Splogs Serve Up Spam to the Blogosphere

Article ImageIt is the subject of much debate whether or not many of the bloggers posting to the roughly 80,000 blogs created daily actually have something worth writing about, but it might come as a surprise that as many as 10,000 of these blogs are, in fact, little more than marketing hype. In fact, a whole lot of them are outright spam.

Long the bane of your inbox, spam has come to a blog near you. You may have already encountered a spam blog, though they often look exactly like the real thing: there's an area at the end of each "post" for Comments, an Archived Blog section by month, a Recent Posts section, and some even include a BlogRoll so you can see who has viewed the blog. But that's where the similarity to real blogs ends. The spam-esque content bears little resemblance to the insightful, edgy commentary associated with popular blogs. Spam blogs—or splogs—are comprised of the all-too-familiar content of spam email: porn links, mortgage offers, and drugs for sale.

Splogs. Add it to your Internet lexicon. Like it or not, splogging is a new way for unscrupulous online marketers to profit from new media. At one extreme are pseudo-blogs, which are essentially advertisements. At the other—far less reputable—extreme are nearly nonsense blogs populated by text plagiarized from other blogs (to increase search rankings), riddled with spam-like messages. The splog tactic works when an unsuspecting reader clicks a link that looks like a blog post and hits an advertisement. And, of course, the more hits, the higher the ad rate.

UMBC eBiquity Research Group analyzed results collected from Weblogs.com, a ping server that automatically notifies subscribers when new content is posted to a Web site or blog. According to an eBiquity study, which tabulated 40 million pings from approximately 14 million blogs over a four week period, there were more than double the number of splog posts than legitimate blog posts.

Inevitably, the blogosphere, like email before it, will suffer from this exploitation. "It is people trying to use a genuine medium in disingenuous ways," says Derek Gordon, director of marketing at Technorati. "We're seeing folks try to exploit the explosive growth of the medium to get at their particular ends."

Industry analysts, however, are not shocked to see some marketers jumping at this chance for profit. "It is hardly surprising that the people who brought us email spam, comment spam, and pop-up ads now are trying to ride the coattails of blogs," explains Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. "Sploggers are basically in the business of trying to maximize their exposure to search engine users."

The good news is that readers aren't necessarily defenseless from sploggers. Currently there are a handful of Web sites (like Splog Reporter and SplogSpot) that allow users to report splogs to the site host. At Splogspot.com a user can report a splog, which is then maintained in SplogSpot's database, which increases awareness of known splogs (so they can be blacklisted). While not a perfect solution to the proliferation of splogging, analysts think new systems will emerge to help combat this problem in the future. "I have no doubt there will be technology to detect whether a blog contains original content," says Marc Strohlein, VP and lead analyst for Outsell, Inc. "I don't know what the exact solution looks like, but I'd imagine there's one in the works."

(http://ebiquity.umbc.edu; www.splogreporter.com; www.splogspot.com)

—Jared Bernstein