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?:
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.