I’m blogging like mad over at Beth Krasna’s Thinking Ethics. Pop over and have a read why don’t you. Mind you, since I seem to be posting more-or-less on my own at the moment, I think I might start to feel a bit lonely soon. The blog is a companion to Beth’s Thinking Ethics seminar last weekend in Geneva and should extend the value of the event nicely (if any of the other participants can find the time to join in).
Once you’ve played with tags at Flickr and del.icio.us for a while you’ll find you expect everything to work that way. Tags are very persuasive. Two really obvious applications for tags: Apple’s iTunes and iPhoto. Adding keywords to iPhoto pictures is such a weird pain-in-the-neck, multi-step operation (compared with, say, adding tags to your Flickr pics – how can it possibly be easier to manipulate meta-data in a web-based application than in a desktop app?) and you can’t tag iTunes tracks at all. Tagged tracks would really add a lot of value to the creation of Smart Playlists, for instance, especially if adding tags was really easy.
So Mark Lloyd, an otherwise respectable lawyer (and a bit of an expert on tech and Internet lawyering in general) calls me yesterday and asks how my blogging business is going. I tell him it’s pretty cool but it’s still early days and then I tell him, by way of industry background, that Sony just took a stake in Gawker’s Lifehacker. Mark’s reaction is, frankly, sniffy – as if to say: “is that the best you can do? I digested that particular nugget six hours ago. In fact anyone with a half-respectable RSS reader finished gossiping about that one before their second skinny latte this morning, you sad old git”. I think this semantic web thing has a lot to answer for…
Ben Hammersley reckons Google’s rel=”nofollow” thingie is a bad thing and won’t work anyway. I’m not sure I agree, at least not with the economics part. email spam is hard to discourage because it continues to produce the desired effect (clicks) in a cost-effective way despite pathetic response rates and increasingly effective filters. rel=”nofollow” will kill comment spam (if widely adopted) because, in principle at least, there will be no point at all spamming blogs with links to your poker site once those links no longer boost Google pagerank.
Spammers may not be the kind of people you want in your hot tub but they are goal-oriented economic actors and they won’t waste any time at all running comment scripts once they realise they are 100% useless. Having said that, I’m sympathetic to Ben’s (and other people’s) concerns about the potential damage to the semantic (and social) web that a new class of weighting for links might cause. We’ll have to keep an eye on this one.
In the meantime, I’m sticking with a combination of MT-Blacklist, which works if you keep the blacklist up-to-date, and new kid MTCloseComments, which does something I’ve been whinging about for ages – it just closes comments once they’re a certain age. Of course, MTCloseComments might also contain the seeds of the web’s slow heat death but I can’t imagine how – the only people who post comments to old entries here are spammers (except this one).
Today, for the first time, I deleted over 1,000 spam comments from this weblog (about 1,200 in the last 24 hours, in fact). I am now officially overwhelmed (and so is poor Robin’s server which now spends most of its time accepting and then deleting my comment spam) so we’re going to have to try a different way of dumping the spam – probably something that requires commentors to type a random code or something. How boring.
I’ll tell you something, either I’m getting old or podcasting (a concept so new that Google is still trying to correct me when I search for it) is going mainstream waaaaay too fast. Last week I spent a boozy evening (boozy enough to fall asleep on the train home again – Hello Harpenden!) in a smoke-filled room above one of those Soho clubs (no, not those Soho clubs) talking with a bunch of top media execs about, among other things, torrents, podcasting, Creative Commons and blogging – blimey. This is obviously going to be a really important area and I’m going to start meeting VCs who are ‘watching’ podcasting (just like they were ‘watching’ RSS last year and ‘watching’ blogging the year before that).
