I still moderate all the comments here, but the setup is idiosyncratic enough that hardly any spam gets through. Today, I’m pondering one particular comment, wondering whether to approve.

The comment is to Kindle Yourself, about how you can buy the contents of this blog for $1.99 a month on your Kindle. It says:

From: Wendy

As much as I love to read - especially blogs - I don't think it would be feasible for most people to subscribe to 5 or 6 blogs for that price. Not in this economy. But it's a great idea and I would gladly do it for some of the top daily newspapers.

Sensible enough. As I often do, since I care who reads this, I clicked on the “Wendy” link and it took me to wendycarlisle.com. While at first glance this is a vanilla blog, something about it bothered me; also, I was pretty sure I’d seen this movie before; comments from other blogs that somehow, in some intangible way I couldn’t put a finger on, felt like this one.

A bit of poking around increased my discomfort. First, there’s the blog’s “Disclosure Policy”, a graphic of some text (?!) from which I excerpt:

This blog is a personal blog written and edited by me. For questions about this blog, please contact .

This blog accepts forms of cash advertising, sponsorship, paid insertions or other forms of compensation... the owner(s) of this blog is compensated to provide opinion on products, services, websites, and various other topics. Even though the owner(s) of this blog receives compensation for or posts or advertisements, we always give our honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experiences on those topics or products...

Hmm, well, OK, I guess.

Then I glanced at the blogroll. All linked by first name, all hosted at URLs of the form FirstnameLastname.com. All sounding like they were written by real people living in real places, but theme-free and passion-free. All with what looked like bits of product placement. All WordPress. Most but not all of the domain names registered by AC Merchandising LLC.

So, yep, I’m pretty sure this is a new (to me) form of, uh... what? Spam? I’m not sure. It seems there are some real people in the system writing these blogs? Innocent folk looking to make a few extra bucks? A small staff each emulating a bunch of these people?

Anyhow, I don’t think I’m going to approve the comment. Wendy, if you’re a real person, I apologize.



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Avi Flax (Jul 01 2009, at 13:39)

Definitely spam.

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From: Henrik B (Jul 01 2009, at 13:40)

I have recently received several "offers" on getting paid for product placements on blogs. I guess in this economy it is more attractive for people to jump on an idea like this, and somebody has probably realized that helping people to get their own domains will help it along even further. I don't know if it's spam, but it doesn't help the person in the long run.

One thing is for certain. It's not SPAM.

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From: Ian Bell (Jul 01 2009, at 13:51)

This is SEO, with a little bit of astroturfing.

Of course, I have a domain name hosting Wordpress that is firstnamelastname.com :)

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From: Rob Sayre (Jul 01 2009, at 13:58)

If you're having problems distinguishing a comment from spam, that's a pretty damning judgement of the comment.

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From: Sophie (Jul 01 2009, at 14:37)

I, for one, welcome this newly evolved sentient AI. It seems to be passing the Turing test, isn’t it?

Pretty happy we’re getting closer to cyperpunk territory!

If this comes from flesh-based entities, they must be living a sad life.

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From: Chris Dary (Jul 01 2009, at 15:01)

It's especially obvious if you look at link-riddled posts such as this one:

http://www.wendycarlyle.com/?p=969

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From: Toivo Lainevool (Jul 01 2009, at 15:43)

The name for these things is flogs (fake blogs). See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fake_blog

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From: Drivelocity (Jul 01 2009, at 16:11)

I would probably let that one slide as it actually answers the question, rather than a typical "great post" or "how do I subscribe?" type spam comment...

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From: Mark Beihoffer (Jul 01 2009, at 16:29)

As someone who has a domain of the form http://firstname.lastname.com, I am slightly weirded out by this, but unfortunately not surprised.

I went to Wendy's website to see what it was like, and much to my complete lack of surprise, each article was about some product or service or TV show.

On the one hand she complains about door-to-door salespeople and how nowadays they're obsolete and traveling salespeople are not at all welcome in her area, but on the other hand, her blog reads like an late-night infomercial.

Apples to oranges says that a half-dozen Perl modules, (or Ruby or Python or...) pointed in the right direction by a talented programmer, could probably write posts of similar scope and caliber, which leads me to suspect that this type of thing may be ubiquitous in the near future.

(That is, if it's not happening already. "Auto-blogging" software is bound to get better & faster over time thanks to Moore's Law. )

I wonder what a well-factored module specifically designed to write innocuous, non-offensive blog posts about the latest "news" would look like. It would of course need to have an algorithm allowing the end-user to dial in the exact amount of product placement. It would also have some radio buttons to choose the overall tone: Slightly Insipid, Completely Asinine, or Unbelievably Trite.

And it would also have to scale to hundreds, maybe even hundreds of thousands of sites. That way, you could tie all the blog-tastrophes together with blogroll links, trackbacks, and RSS feeds, and with a little elbow grease you might be able to weave them together into the world's dumbest Neural Network.

The mind boggles.

***** ***** *****

That AC Merchandising site is too disturbing on too many levels for me to comment.

***** ***** *****

I just cleaned up nearly 20,000 spam comments from one of my WordPress installations (I forgot to activate Akismet, and then I didn't check it for a couple months. Foolish, foolish me.)

It wasn't really that bad as most spammer-scripts are fairly easy to clean up, with the right query and regex, at least.

