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Spam blogs taking over

Posted by Richard on October 18, 2005

The problem of spam blogs (or splogs, to those determined to conserve syllables) seems to have finally reached a critical mass where so many people are screaming about it that something must be done. They’re beginning to seriously reduce the usefulness of the blogosphere. So, what’s a spam blog? Kailash Nadh wrote a pretty good definition:

What is a spam blog?
A blog that is created with the sole purpose of reaping ad revenues and capturing search engine results can be called a spam blog. In most of the cases, a spam blog is created/run and maintained by an automated program, which we commonly call ‘bots’. Some spam blogs disguise so well that you sometimes end up reading it for hours!

How a spam blog works?
As I said, a spam blog is created (usually) by a bot. For the time being, consider the term ‘Mortgage refinance’. A spam blog’s primary objective being getting search traffic, it’s domain name would be something like this mortgage-refinance-info.com or mortgage-refinance.some_blog_host.com. To keep itself alive, it’ll crawl directories, search engines, rss feeds etc.. and collect information on ‘Mortgage refinance’ thus preparing a neat collection of information. The mext thing obviously, is posting this info regularly. I have seen blogs listing live news feeds related to a certain subject (via XML feeds obtained from the news publishers).

If you want to see why these things are a problem, just take a look at BlogRolling’s recently updated blogs list. It wasn’t that long ago that the list of 1000 most recently updated blogs spanned a 15-minute or longer period and contained many blogs you’d recognize. Now, the list covers barely a minute (and is typically running 10-15 minutes behind), and spam blogs make up the overwhelming majority of the entries. As a consequence, BlogRolling has had major problems the past few days. I think it logged only one of my last half-dozen pings. Other services are having similar problems, and Fight Splog! reported that IceRocket has stopped indexing blogspot.com (that is, Blogger) blogs until Google (which owns Blogger) cleans up the place.

Some of these bot-generated spam blogs are pretty sophisticated. They harvest content from legitimate sites and present it in a way that can fool you into thinking they’re real blogs. Recently, Doc Searls, who’s not exactly a naive newbie, apologized for mistakenly linking to a post on what he later discovered was a spam blog. The post had simply been stolen from Dave Winer’s RSS blog.

Mostly, spam blogs are just another scam for generating revenue directly (via ads or clickthroughs) or indirectly (by "gaming" searches and page ranks). But Tim Bray said someone suggested to him that they’d be a good vehicle for delivering malware to unsuspecting, unprotected visitors. In any case, they’re significantly clogging up the Internet and making tools/services such as BlogRolling, Technorati, etc., much less useful. Bray is correct, I suspect:

This week’s splogstorm and the endless flood of email spam are two symptoms of the same disease. When you allow people to add content to the Net for free, the economic incentives to fill all the available space with with spam are irresistible, and fighting back is difficult, maybe impossible. This works because, while the payoff per unit of spam is low, the cost is zero. …

Unfortunately, Bray’s proposed solution sucks. He wants us to use "Internet Stamps" sold by government post offices for a penny to identify our emails, blog posts, etc. The stamps merely identify your post or message as something someone paid a penny for. He argues that the cost would be small for legitimate users, but prohibitive for spammers, either email or blog.

I’m holding out for a better solution — one that doesn’t involve the post office, a new revenue source for government, and a new bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, here’s hoping all the complaining will force Google (and other free blog hosting services) to put authentication measures in place that will stop automated blog creation.

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One Response to “Spam blogs taking over”

  1. Anonymous said

    This spam junk is killing me. I can’t get an update/ping to work via Blogrolling or Ping-A-Lot to save my life. Blogrolling should just follow the IceRocket lead and not allow Blog*Spot to ping them until Google fixes the problem. I have, actually, a spam blog on my old Blog*Spot address and can’t do diddly about it (I’ve tried). Since the address is based on my last name, there’s no good reason for anyone else to use it except a spammer.

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