As Chris Pirillo and others have noted, doing a search on practically anything nowadays returns a deluge of spam blogs, or “splogs,” that are comprised of a bunch of randomly scraped-together sentences automatically stolen from around the Web. Typically, the sploggers create these blogspot blogs just so they can slap AdSense ads on them and earn cash from unwitting surfers who land there, see that all the content is crap, and then get away by clicking on one of the ads on the page.
Sounds stupid? It is. But sadly it’s actually lucrative for the sploggers. And Google’s caught in the middle because — while, yes, they’re earning money as well out of the deal — their search index is becoming less and less useful… and that can undoubtedly hurt the company’s long-term viability. Say what you will about Google, but they are nothing if not forward thinking… so this is a problem that they are certainly seriously tackling in the background.
But I have an idea that’d solve the issue faster. It’s not entirely ‘democratic.’ It also risks some ‘friendly fire’. And initially, it’ll be a major pain in the ass for Google and a minor pain in the ass for anyone wanting to set up a blog. But hear me out… 🙂
Google should require a $1 credit card, ACH bank payment, or paper check payment from any blogger who wants his or her blog to be indexed.
But note that…
– Anyone could still create a blog for free.
If you wanted to have a blog to communicate with your friends or family or workgroup or whatever, no sweat. You’d just give ’em the URL, let them subscribe to your RSS feed, etc., no payment required.
– Google would create a special subdomain for the paid blogs.
blogspotgold.com or whatnot… so that other search engines could easily filter out anything in the blogspot domain.
– Google would allow any current blogspot user to ‘upgrade’ for $1 and would automatically redirect their URL permanently.
WHY THIS’D WORK
– It would likely no longer be economically feasible for spammers to create 10,000 disposable splogs.
– Even if the economics worked out, Google could limit the number of blogs created per credit card number or bank account.
– Google’s creating its own payment processing solution anyway, so they’ll soon have the payments part covered.
WHAT WILL HAMPER THIS SOLUTION
– Sploggers could use stolen credit cards, though I think it’d be difficult to do this in bulk.
– But most critically, there’s the frustrating issue that even a $1 payment could end up publicly silencing voices that should be heard.
MORE ABOUT THE SILENCING-VOICES PROBLEM
While I’m all for accountability and taking personal responsibility for one’s communications, I also recognize that there are instances in which folks desire — and often should be accorded — anonymity.
For instance, what about Chinese dissidents who may want to blog about their feelings and experiences or even blog about upcoming protests? Is it inconceivable that the Chinese government could pressure Google into handing over identity information gleaned from a dissident’s $1 blogspot payment? Even if Google takes pains to sincerely insist that it will *NEVER* do such a thing, will everyone trust this promise? And what about whistleblowers?
Or what about those people — particularly in non-industrialized countries — who may not have a bank account or credit card but still want to blog?
A POSSIBLE SOLUTION TO THE SILENCED-VOICES PROBLEM
Perhaps, instead of denying indexing to all non-paid blogs, Google could simply — upon request — pre-screen all such blogs for indexing consideration. For instance, something like the following:
1) Person sets up free blog and blogs a minimum number of substantive (non-sploggy) posts over a minimum period of time.
2) They then submit this blog for indexing consideration to Google.
3) If Google determines it to be non-sploggy, they then elevate it to blogspotgold, and provide a free redirect from the old URL.
Admittedly, though, sploggers could retaliate in this context by submitting bazillions of obvious-crap blogs just to clog up the reviewing queue. However, if it were impossible to submit a blog for consideration until it had been around, say, 3 months or 6 months… that would make it harder to do a mass-submit “DOS” [denial of service style] attack. Spammers are not patient people.
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So I’m curious… what do you think about all of this?
1) Would a $1 payment really prevent most or even all splog from getting into the indexes of Google, Y!, and all other major players?
2) Would there be bad ‘collateral damage’… or could this be reasonably minimized by the ideas I’ve specified or through other means?
3) Know of any anti-splog options that are better than my $1 idea? (hint: capchas alone aren’t the answer)
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UPDATE at 9:00PM PST, 10/16/2005:
People have pointed out to me that children and young teens typically don’t have credit cards or even bank accounts, and that it seems unfair to single them out for a waiting period. So here are some other ideas (with the first two stolen from current Gmail policies :D)
– Get a blogspotgold account via text message.
True, this requires a phone… or a friend’s phone.
– Get a blogspotgold account via invite from current member.
Allow each current member to hand out up to 10 tokens a month, and if more than 2 of them are used to create splogs, then don’t give that member any more tokens for a year.
– Distribute blogspotgold tokens via schools (administrators, teachers, whatever)
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UPDATE, 10/18/2005 at 1:45AM PST:
Ah, Google responds to the outcry! I had no doubt that they’d be taking all of this seriously (I know that the Blogger folks are sincerely passionate about blogging!), but it’s nice to see their public acknowledgment of the problem nonetheless.
Also, the prolific geek, Chris Pirillo (of Lockergnome fame) has proposed his own top ten list of Blogspot anti-splog solutions.