I'm not really sure what to make of this. There've been half a dozen times in the past month when a new kind of comment has showed up on various of my journal entries: in each case, the comment was pretty clearly written by a real human who appeared to have actually read the entry in question, but in each case the name and email address and URL given suggested that the real goal in posting the comment was to create traffic to a commercial website. (In some sense this is an old kind of comment, in that it's probably how comment spam was originally done, but I haven't seen so much of it before.)
I'm not sure what to do with these. On the one hand, I don't want to allow comment spam; on the other hand, they appear to be real people who are, at least to some degree, contributing to conversation.
In one case, I allowed the comment but removed the advertising/link. In another case, I took down the comment, but haven't decided whether to restore it yet, or in what form.
I was especially entertained by the one where I redacted the comment but allowed it (with a note from me explaining why I'd redacted it and telling them to get in touch with me if they were a real person), because a week or two later I got another comment on the same entry, claiming to be from another person, saying that they know the original commenter, and that the original commenter would be distressed to learn that I'd thought his comment was spam, because really he just likes to link to his website, which is: [and then the name and URL of the original commenter's website]. I've certainly received meta-spam before, but it's usually been email about how to stop email spam, rather than a comment on a specific other comment. Note to anyone planning to try this approach: if person B, whom I don't know, vouches for the trustworthiness of person A, whom I don't know, then from my point of view that's no different than person A vouching for their own trustworthiness. And that's true even if A and B are actually different people, which is hard to confirm online.
All this is causing me to think more about my criteria for legitimate comments. (I have a feeling I've said some or all of the following before, but I'm too lazy right now to go look for it.)
At one end of the spectrum, if a regular reader makes a substantive comment and gives the URL of their non-commercial home page or journal, that's obviously fine; at the other end of the spectrum, if a bot posts a substanceless comment that isn't related to the entry, and gives a product or business name as their name, and gives the URL of a site that obviously exists only to harvest AdSense clicks, that's obviously spam.
But what about the in-between areas?
Bots are getting a little smarter--for example, some of them have started quoting entry text in their spam comments, a technique I thought of quite a while ago but didn't mention 'cause I didn't want to give the spammers any ideas. But the bots are still generally really obviously bots. Even the cleverest bot comments are extremely generic and don't appear to have much connection to the topic except in the most general kind of way. (Insert note about various people's ideas that spam will lead to AI here.)
And until recently, it wasn't cost-effective for humans to post much comment spam. Why bother, when a bot can do it faster and cheaper and nearly as effectively?
But now, with humans regularly creating comments in that gray zone, I need to come up with some workable rules of thumb for myself.
Certainly if a regular reader links to a commercial site that appears to me to be of value to my readers, that's fine. And if anyone (even a regular reader) links to a really obviously spammy site, I'll probably remove at least the link, and maybe the comment too. (Please don't test this; I don't claim to be perfect or consistent, and it will only annoy me.)
So the main uncertain area is commercial sites that look vaguely relevant but not all that relevant. (And that look at least semi-useful, not just an AdSense harvester site.) If such a URL is attached to a really good comment, or comes from a regular reader or someone else I know and trust, that's probably fine. For that matter, if I know you and you want the URL attached to your comment to be the URL of an unrelated commercial site that you're affiliated with, that's probably fine too. (I'm drawing a distinction here between the URL you put in the URL field of your comment, and URLs included in the text of the comment as links--the former don't need to be as relevant as the latter, especially if I know you or you're a regular reader.)
But if I don't know you, and you post a vaguely relevant comment that contains a link to a vaguely relevant commercial site, I think I'm going to continue to at least remove the URLs, and probably remove the comments as well. In such cases, if the main purpose of your comment wasn't to increase traffic to your site, then feel free to drop me a note in email and let me know, and I may consider allowing the comment after all.
I guess the key overall point here is that I have no interest in allowing my journal to be used by a random stranger (even if they're a human instead of a bot) to increase traffic to their website, especially if the goal of their website is to make money from ads without supplying any value to visitors. There are at least two components to that: I don't want my journal to be used to improve the PageRank of such sites, and I don't want my journal to be used to lead my readers to such sites. On the other hand, I'm happy for my journal to be used to increase traffic and PageRank for useful, valuable, and/or interesting websites, especially if those sites are affiliated with my friends and/or regular readers.
. . . While I'm on the subject of spam, I wanted to mention
two three things I've been amused by in a lot of in email spam lately:
- 419 scam/advance fee fraud letters that start out with a salutation like "My dearest love," and then immediately say "I'm sure you will be surprised to see this, because we have never met."
- A specific piece of spam (that I've received many copies of) that contains the line "I am ready to kill myself and eat my dog, if medicine prices here ([URL removed by Jed]) are bad."
- [Added the next day when I realized I'd left it out.] A specific piece of comment spam (that I've received many copies of) that contains the phrase "goose bumps and e-motions, the design of your web page really got me!!!" I really like the idea of "e-motions," which I guess is short for "electronic emotions"?