Spamming Goes Human

Is spam (at least on blogs) finally emerging from its robot-driven large-scale war onto a more slippery, human scale? For a while now spammers have been using cheap human labour to read the funny verification codes we commonly use, but to spam on any scale, you generally can’t afford to spend a lot of time and attention on the content of your comment, so you or a machine get the link in there and then boom you’re on your way to the next blog.

Recently I’ve noticed the spam comments I get on this blog need double-takes, because at first glance they SEEM to be appropriate to the specific content of the post. The spammers are actually reading the post. There are two giveaways, however – (1) if you are not genuinely interested in the topic your comment is very generic (enthusiastic generalities don’t come over as interest!) and adds no insight to the blog, and (2) the spammer’s weblink is to a completely unrelated commercial site. I’ve noticed that spammers are trying harder to overcome giveaway #1, but #2 is insurmountable as far as I can see, since to remove it defeats the very purpose of spamming.

Perhaps in some coming golden age, spammers will need to become so proficient in a blog’s interest area that they actually do provide insight, hold meaningful discussions and build relationships before they get away with locking down that precious hyperlink. But hey… that looks like evolution out of the primordial spammic ooze.

7 Comments so far

Susan Presley

The “golden age” where spammers are proficient in a blog’s interest area, or at least provide a comment & link to a contextually relevant site, is coming. 

Just last night I deleted someone who registered on one of my sites because when I ran their email through google (I check for spambots daily), they showed up on a forum for link builders promising that they would contextually appropriate links in a conversational way on blogs & in other forums.

I have very strong feelings about this (I don’t like it at all, frankly), but I know not everyone in our line of work shares that feeling.  I don’t like it because I think it erodes trust in a community, trust of other audience members in what they’re reading in comments/forums, and the question becomes—who is paying for the content of this comment? 

In some ways, it can be kind of grey—what if that link to, say, a Microsoft TechNet article is actually relevant to the discussion at hand and provides directly useful info?  What if it’s a tourism site pointing directly to additional wineries in an area when a post is talking about things to do in a particular area & is, actually, contextually appropriate?  Does it matter that a link builder is being paid to promote that link? 

I still have issues with the post & run part even if I can accept that the information is contextually relevant and useful.

I’m feeling very conflicted about this all.  I don’t like it, I don’t like wondering whether every comment on a page that links to somewhere else is a plot to boost page rank or a marketing plot or something else even if it is useful-ish.

Anyway.  So I don’t think the golden age is really coming because I think they will largely fail the ‘build relationships’ test (and I would feel very betrayed if I ever found out that a relationship I though I had was undermined by ‘btw, I’m placing links on your stuff for someone else’s benefit’ ), but contextually relevant, possibly even meaningful discussion is on its way. 

I’m wondering how you, and other people feel about contextually relevant, possibly even meaningful discussion for the purpose of locking down that precious link?

Posted on January 22, 2009 at 04:10 AM | Comment permalink

Susan Presley

Hmm.  The winky wasn’t supposed to be there!

Posted on January 22, 2009 at 04:12 AM | Comment permalink

Matt Moore

I was very tempted to ask Mike Wagner to give a fax-based perspective on this issue but he’s banned from posting comments on blogs from now on.

I’ve grown quite laissez-faire about this now. The blogspot blog gets some spam but not enough to cause real problems. The wordpress blog is very good at filtering out obvious rubbish. Neither are really popular enough to suffer from heavy spam loads.

But it begs the question: what happens when the spam posts appear to offer more value than some “real” posters? Should we care? If people want to try to spam me to build their page ranking then I’m not that bothered.

It seems that human-generated noise (entropy?) is a given in any human communication system: cold calling, spam email, annoying ads in print & on TV, the presentations by vendors at conferences. And yet if this behaviour wasn’t perceived to in some way “work” they wouldn’t do it. So an entropic arms race develops - spam filters, captcha technology, manual spamming, etc. Predator & prey co-evolve. The question is: Are we co-evolving somewhere OK or horrible?

Posted on January 22, 2009 at 07:39 AM | Comment permalink

Patrick Lambe

Thanks for the comments, Susan I’ve removed your “winky” ... it’s a peculiarity of Expression Engine which we use to run our blog, to liberally interpret any punctuation adjacent to a closed bracket smile

So long as a comment adds to the conversation and doesn’t send unwanted links to participants in the discussion through notifications etc I personally don’t mind. In many ways blogging (and commenting) works by promoting links to fellow travellers, friends, things we like, and in some of these we have a commercial interest - eg every now and then I might post about something we sell or deliver.

The test is whether that intrudes on the conversation and undermines the relationships of trust that you talk about Susan, (in which case people tend to leave your soapbox pretty damn quick), or it is taken as an acceptable way of alerting your co-conversationalists to something that some of them might be interested in.

If spam becomes more truly conversational, ie not just simulating conversation, it needs to be able to withstand our sensitivity to instrumental uninterested behaviour, and I actually think the only way to do that is to be genuine. Which means spam dies… or more accurately, evolves into the conversation it was originally designed to parasitise.

Posted on January 22, 2009 at 01:05 PM | Comment permalink

Susan Presley

Matt, we seem to be co-evolving at least somewhere that’s much murkier & greyer in terms of easily discernible on the (or at least my) good/bad scale of perceptions.  I tend to want to say nooooo!, but then, if the link provides more value than a ‘real’ poster… errrggghhh.

Patrick—I have to wonder if building trust and acting in authenticity is just the next thing they try until the next way to game the system or get more bang for the client’s buck for ranking/sales/etc comes along. I wonder too about the ROI on taking the time to build trust & have authentic discussions and not just drive-by posts.  I still want good information to filter to the top & if everyone has to play the game to be competitive.  Oof. 

Think I’ll be recusing myself from participation in that particular arena of SEO (and truthfully, I find enterprise taxonomy & search more to my interests anyway), but it’s an interesting discussion to follow none-the-less.  Especially veering away from contextual link building & into concepts of authenticity and what is “genuine”. 

Thanks to both of you for some interesting things to ponder as I go back & forth with myself on this issue.  Nicely timed post, Patrick.  smile That smiley is supposed to be there!

Posted on January 22, 2009 at 04:46 PM | Comment permalink

If I leave a good quality comment but I have a keyword used as my name does it mean spam for you? for me spam is just saying wow that’s great, cool blah blah blah, it may sound funny but it was a spam right? I may have keyword on my name in order to gain backlinks but still I’m reading the entry clearly in order to create a proper comment on it and share my ideas.. just my two cents.

Posted on February 25, 2009 at 10:57 PM | Comment permalink

Patrick Lambe

Hi Janice, very good try! It’s about honest conversation and not trying to sell anything off the back of your comment on my blog. So to test your genuineness, I have removed the link to your website from your post. If you want to comment again, don’t put in any link to a commercial site, or I will remove the comment immediately. Fair?

Posted on February 26, 2009 at 09:14 AM | Comment permalink

Page 1 of 1 pages

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.

Comment Guidelines: Basic XHTML is allowed (<strong>, <em>, <a>) Line breaks and paragraphs are automatically generated. URLs are automatically converted into links.