Ramblings & ephemera

An analysis of splogs: spam blogs

From Charles C. Mann’s “Spam + Blogs = Trouble” (Wired: September 2006):

Some 56 percent of active English-language blogs are spam, according to a study released in May by Tim Finin, a researcher at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and two of his students. “The blogosphere is growing fast,” Finin says. “But the splogosphere is now growing faster.”

A recent survey by Mitesh Vasa, a Virginia-based software engineer and splog researcher, found that in December 2005, Blogger was hosting more than 100,000 sploggers. (Many of these are likely pseudonyms for the same people.)

Some Title, the splog that commandeered my name, was created by Dan Goggins, the proud possessor of a 2005 master’s degree in computer science from Brigham Young University. Working out of his home in a leafy subdivision in Springville, Utah, Goggins, his BYU friend and partner, John Jonas, and their handful of employees operate “a few thousand” splogs. “It’s not that many,” Goggins says modestly. “Some people have a lot of sites.” Trolling the Net, I came across a PowerPoint presentation for a kind of spammers’ conference that details some of the earnings of the Goggins-Jonas partnership. Between August and October of 2005, they made at least $71,136.89.

In addition to creating massive numbers of phony blogs, sploggers sometimes take over abandoned real blogs. More than 10 million of the 12.9 million profiles on Blogger surveyed by splog researcher Vasa in June were inactive, either because the bloggers had stopped blogging or because they never got started.

Not only do sploggers create fake blogs or take over abandoned ones, they use robo-software to flood real blogs with bogus comments that link back to the splog. (“Great post! For more on this subject, click here!”) Statistics compiled by Akismet, a system put together by WordPress developer Mullenweg that tries to filter out blog spam, suggest that more than nine out of 10 comments in the blogosphere are spam.

Maryland researcher Finin and his students found that splogs produce about three-quarters of the pings from English-language blogs. Another way of saying this is that the legitimate blogosphere generates about 300,000 posts a day, but the splogosphere emits 900,000, inundating the ping servers.

Another giveaway: Both Some Title and the grave-robbing page it links to had Web addresses in the .info domain. Spammers flock to .info, which was created as an alternative to the crowded .com, because its domain names are cheaper – registrars often let people use them gratis for the first year – which is helpful for those, like sploggers, who buy Internet addresses in bulk. Splogs so commonly have .info addresses that many experts simply assume all blogs from that domain are fake.

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