Why nofollow at Wikipedia is a good thing

Post ImageYou may have heard that Wikipedia recently decided that all outbound links would be coded with the “nofollow” tag, meaning that search engines do not give the links any weight in their algorithms. The idea is that it will make it much less desirable for spammers to add their links to the thousands of pages at Wikipedia. Sounds good right? Well so far, the reaction has been pretty negative:

Although the no-follow move is certainly understandable from a spam-fighting perspective, it turns Wikipedia into something of a black hole on the Net. It sucks up vast quantities of link energy but never releases any.

Lots of bloggers are worried that the new scheme does not properly recognize the original sources of information. A blog or other site will still be cited on the Wikipedia page, but that citation no longer carries any weight with the search engines.

I think that argument is fairly weak. If you are really deserving of some major “link energy” then you’ll get it, because chances are, Wikipedia won’t be the only site linking to you. So worries about not getting “credit” in the form of Google-juice are pretty unfounded, I think.

I suppose it comes down to the “perfect world” scenario. In a perfect world, there would be no spam, and everyone would benefit maximally from linking to one another. Thing is, we don’t live in a perfect world – thus we have to attempt to reduce the imperfections. This policy is an attempt to do that with spam.

I see the nofollow policy as serving the greater good. Is an individual’s link juice more important than everyone’s access to a reliable, spam-free Wikipedia? The answer is no, and that’s why I think the nofollow policy is good.

Startups don't need to be ruthless

Post ImageGreg Linden asked a very interesting question today: Is ruthlessness the key to success for Web 2.0 startups? He cites examples of Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and others using spam, porn, or other “ruthless” means to become successful. While the idea might be intriguing, I think it is far too simple.

First of all, being “ruthless” is relative, right? What’s ruthless to me might not be ruthless to you. More importantly, I’m pretty sure Facebook and the others did a bunch of other things that contributed to their success. Saying they became huge by “spamming Harvard students” makes for an entertaining article, but probably avoids the more boring reality of why they are popular.

Secondly, the idea doesn’t hold true in all Web 2.0 startups. As was suggested in the comments on Greg’s post, there a bunch of other companies that did not rely on such ruthlessness to make it big – Flickr, del.icio.us, and 37signals, just to name a few.

It’s pretty common to hear that you need to be ruthless to succeed in business, but I don’t think it’s the kind of ruthlessness that Greg is suggesting. Perhaps instead of porn and spam making them ruthless and thus successful, it’s working long hours, making sacrifices, cutting costs, and being creative that made them “ruthless” in the pursuit of their ideas.

Read: Greg Linden

Do spammers get spammed?

Post ImageLarry posted yesterday about the many kinds of spam he receives, including some that could not possibly result in any revenue for anyone. I get some of that too. The most interesting kind I have gotten lately is spam with the subject line “hi mack” or “hi mmale” – they are getting better! Anyway, Larry has a pretty common idea for punishing the spammers:

There are those that advocate capital punishment for spammers. I think we should just sentence them to a lifetime of receiving spam themselves.

I hear this all the time, and it just makes me laugh. I think it’s safe to assume there’s a person behind every piece of spam that gets sent (someone has to turn on the computer in the first place) – we’ll call them the spammer. So why would anyone think that the spammer is exempt from getting spam? I bet the spammers get just as much spam as the rest of us.

Read: Larry Borsato

Blog Control Update

Just a quick note to mention that I changed the “enter the code you see” control (known as a CAPTCHA or HIP control) found on the comment form for my blog. Instead of letters, numbers, and a bunch of random characters, all you have to enter now is a three-digit number. Should work more reliably I hope.

The same change has been made on the Paramagus Blog, my Dad’s blog, and all of the Blogosphere blogs. If you encounter any problems, please let me know.

In case you’re wondering, the control I am using now was created by Timothy Humphrey for Community Server. It appears to work fine in CS 1.1, CS 2.0, and the old .Text 0.95!

The New Splog

Post ImageBack in April of 2004 I was posting about something I called “splogging“. Basically it was the repeated and never-ending activity of leaving comments on someone’s blog post, essentially, spam comments. At the time, it was funny, because I was using this against friends! Eventually spam comments became a real problem, and it was no longer funny. I first experienced huge amounts of spam on my blog in October of 2004, which forced me to introduce a Human Interaction Proof control, commonplace on the web now.

The term splog is changing though. No longer does it mean spam comments (which, fortunately have declined in numbers). Instead, it refers to fake blogs setup for the sole purpose of creating link farms. Here’s what the sploggers do:

The splogger executed a script that ran searches on blog search engines for specific keywords, said [PubSub’s Bob] Wyman, notably names of some of the A-list bloggers, like Dave Winer and Chris Pirillo. Then the splogger took the results, went to Blogger-BlogSpot and, using the service’s application programming interface, or API, automatically created tens of thousands of blogs that contained text from the bloggers’ real Web sites, Wyman said, along with links to the mortgage and other sites.

People querying the well-known bloggers’ names in blog search engines, and people who track these bloggers and their write-ups via services like PubSub, Technorati and Feedster, then received feeds to the fake blogs, jamming RSS readers with useless links, Wyman said.

I am by no means an A-list blogger, but I have noticed it happening to me too. If you search Google for mastermaq, the results are littered with results for fake blogs. Most of the ones that affect searches for me are not hosted at Blogspot, but some are. And that’s where most of the problem has originated from.

The problem has gotten really bad lately, as described in the CNET News.com article I quoted above. Who knows what will happen, but we need a resolution! To get things started, Chris Pirillo has posted Ten Suggestions for Google’s Blogspot. I particularly like suggestions two and six – no brainers in my opinion.

Read: CNET News.com

Gennux

Post ImageToday was a busy day for events. This evening Dickson and I attended a presentation at the University of Alberta by Gennux Microsystems Corp., a relatively new Edmonton-based company. They make an anti-spam product called eW@LL Mail which they say is unique in that it does not use content filtering like the vast majority of anti-spam technologies. They describe the product as a messaging firewall.

The developer who wrote most of the application and started the company is Sam Wong, and he gave the majority of the presentation tonight. He seems very smart, and excited about the work he is doing. Sam led us through some reasons for why spam exists, the numbers around how much spam is sent and recieved and the dollar value for related-costs (like lost productivity), the competition, and finally the Gennux solution. Dickson and I asked a bunch of questions about the technology, trying to find ways around it, but the product does seem very solid. They mentioned some statistics about how well it works, but I very much think that it’s one of those “you have to see it to believe it” things.

We didn’t ask them how much it costs, but I would imagine it’s not cheap. If it works like they say though, it would probably be worth it. They have quite a few installations already, including a fairly high profile one with an ISP in Taiwan. It’s good to see an Edmonton software company doing so well!

Read: Gennux