The best kept secret of The Register

I don't need to see who's written an article on blogs at The Register to recognize Orlowski's personal style: piling up anything, including sheer stupidities, provided they support his anti-blog stance. The latest installment, aimed at dissing the move of Google and consorts to introduce the rel="nofollow" link attribute is typical.

Comment spam has increased exponentially since last November. (We'll explain why later this week). Like email spam, it's a classic tragedy of the commons. But other options are available, which have more predictable conseqeunces (sic). One such is verifying the user via a "Captcha", a challenge-response system which presents the user with a graphic of a distorted word or sequence of letters, which a human can interpret but a bot generally cannot.

Not a word on the usability issues that Captchas introduce, nor on the fact that spammers have found efficient ways to circumvent them easily.

He then follows by copying/pasting a few, carefully selected comments on this forum thread of people who voice negative concerns about the nofollow mechanism. Last time I checked, there were more positive comments than negative ones there, but let's substanciate this a bit rather than counting points selectively as Orlowski does.

"This will do very little to cull comment spam," notes ThreadWatch's Nick W. "Spammers will just redouble their efforts to hit blogs without the plugin... It could skew the web."

Well, first of all Google is not the web. And I think the spammers skewed Google's view of the web quite a bit, but more on that later.

"Am I the only one to think that a search engine actively trying to encourage people to hide their content from it, isn't going to flaw their main aims?" observes one member of the Search Engine Watch Forum.

"If such a tag were used widespread against comments and trackbacks, then wouldn't this end up kneecaping blogs, by killing their intricate networks of interlinks?" he adds.

Stupid. None of the search engines are trying to do that. Besides, the aptly named robots exclusion protocol is one example of a concerted way to allow content publishers to tell search engines what to index or not. And this is the point: control to the sites owners. Now I can decide, at a link level, what I value. Me, not Google, not Orlowski, not any perfect stranger who decides to leave a link or a TrackBack here. It's always been like this with the robots exclusion protocol, now it's the same thing, just more fine grained. And who said this method could not be used in ways that allow legitimate links to be valued, like blogrolls? This method perfectly allows to decide, for example, that only unmoderated comments get the nofollow ban, while others are treated normally.

But the real irony of this is that this is the same Orlowski who keeps complaining that blogs screwed Google results because Google values them, their comments, and their TrackBacks too much. He's also the same who constantly complains that the blogosphere runs incestuously, linking to itself all the time. What this nofollow attribute may cause, if widely applied to cut off all comments and TBs from indexes, is simply to shift those indexes to content originally produced by the blogs authors, and the links they publish within their posts. The result of this apocalypse? A Google index that is closer to Orlowski's wet dream: the good old index that existed before the blogs. But it won't be his first contradiction...

Other forum members renew the call for blogs themselves to be removed from the main index and placed in a separate part of Google, like Usenet forms Google Groups. The idea was first floated by a reader more than two years ago, and is very a popular solution amongst regular Google users. That would ensure the main content of Google consisted of material edited by humans, rather than the wasteland of abandoned sites wide open to spammers, that spammers naturally abuse.

Words fail me. Is it my English or some people think that blogs are not edited by humans? Plus, how shortsighted is that? Blogs are web sites. I wonder how long it will take for people to realize that. Who's going to dictate what's a blog and what's not? Would you flag Zeldman.com as a blog because it looks like a web journal (he's been crafting his web site by hand for a tad longer than blogs and Orlowski hit the web)? What would you say about Stopdesign (a perfect integration of a blog as part of a professional designer's site)? Or Boxes and Arrows (which uses a blog software as a content management system)? Or The Register itself with its URLs that look suspiciously like WordPress ones? Oh, sorry about that last one, it's one that should be relegated only to Google News, now that someone has decided that there is a "main content" and that the rest of us must be ghettoized somewhere else. This is the same guy who complains that Google helps to balkanize the web. hold on, didn't he fancied that a while ago? Oh irony, contradictions...

What can we say about this article? Hasty copy/paste of random and/or erroneous comments picked on forums and blogs to support a long standing personal hate of the writer against the subject at hand, assembled without any fact nor substance, offering no dissenting point of view and published as quickly as possible on a web journal. The only logical conclusion, and that's probably the best kept secret of The Register, is that Orlowski is not a journalist, he's a typical blogger!

Too bad they don't have comments and TrackBacks on El Reg, that's so last century mass media...

2 Comments

I believe that this 'nofollow' stuff is flawed myself, this entry makes a good read:
http://www.benhammersley.com/weblog/2005/01/20/let_no_fellow_nofollow_lest_we_all_lie_fallow.html

Usual assumption that no technique will ever be successful against spam, therefore nofollow is useless (you don't know that), and false assumption that spammers have unlimited resources and that spamming cost them nothing, which is false.

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