Monday, 27 March 2006

Next blog queue traffic theft: Blogger wake up, it's nextsplog abuse






It's bad enough that the Net is too full of spam blogs or splogs, often hosted on Google's own free Blogspot (though we can now flag most of them one way or another in order to report them to Blogger). Supposedly Blogger will delete splogs if enough people flag them, but reportedly they've been slow to do that, even with very obvious splogs.

Now, yet another iniquitous way to abuse Blogger's system has arisen, which involves stealing traffic away from bloggers who use Blogspot (yes, that could include you if your blog is on Blogspot) - but oddly enough Blogger don't seem to have picked up on it, or as it's been reported to them, maybe they don't care?

The nextsplog traffic stealing spam or scam - abuse of the Next Blog queue

I'm talking about Nextsplog "spam", the automated diversion or hijacking of the "Next blog" queue, which someone very sharp called "Nextsplog" (who invented the term "Nextsplog") has spotted and documented on his or her blog Nextsplog.blogspot.com, as mentioned on the Blogger forum.

Basically, the aim of this form of misuse of Blogger is to fool systems into thinking that the blog concerned is constantly being updated, even though it's not a real update but some nonsense text which is automatically posted (presumably by a script) every say 30 seconds, thus pinging weblogs.com and updating the blog's newsfeed. (By "systems" I mean Blogger, weblogs.com and blog search engines like Technorati and Google's Blog Search, and indeed all other software systems, engines or bots which rely on weblogs.com and the like or blog newsfeeds to tell them that a blog has been updated.)

Well, so what, you may think? In itself that doesn't do much, granted, but the first element of the trickery involved is this: the blog which is constantly updated contains nothing of substance itself, it's what Nextsplog calls a "shell" blog, but what it does (if Javascript is turned on in the visitor's browser) is to redirect visitors to another blog with a very similar URL (so you probably won't notice the sneaky redirect, and you won't see the nonsense text either, unless you turn off Javascript or you look at the nextsplog's newsfeed direct - it'll be the blog's URL with atom.xml tacked on at the end). It is that other, second, blog which contains some real content and, in particular, Google's Adsense or other ads.

The second element is this. You know the Next Blog button in the Blogger navbar, the bar which you're supposed to have along the top of your blog pages if your blog is hosted on Blogger's free Blogspot? Do you know how Blogger's system decides where to take you to when you click on the Next Blog button? Well, it picks the destination blog randomly from, you guessed it, the most recently updated blogs. If a blog appears to be constantly updated every 30 seconds (even if it isn't really), then it will be kept near the top of the Next Blog queue, and Next Blog surfers will regularly be taken to that blog - and thence redirected to the "real" blog.

The scammer identified by Nextsplog seems to have set up several "matched pairs" of this kind on Blogspot: one's a fake blog that's constantly being updated, the other's a real blog which gets the benefit of the Next Blog traffic redirected from the fake blog.

For full technical details see the clear explanation at Nextsplog.blogspot.com, which also gives the URLs of the culprit nextsplogs so you can see it all in action for yourself.

The latest news is that, possibly because Nextsplog has spotted this scam, the shell blogs have since the first report by Nextsplog begun trying to hide what they're doing - if someone goes to a particular shell the first time they'll be redirected to the real blog of the matched pair, but it sneakily adds a cookie to their computer that lasts for 1.5 days, so if the same person happens to come back later and get the same shell via the Next Blog button, it reads from the cookie that they've already been there recently, and redirects them to a random next blog instead of the paired blog. That way, people aren't likely to notice what's going on as the same person won't keep being redirected to the same blog and wonder what's up.

What's wrong with that?

Many would call this sort of thing traffic stealing. It's a trick which diverts Web traffic - heaps of traffic - to the second blog of the pair (in the matched pair instance), away from Blogspot blogs which do properly belong in the Next Blog queue because they've genuinely been updated by the posting of real content of substance.

It's puzzling that Blogger's system doesn't seem capable of catching this sort of thing - why doesn't the updating of the same blog like clockwork every 30 seconds or whatever not sound alarm bells with them?

While the extra calls on Blogger/Blogspot resources through the constant updating may seem relatively minor given that every second there are tons of blogs on Blogspot which are being updated, it's still a misuse of their resources and the Next Blog queue, and surely it must be against Blogger's TOS or terms of service - those blogs are getting a helluva lot more traffic than they would have from sheer merit alone.

The fake blogs ought to be deleted as an obvious abuse of the TOS and, if there's any justice, even though the second blogs of the pairs are apparently legit and don't breach the TOS in themselves, surely their owner has breached the TOS by setting up those matched pairs, and they ought to be deleted as a deterrent against abuses of this kind.

The point of all this is presumably money - all that extra traffic means lots more clicks on the ads displayed on the second blogs, through sheer weight of numbers, from people who wouldn't normally visit those blogs or even be sent there by the Next Blog mechanism. A nice little earner for the person running those matched pairs. And, of course, a nice little earner for Google too, as they get a cut of what Adsense advertisers pay: is that why they've not done anything about it?

