May 03, 2004

Mysteries of the Internet

I'm approaching a milestone of sorts -- I thought I'd hit the 100th banned IP address tonight, but fell short by just three. For the last few days, I've had a trickle of comment spam, just about all from the same company, pushing the same product, the enlargement of something specific to the male anatomy. Six or seven on Friday, four or five on Saturday and Sunday, and a flurry of a dozen today, just about all from different IP addresses.

What I can't understand is what possible reason these people (or, more probably, this person) could have for doing this. On a six month old post on some typically obscure ideofact topic like, say, Alawites or Nabateans, our mysterious commenter will leave a remark on the order of, "Man is the missing link between apes and humans," or "In Washington, second guessing is second nature," or even the simple, "Like your site, I'll have to get one." In the field at which the commenter can leave a URL, he (or she) puts in the link to the site offering the product referenced obliquely above (hint: vocabulary isn't the correct answer), and for the email address, there's usually some bogus listing (in any case, the few I've tried always bounce back as undeliverable). So to what possible end could such comments be posted? Let's say a reader googled Alawites, or Japanese Pirates (oddly, one of the more popular search terms that draws googlers to ideofact) or some such and somehow landed here. Let's say that the reader manages to slog through whatever entry I've written and actually glances on the comments -- would a line like any of those I've quoted persuade someone to click on the highlighted name to see their Web site? Assuming our gentle, hypothetical reader had managed to make it through my nonsense, would the comment nonsense appear so intriguing that a reader would think, "Let me know more about how this person thinks!" And, if this ideal reader clicked through, would he (for the sake of argument, let's continue to pretend that our reader is a he) think, "Not only do they offer insightful platitudes that have nothing to do with the subject I was interested in, they offer to enlarge a part of me which is a source of joy to me second only to that generated by my enormous, throbbing vocabulary"? Not very likely.

So what is the business model? Why would anyone invest the time (or, if such comment spam can be automated, the resources) on such a limp advertising strategy? It occurred to me that this might have some other purpose than driving traffic to a Web site, something to do with google rankings, perhaps, but if one's business is dependent upon one's nearness to the top of google, leaving a half dozen or so comments on my particular blog, only to see them deleted within hours, along with a half dozen or so other comments on other blogs which most likely will also be deleted within a matter of hours, is hardly the best strategy. Blogspot, as far as I know, still offers free blogs, and one can set up multiple blogs from a single account. The same commenter at my blog could be posting hundreds of links at hundreds of blogs of his own, without fear of deletion or censure. It seems like the effort could hardly be more demanding than that of leaving comment spam, but I suppose there are probably reasons why that would be no more effective. In the meantime, I'll keep weeding through the comments.

Posted by Ideofact at May 3, 2004 10:37 PM

In my interaction with the Internet and spam, I have learned a few odds and ends.

I suspect that the person sending the messages (usually through an automated system of some sort) and the person advertising are usually separate, and probably only meet through electronic communication methods.

I have seen claims (I have no idea of their validity) that large amounts of email spam come from countries (like Spain or China) where people out for some quick money will find every possible way of delivering advertising to email, comment-lists, newsgroups, etc.

I do know that spammers tend to attract certain kinds of business--business of the type that I categorize as "tabloid". Theis business is advertised towards the kind of people who purchase tabloid news in the supermarket.

Oh, well. That's my mental model for how these things work. My best guess is that the spam-senders will do anything to drop a web-link to the advertiser, and bill the advertiser per link that they create.

Or they are pranksters, who do this for fun. Which makes slightly less sense than writing email-viruses.

Posted by: steve h at May 4, 2004 03:25 PM

You sound like a candidate for MT Blacklist. We have it over at notfrisco. Here's their theory of what's going on: "Unlike email spam, the motivation is not to sell you or your visitors anything or even to get you to click on their links. The most solid theory for why comment spamming exists and what makes the battle against it very different from the previous scourges is that by placing links all over the web, spammers increase the Google PageRank for the sites they are hawking.

In order for this scheme to work, the links must be published on as many sites as possible for as long of a time as possible, but at least long enough for the Googlebot to see them. This is where MT-Blacklist's Search and De-spam mode comes into play. MT-Blacklist makes it terribly easy to recover very quickly from even the most intense spam attack with almost no effort, rewarding the spammer with no extra Google juice. Furthermore, for efficiency reasons, spammers tend to put twenty to thirty URLs in each comment but it takes only one known URL to block it."

Posted by: Camassia at May 4, 2004 03:54 PM

Let me second Camassia's suggestion of MT-Blacklist.

I had a deluge of comment spam at the first of this week (about 20 a day) and finally upgraded to MT 2.6 and installed the MT-Blacklist plugin. It was simple and it is effective. Zero comment spams since then.

Since you alreadyuse MT 2.64 it might take you 15 minutes to end your problem.

Posted by: Michael Tinkler at May 5, 2004 12:06 PM

Thanks for the suggestion. The spam isn't too much of a problem -- after taking a few days away from the blog, there were all of two posts.

Posted by: Bill at May 6, 2004 01:13 AM