mnot’s blog

Design depends largely on constraints.” — Charles Eames

Wednesday, 10 March 2004

Google Spam Redux

Someone calling themselves Scott Wiseman has started sending messages to the HTTP-WG mailing list. Although anyone has a right to make on-topic posts to the list, Scott is stretching it; each of his posts responds to someone else’s in a trivial fashion (e.g., “That is so deep”), and includes a lengthy signature containing a variety of URLs for sites he’s presumably promoting (I won’t reproduce the mail here, lest I encourage them).

This is an excellent way to up your Google ranking; lists like HTTP-WG are archived at several places around the Web, so you get more bang for your spamming buck by posting to them, and e-mail is easier to use that blog comment forms, once you’re subscribed to the list. Heck, some lists don’t even require you to be subscribed.

Also, blog comments are easy for administrators to delete, both technically and socially; I don’t answer to anyone when I decide a comment is spam. In comparison, list moderators will have to make a difficult judgement call about whether you’re just a well-intentioned clueless user or somebody who’s trying to use the list for gain, and once they do, they can only ban future posts from the same address; getting it out of archives is impractical.

Have people seen this on other lists? It stands out on HTTP-WG because it’s a fairly technical and low-traffic list; in other places, I imagine you’d just blend into the background. Surprisingly, YahooGroups doesn’t disallow other robots, so presumably some of the Yahoo list spam you see is motivated by Google as well.

Personally, I don’t blame people like “Scott” (if that is their name) for this (much); Google is incenting them to behave in this way. In doing so, it’s not only diluting the value of the Google index, it’s also devaluing mailing lists, blog comments and other shared Internet resources as well. There are several proposals that could fix this in comment spam and that would work equally well in this case; when does Google’s inaction translate to consequences for them?


Phil Ringnalda said:

In theory at least, Google is working on making comment spam worthless -

I haven’t quite figured out how to test it, or test whether they are just throwing out anything that they think is a comment link, not just comment spam, though.

Wednesday, March 10 2004 at 10:33 AM

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