It may not be click fraud in the strict sense of someone doing automated clicking on their own ads, but click fraud is a pretty hot topic these days, and if Google care about their reputation then they should realise this is pretty close to the line if not over it - and they ought to do something about it. Even if they don't care about the click "fraud", don't they care about the abuse of Blogger resources? If they don't quickly and firmly scotch this sort of thing, then everyone will be jumping on the nextsplog bandwagon just so their blogs don't get "left behind", and the end result might be the same as before the scam started - a level playing field for most blogs, only with a lot more load on Blogger's servers (and indeed ping services), quite unnecessarily. Surely Google can't want that?

What can you do?

If you're a Blogspot user yourself, you may well be annoyed that this trick is diverting away people who might otherwise be sent to your blog and indeed your ads (and Nextsplog seems particularly incensed that the person responsible for this scam rather hypocritically claims to be against spam and purports to provide anti-spam advice on his blog!). Even if you don't use Blogspot, you may still be concerned about the blatant traffic stealing - you may well feel that visitors should be going to a blog because its content is useful, interesting or fun, not because the blog owner has effectively hijacked the Next Blog queue through an automated process.

So, what can you do about this? There are a few options:
  • Contact Blogger direct to report this - select Report a TOS violation, give them the URLs of both halves of each matched pair (not just the nextsplogs), and tell them about the abuse of their services and violation of their TOS, or at the very least direct them to the Nextspot.blogspot.com summary of the situation and tell them you agree!
  • Contact Adsense also to report it, using the method suggested by Nextsplog - "Just go to that [nextsplog's] page and click on the "Ads by Google" (or "Ads by Goooooogle") link. Then on the page that comes up scroll down and click on the "Send Google your thoughts on the ads you just saw " link. From there just fill out the information (email optional) and there you go."
  • Disable Javascript in your browser, go to the fake blogs half of the matched pair, and, now that you won't get redirected to the second blogs, flag the fake blog to report it to Google/Blogger (if the navbar or flag has been hidden by the nextsplogger, use this Greasemonkey script to get it back or use this bookmarklet to flag it). Repeat for the other nextsplogs before you turn Javascript back on.
How to disable Javascript (sorry, I'm not up on Safari):
Internet Explorer 6 - Tools, Internet Options, Security tab, select Internet Web content zone, Custom Level, scroll down to the Scripting bit, under Active scripting select Disable (and to enable Javascript later, just choose Enable again), OK, Yes and OK.
Firefox 1.5 - Tools, Options, Content tab, untick Enable Javascript (and you can obviously tick it later on to re-enable), OK
Opera 8 - Tools, Preferences, Advanced tab, select Content on the left, untick Enable Javascript and OK.
  • Spread the word, post about this, get others to flag nextsplogs too.
  • If you feel it appropriate, flag the apparently "legitimate" second blogs of the matched pairs, too.
  • If you spot other nextsplogs in future, do the same again (the Nextsplog post, including the comments on it, has info more on how you can spot this trick being played - e.g. hearing two clicks because of the redirection).
  • If you can't beat 'em, join 'em? Note that I say this mainly tongue in cheek, just to live up to my "slightly wicked" name... If Google/Blogger won't listen to genuine reports of abuse, might they wake up if lots and lots of other bloggers start using the same trick too, and their resources really start taking a hit? But if you do that, you risk getting your own blog deleted if and when they eventually decide to take notice...!
We'll see what happens, I guess. But it really is a sneaky scam, and I hope Google put a stop to it.


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7 comments:

Leonor said...

Just wanted say thank you for replying back to the e-mail I sent you, I will use comments from now on!

Being that, I'll be waiting for your post on how changing the delicious playtagger icons.

Thank you again!

Nextsplog said...

Hello Improbulus,

Thanks for picking up and posting about this Blogger scam on your site. And a great explanation of it, much better than mine!

It's good to see some fellow Blogger's concerned about this abuse of the system. Maybe if enough of us complain to Blogger the squeaky wheel will eventually get fixed.

I'll continue watching the issue(when I have time) so check back to see any new developments.

Thanks for visiting and for supporting the cause. Really great blog you have too.

kirk said...

Interesting, I thought I had noticed some of the same blogs showing up all the time. The sneaks!

I sent off my complaint to Blogger and referenced the NextSplog site. Will be interesting to see if Blogger ever does anything about it.

Improbulus said...

Thanks for your comments, Nextsplog and Kirk.

Robert Scoble has kindly linked to this post so that should help to publicise the problem more.

Let's hope Google do something about this. Or I really will set up my own nextsplog - just to level the playing field!

Diane said...

You make no money off this blog? I find that hard to believe with all the traffic you have. I few well-placed Google and affiliate ads will bring the money in for you. I'm not yet making money off of mine, but I am following in the footsteps of Content Done
Better
and Work at Home Mom, both of whom make a nice living from their blogs.

Newbirth said...

