Why the Android app market sucks, why it’s hard to believe that Twitter is so stupid and why Amazon should do something about books made from spam (yes, books! made from spam!)
We’ve all been in love with the principle of the long tail since about a decade by now. And yes, I too think it’s great: The combination of internet technology, giant pools of content and search indexing brought all of us instant access to a vast sea of information where we can easily pinpoint the stuff that we want to know, no matter how obscure our interest is.
Now the problem is: There is a weak link. And it’s the search index.
If you can automate publishing to the content pool, putting up lots of content basically turns free. And thus a new business model is born: Spamming the search index.
This is how it works: Pay someone to write stuff or take some random content from a public source and remix it. Make sure it’s indexed for search. Then wait until someone will find it.
The web is full of this. You’ve seen the splogs, you’ve seen the keyword spam sites, designed to fill the Google search index, made to lure you to a trap that is plastered with ads or affiliate links or drive-by-malware or whatever.
Google has identified this problem. The pagerank algorithm and a whole team of engineers is dedicated to reducing this nuisance and to make sure that this stuff is removed from the search index or at least doesn’t turn up on the first pages of your search results.
But Amazon hasn’t.
And that’s why we now have publishers that more-or-less-automatically write thousands of nonsensical overprized books from Wikipedia and Creative Commons content with the help of a content bot.
They then put it up on Amazon and next time a user looks for a book on some topic, one from this scam will turn up and eventually be bought. Ka-ching.
It’s an ebook or sold as a book printed on demand. These guys just put up thousands of “books” like this and have no additional upfront-costs at all.
It gets worse.
Amazon’s highly effective affiliate link marketing system makes sure that these books will turn up everywhere outside of Amazon on websites using the ubiquitous Amazon advertisement system.
And even worse.
Amazon has become the de-facto standard provider of product information databases. And this is why you will find books like these on product websites all over the web. Because they all feed on Amazon’s product index.
And all this mess just because the spammers were able to inject their stuff to the Amazon product index. This scam is so successful that there are now several companies doing just that.
Now look at Twitter’s search. Try to search for anything and you will always, always trip over dozens Twitter accounts that post just on thing: Gibberish, blog spam and affiliate links to Amazon, all day, using abridged product descriptions. These accounts are robots and their only purpose is to fill the Twitter search index.
While I keep pressing the “report spam” button for these accounts, Twitter doesn’t remove them. Worse, it’s hard to believe they need my help to detect these accounts in the first place. How hard can it be for a semi-talented database programmer to detect a robo account with 25 thousand tweets of affiliate links? And is it really that difficult to keep a list of blocked affiliate IDs from known spam accounts?
Next, let’s examine Google’s “Play” app store for Android. And its index is filled with spam, again. Developers put up dozens of the same malware app, only with different graphics or sounds just to make sure that users will be lured into the trap, again. To enlarge the number of possible victims, they use robo-translation to publish their app to foreign markets: Try to surf “Play” in German, most of the app descriptions appear to be written by Dadaists. Obviously, customer ratings and user reviews are not enough to choose relevance for app search results.
Please, Amazon. Please, Twitter. Clean up your search index. The solution to this mess would be to do what Google did to web search: Remove the spam content or at least make it far far less prominent. And so it’s doubly embarassing that the same company that tackled this problem for web search is running that spam-infested dirthole called “Play”.