Comment Spam - Are You Guilty?

In a continued effort to get a personal handle on this bucking bronco called web 2.0 I've noticed the emergence of a shift and I finally feel like I've seen enough evidence to confirm my earlier observations. The shift is this: the definition of spam has evolved and expanded and there's a chance you might be a spammer and don't know it.

Let's start from the beginning and then talk about a shift: spam as we have come to know it over the last several years is unsolicited promotion from someone you don't know and 99.9% of the time we're referring to email as the medium by which that spam distributed. As people have gained an understanding of what email spam is, it has become more widely recognized and there are more protections in place for the average person against it. Likewise, all upstanding websites have confirmed opt-in email lists and the consequences for being labeled a "spammer" have created terror in the heartland for reputable marketers. None of this, unfortunately, seems to have led to much of a decrease in actual spam (according to my Gmail spam folder) but the filters are much better and our own ability to recognize spam is also better than it was even a few years ago.

That being said, spam has moved beyond email into web 2.0. There are spam blogs, spam MySpace pages, spam videos, etc. This seems to have been the natural progression of spam and although I don't like it, I'm also not really surprised either. The shift, however, is that a comment on a blog or website may very well be considered spam now too. A spam comment (do we call them spamments?) is one in which a person comments and leaves a link to something outside of the discussion they're commenting on.

For instance if I saw a blog post about iPods, a potentially spammy comment could say:
"Hey, I wrote a review of my recent experience with an iPod that died after six months. Check it out on my blog MicroExplosion."

Whereas a clearly non-spam post saying the same thing would be:
I just had an iPod die on me after just six months. What's the deal?

If you're skeptical that this shift is taking place take a look at a few things here...
This guy made a pretty innocent post (but crossed the line as described above) on Digg and got drilled for spamming.
This PR professional talks about it happening on his blog too.

Today I was reading Chris Thomas' blog where he's giving away an iPod and a guy posted a potentially spamish comment there too.

It feels like the rules have changed and there was no formal announcement to let everyone know. I've seen this shift emerge just over the last year, or at the very least it's begun to show itself more clearly over the last year but I can't help but wonder if the same feelings we have now for email spam will soon be the same for comment spam. I know I've been guilty of this kind of commenting in the past and I really think twice now before I comment on a blog. There are no rules or guidelines here so it's hard to grasp in some ways but if this is the way the spam tide is turning at least you can now say you were given the heads up here.


Nathan Moore said...

Yeah. I completely agree. I wrote a response to this post over at my blog... Check it o... er... nevermind.

I think if there is a way for people to self-promote, they will do it, and it has found its way into new media, but what is the solution?

Could this also not be paralleled in the real world to giving someone you just met a business card?

Bill Seaver said...

Thanks Nathan. I don't know what the solution is and right now I really believe many people do this and don't even realize it can be considered spam. Once we've reached the tipping point of awareness I think we'll see it change by the accidental spammers.

What I can't get past, however, is that this new rule of spam may actually prevent some helpful comments. If, for instance, someone actually had a website that truly benefited and supplemented a blog post I'm all for it getting added to the blog comments. The problem is that everyone's going to think their site/blog is helpful or beneficial whether it is or not and therein lies the problem. Either the good gets included with the bad or the good gets thrown out with the bad...and unfortunately it seems like the good loses in this case.

Chris Thomas said...

I'm guilty from time to time. Oh yeah, and hey, I gave some iPods away. Did you hear? Cehck it out! http://pourout.wordpress.com/2007/02/28/and-the-winner-of-the-ipod-is/

Chris Thomas said...

That right there is what we call irony.