adds anti-spam measure to account creation

With regret for the inconvenience, we have added an extra approval step to account creation in order to combat increasingly aggressive spam attempts. This affects only new accounts, not existing ones.

As our readers are probably aware, requires moderator approval of all content, to prevent spam or other inappropriate content from being displayed on the site. What you may not realize is that this vigilance requires a lot of attention from our administrative team, because the spammers are getting more and more aggressive. Instead of just using robots, they now also employ low-paid humans, who actually make a cursory read of the site's content in order to formulate comments that casually look as if they might be related to our topics.

Today we had a small group (probably from the same perpetrator) of spam accounts attempt to post over 500 spam messages. Because of our moderation policy, you never saw them, but we had to deal with it internally. This was not the first time this has happened, but today's incident has pushed us over the threshold of making a policy change we have been contemplating.

As of now, all new accounts require administrator approval after the requestor confirms their email address to our automated system. Since many of the spammers are using legitimate webmail domains such as Yahoo, Hotmail, and GMail, we can't just filter them out by domain. Rather, we have added a new field to the registration form asking the person to explain their connection to the living history community, in brief. The field is private, and visible only to the person and to our administrative team, but we can use it to sort humans from robots. If we are in doubt, we will follow up with a personal email to the person requesting the account.

There are technological options such as CAPTCHA and Bayesian filters that we are considering, but none of them are completely effective, and they all have technical drawbacks. We may opt for something like that in the future, but the requirement of administrative approval for new accounts was something that could be added quickly and with little or no risk of disruption to existing user accounts. A spammer could be clever enough to answer the validation question on a new account, but most of them won't be, and this allows our administrators to focus more attention on filtering out the subtle attempts rather than dealing with huge quantities of crude robot-based registrations.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause to our new visitors, but we hope you understand that we do this to protect you, the reader, from the spammers.

NOTE: This change applies only to new accounts. If you already have an account, this will not affect you at all.