The traditional media may only just be cottoning on to the power of blogs, but the socially-aware Guardian newspaper has tackled one of the blogosphere’s thorniest subjects – sploggers.
Of course, being written for an audience predominantly outside the world of blogging, it has to explain exactly what affiliate programs, niche web sites, spam comments, and sploggers are.
It then goes on to expose a very British (presumably) splogger – Lee Ritchie. Not a name I’ve been unfortunate enough to see, but he’s been very active on some of the Guardian’s own sites, and countless others.
The article recounts the conversations the Guardian has had with various affiliate networks.
The spam promoted links to different pages on itsamobile, which redirected to another Ritchie site (showing images of mobile phones), which then linked to the website of Dial-a-Phone – an online mobile phone retailer. For every potential buyer Ritchie’s site passed on, Dial-a-Phone dangled a carrot of £40 commission via the TradeDoubler affiliate network – or so it seemed. “The particular affiliate you refer to was spotted blog spamming several months ago and was removed from the Tradedoubler programme within one week,” said Julian Hearn, head of online marketing for Dial-a-Phone Ltd. “This is the only case of an affiliate using comment spam in the last four years that I am aware of.”
They mournfully state that UK law currently helps the spammers too. Our lovely Data Protection Act means that the networks can’t give out real details for these rogues, even though they’ve been caught out. Nominet (the UK’s domain name registry) also allows individuals to opt out of their details being published:
It would have been nice to track down “Ritchie”. Initially, we couldn’t because Nominet allows “private individuals” to opt out of providing full address details for public consumption; only his name appeared on querying for his contact details. But Ritchie isn’t a private individual – he’s using the sites to make money.
Lesley Cowley, chief executive for Nominet UK, says the opt-out is only available to people not using domains for business. “Generally, we regard pay-per-click sites and spamming as commercial activities, and we will therefore remove the opt-out from this domain,” says Cowley. “We will be looking at all of the opted-out registrations for this individual.” Soon after, an address appears for Ritchie in the Nominet records. It’s that of a pub in Lochgelly, Scotland – which appears to have closed. Nor does Ritchie respond to emails.
It’s good that a mainstream British newspaper is taking a real interest in both the positive and negative sides of blogging, though I’m left wondering if the article will turn people off the whole shebang for life.