WordPress.com enables another new “feature” to far from universal acclaim

This post is likely to be of interest mostly to those who are hosting a blog on WordPress.com.

Looking at Fire Fly’s blog, I noticed that she’s discovered that a new feature on her hosted-by-Wordpress.com blog. It turned up without direct notification, and is opt-out, not opt-in. … » Problem No.1 (She’s disabled it, and you should too if you blog on wordpress.com – see below for instructions)

This new feature generates a list of “Possibly Related Posts” at the foot of your own posts (rather like the list of “similar posts” at the bottom of this post, but crucially different – read on), and it searches through a database of all other WordPress.com blogs to do so. Now, just consider the variety of attitudes people have to the words “feminism” and “racism” for instance, and can you guess where this is going? Oh yes it did – the list of “possibly related posts” on Fire Fly’s feminist blog included links to posts written by white supremacists and anti-feminists (often in the same link) – fanfuckingtastic, eh? So your readers might well think that these posts are being recommended by you, instead of automatically, and what does that do to a poster’s credibility? …. » Problem No.2

Did I mention that these “possibly related post” links are not visible or able to be edited when you are writing your post?» Problem No.3

Not only that, by having this feature enabled on your blog, it also means that posts from your blog are being included in the list generated by this “feature” on other people’s blogs, which for Fire Fly included those self-same white supremacists and anti-feminists, thus sending their readers to her blog. This is why she titled her post thusly: Warning! The new WordPress feature is utter trollbait. … » Problem No.4

I was very grateful for her post, because it enabled me to immediately disable this “feature” on Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog – can you imagine the imminent descent of the trolls if I hadn’t realised?

engtech from Internet Duct Tape lists these and further problems with the new feature, shows exactly how to disable it, and offers other advice on “fixing it”. He also links to the always-worth-reading Lorelle, who is also very much not a fan, and who points out:

Since the beginning of WordPress.com, one of the most requested features has been the ability to showcase related posts from our own blogs. WordPress.com has activated this ability, but the links link to WordPress.com blogs, not our own.

Lorelle also explains how to disable the feature:

To turn off the new related post feature on WordPress.com blogs:

1. Go to the Administration Panels > Design > Extras.
2. Check Hide Related Links.
3. Click Update.

disable related posts feature

Why has WordPress.com implemented this feature instead of giving users what they actually asked for? This new feature has nothing to do with what users actually wanted, which was to point readers to further reading of their own blog (like the “similar posts” feature that I have on this blog, which I have because I host this blog on my own server and can customise it). Lacking any control over which other blogs your own blog links to is really a very unattractive option.

The proposed solution, after a flurry of complaints, doesn’t really address the core problem:

In the next few days we’ll have an update that allows you to block specific blogs from showing up, and eventually that setting will also apply to the tag surfer, blog surfer, and top blogs so when you block a blog you should never see it again.

Both engtech and Lorelle point out just how much work this involves for users when WordPress.com is hosting over a million blogs. Again, why not an opt-in system so that users could choose a select whitelist of other blogs to link to rather than having to create a comprehensive blacklist? Why not make it an option automatically to only link to to posts from the blogs in their own blogroll? Why not make it an option to do what the users wanted in the first placeonly link to posts from their own blog?

This lack of control that is a continuing irritation when using WordPress.com is why I haven’t moved Hoyden there, even though I’m generally a fan of WordPress software as a CMS. I like having the extra control that being able to customise my own WordPress.org installation on my own server gives me. I certainly didn’t like suddenly having to learn a whole new admin interface on WordPress.com all of a sudden last month, because as engtech points out, there was no carrot offered to users to compensate for them moving our friggin’ cheese. That’s why I have resisted upgrading to the latest version of WordPress here at Hoyden – where’s my carrot? (and stop sending me nagging messages on my current admin interface – stop using my server’s bandwidth to check whether I’ve got the latest update or not, OK?)

Categories: ethics & philosophy, Meta, technology

Tags: , , ,

17 replies

  1. Thanks, I’ve managed to fix mine now without having inadvertently linked to anything undesirable.
    kates last blog post..No gardening today

  2. No worries, if it helps one person I’m glad to have put up the post, just like Fire Fly’s post helped me.

  3. I’ve mentioned it to Tim because GreensBlog is WordPress-hosted. Of course he’s an LP regular so he’ll see your post anyway… So you’ve helped at least a couple of people!

