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Forget clear numbers and ratings on blogs as long as spammers are around


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August 10, 2005

Forget clear numbers and ratings on blogs as long as spammers are around

Stephen Baker

Want clear numbers on blogs, fair ratings? Unhappy with this week's comscore report and the Technorati 100? We're not likely to get better than crude approximations as long as millions of machine-generated spam blogs pollute the blogosphere. Technorati's Dave Sifry describes the scourge. But every pollster, ranker and blog searcher is wrestling with the issue it raises: How can you establish clear guidelines, transparancy and accountability when you have an entire industry of spammers ready to game the system?

I talked to Bob Wyman, founder of PubSub yesterday. He sat down at my computer and showed me, click by click, how spammers run to the top of any index. Doesn't matter whether it counts incoming links, key words, traffic. In a world where their bots can create blogs for free and automatically engineer them, they rule--or at least occupy a prominent place at the table. The only way to read the blogosphere, says Wyman, is to make secret and subjective adjustments for spam. "We're behind the curtain, fiddling with the knobs," he says.

This is likely to stunt the growth of blogs as an advertising medium. The transparancy about "methodology and sources and scale" that Jeff Jarvis calls for is near impossible while the spambots are running.

Let's use BusinessWeek as an example of the havoc they create. Here's a look at the blogs that have linked recently to BusinessWeek.com. Loads of them, as you can see, are spammers. That boosts BW's link count. And why do they link so much to the site? They populate their fake blogs with links from places like BusinessWeek in order to engineer pages that climb high on Google and attract Adsense ads. We're all being used. I'll be posting more on this tomorrow.

06:47 AM

spam and other abuses

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Tracked on August 10, 2005 08:58 AM

Thanks for giving me yet another reason to leave the blogosphere. The primary problem here is that the entire infrastructure for the blogosphere is based on a jungle swamp of poorly conceived and weak technologies that nobody in their right mind should have ever even wildly imagined could properly support the kind of business functions that people are misguidely building in that swamp.

Just one tiny example: identity. How could anybody have imagined that businesses and responsible individuals would be protected in an environment that hardly has even the rudiments of an identity system in place?

Of course the spammers are thriving, and will continue to thrive quite nicely.

My message: It's the infrastructure, stupid!

It's like leaving your food (and garbage) out when you go camping: of course the bears will be attracted. Duh. Come to think of it, camping in the wilderness seems like a nice metaphor for blogging. Either that, or a bunch of street gangs "rumbling". Take your pick.

Final thought: The heart and soul of media metrics is demographics. We have zilch in place in terms of infrastructure *within* the blogosphere for understanding the demographics of blogs, blog readers, blog commenters, and blog linkers. If you want demographic data on the blogosphere, you're going to have to do external surveys.

If this is really the case, why all the hysteria about spam, other than the obvious desire to keep our blogs looking as "clean" as possible. If people wish to link to your blog for their own agendas, why should you even care what their motivation is?

Final final thought: If the staff at various blog ranking "agencies" are "fiddling with the knobs", doesn't that in fact tell us that the resulting rankings are inherently not real? Not to mention "garbage in, garbage out", regardless of how much tinkering you do with the incoming garbage. But, maybe these modern day media alchemists think they have finally discovered the secret of teasing gold out of their, um, "data".

Parting words: Show me the demographics -- and then we can see the money!

-- Jack Krupansky

Posted by: Jack Krupansky at August 10, 2005 11:35 AM

Stephen,

I think you're wrong about that. Smart algorithms and working closely with hosting providers and blog software vendors can help immensely.

From looking at their results, it appears that PubSub isn't doing any intelligent filtering for spam - and frankly that will hurt their ability to be productive and give you good information on the blogosphere.

Here's technorati's results for the same search:

http://www.technorati.com/search/businessweek.com

You can see that most of the information is useful and productive. There is still some fake blogs in there, but we're pulling out a lot spam even now.

I think you're painting a somewhat dire picture of the situation. This is a natural progression of the blogosphere, and we're doing a lot of thinking and planning ahead and working with the industry to help keep spam at bay and your results productive.

