Thursday, December 14

Splogging

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It has been called “son of spam”, the next big thing to hate the problem with Web 2.0. The much-hyped world of webfogs is start­ing to get worried about its very own spam problem – called, predictably enough, splogging,

A blog is a website orweb page that displays journal-like entries and can contain links to other pages, images, music or videos. Hosted on websites such as MySpace, they offer a way for users to keep in touch with each other and share and watch music and videos.

Splog, on the other hand, is blog-style site consisting of nonsense words, cribbed content or a mixture of both, one way in which splog owners make money is through conventional advertisements, which are often au­tomatically included in the margins of every blog page. These pay the blog owner every time visitors click on them. Splogs, too, often contain a greater proportion of links to other pages than normal blogs, which boosts their relative position on search engines such as Google.

“The first thing to recognize is that every healthy ecosystem has its para­sites,” says David Sifry, chief executive Technorati, a search engine that indexes blogs. The growth of splogs, he says, mirrors that of blogging. When the former niche pursuit there were few or no splogs; now they are too numerous to count.

If splogs were simply created to promote products and services, they would not be a big problem.

However, they are often generated automatically, so that tens of thousands can be produced by a single per­son. The content is usually either cre­ated by software or “scraped” or cop­ied from existing sources. It ranges from gibberish to perfectly sensible entries duplicated from other sites.

Mr Sifry reckons that, by some measures, about 90 per cent of new blogs are splogs. Google, which owns Blogger, one of the best known siteswhich blogs (and splogs) can be created, agrees they are a nuisance.

Blogger and other services like it use tools to ensure the blog has been entered by a human rather than an automated system. But like the fight against e-mail spam, it is a constant war of attrition in which the spammers are often one ahead.

Rebecca Blood, author of the we blog Handbook, says “comment spam”, a second type of blog spam, is just as irritating for genuine bloggers. While many blogs allow readers to comment on their entries, unscrupu­lous individuals can use software to generate comments automatically. Bloggers may wake up to find 200 comments with links to herbal Viagra vendors on their page.

The only easy answer to comments spam is for users to turn off their comments function. Some of those who enable splog­ging are quick to defend the freedom of the medium. Brian Adams runs Blue Diamond, a software company that offers an application called Blog Mass Installer. This automates the process of creating blogs and posting text to them, allowing users to create hundreds of blogs in minutes.Mr Adams says; “It all depends on what the person running the tool does with it,” adding that “automating posting doesn’t necessarily mean low quality”. He does, however, appreci­ate that others do not share his views. “I do understand that there are a lot of people in the blogging community who are rather upset with me.”

While splogs are an irritant, how­ever, Mr Sifry points out that they can be managed and, unlike internet viruses, do not threaten the perfor­mance or existence of electronic net­works. Splogs are “pulled”, or initiat­ed by the web user, unlike e-maii spam, which is “pushed” at the helpless account holder. Because of this, says Mr Sifry, a splog “is accountable to the URL where it is found, mean­ing that engines such as Technorati find it very easy to avoid.

Of course, it’s a game of cat and mouse and it’s a relatively clever and novel annoyance, but you can keep track of it and manage it.”

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