I have yet to meet another person who can pronounce Obfuscation, but I have found it to be very important when managing a website. Obfuscation, meaning to make unclear, can be applied to email addresses on a website. This enables you to be both safe from crawling spam-bots, and able to give your users click-able, readable, email links (i.e. No more “mike(at)website(dot)com”). I recently began using Email Obfuscation roughly a year ago when we redesigned our website. At the time, our spam firewall filtered roughly 25K spam emails a day(roughly 200 per user) with another 100-200 making it through to email accounts. I decided to gauge the impact of “hiding” our email addresses, but didn’t want users confused or inconvenienced by our email links. Encoding our email address seemed to be the way to go.

In this situation, obfuscation is done by converting ASCII (plain-text) characters into Unicode (specifically for me UTF-8). This specific format stayed encoded on the page, but became decoded when the user viewed or clicked on the link. As such, crawlers would only see Unicode, while users saw plain-text. Confused? Check it out in action on the website I manage here. Just mouse over the link and check out the status bar on the bottom. Whoa! Trippy, right?

This is all well and good, but how do you begin to use this cool technology on your website? There are many websites on the internet which will encode text for you. The problem I have found is that some of the code used gets decoded by the server. If you mouse over the link and see plain-text, so will a web crawler. Instead, I have written an Email Obfuscation app for you. This program will take any plain-text (though it works better if you actually put in an email address), and not only convert it to Unicode, but also wrap it all up in HTML tags so you only have to drop it onto your web page (NOTE: If you are using a CMS, you may need to “tell” it to not decode on your page. Furthermore, if after adding the HTML tags, you don’t see anything in your WYSIWYG editor, don’t worry, it is there, just invisible). This app is free to use and be modified (less spam is better for everyone).

In exchange for all of this wonderfullness (I made it a word) I would like your feedback. Gauge how much spam you get now, try this on your website, and then check again in a month. Report back here after that so we can all see how much your spam was reduced. I would be interested to know if my website was a fluke, or if everyone sees such a great reduction in spam!

You can download the app here.

You can download the source code here.

NOTE: The app and the source are written in VB.Net. You will need the .Net framework installed to run them.