Today Akismet blocked its 100 billionth spam. 100,000,000,000. Billion with a B. We had to tweak the counter on the homepage to handle more numbers.
Wired had an article out last month called Spam + Blogs = Trouble where I share some of my perspectives on the whole spam thing. It’s a good article, but I strongly disagree with Anil’s comments at the end around a global identifier or “Internet Social Security number.” Akismet has shown we don’t need to boil the ocean or make commenters jump through hoops to get effective spam protection on blogs (and blog hosting services).
The best thing that can ever happen to a web service is to have passionate users. Users that notice and email you the second there’s a database problem, users that really push the limits of what you can provide, and users that are phenomally successful and bring thousands of others to your doors.
As a service provider, you have a strong responsibility to these folks. They’re putting their life online with you, they deserve nothing less than 100% uptime. They tell all their friends to try you out, they deserve for the experience of the hundred thousandth user to be as great as the tenth. WordPress.com is serving 4.2 million hits a day on a handful of boxes. Akismet has gotten to the point where it’s blocking so many spams every second that any fraction of downtime is very noticable to users. (Like we had this morning.)
At Automattic we’ve always taken this very seriously, and from the bootstrap beginning I planned for it to be sustainable and frugal in the long term. Of course since I moved to San Francisco I’ve talked to dozens of really high-quality investors who were interested in what we were doing, but the bubble model of giant valuations and ultra-rapid growth never really appealed to me.
The growth of WordPress.com and Akismet has outpaced anyone’s expectations. Recently, I made the decision to sell a minority stake in the company to a few select partners who I think are going to bring a lot of value to the business far beyond mere dollars. This isn’t going to change how the business is run, or the people involved with it, but it will allow us to take better advantage of the opportunities before us and also for us to keep our promise to every one of you to maintain a fast, stable, and innovative platform in the long term.
Automattic isn’t going to get fancy SoMA offices, throw huge parties at SxSW, or “get big fast.” We took a small amount of capital to put things that were already growing fast in a stable position, so from month to month you’re not robbing Peter to pay Paul. We’re going to use the money to pre-emptively address scaling issues before they happen, and continue to share everything we can back to the community, like all of the code behind WP.com in WordPress MU, the spellchecking feature we sponsored, free Akismet for 99.9% of users, and a few other goodies we still have up our sleeve. In terms of hiring, we’re still going to grow very deliberately in line with our revenues and focus on the very best and brightest (and BBQ-loving), like Podz.
We’re going to publish more technical details about everything later, and this is already longer than I hoped — I’m sure you folks have some questions. I’m going to do something a little different and turn the comment section here into a FAQ. If you have a question, please post it below. If you want to say “congrats!” or “that sucks!” do it on this entry instead to keep the question and answer flow clean. If a question warrants a long enough answer I might turn it into a separate blog post.
There has been some good response to my Akismet presentation earlier this morning.
Blog Herald asks about WP plugging a commercial project, namely Akismet. One of the lessons I learned from Ping-O-Matic is that web services like this can grow far beyond what you anticipated, need a lot of attention, and can be expensive to maintain. (Akismet has to be really fast otherwise it bugs people and delays commenting.) You also have a social contract with all of your users to continue to provide a service they’ve all come to rely on. When Akismet first got started, I wasn’t at all worried about the technology — I was using it myself and it worked great. I spent most of my brain cycles planning out how the service could be economically independent and self-sustaining in the future, so it could thrive and provide a great service to the public without relying on charity. I had to balance this with my desire to just give everything away (as I usually do).
I’m happy with where it eventually ended up. The Pro-Blogger limit was set very high and the vast majority (over 99.9%) of people use Akismet at no cost whatsoever. I’m able to justify devoting my time to the service while still putting bread on the table and the larger blogger community can stop dealing with disgusting spam on their blogs. The technology has scaled incredibly well and even before the Yahoo deal Akismet had a bright future. Also the API and the plugin itself is completely open so people could clone the API or modify the plugin if they wanted. The service just hit its first major milestone, has been embraced by the development community, and I’m confident now that it will continue as a public service. I think it’s also providing something pretty valuable, as evidenced by the people who have been buying Pro-blogger licenses just to support it, not because they fall under the commercial terms.
Akismet now has API documentation and not one but two Python implementations. The WordPress plugin has also been updated to respond to the most common feedback and a few minor bugfixes. Akismet has caught 465,769 spams since it started (81% of all comments) and is protecting over 35k unique blogs.
The new Akismet plugin shows the entire content of caught spam, which was pretty much the only complaint with the first iteration. Happy Thanksgiving!
Akismet is a new web service that stops comment and trackback spam. (Or at least tries really hard to.) The service is usable immediately as a WordPress plugin and the API could also be adapted for other systems.
I must say, this has been one of the more rewarding things I’ve worked on lately — when people tell you they’re able to spend more time with their family because they’re not spending 30 minutes a day dealing with spam it really puts things in perspective. If nothing else, I hope this makes blogging more joyful for at least one person.
Anyway, try it out, install it for a friend, link it on your blog. The more you use it the more effective it becomes. It’s a virtuous cycle that will hopefully curb the spam arms race.