NoFollow - A Non-Solution to Comment Spam

Thread Title:
Preventing comment spam
Thread Description:

Late last night bloggers all over the world started what im sure will be a very short-lived networked jump for joy as Google, MSN, Yahoo and Six Apart announced a joint effort to cull comment spam. This post looks at why this initiative will fail. Follow the title link above for more.

As GoogleGuy pointed out on an earlier Threadwatch post many other blog vendors and hosts are taking up the new nofollow attribute which is designed with the purpose of denying PageRank and link benefits to spammers:

Steve Jenson - Blogger
Matt Mullenweg - WordPress
Stewart Butterfield - Flickr
Anthony Batt - Buzznet
David Czarnecki - blojsom
Rael Dornfest - Blosxom

sounds like MSN Spaces is signing on too.

Self Congratulation and Back Slapping wont Stop Comment Spam

The collective jump for joy i mentioned above was taken up by many bloggers who, through no fault of their own, clearly do not have a complete grasp on the situation and what it involves - or the economics of blog spamming.

Among the more notable entries were the following:

Jay Allen - MT Blacklist - Cavalier Attitude

like the posters at Webmasterworld and Nick W from who seems to be posting negatively everywhere I've looked and even has a thread on a way to abuse the nofollow link type for those who lie awake at night sweating about PageRank. What-evah.

Emphasis mine. This is quite indicative of why there is still a comment spam problem in my opinion. It shows a complete dismissel of the issues and a rather cavalier attitude to the problem. While Jay continues to bask in the glory of a scheme that wont work, i'll just move on and tell those that have their eyes open why it wont work.

Scoble - Typically Arrogant

Yes, Dave, today those of us who write on the Web won. The customers won. It's a great birthday present. Can I turn 40 again?

Why did we win? Because now we can link to things without raising their search engine whuffie.

Steve Rubel - Naive

This would change the economics behind why people comment spam popular blogs - to boost their Google search rank. If this is true, it would certainly be welcome.

Steve, a generally good chap, has an altogther rather unhealthy lust for blogs in my opinion and has consitently missed the point on comment spam - he'll get there though..

Of course there are a host of others out there all reporting similar things but in less notable fashion: Charlene Li Inside Google Tim Bray Greg Linden Marketing Shift Steve Rubel again Silicon Beat Alex Barnett MarketingVOX proBlogger Blog Herald prWeaver.... the list will surely get bigger.

Why NoFollow will be the Non-Event of the Year

Not everyone is busy celebrating some mythical victory however. Danny Sullivan, although generally bullish on the new method (for all the wrong reasons imo) points out that this is NOT an end to comment spam:

In particular, much blog spamming is done through automation. So even with the new system in place, some of that automation will keep rolling along. It will no doubt even evolve to spot blogs and other areas that aren't making use of the nofollow attributes, just as smart spammers currently focus on blogs that have been abandoned, rather than irritating active bloggers.

This means other types of systems of blocking spam will likely still have to be used, such as forcing people to input characters from graphics (captchas), registration and so on (The Solution To Blog Spamming at ThreadWatch has a nice rundown on these, and also see Six Apart's Guide to Comment Spam)

and Andy Wismar knocks out a great post on the wider issue - something the search engines and bloggers seem to be blind to:

So, to all the spammers out there, the best and brightest at Google, MSN, Yahoo!, and blog tool creators have gathered to say "In your face, we'll just devalue EVERY link, crippling your model and our own in the process!".

Peter Davanzo echo's a point that Threadwatch members have been making right here

I think this may be a move in the right direction, although while it removes some of the incentive, I'm not sure it will erradicate the problem. So long as there are blogs, guestbooks, etc that don't use the nofollow tag, then the army of bots will continue.

John Battelle hits the nail on the head as far as wider implications go aswell:

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this yet, because what ends up happening is folks who leave URLs in comment fields get no search juice at all. This creates an early lock down in the blog space that I am not sure won't have unexpected consequences.

Here it is in a nutshell:

  • The economics of blog spamming are such that spammers will just carry on regardless and take gettting fewer worthwhile hits into account - meaning that they will most likely increase their efforts.
  • Right now, and even 2yrs down the line, there will still be millions of blogs that are worth hitting - making the case for the above.

Now, it really doen't get much clearer than that does it?

The Way to Stop Comment Spamming

If blog vendors and bloggers really want to see an end to blog spam then they need to be approaching this from a different direction: You need to attack the blog spam problem by not allowing bots to comment! Sheesh, you'd think this was clear enough wouldn't you? Apparently not though. We outlined a whole bunch of ways to do this in The solution to Blog Spamming where members rightly pointed out that even that would not kill it completely but would raise the bar to a level where comment spam would become a trickle rather than a deluge. To save you a little time reading, as we know that bloggers don't want to read how the spammers think this should be dealt with (give me strength...) i'll bullet the key points:

  • Captcha's
  • User Registration
  • Pre-moderation
  • Take away anchor text benefits

See the full thread for the debate.

A Final Note to Bloggers and Software Vendors

There, that's probably enough to be getting on with other than a quick note directed at the celebratory bloggers and blog vendors: You cannot solve this problem by half hearted, lip-service measures such as MSN, Yahoo! and Google have put in place. The economics of blog spam just dont equate to a halt on the issue. Take your heads out of the sand and start talking to the spammers, start learning a little bit about your enemy - you'd be surprised at just how willing some of them would be to talk to you.


No need for Indians

Great, now I don't have to hire that team of Indian blog spammers anyway. Bloggers are not very cleaver so they will probably think that this works and move away from blocking automated bots. Thank you! :)

As long as just a few percent of the blogs automated spam software target works they will keep on posting

Mark Pilgrim - Dive Into Mark

Mark Pilgrim is always an interesting read and his take on this issue seems as clear-headed as anything I've seen from the blogging side. His Update at the end adds the tidbit that Jay Allen has more unreleased ideas in store.

I agree - Non Solution

I don't see how "nofollow" will help. Ok, I understand it will lessen a spammers potential page rank but their link is still in the comments on my blog. Which I don't want to happen at all, unless of course a spammer wants to cut me in on the profits.

Also, since trackback spam is another issue it sounds like I would need to put "nofollow" in that link as well.

I will not use "nofollow". I want my legit readers who comment to get page rank. I think its an incentive for their participation. Pre-moderation will continue.

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Has the funniest post on this but i wouldnt want you to not visit and read the whole thing so i'll not quote him: here's the link - he doesnt like Russell B very much eh?

It's a relatively good call though IMO (minus the acerbity :-)

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