Leaves in the Gutter

The continuing conversation opportunity presented by blogs is threatened by the sheer amount of maintenance work it takes to keep the channels clear. I am, of course, talking about blog spam and what bloggers need to do in order to keep it at bay. First there's the notion of updating your blog CMS. Then there's the installation of plugins. Then there's cleaning up all the comment and trackback spam that the plugins and CMS don't catch. At times, especially if your blog is small, it almost seems like it's not worth the effort.

Remember that blogging owes a good deal of its success to the explosion of easy-to-use CMSes. If these are made tougher to use (constant updates that need to be installed on web servers), people will start to get pissed and they'll abandon blogging.

I'm not sure if we're yet ready for this discussion, but at some point folks are going to have to look at Google and Yahoo at not only the folks who created the problem, but the folks who continue to reinforce the status quo. (This is more the case for Google than for Yahoo, for a number of reasons.)

Google's reliance on inbound links as a major factor in their relevance algorithm created the problem. I don't think too many comment spammers would keep doing what they're doing if there wasn't a significant Google Juice reward in it for them. Further, the economic incentive to build search engine relevance is driven solely by profit motive, which Google's AdSense program provides. In addition, Google provides a safe haven for many sploggers on Blogger.

I'm not saying we should immediately blame Google instead of blaming the comment spammers. But it would be nice to get an acknowledgement from Google that its system is indeed being exploited by spammers and that it needs to be fixed. It would also be nice to see them take some serious action against splogs (especially on Blogger) and comment spam by applying some of that wonderful thinking they're famous for and fixing the problem.

A good deal of Google's future business depends on the unbundling and fragmentation of media. If we move more toward mass media, the big content developers will succeed. If, however, we continue toward media fragmentation, Google is in a much better place, with the ability to roll up the relevant audiences via AdSense. It also stands to capture more market share with Blogger and through the platform of tools it's already building.

That said, if I were Google, I'd be doing what I could to make sure bloggers continue to enjoy blogging, podcasters still enjoy podcasting and that the communities that form around this content can continue to be healthy. Easy content creation and easy community maintenance are the keys to that. If I were Google, I would be attacking this blog spam problem with significantly greater resource commitment and I'd be thinking about how to tweak relevance and ranking algorithms in order to remove the incentive for spammers.

Even if you didn't want to touch algorithms, there are a number of other things Google could be doing. Easier reporting of splogs would be one thing. How about a "report this site" function within Google site results? How about a distributed network of part-time employees who can earn beer money for helping Google identify and eliminate spam? There are a ton of ideas. Sadly, they don't seem to be coming from the company best known for innovation and ideas.