19 June 2007

sploggers hurt more than bloggers

An increasingly common task I'm performing for clients is one in which the client gets a google alert and they send a link to me, saying, "We found our company on this blog. the information about our company isn't accurate. We can't seem to track down the author. What can you tell us about this blog?"

More often than not it's a splog. Short for "spam blog," not to be confused with someone who writes spam comments in blogs. There are a few types of blogs like this, but they are all designed to make money without adding anything of value. Wired Magazine ran a piece about them last September.

Many just steal content right off of blogs verbatim -- someone's already pilfered from this blog once -- but others use "original" articles (typically very poorly written) filled with targeted key words so they'll show up in search engines. Of course, these sites are often crammed with auto-generated ads like Google Ad-sense or stuff from e-bay.

Typically I explain to the client that the site isn't credible and they should forget about it. They're usually nothing more than a nuisance, most people recognize they're useless when they find one, and it's not as if someone is actively building a "splog campaign" against a company.

However, the problem is getting a little more serious now. Sure, splogs hurt bloggers -- for example, we get pushed down in search engine results and we may not get credit for our original ideas. But reputation is a measurable asset for a company, and companies care what is being said about them anywhere online.

Perhaps more importantly, we see splogs that offer "health advice" and are making a lot of claims that seem somewhat dubious. (I'm choosing not to cite specific examples here though I've found a few -- I'm not interested in promoting their work.) As splogs get more sophisticated, it's just a matter of time before we see one that looks credible enough to convince someone searching for advice or information online mistaking a splog for an authoritative source of information.

The remedies available to stop this practice are not very strong. You can report a splog to splogspot so people know to avoid it, but how many people know about splogspot? Blogger tries to remove splogs from their systems, but they show up again as quickly as they're removed.

I'm very sensitive to free speech issues, but I think it's time sploggers are held accountable when they're spreading misleading information, particularly when it comes to health issues or someone's reputation. It's just a matter of time before this becomes a policy issue.

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