Looking Past Splogspot

When the spam blogging phenomenon first began to draw attention, Google’s blogger service was the king of splogging. A combination of weak sign up protection, an integrated API, built in advertising possibilities and high search engine ranking made the service an irresistible target for spammers.

However, recent Google crackdowns have made life more difficult for the “Splogspot” sploggers. Better patrolling of its service, captchas added to new blog registrations and tougher enforcement of Adsense regulations have put a crimp in their formulas. Worse still, other search engines have begun regarding blogspot.com blog with suspicion and some sites have even banned comments from the blogspot domain.

Spammers, however, are nothing if not clever and many have moved around these challenges. Some continue to use Blogger while others are switching services to avoid the hassles. Some are even using their own domains. However, if search results are any indication of the next trend, much of the fight seems to be moving over to MSN Spaces.

If this is true, then we could be in for some dark times indeed.

Wide Open Spaces

Spammers prefer popular services with good reputations and a large number of users. This makes it easy for them to hide their activities, including their thousands of blogs, while riding the trust created by millions of legitimate users to their goal. In that regard Google’s rival, Microsoft, was a natural choice. Their MSN Spaces service has over 30 million blogs and offers similar tools for posting and editing blogs.

In addition to that, Microsoft also runs a search engine, msn.com, which at least gives some the impression that they will favor their own services in the results. Finally, MSN Spaces, though never a particularly trendy service, has been relatively untouched by the plague of splogging making it a trusted service by major blog search engines including Technorati and Icerocket.

Though, when looked at from that angle, the shift to MSN Spaces is an obvious move for sploggers, it clearly caught the search engines off guard. Results from MSN splogs regularly make it into Technorati and even Google.

But while the search engines are already feeling the pinch, the worst may be yet to come.

Dark Days

Microsoft’s enforcement of copyright-related matters has been notoriously lackluster. Though they have a DMCA agent and a policy in place, unlike some hosts, their responsiveness to DMCA matters has been somewhat hit or miss. Some get acted on immediately, others take weeks to see through and others are skipped completely. This is despite the fact that I use the same template for all of my notices.

They are the only DMCA-compliant host to have earned the villain rating on this site, due mostly to their lackluster compliance with their own policies.

This begs a simple question: If Microsoft struggles so much to enforce the occasional copyright complaint, how are they going to respond when thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands, of spam blogs take up residence on their service?

Considering how difficult of a time Google has been having with splogging, and their copyright enforcement is used as a model for other large companies, Microsoft seems far less prepared than much more poorly equipped for this fight.

But as bad as the switch to Microsoft is, for those of us seeking a spam-free blogging community, the news could be a lot worse. After all, some hosts have far greater problems with enforcement than even Microsoft.

Future Destinations

If we assume that Microsoft is ill-equipped for the splogging fight, there are some hosts that are simply disasters waiting to happen.

Imagine, for a second, what would happen if Xanga.com, with only 12-20 employees and 35 million accounts became the next target of the splogging craze or opendiary.com, with only one Webmaster, suddenly found itself being deluged by thousands of junk accounts.

While Xanga and OpenDiary are both poor targets for sploggers due to poor search engine performance and limited API access, all of these elements can either change suddenly or be trivially programmed around.

The bitter truth is that the Web is more vulnerable than ever to splogging, not because of clever spammers but because of ill-prepared hosts. While Google responded to pressure from the blogging world to do a better job policing its service (though the effectiveness of its response is up for debate), other hosts have not taken any clear steps and many are completely unable to handle the problems that they face now.

Being a successful Web host is no longer just about having the best features or good servers and easy to use tools. It’s also about having an effective abuse policy that not only frees up precious resources for legitimate users, but makes you a good neighbor on the Web.

Simply put, no one wants to use a service that’s has a bad reputation or has even been blacklisted for generating too much junk and, in a Web where sharing information and ideas is critical to survival, being blacklisted, can be a death kneel to an otherwise sound service.

Besides, no one want to be the bad guy or have the appearance of being one. We just want to run our sites, search our data and read our favorite pages in peace.

However, it’s up to the hosts to create that and, frankly, I don’t think most are up for the challenge.

[tags]Plagiarism, Content Theft, Copyright Infringement, Splogging, Splogs, Blogger, MSN Spaces, Xanga, Google, Microsoft[/tags]

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