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19 January, 2005

Follow this, spammers!

Just spreading the word....

The major blogging software producers and major search engines have announced a concerted, collective effort to combat comments spam.
In summary, whenever a visitor includes a web address in a blog comment, the publishing software will append the 'rel="nofollow"' attribute to it.  As the name suggests, this attribute will be recognised by a search engine robot crawling the page, which won't follow the link and hence won't log it in the search engine database.  The spammer's site won't receive a search ranking boost, thereby eliminating the main incentive to post comments spam in the first place.

The search engines support it, and the software manufacturers have released plugins/patches to make the blogging packages insert 'nofollow' automatically (fellow MT users will find further information and the plugin here). All that's needed now is for individual blog owners to implement the change. This is a measure which could virtually eliminate blog spam - if everyone participates.

That last part is the key, and the failing. It's important to note that this approach won't block the receipt of comments spam, at all. Blogs which don't use other preventative techniques such as MT-Blacklist will still be swamped by spam; it'll just be as useless to the senders as it is annoying to blog owners.
However, many attacks are automated, sending hundreds of messages to each of thousands of blogs. If even a small percentage of spam is exhibited on blogs which don't use 'nofollow', the attack succeeds.

This new measure reduces the effectiveness of mass-mailing attacks, and probably eliminates small-scale, manual campaigns, but it'll only stop comments spam outright if uptake of 'nofollow' is sufficient to leave so few unprotected blogs as to render automated attacks unprofitable. Given the number of abandoned blogs which still have commenting turned on, that's just not going to happen.

Let's not be too pessimistic, though; centrally-administered services such as Typepad and LiveJournal have just rendered all account-holders (including abandoned but still active ones) useless targets for spam, so rational spammers will stop attacking them. Much the same applies to Movable Type blogs which, one would assume, tend to be maintained by technically-literate users who implement essential updates.

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