Well, I struck the chord I wanted with the idea about using click campaigns to force Google to clean up its role in the splog problem. People are talking and the focus is on Google and AdSense, which through its relative indifference to the people being buried under splog postings and trackbacks is a source of the problem.
Fully 40 percent of my traffic each day is sploggers trying to post to my site—because I restrict the number of comments and trackbacks every few minutes much of the time even the sploggers get shut out, but so do legitimate commenters and trackbacks. Anything that improves this situation will be a Good Thing.
Here’s the rundown:
Doc got it. Saying that it the splog problem is much bigger than Blogspot, Doc Searls sees that I am attempting to instigate a dialogue by suggesting action. Doc’s right, it is much more than Blogspot, but since Google owns that, too, it makes a good point of focus.
Aren’t you making the sploggers rich? Stephen Baker at Businessweek asks “how much of [the click fee] would the spammer receive?” The answer is that they get all of the AdSense fee, if they can keep it. But you look at Google’s terms of service, it restricts the types of sites that may display AdSense ads and appears to say that splogs don’t qualify. I know advertisers, having been both an ad sales guy during and after college and a publisher more recently: They complain when their conversion rates change, especially if the result is that they spend more money for the same or lower sales. When they complain, they ask for their money back. Sploggers will be docked their fees if the process works the way it does in any other business. In the short run, they may think they are making more money, but we’re aiming to get them shut down.
That’s click fraud! This is the hue and cry from a number of quarters, including the comments on Businessweek’s Blogspotting, TDavid’s Things That Make You Go Hmm, ProBlogger, FightSplog, and Aaron Wall’s SEOBook. Here’s the thing, most of the comments about this did not read my follow-up posting about information pollution. I’m not suggesting fraud. I am suggesting political action. If we don’t make some noise about this and create significant discussion about what constitutes legitimate contributions to the information economy, we’re surrendering our role in defining the Net. At no point do I suggest click fraud, what I suggested is that when bloggers receive spam postings they go to the sources of those sites and click the ads there. It would not target legitimate Blogspot (or other hosts that facilitate splogs) publishers, just the abusers. It would not be “random.” In fact, by surfing to identify advertisers who are benefiting from splogs is a legitimate activity. The campaign would create pain for advertisers—it won’t drive them away, because AdSense works—but it will make them demand Google explain why they are getting much lower conversion rates. They will petition Google for relief, which is what advertising customers do (and I speak from experience as a publisher). These kinds of campaigns could be conducted in narrow timeframes by groups of bloggers who are tired, as I am, of cleaning spam postings out of their comments and trackbacks.
What about the small businesses? This argument, that by clicking ads gratuitously we would raise the cost of business for small firms, carries emotional weight. But we wouldn’t stand idly by while a small business dumped dioxin in a pond, would we? Doing business is more than earning money, it is accepting a role in the community and, as I’ve explained, Google would more than likely issue refunds or credits to advertisers. If advertisers don’t complain, then they will pull out of AdSense, but because it no longer works as efficiently, meaning the cost of splogs will have been passed back up through the system (to Google) and down, again, to small business. That’s how customers can have an impact on a market, too.
What if we lose our AdSense accounts? I love this one, an ancillary theme in comments about the idea. Imagine if Google shut down legitimate bloggers who took action against information pollution. I am not worried about red flags at Google, because if they shut me down: a.) it isn’t costing me anything, and b.) it will be an excellent opportunity to mock the company for attacking its critics. There’s an old saying about what someone can do if they can’t take a joke, after all.
Don’t hurt my AdSense! This is a common thread in comments about the idea. Everyone says we shouldn’t do anything to hurt AdSense. Well, if you want to be timid, to turn over the Net to the people who drive the economics of the Net, then fine. Be a sheep. I don’t think Google’s going to shut down AdSense because of a protest, it makes far too much money when it works correctly. I think they are going to pay attention and fix the problem. Hell, they roll out so many features a week these days that they don’t have any time for serving the community that populates their index. They need a good swift kick in the shins and probably always will as Google gets bigger—think of it as activist customers organizing to speak their mind.
Sometime tomorrow, I’ll have the Memepeace.org site up and running. There will be a blog, a forum and more for people who want to band together to do something about splogs. And when we’re done with them, we’ll keep our eyes peeled for other information toxic waste and take action. And we’ll use AdSense to generate revenue, if AdSense is up to the standards of the community.
Information pollution has to be stopped at the source, and currently AdSense is funding splogging.
UPDATE: Based on TDavid’s screed, I now realize that everything I’ve said must be wrong. We should be docile cooperative sheep. Everything’s fine and Google knows best…. Nevermind.
He actually thinks advocating action against Google is grounds for Google to revoke AdSense accounts from legitimate citizen publishers—that’s the most wrong-headed idea I’ve heard in a long, long while.
UPDATE, AGAIN: Stephen Colbert, in his The Colbert Report commentary on Rosa Parks, said “This is a nation of laws, when we start honoring outlaws aren’t we all in the back of America’s bus. So tonight let me be the first, the Rosa Parks if you will, of saying to those malcontents out there that the best way to change the system is to wait until it changes.” Funnier than me.
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