It's a little depressing to think that most of the traffic to that site are semi-autonomous Perl scripts, and not avid, repeat visitors who have been captivated by my sheer eloquence and perfect diction.

***** ***** *****

It can be really hard to know what to do with those comments that fall into the gray areas. It sort of makes me feel like a snobby hypocrite to judge people based on their late arrival to Blogging Bandwagon Bingo 2009, because I've certainly engaged in a little blatant self promotion upon occasion, but... I'd deep-six that comment, too.

Except that I probably wouldn't have investigated the links, much. You're a braver soul than I am, sir! My hat's off to you.

***** ***** *****

And, Wendy, if you're reading this and it just so happens that you *aren't* a semi-sentient botnet, or a group of well-meaning but highly misguided web D-listers, or even just your average, epically evil advertising syndicate, well... have you thought about going into the newspaper industry?

I hear it's the Next Big Thing.

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From: Lance (Jul 01 2009, at 17:04)

It is very well done spam. I know of some agencies that do this as a way of trading google juice around. It's interesting that the keyword rich link laden posts don't appear on the front page. It would be interesting to watch it over time - I bet only the front page posts change. Or perhaps none of the posts change, but the dates are automatically adjusted as time goes on - like the first post will be dated July 3rd in a few days.

It would make sense to do so - as people checking for spam comments would not likely look past the first page. And if the first page has some general non spammy posts it'll pass the sniff test, and the rest of the posts are just there for google to see.

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From: Mike Kozlowski (Jul 01 2009, at 17:16)

You should probably put a nofollow on that link, as otherwise you're helping to SEO their splog.

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From: Charlie Halpern-Hamu (Jul 01 2009, at 18:59)

I assume the disclosure policy is an image to prevent Google from reading it, and ranking the flog appropriately.

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From: Wendy Carlisle (Jul 01 2009, at 19:28)

I am a real person. Apology accepted.

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From: PJ Cabrera (Jul 01 2009, at 23:36)

Comments like these have been appearing on my blog for a while. They're usually of an agreeable nature, all Mom and apple pie, love and happiness. Everybody gets along all the time. Yeah, right.

Because of this "person" explicitly stating in their about page that they accept payment for product placement and/or reviews, I think the case is pretty clear. These blogs belong to someone or someones that use sites like ReviewMe or PayPerPost or sites of that nature. And Wendy and her blogroll "friends" are trying to get some link love by commenting everywhere.

I'm pretty sure "Wendy" is a real person, and perhaps this is "Wendy's" real opinion about paying for Kindled blogs. But I doubt it's her real name, or that this person is even female. Very likely not an AI, "she" is a D-lister wanting to cash in on product placement and reviews and page rank.

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From: Stuart (Jul 02 2009, at 04:21)

I've not got a blog that people can comment on any more (too much spam and too little updating), but my take was always "if the comment is good but the link is bad, delete the link and keep the comment". Your notice on the side says you reserve the right to remove spammy links, so why not? :)

Wendy seems to have returned and claimed to be a real person, but it does sound very much like a cheap link to a spamvertisement page just to get the links in and Google ranking to make more money.

It's fine if people want to sell their soul and make cheap and dodgy "I want to look like a real person with my personal opinion, but really I'm a 'hired'/paid flunky", but I'd avoid helping them in their bid to make the Net a cheaper, nastier, over-commercialised and less useful place that lacks useful content and contains mainly fake reviews.

(Web address not included because the site isn't relevant here and I don't want to be called hypocritical, even if I don't rent myself out to the highest bidder ;) )

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From: Stuart (Jul 02 2009, at 06:31)

Oh, and in addition to my previous comment, I'd recommend that Wendy spends some of that money she gets for being a cheap, phoney review on getting a better host. I thought I'd check out how horribly "advertisement-like" the blog was, and it's taking an age to load. If you want to make money by reviewing for cash then you at least need to make the site functional!

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From: John Leavitt (Jul 02 2009, at 07:26)

@Mike Kozlowski: Actually recent comments by Matt Cutts suggest that even a NOFOLLOW link passes juice. It just doesn't pass as much.

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From: Bob Aman (Jul 02 2009, at 09:02)

I've gotten a lot of these myself. I can confirm that there is a real human being behind them, as I've carried on full conversations before. However, I would argue that it's still spam. In most cases, whatever contributions to the conversation these people make is extremely minimal. Just enough to get past spam blockers and give you enough of a question in your mind that you might let the comment stay. They don't care about your post, only about your Google juice.

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From: Stephen Downes (Jul 02 2009, at 14:19)

Spam.

'Wendy' may be a real person (though probably an underpaid labourer somewhere) - it does appear as though the blog entries are unique, sentence fragments don't repeat on Google - but there is definitely product placement and links (eg. via comment authors) back to advertising pages.

I traced one set of links back to http://www.netmar ketingcourse.net/ which suggests that they may be the source.

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From: Derek K. Miller (Jul 02 2009, at 23:55)

I agree with Stuart. Keep the comment, ditch the link. I've done that on occasion for comments on my blog.

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From: Peter Lowe (Jul 03 2009, at 06:48)

How about publishing the comment, but removing the link?

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I am an employee of Amazon.com, but the opinions expressed here are my own, and no other party necessarily agrees with them.

A full disclosure of my professional interests is on the author page.