  4. The whole thing sucks. I write an anti-diet/size acceptance blog and I ended up with diet links at the end of my post…

  5. Peter, I’ve still got access to Greensblog from when I helped Tim to set it up, so I’ve already sorted it.

  6. I didn’t find any nasty links, but somehow I doubt that anyone reading my posts on atheism is going to be all that interested in god-squadders’ thoughts about home-schooling.
    Thanks for the news, and for the advice about how to fix it.
    Deborahs last blog post..Garden progress report #1

  7. Thanks for posting this – it’s a complete nightmare isn’t it? It wasn’t broken, so why are they fixing it?
    My blog often has references to rape, porn, etc, (because I work to fight them) so you can imagine the sorts of links WordPress would be very kindly putting on my posts. I hate it so much I can hardly speak.
    Plus, I may sound like a complete control freak, but it’s my blog, and I want to be the one who decides who it links to, when and why – I cannot stand the idea of just having some random links at the end of each post – it cheapens the whole thing and just makes it look like some kind of popularity exercise.
    What WordPress don’t seem to understand is that not all blogs are just a hobby, or a bit of fun – some are used for campaigning, to discuss serious issues etc, and a feature like this is totally inappropriate for that kind of blog.
    Anyway, I’ve disabled it, obviously, and hopefully, if WordPress decide to be sensible about it, I’ll be able to ‘opt out’ soon too. Meh.
    Debss last blog post..Inspiration

  8. Am I glad that I saw Fire Fly’s post on this; I turned it off immediately for my blog, but my blog can still be linked to right-wing sites, so I’m expecting a troll-storm.
    Between this, and the admin interface change that they made last month, which threw me COMPLETELY off, and which they made with absolutely no advance notice, I’m about to switch to another blog host.

  9. Thanks for the instructions on how to opt out. I’m also on WordPress and all the change ups with the new dashboard and everything else have been frustrating. This ‘related posts’ crap is just the rotten cherry on the melted sundae.
    Pizza Diavolas last blog post..Half Week In Photos

  10. As I was reminded when I crossposted this to another blog, let’s be scrupulous: WP.com does provide a lot of benefits that shouldn’t be overlooked because we hate the last couple of changes. The free unlimited bandwidth and the robust platform with strong anti-hacker protection, is particularly useful for political bloggers who might otherwise face continual DOS attacks if they were hosting their blog on their own domain on a smaller server.
    But the good is the enemy of the great. WP.com need to be better about announcing “there’s going to be a big change” elsewhere than on their blog which only a minority of their users actually read, and they need to make changes like the PRP feature and the odious Snap-images opt-in, not opt-out.
    Obviously WP.com do need to upgrade their platform to make it more efficient to run on their side. But equally obviously, whatever their profit model is, it must depend on having more users rather than fewer (I presume they have some sort of arrangement with advertising services who get spots on people’s WP.com blogs – it’s only fair that they get a cut, actually). Presumably this PRP feature offering lots of links all over Wp.com is seen to offer WP.com a benefit in terms of building intra-domain traffic which translates into more commission from ads, but unless users see that it offers them a benefit as well then why should they enable it?
    It needs to be opt-in, and the proposed blocking solutions need to be whitelist-based, not blacklisting. Otherwise I can’t see most users wanting the PRP feature as it stands.

  11. Most people write to an audience. Although this is designed to create traffic, in many cases it is the wrong kind of traffic as highlighted by Bri and Debs – particularly for feminists, etc. I’d say WP only thought this through from their own perspective and the perspective of single-issue non-controversial blogs (you know, the ‘life skills’ or ‘how to blog’ blogs).
    Fatadelics last blog post..Cellulite IS.

  12. Good catch. Thanks for the warning.
    One question: Does this only affect those whose blogs are hosted on WP servers, or does it also affect those who use WP blogging software but have a separate host?
    I’m doing the latter and I don’t see any such function on my blog – but I haven’t updated for a while, and now I’m afraid to.

  13. If you use a single-domain WP installation on a server that you pay a webhost to use then you’ll be fine. That’s the difference between wordpress.com and wordpress.org in terms of using WordPress as a CMS plus blog.
    Updating your own installation of WordPress won’t give you the same surprises – that’s all handled by the plugins you install yourself. They’re talking about rolling out WP 2.6 shortly though (extending and consolidating lots of half-done innovations in 2.5) so it might be worth waiting until then.

  14. OK – that clears it up. Thanks for the headsup on the upgrade, too. This was all very helpful.
    Kevin T. Keiths last blog post..New Feature: “Ask the Ethicist”

  15. Thank you so much for this. Those “Possibly Related Posts” links were irritating me to no end, and I wasn’t sure what to do about them, so again — thank you!


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