posted by Daniel Solove
What’s a “splog” you might ask? It’s the newest kid on the block, the ugly offspring spawned when spam and blogs mate. As one blogger describes them:
Splogging is a term coined by Mark Cuban to describe blogs with no added value, existing solely to trick people into visiting and exposing them to advertising. Splogs are often encountered in two ways: by searching for a key word on a search engine, or receiving it as a fradulent hit through your RSS aggregator. More often than not, they’re automated, linking to countless blogs and other websites, using keywords selected solely to attract more eyeballs and click-throughs for their advertising. And automation means that splogs are being created at a dizzying pace, to the point that when you do a search for almost any term, you’re bound to get a bunch of hits that are nothing but money-hungry splogs.
Yes, the person who coined the term “splog” is Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team.
Splogs are used to increase the page ranking of a website in Google. It is a way to game the Google system, to get one’s website to appear higher up on the result list for particular searches. Splogs work by generating a lot of links. They are not real blogs; instead, their content is generated by randomly grabbing chunks of text from other blogs. And they are easy to create, given that Google’s Blogger service allows anybody to create a blog for free. They are often constructed automatically by computer programs. Here’s an image of part of what appears to be a splog:
Thus far, the best article I’ve been able to find about splogs is one by Online Media Daily. According to the article:
To keep itself alive, a splog will crawl the Internet using directories, search engines, RSS feeds, etc., collecting information to give the appearance that a real person is adding content. In many cases, this involves automated “theft” of original and often copyrighted content from other authors, without their knowledge, permission, or even attribution.
There are lots of different kinds of splogs that have different ways to disguise themselves as real blogs, but commonly they contain key search terms repeated dozens or even hundreds of times. One researcher did a test on a “Dance teaching” spam blog, where the word “dance” was found 948 times on a single page. The total number of words on the page was around 2048. That means half of the page was “dance.” Splogs often send any human visitor to an entirely different site, either through clickable links, or the more annoying practice of automated redirects.
To give you an idea of the magnitude of the problem, in the United Kingdom there is a company with over 15,000 spam blogs at last count. There were well over 10,000 spam blogs on BlogSpot alone related to the Triple Crown horse races. Of course, each time a visitor clicks on a paid search term, the advertiser pays for it and the “splogger” gets a revenue share.
There’s a website where readers can report splogs called Splog Reporter. But what I can’t seem to figure out is exactly what happens when a blog gets reported as a splog to this website. What are the consequences? I wonder whether this website will be an effective way to combat splogs.
Over at the Privacy and Security Law Blog, Lance Koonce proposes:
But how about taking it a step farther with a take-down system along the lines of that employed under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, but implemented by the major blog hosts. The system would not be triggered by infringing content, but rather by the absences of content. Under a take-down system, if I identify a splog I would send an email to the host (even better –and probably unrealistic — the host could require a “Click Here if You Think This is a Splog” button on every site, or something similar to the “Flag as Objectionable” icon on the Blogger NavBar could perhaps be utilized) and the host would automatically send a notice to the splog owner requiring a response explaining that the site is not a splog.
In a perfect world, this notification/response system would be designed in such a way that the responses themselves could not easily be automated. If no response is received, the splog would be taken down automatically. If a response is received, the host company would have to actually take a look at the site and make a determination whether or not the site is a splog.
Koonce recognizes some of the problems with his solution:
Unfortunately, I’m not sure that there is an easy solution, and I think we’re going to be hearing more about splogs in the future.