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The Ravine / Joseph Dunphy

Please get rid of nofollow / posted to Diigo community forum - 10 views

nofollow policy policies spam

started by The Ravine / Joseph Dunphy on 06 Aug 09
  • The Ravine / Joseph Dunphy

    I just edited an old post on a group, and noticed that Diigo has jumped onto the bandwagon and started adding rel=nofollow to all outbound links in its groups. Guys, please stop doing that.

    The standard argument for using nofollow is that its use deters spammers, even if the rate of spammage would seem to have increased since the introduction of nofollow. This belief can easily be seen to be nonsense by anybody who has ever waited for one of his sites to appear in the search engines listings. Why? Because that process can take months, sometimes even years, and spam sites don't tend to live that long. Within weeks of a site being so promoted, sometimes even within days, complaints about the spam will have gone in to the service hosting the site and to the site's registrar by the truckload, and the site will be gone. Only to be replaced by a brand new site at a brand new location, selling the same old stuff, as anybody who, out of perverse curiosity, has ever clicked on a link on a semi-old spam message (and then checked his newer e-mail) almost certainly has seen for himself.

    Spammers work by getting large numbers of visitors to go to throwaway sites that won't live long enough to rise in the search engine ratings, so pagerank won't matter to them. Logically, it shouldn't, and if we take a look at spammer behavior following the introduction of nofollow, we find no evidence whatsoever that it does. It can, however, matter immensely to those who are trying to establish a web presence for themselves honestly, by doing exactly what they're supposed to be doing, that which the search engines are supposed to be encouraging them to do - by creating and posting content that people want to read and link to. Let's say that one of us posts content to a "black hole", a site that (like Diigo) has rel-nofollowed all outbound links, including the homepage links on our profiles. (Check it out - Diigo has done this). Let us say that somebody looks at the content, likes the content, and links to it. Diigo gets a search engine boost, but the person who took the time and did the work to create that content doesn't. Meaning that his other sites would have done better in the search engines if he had posted that content elsewhere, where nofollow wasn't being used.

    In effect, he is being penalised for having chosen Diigo (or some other black hole) as the place where he would post his content. Nofollow hurts the legitimate poster, while having absolutely no direct impact on the spammer. But it can have an indirect impact, as one can see by looking at services like Simpy, where the spam has taken over.

    Think of the difference between being the one guy who's speeding while everybody else is staying below the limit, and being that same guy when everybody else is doing 85, too. You're still breaking the rules, and you still know that (theoretically) you can be slapped down for that, but there's a great feeling of safety in numbers. As the ratio of spam to legitimate content goes up, the spammers get bolder and more aggressive, as anybody who has ever been away from a forum he moderated for a little too long knows - spam tends to snowball, and probably for the same reason that the number of speeders will start to soar after a point; because one's chances of being one of the people grabbed and sanctioned are dropping. The life expectancy of one's spam is rising, and the profitability of it is doing likewise in the process, a thought that will lure more spammers in to take advantage of this opportunity.

    There's the indirect impact on the spammers - by undercutting the incentive given to one's legitimate contributors, one helps create a friendlier environment for those spammers, which perhaps is why the rate of spammage has gone up since the introduction of nofollow. The law of unintended consequences has kicked in with a vengeance, and why wouldn't it? If somebody, in "real life" (offline) decides to treat all of his visitors as if they were scofflaws, hardly anybody is surprised when he eventually finds himself surrounded by nothing but scofflaws; honest men expect to be treated with respect. Why should life work any differently online? Because treating us all like we're spammers, even after we've proved that we're not through months or years of honest posting, isn't even remotely respectful. Even if it is fashionable.

    Yes, I know that dealing with spammers can be exhausting, and I'm sure that one will be greatly tempted to believe that a shortcut can be found to doing that tedious, emotionally unrewarding task, much the same way as some of us would like to believe that we can find a fun way of getting around the need to do cleanup in the lab, or that's there's some diet that allows one to lose weight and reduce one's cholesterol while eating all of the steak, bacon and chocolate one wants, maybe by nibbling a few acai berries or something like that. But reality is what it is, and it either gets dealt with on its own terms, or it gets worse. Sometimes, a lot worse.

    One doesn't win popularity points by reminding people of this, but it is the truth.

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