January 20, 2005

rel="nofollow"

The fight against comment spam has just gotten a little more heated. Google announced a couple of days ago that they now have a way for you to link to a page without giving it a “vote” under the PageRank system. What this does, in theory, is remove the biggest incentive for companies to spam your comments: they figure that a link to their site from you will bump up their Google ranking. But now, as long as the new magic attribute is present, Google will ignore the link. This renders the comment useless, and the idea is the spammers will give up and go away.

Over here in the real world, I don’t think a lot of spammers are going to care about this, at least not at first. I mean, Google’s part in this is only half the solution. Webmasters now have to go in and change their blog software to add the magic attribute, rel="nofollow", to all visitor-created links. The big hosted services, like Blogger, TypePad, and LiveJournal, have done this already. But that leaves millions of locally-installed and home-built systems unprotected. Now each of those needs to be individually patched, and that’s where the lag in implementing this is going to come in. Sure, the tool developers are trying to make this easy on you. Movable Type, for instance, now has a plugin that will do it for you: just upload one file to your MT installation. But what percentage of MT users are actually going to: 1) hear about this new method, 2) be able to find the plugin, and 3) bother installing it? And how many users of the countless other blogging systems out there will do the same? And plus there are people who know about it but have decided not to use it. The bottom line is that not every blog out there will be patched to take advantage of what Google’s given us. And as long as there are still a few sites out there where spamming will still work, the spamming will continue. And since it’s just as easy to spam 100,000 sites as it is to spam one, those of us who have applied the patch aren’t really going to see much of a reduction in the spam coming in. So I think the benefits of this new development won’t be seen for a long time, at least until some new, worse way of spamming has been developed.

But it’s good that Google has done this, and not just because of comment spam. Now people can link to sites they don’t like without giving them a vote of approval, which is a good thing. And you can link to parts of your own site that you might want other people to see, but don’t want to appear in Google. So even though this may prove to be a bust on the spam-fighting front, it’s still a major improvement in the way the web works and the relationships all of us have with search engines.

More from Scoble and the Smug Canadian, and the rest of the world.

Next job: taking care of referer spam.

Filed under The Computer Vet Weblog

Comments (1)

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  1. Christopher Baus says:

    I want to give users incentive to post comments on my blog, not take it away, that’s why I’m not implementing nofollow.

    Thanks for the link.

    Posted January 21, 2005 @ 3:58 pm

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