Here's what I sent them:

Here's what I sent through the "contact Blogger" link.

These blogs hide the "flag" button and the "shell" site automatically updates and redirects to the real site, meaning the real site gets a lot more hits using the "Next Blog" button than it deserves - the "shell" site keeps itself (and therefore the "real" site) at the top of list. This takes away hits from legitimate bloggers. When bloggers do this, they need to have both blog shut down for violating TOS and stealing traffic.

"Shell": http://winxp6a.blogspot.com/
Real blog getting benefit of the extra hits:
http://winxp6a.blogspot.com/

Shells: http://devsunnybrook.blogspot.com http://devsunnvbrook.blogspot.com/
Real: http://dev-sunnybrook.blogspot.com/

Shells:http://bectfunnyvideos.blogspot.com/
http://beslfunnyvidoes.blogspot.com/
Real: http://bestfunnyvideos.blogspot.com

Shell: http://mfunnypictores.blogspot.com/
Real: http://mfunnypictures.blogspot.com

Shell: http://sohool-docs.blogspot.com/
Real: http://school-docs.blogspot.com

Shells: http://jokesandfnnnypictures.blogspot.com/
http://jokesanfunnypictures.blogspot.com/
Real: http://jokesandfunnypictures.blogspot.com

Shell: http://beslfunnypics.blogspot.com/

Real: http://bestfunnypics.blogspot.com

Shell: http://jokesanfunnystoriesite.blogspot.com/
Real: http://jokesandfunnystoriessite.blogspot.com

Shells: http://bestblondej0kes.blogspot.com/
http://bestblondeiokes.blogspot.com
Real: http://bestblondejokes.blogspot.com

Shell: http://bestfnnnypictures.blogspot.com/
Real: http://bestfunnypictures.blogspot.com

Shell: http://funnycommeroials.blogspot.com/
Real: http://funnycommercials.blogspot.com

Shell: http://acrcnym-weblog.blogspot.com/

Real: http://acronym-weblog.blogspot.com

Shell: http://crasb-photo-weblog.blogspot.com/
Real: http://crash-photo-weblog.blogspot.com

Shell: http://technologicalbreekdown.blogspot.com/
Real: http://technologicalbreakdown.blogspot.com

Shell: http://lndianfood123.blogspot.com/
Real: http://indianfood123.blogspot.com


Shell: http://mreclpes.blogspot.com/

Real: http://mrecipes.blogspot.com/

Shell: http://mmeetrecipes.blogspot.com/

Real: http://mmeatrecipes.blogspot.com

Shell: http://ooolmobilephones.blogspot.com/
Real: http://coolmobilephones.blogspot.com

Shell: http://k00lbikes.blogspot.com/
Real: http://koolbikes.blogspot.com

Shell: http://windowz-tips-and-tricks.blogspot.com/

Real: http://windows-tips-and-tricks.blogspot.com

Shell: http://0penmyblog.blogspot.com/
Real: http://openmyblog.blogspot.com/

Shell: http://mohickenrecipes.blogspot.com/

Real: http://mchickenrecipes.blogspot.com

Shell: http://mguitarlioks.blogspot.com/

Real: http://mguitarlicks.blogspot.com


Shell: http://jokesandhumoroffline.blogspot.com/

Real: http://jokesandhumoronline.blogspot.com


Shell: http://visitmybl0g123.blogspot.com/

Real: http://visitmyblog-123.blogspot.com/


Shell: http://windows0nly.blogspot.com/
Real: http://windowsonly.blogspot.com

Shell: http://nigerian-419.blogspot.com/
Real: http://nigerian-4-1-9.blogspot.com


Shell: http://myj0kesandfunnystories.blogspot.com/
Real: http://myjokesandfunnystories.blogspot.com/

Shell: http://sinecosiuetangent.blogspot.com/
Real: http://sinecosinetangent.blogspot.com

Shell: http://0nlycarsblog.blogspot.com/
Real: http://onlycarsblog.blogspot.com/

Shell: http://pringles22194.blogspot.com/

Real: http://westerncaviar.blogspot.com

Shell: http://mfunnvpictures2.blogspot.com/
Real: http://mfunnypictures2.blogspot.com/

Most if not all of these blogs have either removed the Nav Bar completely, or having hidden the "flag" buttom so that people have a harder time reporting them. This is in direct violation of Blogger's TOS, and I hope that something will be done about them.

The full story of how these thieves are stealing hits and traffic is avilable here:
http://nextsplog.blogspot.com/2006/03/emerging-abuse-of-nextsplog.html

This person is tracking these Web sites. I hope you will take his (and my) message to heart that these thieves are hurting Blogger.

Thank you.


Victoria Shephard

Improbulus said...

Diane - no, I don't! Really. Would be great if I did, but at least my writing helps some people. The stuff I write about is useful to many but unfortunately doesn't seem to generate many ad clicks. I probably ought to write about other things instead!

newbirth/Victoria - thanks for doing your bit to try to get Blogger's attention on this.