January 18, 2004

Porn Referrals

Posted by shonk at 12:33 AM in Blogging | TrackBack

Every once in a while, somebody does something tasteless so ingeniously that I can only be impressed by the effort. For example, today I was browsing through my referral logs and kept seeing referrals made by a certain Paris-Hilton-video-related pseudo-blog which I had, oddly enough, noticed once or twice on the blogdex rankings last month. Curious, I spent some time scouring the supposed referrer for the link. I didn’t find one and so, being a bit out of the loop, I gave up and quickly forgot about it.

Until, that is, I quite randomly came across a post on the blogdex blog (which just sounds funny) talking about an exploitable loophole in the blogdex rankings first pointed out by Peter Caputa about a month ago. Caputa’s treatment is extensive, so I’ll just hit the highlights. Basically, this little bit of referrer spam spoofs servers into logging referrals from the perpetrator’s site. The goal is to target those sites (like this one) who link recent referrers on the main page. These links, in turn, get sucked up by various spiders like that employed by blogdex, which has the ultimate effect of boosting the spammer’s site in the blogdex rankings. At least until Cameron Marlow notices.

Clay Shirky weighs in :

Open systems grow faster than closed ones, and better allow for innovation. This creates value for their users. This value creates incentive for capturing that value, but the incentive is orthagonal to the value — spammers don’t care that their behavior damages the system that created the value to begin with.

Second, we’ve learned the lesson of standards and automation, so we have better hooks into our interfaces, for automatic manipulation, but this means better automation for people gaming the system as well. … The arms race is the same, but the speed with which value is created and the ease with which the manipulation can be automated now favor the spammers.

I think Shirky somewhat misses an opportunity to connect the first sentence above to the rest of what I quote. Spammers are “users”, too, and, though their interests may be at odds with mine or Shirky’s, the open system is creating value for them as well by way of affording them the opportunity to make a living by e-mail. Which is to say that the claim that “the incentive [for capturing value] is orthagonal [sic] to the value” is a bit non-sensical.

Anyway, back to blogdex: Dr. Weevil points out another blogdex-bombing strategy which, though much less efficient, is still surprisingly effective:

1. Start a weblog and keep it up for a few months.

2. Wait until 16-20 people have permalinked it. That’s the slow part.

3. Rent a new domain name.

4. When you transfer your blog to the new address, e-mail all the bloggers with permalinks to the old URL and ask them to update them with the new URL. It is unlikely that any will refuse, and most are so obsessively attached to their keyboards that updates will start appearing within the hour. Be sure to e-mail them all on the same day for maximum effect.

The cumulative effect of all the newly-created links to your weblog, supposing enough obsessive people care about you in the first place, should be a temporary jump up the blogdex rankings.

So what is blogdex going to do about all of this? Not much, according to Marlow (again, from the blogdex blog linked above):

Even though the type of exploit Peter points out has existed for years, and been taken advantage of a number of times, it hasn’t really drawn much attention. I thought about trying to build in some sort of system to detect sites with referral links on their front pages, but truth be told, it hasn’t really warranted that much work yet.

Deficiencies aside, though, I will say that blogdex is really an excellent resource. I’ve got their RSS feed set on “Update every 30 minutes” whenever I’ve got Net News Wire running (which is pretty much all the time). Also, be sure to check out Waypath, into which you can enter any blog post or web page you like and it will return a list of similar posts and pages from around the web. They’ve got a Movable Type plugin that I’m going to play around with a bit — if I like it, you may soon see it being used here.

UPDATE: As you can see just below, I’ve activated the Waypath plugin. I’m not sure quite what I think of it; if you have an opinion, please leave a comment and let me know.

Comments

Every once in a while, somebody does something tasteless so ingeniously that I can only be impressed by the effort. For example, today I was browsing through my referral logs and kept seeing referrals made by a certain a certain Paris-Hilton-video-related pseudo-blog which I had, oddly enough, noticed once or twice on the blogdex rankings last month. Curious, I spent some time scouring the supposed referrer for the link. I didnít find one and so, being a bit out of the loop, I gave up and quickly forgot about it.

I get spam referrals from the same site.

I also got my first ever trackback spam. And I can't even find it on my blog; it only appears on the Movable Type interface.

Posted by: Jonathan Wilde at January 19, 2004 01:07 AM

I also got my first ever trackback spam. And I canít even find it on my blog; it only appears on the Movable Type interface.

So far, I've only received comment spam and referrer spam. Lucky me, eh?

Posted by: shonk at January 19, 2004 01:15 AM

There sure has been alot of talk about Paris Hilton. The video is poor quality and I've seen better looking girls.. So why all the fuss?

Posted by: Boynton Bay at January 23, 2004 05:51 PM

And no, I'm not a robot poster.. but a person wondering what the fuss is about.. Course.. I am also "tasteless ingenious"

Posted by: Boynton Bay at January 23, 2004 05:52 PM

Thanks for reference shonk! And excellent summary. I agree with your comment re: Shirky's response. Blogdex is still very useful. It is easy to spot the people that are using this trick, which still isn't that often.

Blogdex and WayPath are awesome. Waypath, maybe because it is a non-academic enterprise, seems to roll out new features more often.

Posted by: Peter at January 28, 2004 11:50 AM