November 25, 2004

Jeff Barr says Comment Spammers are Scum!

I was shocked to discover that hidden evildoers are injecting chaos into the blogosphere - horrors! From Jeff Barr's Blog

Comment Spammers are Scum! Every time something new and cool is invented, jerks like them have to pollute it and ruin it for everyone else.

There is a general principle here that applies to every single information system built - concentrations of a scarce resource will attract scavengers (or innovators, depending on your viewpoint). In the digital world, information is not scarce and data transfer has a low cost. The scarce resource is time - in this case, people's attention. People pay attention to their email inbox - which is essentially a collection of unsolicited messages. People also pay attention to interesting news - collections of weblog entries and their comments.

Who's next on the list? Let's look at the current popular Web applications:

  • Flickr - shared, tagged images. The tags are used to generate collections of interesting images. People pay attention to interesting things. Where attention gathers, so do attention scavengers. For example, I like to look at images of Hawaii - how soon until I see travel agent ads?

  • - shared, tagged links. The tags are used to generate collections of interesting links. You can just feel the scavengers circling.

  • - shared product reviews. People buy things. They read reviews. Spam ensues.

  • search based alerts - see Google Search Alerts,, and many more. Just like email, but this time the spammers don't need email addresses they only need the popular keywords

Tag based categorization schemes are beautiful and simple, but resemble a namespace land-grab. What can we do about it? It seems the tried and true 'democracy in action' works well for Amazon and might be applied to other systems. Basically this means votes. For example, with flickr images, do I really believe in anyone's claim that their image really represents Hawaii? If several other people suggest it might be an image related to Hawaii, I'd pay more attention. If several other people suggest instead that it is porn or spam, my software agents can skip over it. If flickr let people add tags to other images it would help introduce new items to collections that the image provider didn't think of and allowing negative votes would help remove innapropriate items from a collection. Knocking items out of a collection may sound bad, but with 2000 images of Hawaii on a fledgling service like flickr, I don't think we'll run short of information anytime soon.

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