer I’ve been asked to shift my focus again, by joining the VaultPress team.

If you aren’t familiar with VaultPress here is the elevator pitch: “VaultPress syncs the data from your WordPress site (posts, pages, comments, plugin & theme files, and media uploads) as they are added. On top of that VaultPress will scan your files for code vulnerabilities and changes to core WordPress files.” (more details are on the Get to know VaultPress page)

VaultPress also provides a restore process. If your WordPress site gets vaporized for some reason doing a fresh install and activating the VaultPress plugin will allow VaultPress.com to push a backup snapshot back to your server. There is also an option to manually download a backup snapshot, if you just want to pull out something specific.

The last two years focused on Akismet have been great, and now it is exciting to be taking on the new challenge of helping VaultPress improve and grow.

Pre-Spam Division

I had a rather odd dream last night. Imagine Akismet blended with the movie Minority Report. The “Pre-Spam Division” used people who could see the future to arrest those who were seen in the future to be sending out spam email and posting spam comments.

When I woke up I could still picture Tom Cruise flying around and arresting people for the crime of future spam.

Now, if we could just get one of those fancy hologram based, interactive UIs for managing comments. That part about having to carry transparent disks trays to move data is lame though.

A New Focus

In the three plus years I’ve been working at Automattic the company has grown quite a bit. The number of services has increased and there are over four times as many people. And the growth of WordPress.com has been amazing.

During that time I’ve worked in several areas; bug fixing, stats, themes, comments, rssCloud, PubSubHubbub, webhooks, the list goes on. Today starts a new focus for me at Automattic: Akismet. Most of my previous responsibilities are being transitioned to other people and teams.

So what will this change of focus mean? For now my responsibilities on Akismet will focus on public facing projects, like the Akismet WordPress plugin for instance.

I’ve been a happy user of Akismet for many years, now being able to work on such a critical product is very exciting.

Four Years of WordPress, One Year at Automattic

On April 16, 2007 I started working at Automattic, amazing how fast the last year has gone by. As I started gathering up details for what I’ve been doing this past year, I found that in April 2004 was when I started using WordPress to power this blog.

Four Years of WordPress

My first post on this blog was from April 30, 2004, using a beta of WordPress 1.2. First though, a little history.

In mid-2003 I figured it was time for me to get in on this “weblog” thing. Although I’d had various sites on the web since 1995, there was something about the order and structure of a blog that appealed to me. Like many others during this time I took a look at MovableType as one option to power my blog, since all the cool kids were using it (like Jeremy Zawodny, one of the blogs I’d been reading regularly). That didn’t last very long. I went on to try every piece of blog software that I could find, none of them really worked the way that I’d hoped they would.

Feeling that all the available options out there weren’t going to cut it, I started writing my own (another thing that seemly everyone else was doing at the time). I quickly got it up to the point where publicly it was good enough. I used that for months, while continuing to look at other options.

Fast forward to March/April 2004 where I finally found WordPress. It was being actively developed and was easily the best out of all the other options that I tried. And I had installed pretty much everything out there.

Since then I’ve published more than 1,000 posts with over 1,500 comments. I started using Akismet, which has blocked more that 500,000 pieces of spam.

One Year at Automattic

It is amazing that a whole year has gone by since my Friday the 13th post. Fortunately though it’s pretty easy to sum up. This job is freaking awesome!

The people at Automattic are amazing. At one point I had met everyone in the company, which is saying something since we are scattered all across the globe. Since then more people have come aboard, and I look forward to meeting them face to face latter this year.

Before joining Automattic full time in April 2007, I had been doing contract work starting back in January 2007. The result of that work was the new wp.* XML-RPC methods. For the most part I really enjoy working on XML-RPC, though some of the specific APIs that are built on top of it are a bit quirky.

Working on WordPress.com has been absolutely fascinating. The scale and growth are pretty impressive. Check out some of the stats and you’ll see what I’m talking about. We are fast approaching 3 million blogs. Not bad considering we hit 2 million in December 2007, some 4 months ago.

The Future

There are so many ways in which WordPress still has amazing amount of potential. In the social network sphere we are seeing things like BuddyPress and Diso. From the WordPress as a platform department there’s Prologue (which reminds me, I need to get a new version out the door, keep an eye on prologuetheme.org) and WP Contact Manager. Even good old XML-RPC will continue to see improvement as time goes on.

The next year will bring a few more releases of WordPress. What’s really exciting though is seeing how people will continue to take WordPress to new and different places.

Akismet, One Year Later

On January 5th, 2006 I turned on the Akismet WordPress plugin for filtering comments and trackbacks. It wasn’t perfect (one month review showed ~ 0.1875% false positives) and went down a couple of times, but after one year I’d say it is good enough. After a couple of months the volume of spam was so high that I stopped going through the spam queue, hoping that anyone with a comment that never showed up would contact me to tell me about it.

Any comments marked as spam by Akismet are deleted after 15 days. That doesn’t seem like a very long time, but on this blog that queue is over 10,000 comments lately. I can’t imagine having to review more than 20,000 comments every month. Ug.

After one year my WordPress dashboard indicates that Akismet has blocked more than 112,000 comments and trackbacks as spam.

UPDATE Sat 6 Jan 2006 @ 7:30am : Wouldn’t you know it, the next morning after writing this Akismet let some 50 or so obvious comment spam get through. Looks like they were having problems around 3am, all of these comments came in at about that time. So it isn’t perfect, but I wouldn’t even think of turning it off.

Akismet Problems

It has been about six weeks since I wrote my review of Akismet. Things had been going fine, but the last week or so has seen a large increase in the number of comment spam items that are not being caught, especially yesterday and today. I’ve asked about this via their contact form to see if this is something unique to me or if there is something going on at Akismet.

UPDATE Fri 24 Mar 2006 @ 4:30pm: I suspect the problems I’ve been having are related to Akismet database problem that was just reported. Interesting that the problem seems to involve taking too long to get a response back for free users.

Remembering To Document Everything

Although I haven’t used it yet, I’ve been watching Akismet with interest. Their goal is to fight comment and trackback spam, free for personal use and a fee for commercial use. When Matt first announced this service I downloaded the WordPress Plugin just to look through the code to see what the API looked like.

My interest was rekindled with the announcement of API docs for Akismet. The API is pretty simple (good) and called via REST. Then I wandered over to their Spam Stopper email list to see what sort items were being discussed. One of the first emails I came across had a reasonable question:

The API documentation says of the comment-check function :

“This call returns either “true” or “false” as the body content.”

I have been assuming that “false” means the comment *is* spam – is this correct ?

I thought this was kind of odd, so I went back and checked the docs again. Sure enough that was all the docs said about return values for comment-check. Matt provided a quick reply though:

That would be the problem. :)

True = this is spam
False = this is not spam

So the lesson learned here is to remember to document everything when it comes to your API. This reminds me a something I read somewhere: don’t write so that you can be understood, write so that you can’t be missunderstood.

None of this is meant as a strike against Matt, anything that helps reduce the amount spam going around is a good thing. The docs were also listed as a first draft, so I’m sure they will get additional refinement as time goes on.