A flurry of links: iTunes Applescript guru Doug is now Podcasting (and why wouldn’t he?). Gigadial threatens to absorb the next six months of my life. At least I can pretend to be working while I’m listening (if you’re as old as me you’ll need this overview page). I think this clever thing allows you to publish torrents via your blog (and RSS, natch), which at least sounds useful. iPodder 1.1 is obviously worth a donation (I think I’ve finally found a reason to upgrade that Old Skool 5Gb iPod). I’ve just noticed that iPodder.org is run by Adam “Big Hair” Curry. Funny, cos Ivan was only asking about him the other day.
Meanwhile, Ben Hammersley, the man himself, a man for whom I’d like to buy a drink one of these days if he stood still for long enough – even if only to learn what it feels like to have an entry to yourself in Wikipedia – has come up with his own handy slug of server code which captures Real Streams, converts them to MP3s and then publishes them as an RSS feed (the rest is up to your local podcasting set-up). He also links to a tool for doing the local bit which sounds perfect – downloading now.
I’m really thrilled to be able to say that I’ve been enjoying Azeem and Shen’s new venture a lot (resisting the temptation to illustrate this entry with a wedding photo). Mink Media has entered into the Thin Media business with a rush and their first two titles are excellent and part of what looks like a really well-rounded commercial package. The Honourable Fiend (Westminster politics) is my favourite but I reckon Wanda Lust (travel) will grow on me too, once it finds its tone of voice (which is harder with PR-heavy travel material to work with, I reckon).
I’m enjoying Hon Fiend enough to urge the guys to switch comments on – I keep reaching for my quill pen – although I think I’ll understand if they don’t. Even this humble blog is now ploughing through 300-400 comment-spams per day and sorting out the real comments from the crap is getting more tiresome by the day. I think everyone acknowledges that blog media is still at best an each-way bet for the big time but ventures like this one are going to really help to nudge the form into the business mainstream. Good luck guys!
Today (Sunday) I’ve deleted about 130 spam comments from this weblog (with the aid of the redoubtable MT-Blacklist). Yesterday was about the same. Likewise Friday, Thursday and so on. I’m really fed up with it. In case you haven’t got up to speed on blogspam yet, the thing to remember is that the spammers aren’t interested in your opinion of their fascinating products or in your lovely readership or in a healthy debate… or anything really, apart from the boost to their Google pagerank that a link from your weblog might provide.
Blogspammers want to hijack the special treatment given to blogs by Google (and other search engines, these days). That’s why blogspam is indiscriminate about placement – nobody needs to read the comment so sticking it in a two year-old blog entry will do just fine. That’s also why you need to delete these bogus comments sharpish. In fact, the quicker you can delete your blogspam the better, since that will give Google fewer opportunities to index it. Sadly, although the blogspammers are clever enough to figure out which blogs to hit, they’re not clever enough to figure out which bloggers are motivated to delete spam comments quickly and thus provide no boost to pagerank.
And, of course, it would make no difference if they could figure this out because the barmy economics of spam means that not spamming produces no benefit at all to the spammer, since each additional spam has an incremental cost of effectively zero. We’re all wise enough these days to know that Google’s algorithm (the mythically cool and sophisticated Google algorithm) is tweaked and tuned continuously to exclude scumbags and miscreants so I wonder if the next logical step is for Google to exclude blog comments from the index all together (pretty easy, I guess, since comments are marked up in a fairly predictable way).
This would be a bad thing – destructive to the information value of the index – but obviously, at the same time, a good thing, since it would kill blogspam overnight and remove a significant pollutant from the information stream. Once blogspam stops producing a boost to pagerank, the economics goes into reverse and the spammers will stop and since genuine blog commenters don’t do it for the pagerank, there’ll be no reason for them to stop commenting and no damage to the vibrancy and usefulness of the blogosphere.
Hold on. Thinking about it, a subtler approach would be for Google to automatically delay indexing blog comments for, say, 24 hours. That would give bloggers a chance to delete blogspam before it could make an impact on pagerank while preserving the long-term value of comments for the index. That’s it. I think I’ve cracked it. Where do I collect my OBE?