Use rel=”spam” to Fight Comment Spam?

As I was going through my Akismet spam filter today reviewing the 87 comment spam I got during the prior ~24 hours to ensure I didn’t delete any legitimate comments, it occurred to me that maybe there is a simple solution to comment spam.

What if blog apps could simply mark a hyperlink with?:

rel=”spam”

The simple idea is that rather than delete spams, blogs could start maintaining a special page of links to comment spammer’s websites using rel=”spam” on the “A” element. Basically this would be PageRank in reverse. The search engines would then apply negative weighting to anything marked spam and give the spammers the exact opposite of what they were pursuing when they unethically tried to game the system!\.

 For example, Google could give negative PageRank for a spam link compared to positive PageRank for a non-spam link. Google could also weight the relevency of the link text negatively vs. the positive value it would give a non-spam link. This would have the affect of distributing the watch-dogging of spammers out onto the web without requiring any new infrastructure, and it would create a clear disincentive for comment spammers instead of the lack of disincentive from “nofollow.”

Are there problems with this I’m not foreseeing?  Probably.  I already know that people would try to game the system for negative purposes, and that’s to be expected. Still, I think that for the most part anyone simply using it to field a grudge or in as attempt to harm a competitor would be doing it by definition on such a small scale that it would have no effective. Given that the many comment spammers automate, they can end up with huge numbers of comment spam links. If the search engines merely weighted a spam link as 1/10th the negative value of a positive link, it would certainly still be effective.

Of course the hard-core Linux faithful would immediately spam-link to Microsoft.com just to spite them! But I really don’t (currently) see how that couldn’t be detected and managed via policies and algorithms. For example, if a company has a large number positive links it could be exempt from the effects of spam links. And I’m sure automated methods or methods using collective intelligence could emerge to resolve these problems the vast majority of time. The rest could be handled via policy; get caught spam-linking someone inappropriately and get your domain pulled from the index!

What’s more, it would give bloggers a sense of purpose when they review their spam filters instead of them feeling like the time spent was just a waste. I know that if my efforts to detect comment spammers could get them lower PageRank, I’d feel good about monitoring my comments for spam as I would be doing a service for the public good. And I’m sure most other bloggers would feel the same.

Now I know that Microformats.org has the similiar proposal VoteLinks, but that is about registering opinion as opposed to calling out gamers of the system. VoteLinks is also much broader than what I’m suggesting.  If we keep the focus really narrow — shine a spolight on spam so that the search engines can erradicate it — then I’m pretty sure it would be a success.

What do you think?  Good idea?  Filled with holes I’ve not considered?  I look forward to your feedback.

This entry was posted in Everyone, Framework Developers, Proposing, Search Engines, SEO Consultants, SoapBox, Standards Participants, Web App Providers, Web Developers. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Use rel=”spam” to Fight Comment Spam?

  1. Devon Young says:

    That’s a brilliant idea. I love it. When I get the time, I think I might try implementing this in my blog.

  2. Heh! Thanks for the comment, but it will only be useful if Google were to apply it to its PageRank algorithm. Want to help me get a grassroots advocacy campaign going, you know we’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends, and so on and so on? ;-0

  3. Sante says:

    In another working life when I was a structural engineer, and before the days of the web I worked with a guy who once told me: “Sante when you come up with an idea, be sure somone has thought about it already … ”

    So I decided to run a query for rel=”spam” and sure enough you had put your hat on that chair !

    It’s a great idea worth implementing from a users point of view – let’s push the idea around blogs and forums and see what happens.

    Cheers,

    Sante

  4. Thanks Sante. I’d love to push it around the blogs and forums, but haven’t figured out how to inspire other to write about it. Any suggestions?

    BTW, I love the advice about ideas! :)

  5. itochan says:

    hello,
    I don’t understand why you want to keep the spam links and the spam messages on your blog, however you add rel=”spam” to the link.
    I don’t like that adult words are shown on my blog.

  6. You wouldn’t “keep them on your blog”, you’d move them to a special page that Google’s spiders could find and crawl but that most people would never see. You could even serve those words only to Googlebot. Of course, that would require Google to implement the modification to their ranking algorithms that I proposed otherwise it would just be helping spammers.

  7. Pingback: Penalizing Spam Links, Etc, Etc | Idiotprogrammer

  8. Robert says:

    And all you do is create a list of your competitors and mark them all as spam? I don’t thing anyone should ever be able to negatively affect another website no matter the reason. No matter what someone will find a way to make it work for all the wrong reasons.

    • You are not understanding the proposal. A few links marked rel=”spam” would have zero effect. Thousands or tens of thousands of links to the same domain marked marked rel=”spam” when few if any linked to the same that were not marked spam would have an effect. It would be a combination of the absolutely number of rel=”spam” links and the ratio of rel=”spam” to non rel=”spam”.

      In this model there’d be no way you could tag your competitors and have a reasonable effect; your links would not be significant enough. If I called you “stupid” you’d slag it off and nobody would pay me any mind. But if everyone starts calling you “stupid” them people who don’t know you are going to start to believe it. See?

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