Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Attack of the Killer Spam

While long-time bloggers are no doubt fully aware of this phenomenon, it's only recently become an issue for me. There's a new form of spam in town: comment spam. For those that don't know, some clever soul has written a bot that scans the blogs on Blogger.com and posts a comment that reads something like, "Hey, great blog, I'm definitely going to bookmark you! Why don't you come visit our (innane or useless product here) site! I know you'll love it!"

Okay, I'm really not stupid, folks.

I'm fully aware that no human being ever posted that comment, nor did the human being who set the bot in motion so much as look at my blog. The praise at the beginning is, I suppose, intended to stroke my ego to the point where I'll click on their little ad link out of gratitude that someone in the known universe is aware my blog exists. Rrrrrright. To a certain extent, Blogger.com makes the situation worse with the "Next Blog" button at the upper right corner of the screen. (What's that? You never noticed that button? Neither did I for a long time...) Best I can tell, "Next Blog" just picks one at random; you won't always go to the same site each time. That's all well and good; after all, who hasn't wanted to just mindlessly surf in hopes of stumbling on some gold? I think the value of this button is far outweighed by the annoyance it causes in permitting comment spam, however. If I'm gonna get spammed, I want the bloody fool to have to work for it!

I often wonder why anyone would advertise their products through spam. Most of the spam emails I get are so poorly written that they are advertisements for not purchasing the product. Others resort to trickery in the subject line to get around spam filters. Let's see, you're not honest with me in email, why should I believe you'd be honest with me as a customer? And then, of course, there is the annoyance factor. Even though I have a spam filter installed, I still have to scan through my junk mail folder to make sure I haven't missed a message from a student or a business contact. It's a lot faster than deleting the spam as it arrives, and I only have to do it once a day or so, but it's still wasted time that I shouldn't have to waste. As a result of all of these, I have a hard and fast rule never to buy anything from spammers, and that includes telephone solicitors. Even if it's a product I might actually be interested in (though I have to admit that breast enhancements are pretty low on my list), I won't buy it just because the company has shown me that they will stoop to the lowest of the low. I can only assume that because spam costs virtually nothing, if they even make one sale as a result, they figure the return on their investment is huge. That may be true, but if you want to succeed in any business, you've got to establish a reputation for quality. Just as with writing, it's word of mouth sales that make you a success. Foregoing that precious word of mouth advertising just to get one sale out of 100 million messages hardly seems to be a smart business model.

Blogger.com has a feature that will let you turn on word verification for comments, which should defeat most spam programs for now. I've turned it on since no one really posts comments here anyway. :) Hopefully it won't deter anyone who's serious. It's ridiculous that we should have to do something like this, but I guess I shouldn't be amazed at what some people will do for money. I realize a lot of freelance writers make a sizable portion of their income writing spam and junk mail. More power to them, I guess, I certainly can't fault them for wanting to make a career as a writer (read: someone who writes words). Still, what do they say on airplanes when people ask what they do? Admitting you write spam is like admitting that you enjoy urinating in public. If I ever get to that point, just push me over -- I'm already dead, I just haven't realized it yet.


Ris said...

Hi! I am not a spammer and I really do enjoy reading your blog. Great science fiction writer incites, as well as just fun incites in general. And I guess I like having the coolness factor of saying I read the blog of someone who worked for NASA (I'll take coolness factor wherever I can ;-)

Thanks for sharing!

Keith Watt said...

Thanks for the kind words, Ris! I will admit, I sometimes wonder if anyone actually reads my ramblings. :) It's nice to know someone does!

And yeah, I'll admit the coolness factor with NASA is pretty high. I've been able to maintain my contacts in the space program (always good for a SF writer, eh?), so I really do feel like I've got the best of worlds now!

Take care!