April 11, 2006 4:00 AM PDT
Blogosphere suffers spam explosion
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With the right technology in place, blog spam is not a major issue, Calacanis said. "If you want to solve it, you have to make your site harder to spam than the other blogs out there. It is sort of like having The Club (an antitheft device) in your car. It's not perfect, but if you have The Club and next car doesn't, the thief moves on to the next car," he said.
But as with unwanted e-mail, spammers are trying out ways to circumvent these barriers. "I don't think comment spam is under control," Scoble said. Increasingly, junk postings are camouflaged to look like valuable comments, but contain spam links, he noted.
"It used to be pretty blatant: three graphs of porn links," Scoble said. "Some of the latest spam that I have been getting is stuff like: 'I love your blog' and 'Keep it up!'" Instead of linking to a blog, there is a link to a gambling or porn, he said. "People are approving spam, because they are getting fooled by the spammers."
While junk e-mail is purely an advertisement, creating spam messages on blogs has an additional motive: tricking Internet search engines. Google and other sites arrange search results in part by a Web page's link popularity with other sites. More links to a site can boost a site's ranking--and more important, its traffic.
"The prime actor that made this behavior valuable was Google, which created economics around links," said Anil Dash, vice president of professional products at Six Apart. "Links on the Web have almost direct monetary value because of Google's PageRank system."
Moreover, search engines deem a link on a blog more valuable than one on just any Web site, because of the interlinking bloggers do. Spammers abuse the comment forums to get instant credibility with search engines.
"There are at least dozens of people who have made the economic equation and are developing software to do spamming," Dash said. "The first spammers were manually typing in: 'Here's a link to this site.' Now there is fairly sophisticated and sometimes even commercial software for spamming on both e-mail and blog comments."
Early last year, Google announced a special tag for hyperlinks that tells the search engine to not score the link. Some blog services and software have adopted this "nofollow" to take some of the benefit out of manipulating search rankings by abusing blogs.
The spam is undermining an integral part of blogs. Without feedback, a blog is merely a glorified press release, Mike Cornfield, an adjunct professor in political management at George Washington University, told CNET News.com earlier this year.
"I think it hurts blogs when they have to turn off their comments," Calacanis said. "Large blogs have had to turn off comments a couple of times--we've even turned them off for a day or two during massive spam attacks."
Boing Boing, though, is probably the "saddest or biggest example," Calacanis said, noting that it was taking more time and expense to manage the comments then manage the blogging on the site.
Comments aren't about to return to Boing Boing, Frauenfelder said, though he does appreciate the value of reader input. "But whenever we think about it, we see comment spam as so much of a problem," he said. Boing Boing attracts 400,000 visitors daily. "That would be thousands of comment spams a day," he said.
Spam fighting efforts have focused on keeping blogs clean, for readers and bloggers to enjoy. But spammers are doing an end-run around those shields and taking the fight to the broader Web by joining the blogosphere.
"We have seen them move from sending comments and trackbacks to creating fake blogs," Six Apart's Dash said.
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