August 04, 2004

Blogging Abuses are Escalating

First there was comment spam: Spammers artificially boosted various web sites' Google page rankings by embedding links to those sites in blog comments. Google rankings favor sites that have a lot of inbound links, especially from highly ranked sites.

Then there was trackback spam: Blogs supporting trackbacks (i.e., the ability of blogs to learn which other blogs are linking to them) were nailed by artificial trackback pings containing spam web site links -- and they were harder to remove than comment spam. Luckily, I only received a couple of those.

Regular blog sites ended up being used to increase Google page rankings for various online pharmacies, casinos, porn sites, and more. I've personally had to clean this dreck from my blog. Usually it wasn't too bad -- just a couple a day, easily deleted. I've always resisted the urge to curtail commenting as I truly wanted to encourage a lively discussion. Then, just last month, I suddenly got hit by over 1,600 spam comments in a single week (no, that's not a typo), and they were increasing each day after. Since the comments were always made to older posts where there were virtually no new comments, the easy solution was to run a script that closes comments older than "x" number of days. It's a pretty good compromise so far, as most comments are made within a few days after posting, and I still want to have commenting enabled. (I've known about the MT-Blacklist plugin for a while, but I didn't have the time nor the inclination to upgrade my blog software just for that alone.)

Over the past six months, I've seen an increase in "me too" blogs -- ones in which the overall motivating factor was to have a site which ranked highly on Google. Then I started receiving link exchange e-mails from commercial services that had nothing to do with this blog's topics. Naturally, I ignored them the same as any spam e-mail.

Now, according to Wired News, the online porn industry is at it once again. But for the very first time, it seems they're not touching my blog, nor others. No, they've figured out they can better directly manipulate Google rankings by setting up their own set of blogs and then cross-linking between themselves. This part isn't all that novel, as many bloggers know you need to exchange links to benefit in page rankings.

But this time around, the pornsters are using Google's technology against itself. Google owns Blogger. So they've set up dozens of free Blogger sites and are using them to create the necessary inbound links to manipulate Google. Ironic, isn't it?

Here's the money quote from Wired: "It's just like (when) the first couple of people who got the idea to try to manipulate the meta-keyword thing might have been successful, but then everyone jumped all over it.... These things run their natural evolutionary course after awhile."

Note that a number of search engines don't use metatags for that very reason. Because of abuses like this and "Google bombing" (hint: do a Google search for "miserable failure" to see how anyone can be targeted), Google has been under increasing criticism due to these manipulations' effects on the integrity of the results. Like metatags, I expect that the abuses will go the normal route of getting worse before they get better. Eventually, when a particular abuse hits critical mass, then the search engine companies attempt to adapt their technology to preclude or ignore it (much like metatags are now ignored). Since Google's core technology has always focused on the link factor, this should prove interesting indeed.

That is, until the next exploit is discovered, and then we get to repeat the cycle. Get ready...

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard