The war on splogs

One of my websites was recently stolen and turned into a splog – that’s a spam blog to you and me. 

So, naturally, I was interested to read this Wired article about the rise and rise of splogs, and their battle with search engines and blog hosting companies.

Mostly, it’s a pretty good article.  However, personal experience means that I can’t agree with Six Apart’s Anil Dash, who believes that charging people to set up blogs stops sploggers:

Ultimately, he thinks, “the solution is going to be accountability. You have to know that somebody is who they say they are.” Six Apart’s TypePad blogging service enforces accountability on its bloggers in one of the simplest ways possible: It charges them at least $4.95 a month to host their blogs. Not only is the token payment enough to discourage scammers who want to operate thousands of blogs at once, but it also establishes bloggers’ identities by tying them to a bank account.

My experience arose out of a blog about Russia that I used to write (some of you will remember it).  Being my first blog, I took the safe option of hosting it on Typepad.  But, about a year ago – by this time I was a bit more tech savvy, not to mention protective of my bank account – I moved the blog to WordPress.  Happy with WordPress, I closed the Typepad account pretty soon after, and promptly forgot all about it.

You can imagine my surprise when I checked statcounter last week, only to find that by long dead Typepad blog had risen, phoenix-like, from the ashes, and that it was referring people on to this site.

Visiting the old Typepad site, I found that my blog had been accurately reproduced – design and all.  Every single word I ever wrote on that site was displayed on screen, but with one tiny difference – and here’s the fun bit – mixed in with my profound prose were some very graphic keywords and links to a bunch of hardcore porn sites.  Not all of them involving human to human sex.


Fortunately, there is a happy ending to this tale – for me anyway.  I wrote a slightly alarmed email to the Typepad administrators, and they took the site down within a couple of days.  

I can’t fault the way Typepad responded once I alerted them to the problem.  They acted quickly and professionally at all times, and were a pleasure to deal with. 

But my experience doesn’t do a lot for Dash’s claim that charging people to set up blogs will prevent sploggers from abusing the system. 

For starters, someone managed to set up a splog on Typepad using a defunct account that they presumably had to pay for.  And, second, the only reason it was closed down was that I happened to notice its existence, and have the perseverance to find the right contact form on Typepad’s website and let them know about the problem.  

Update (7/9/06): Check out Anil Dash’s response in the comments. 

Update 2 (7/9/06): An email from ‘Brian’ dropped into my inbox this morning, offering me $100 if I would place a few advertising links on my blog.  Here’s a quote from the email:

I noticed that you are no longer updating the site. However, it still has some value for advertising for my company, which specializes in selling event tickets.

I’d like to pay you US$100 for the right to put about 10 links on the site for a year. They could be on the right-hand side, under your statistics area, and wouldn’t look like advertisements at all.

To be honest, if I wasn’t aware of splogs, this would seem like a pretty tempting offer.  After all, as Brian says, I don’t update the blog any more, so $100 would be money for old rope.  I would probably be a little puzzled, though, about why a blog about Russia would help someone sell event tickets.

1 thought on “The war on splogs”

  1. I think you raise some good points, but I’d counter with the observation that many, many more splogs are hosted on services like Blogspot (which is free) or even on farms of WordPress blogs than on TypePad. Essentially, it’s not that anyone will have 100% prevention of splogs, but that we can afford to pay people to help maintain our community because there’s a positive economic incentive for us to do so.

    In short, total prevention of the problem probably isn’t practical. But effective management of it seems like a completely reasonable and attainable goal. And we’ve been unconflicted about being against link spam, which is something I’m pretty proud of. I wrote more about this on my blog today.

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