Dave

Posted by: David Sifry at August 10, 2005 11:37 AM

Jack, by saying "Just one tiny example: identity. How could anybody have imagined that businesses and responsible individuals would be protected in an environment that hardly has even the rudiments of an identity system in place? Of course the spammers are thriving, and will continue to thrive quite nicely. My message: It's the infrastructure, stupid!" you mean the internet itself, dont you? But you wont leave the net. Blogs are based on the internet technology and infrastructure. So, if you mean to leave the blogosphere because of the infrastructure, i would say you were lost in the blogosphere. We in german have a saying something like that: "if the duck ain't swim the water is at fault"

Posted by: Robert Basic at August 10, 2005 11:54 AM

Numbers only tell a part of the story. I always thought that maps didn't lie. That was until Quecreek and the miners who were trapped in western Pennsylvania. The bad maps were almost deadly. Underground mapping still needs improved. It's very expensive.

Posted by: Jim Dermitt at August 10, 2005 12:30 PM

Jack made some good points. I'm not a Power Blogger or trying to build a blogging empire or anything like that. "It's the infrastructure, stupid!" says a whole lot. I use a number of business blogs, but I killed my own blog. Any of the blogs I use can find me and I don't even have a blog, which I just noted. It seems like we have made it easier to find each other and share ideas, but the whole system is spinning its wheels and stuck in the mud. The road to blogging isn't paved with gold. As Jack points out it isn't even paved. It does seem to be well marked with billboards.

I don't know what will be coming next. I guess we will see more video vlogs and people doing blogcasts of the evening news. I have no idea who will watch, I know it won't be me. I'm still on a broadcast wireless feed, or CBS as it is called. Maybe the next big thing will be naked vlogcasts at noon, 6 and 11 or 24/7 via wi-fi or something digital. Look out CNN, NNN is the next big thing in vlogcasting. We think.

Posted by: Jim Dermitt at August 10, 2005 04:59 PM

Steve, take a look at the inbound links for the first one on your pubsub list - they have none. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Outbound links to you aren't gonna raise their score anywhere that I know of. People in the SEO game are generally more concerned with outbounds diluting their PageRank. And I don't see any spamblogs in the top x lists anywhere. Of course, if I'm full of it, someone will tell me. :)

Not too much to say about most of the comments here. Dave makes the most sense, but then it's his business to. Spamblogs and fakeblogs do have an impact, but notsomuch as you might assume. Matt Mullenweg says that 80% of ping-o-matic's pings are from spam and fakeblogs, but we can guestimate that's from under 100,000 blogs or less. The difference is in the number of pages the automators put up. And as I posted regarding Om's statement about spam and "mortgage" on technorati, the tag page returns less than 1% of hits that the search page does.

That may change, of course, but at the moment I don't see a huge problem.

Posted by: Greg Burton at August 10, 2005 09:23 PM

Greg Burton correctly points out that while BusinessWeek may have a great number of spammers linking to them, the impact of those spam links does not necessarily impact the LinkRank for BusinessWeek. The PubSub LinkRank "smart algorithm" and our other procedures reduce significantly the impact of spammers. Nonetheless, we report *all* the InLinks that we find for a site since we think that will be interesting data for the site owners. I hope that in the process of trying to provide more public information than any other similar service we aren't simply confusing people with too much data...

bob wyman

PubSub.com

Posted by: Bob Wyman at August 11, 2005 02:04 PM

Steve wrote: "This is likely to stunt the growth of blogs as an advertising medium. The transparancy about 'methodology and sources and scale' that Jeff Jarvis calls for is near impossible while the spambots are running."

Damn, so many algorithms and so few people!

Aren't folks forgetting that the blogospheres are all about humans making myriad small decisions that, collectively, yield lots of new dimensions of knowledge?

Bloggers know a lot about each other -- they spend all day obsessing about who is worth reading and who is full of it.

And, as luck would have it, bloggers themselves have assembled lists of their peers, ranked by page impressions: here.

And, using just the data from the top twenty list Comscore published, it looks like the unique readers of these blogs rival anything big media has attracted online. Add up (just) the top six Blogads sellers on Comscores' list and you've got 2.6 million Americans.

Posted by: henrycopeland at August 11, 2005 04:39 PM

Henry, the question isn't whether blogs work or not as an advertising medium. They do. But, I don't need to tell you, the clearer the metrics, the more advertisers take the plunge.

Posted by: steve baker at August 12, 2005 08:47 AM

I met with some retired executives years ago. Their advice was work from six in the morning to ten or eleven at night every single day for two years and you might make it in business. That was before the Internet changed everything. The Internet has created a lot less work. Maybe Google should try creating a job search tool. There would be no shortage of users.

Posted by: Jim Dermitt at August 14, 2005 05:05 AM


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