News Flash: Spam Is Bad!

Okay, you probably don’t need to be told that spam is bad. But you might find it interesting to learn about the economy that’s sprung up around blog spam. Good thing, then, that Charles Mann wrote an extensive piece for Wired detailing this scary new world. I’m quoted pretty extensively in the story and, for a change, I’m not entirely unhappy with how it turned out.

The emails, Dash believes, exemplify the fundamental difficulty in fighting splogs and Web spam. With the rise of pay-per-click advertising, the big search engines have, in effect, created a kind of currency: ranking in search results. Put up the right Web site, with the right collection of links and keywords, and – ka-ching! This cash is available to anyone on earth who can manipulate search engines’ site-ranking systems.

Little wonder that the entire world’s supply of spammers is trying to seize the opportunity. They are combing through the Net so assiduously that they are attempting to capitalize on individual blog posts about products that won’t even appear for months to come. No single company, Dash believes, can withstand that much collective rapacity. As a result, he says, “there’s going to be a reckoning with the economy that’s building up around search engine rankings, one way or another.” Something fundamental will have to change, either in the search engine world or the blogosphere, because things can’t continue the way they are now.

Ian Kallen has a smart look at the problem as well, informed by Technorati’s unique perspective. “The blogosphere has thrived on openness and ease of entry but indeed, all complex ecosystems have parasites. So, while we’re grateful to be in a successful ecosystem, we’d all agree that we have to be vigilant about keeping things tidy. The junk that the bad guys want to inject into the update stream has to be filtered out. I think the key to successful web indexing is to cast a wide net, keep tightly defined criteria for deciding what gets in and to use event driven qualification to match the criteria.”
I think we have to bolster Ian’s recommendations with a big push for accountability, as well, though that’s a difficult thing to achieve with mere technology. It’s especially challenging given the folks who are on the other side; I found John Jonas’s blog an interesting read. Jonas is one of the sploggers interviewed for the article, and seems like, at least in his offline life, he’s striving to be a moral and devout guy.
That leaves us with the problem of accountability: How do we make individuals feel personally repsonsible for the web, in the same way that we hope they’re personally responsible for the their surroundings in their physical community? Mann asked Jonas’ partner whether he thinks about the impact of their work on the web, and elicited the response, “I’m just making my living. I guess I don’t think about that kind of thing very much.”
Three years ago, Nick Denton made a prediction: “Google text ads will give blogs a business model; but they’ll also warp the format.” It appears he was right.