Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Greetings From Planet Spam

As an intermittent blogger who can't seem to get on a regular publishing schedule, I sometimes go weeks (months) without looking at the "dashboard" of this blog. Sometimes I'll pop on the site just to jot down some note for an article I'd like to write, when time permits. Other times I may look through old drafts, trying to breathe new life into an idea which lost appeal, or lost out in the daily time lottery around here. Usually the effort of slogging through several hundred writing attempts that never made publishing grade is agonizing enough to make me close the tab in discouragement. Rarely do I look around behind the scenes and see what kind of traffic has been visiting here at Polite Ravings.

But for some reason, a few days ago, I decided to poke around the stats pages. It was nice to see that, whether I post new material or not, there are still a few people finding me and reading a bit. Of course, since some of those new readers are finding me on some Uzbekistan google channel, I have a feeling that my wit and charm are lost on them. And God love Lego fans. I posted just two articles mentioning Legos, but, perhaps due to the frequency with which I used popular search terms (Legos, ninjago), that post stills get lots of hits, and occasionally a total stranger (and Lego fan) will comment on the old article.

While reading the comments, I noticed a tab that I don't remember noticing before. It was more like a button and and said "Spam." I wasn't sure what to expect, since the only spam I know about is the crazy list of email messages I dump periodically, with subject lines that promise to share Kim Kardashian's diet secrets, Katy Perry's eyelash secrets, and an a variety of unnamed secrets involving the word "enlarge." I've never known where spam comes from, and I don't know how spam finds my email account. All I really know about spam is that it is to be avoided. It's bad, and I should never open anything that looks suspicious because that can lead to more spam. 

So, I wondered, should I click the "Spam" button on the comments page and see if my blog is getting enlargement offers?

I clicked. I looked. I laughed! This was a different kind of spam. Turns out, there are many bloggers out there who are even more desperate to find readers than I am. The techies who advise bloggers on increasing traffic have evidently designed a formula for "mutual admiration spam" (my invented term - can someone design a cute piece of clip art with that phrase on it? We can share the royalties.)  I'm guessing this process involves the ambitious blogger conducting searches for terms that relate to their blogs, and when they find another blog that uses similar terms, they send a "comment." I say "send a comment," which is probably pretty naive, since I imagine these are computer-generated comments of some kind. They must be, because they are so horribly worded, cobbling together some thin reference to a search term in my blog, paired with praise for my blog in general, then, (the big payoff to these spammers) a link back to their website.

This may not sound interesting, but when I share some of the garbled messages you will understand why I had to bring this to the attention of my dedicated readers. These comments are some kind of human/computer hybrid-speak...a kind of new, helpless and witless language for peddling your product while reaching out to strangers. It's reminiscent of credit card offers for dogs or the deceased. Here is an example of what I'm talking about, in response to my post entitled To Your Health! 

"Asking questions are really pleasant thing if you aren't understanding something completely, except this post provides good understanding even. My homepage..."

I used this example first because it is the most recent and it fits the generic pattern. There are literally hundreds of variations on this theme - or there were until I deleted them. Many of the comments are in response to that particular blog post, which is tagged for aging and health, and therefore draws more general search traffic. Since a large number of spam comments read very similar to the one above, that suggests to me that there is some formula for creating this kind of fake response while sneaking in a link to another blog. I'm very glad that Blogger weeds these out, since there are hundreds more of these spam comments than there are real ones!

But let me share a few of the more humorous fake compliments for my blog. They are so touching in their utter lack of sincerity:

"You make running a blog look easy. The overall look of your web site is fantastic, let alone the content material!"

"Content material" will make a good addition to the Repetitive Redundancies file. And yes, dear reader, it is easy to run a blog when you forget about it for months on end! There are dead and expired gadgets everywhere...this joker never took a peek.

Here's another example of an extravagant compliment for my blog, written by someone/ something who/that clearly has not glanced at my bare-bones effort at design:

"Wow, amazing weblog structure! How lengthy have you been running a blog for?"

or this over-the-top analysis:

"Its an amazing post in favor of all the web visitors; they will get benefit from it I am sure. Feel free to surf my site..."

I know it is tempting to think the writer is just someone for whom English is not their main language. But after reading pages and pages of these, a pattern emerges that suggests the spam comment formula works something like this:
Compliment site feature
+ mention sharing blog post
+ state benefit to web audience
+ add link to own website

= instant anonymous comment

Here's one of many that fit that boring pattern but made me chuckle:

"Excellent post...I'll certainly digg it and ...reccommend it to my friend...I confident they'll be benefitted from this web site. Please check out my website..."

(Note that the writer chose two different spellings for the same term in this brief message.)

Several comments mention the importance of the issue I'm writing about and compliment my great research or excellent insight into this concern. If they didn't end with a pitch for their website, which is unrelated in any way to the post, I'd probably be fooled and touched by those comments. But here's an example of a comment attached to my fluffy, 95% content-free post called Say It With Flowers:

"Excellent research of your blog. This paragraph is genuinely a pleasant one it helps new internet viewers who are wishing in favor of blogging. See my site at..."

Since the post contained photos of flowers and plants around my house, I'm not sure how it helped "new internet viewers." But the research - there's no research, there is just a map and a fake calendar charting my interpretation of Gulf Coast weather! Could it be that a webcrawler service found this chart and identified it as weather research? That is rather chilling, isn't it? Someone could be quoting my "research" right now, in a speech or paper citing more definitive proof of global warming. Who knows?

Likewise, several of the comments to To Your Health! mentioned they would put a link on their website back to my post. I don't know if anyone remembers that blog, but it began with another of my lame charts designed to look like a pop-psych "test" to help the reader discover hidden signs of diseases. It is satire! I'm a housewife, not a doctor, but look at this sample comment:

"I think this is among the most important information for me. And I am glad reading your article. This will mean much better for the website viewer and reader. I show articles and sell the weight loss on..."

As I look at these comments, I'm very glad I didn't stumble on them sooner. When I began my blogging efforts, I was desperate for feedback, any feedback. I would have lapped up this eloquent but confusing comment for Am I a Hoarder? when I published it back in 2011:

"Ahaa, its fastidious dialogue concerning this article at this place at this website. I have read all that, so now me also commenting here. Visit my website at..."

I gather this writer missed the point about the fill-in-the-blank method of creating convincingly sincere spam. 

If you are wondering why I didn't just cut and paste these comments in their entirety, Blogger doesn't allow that. When I tried to highlight text, I was prevented from doing anything except deleting the entire post or converting it to "not spam." That meant I had to hand-write all the entries I wanted to quote, then type them into this post. Can you imagine how hard it was for me to write and type these errors and misspellings - twice? But I guess that policy protects all of us from being maliciously quoted or used as spam against others. And perhaps by quoting them I'm breaking some fine-print clause in the Terms and Agreements for Blogger use. But I love bad writing, I love the folly of people trying to pretend they like something they've never seen, and I am enjoying learning about how web traffic and back-linking really works. So I had to share these amusing comments, just as I always want to share bad writing, wherever I find it.

And I saved my favorite for last, because I am not entirely sure it is spam. The writer links to a website that is actually related to the post topic (health), and after the obligatory compliment for the layout and content, the writer makes an interesting point:

"I do have a couple of questions? for you if you tend not to mind. Is it only me or does it seem like a few of these responses come across like coming from brain dead folk: :-P"

Hey, keep them coming.


  1. Good stuff. I especially like "a variety of unnamed secrets involving the word 'enlarge.'"

  2. I hope I handled that delicately enough for my audience.

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