Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Trouble With Splog (is bigger than you think)

Update: Doc Searls has had it with splog, too, and has started using the Attributio-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 2.5 Creative Commons license. Doc's right that it's not a perfect solution, but it does stipulate that content cannont be used only to attract advertising. "Because I believe legitimate blogs don't do that. And splogs do." exactly.

One of the biggest problems being a small-time blogger with a modicum of an audience is that you can quickly become a target for sploggers. Sploggers love to skim your content and set up "blogs" that then allow them to make scads of money--it's happened to both my blogs, and I'm not alone. Last year, Steve Rubel, through vanity searches, discovered his blog was being scraped and used for splog--and following Steve's suggestion, I started doing similar searches regularly. Within months of Steve's splog discovery, I discovered that this blog was being scraped. Since then, both have been scraped and the content used regularly by sploggers

A demonstration of the chutzpah of sploggers shows up at the bottom of this post in the "links to." I got sick when I saw this.

I outed one of the sploggers of this blog, Integrity Corporation, a short time ago. They have stopped scraping this blog, but someone else has now started actively scraping my personal blog. I would not be surprised if it was Integrity again, only using a different isp and url.

Steve's been writing regularly on the splog phenomenon, and latest entry on splogs notes an upcoming article in the September Wired that reports some splog stats:

*Some 56 percent of active English-language blogs are spam, according to researchers at the University of Maryland

* A survey by Mitesh Vasa in December 2005 found that Blogger.com was hosting more than 100,000 sploggers

* One splogger interviewed by Wired (I'm not going to dignify him with a mention) made over $70,000 in just three months from his network of splogs

To use a colloquialism: un-fucking-believable. I am horrified that Blogger hasn't done more to stop splogs--even though I'm not shocked that so many exist, and that so many more have found ways to scam the system.

But can splogs be reported, can't we send cease and desist letters? Well, it would be nice if we could find who the sploggers are. Here's my experience: I'm vigilant on searching, but the splogs I've found usually have no contact information. I usually find them well before they put ads on. That's the first clue to a potential splog: a splogger may first load splogs with content and later on put up the ads. It's easy to tell a potential splog from an anonymous blog because not only does it consist of other people's content, but there's no contact information, nor any "about" information! One can never discover who the splogger is, and trying to search for the owner of the domain is also well nigh impossible. Even if those of us who have been splogged and keep an eye on the pre-ad stoked splog, there's nothing one can do to send a cease and desist letter, because there's no contact information.

And if we wait until the ads appear, the solutions for reporting the offender do not seem to be effective. I have reported splogs to Googel AdSense, but the splogs still exist. From reading Steve for a bit, I know he's thought alot, too, about how to get the sploggers on an economic level--unfortunately the Wired article doesn't address that issue. Here's Steve's take on it:
Unfortunately, what's absent from the piece is any accountability directed at the powers that supply these spam blogs with their funds: advertising networks. It seems to me that the splog problem needs to be attacked by not just the publishers and the search engines, but also by the contextual search ad providers who are making it easy for spam bloggers to make money. Google, Yahoo and others will need to raise the requirements for publishers who want to enroll in these lucrative programs. Publishers should have to prove they are legitimate before they can sign up for Adsense or any other contextual ad service. Perhaps a waiting period similar to the one for handguns is a model.

That's it exactly. Even if Blogger puts an entire staff on the task of deleting splog, it won't stop the problem. Blogger isn't the only blogging software sploggers use--the ones who've stolen my content are fond of Wordpress. The ad providers--who on their own, have been upset over click fraud-- should heed Steve's suggestions and start looking more closely at who's applying for their programs and stop rubber-stamping everyone who sends in a request. It wouldn't be too hard to do--all one has to do is click the url and do a quick scan of the blog that's applying to see if the content is original or stolen. It wouldn't take long (I've done it), and I'm sure there'd be a number of enthusiastic individuals who would find the job fascinating and rewarding.

Given how much Google, Yahoo, and the rest are making, is it really too much to ask them to do something that will not just help bloggers, but also help them by tracking down sites that could also be part of the click fraud problem? Seems so logical, doesn't it? But out here, logic is sometimes upside down.


alan said...

here is a whole network of splogs
and an attempt to shut them down

Tish Grier said...


the urls are a little screwed up, so I've hyperlinked them below. the whole thing's just damned amazing. I was getting angry and frustrated while I was reading it--I can't imagine how the level of pissed you've reached:

part 1
part 2
part 3
part 4
part 5
part 6

I always wonder, too, if all the "you can get rich from blogging!" crap I hear is a big part of why this continues. People want the bucks and the quickest way to get it.