Splog farming: how to grow an OWL blog into a splog

April 15th, 2006

At last month’s AAAI Symposium on Weblogs there was discussion of the difficulty of categorizing automatically generated weblogs as an legitimate blog or a splog. I might create a weblog to aggregate posts from other blogs on a topic of interest to me, say Owl Links. It might even have a blogroll and also carry some Google ads. Why not, everyone does it these days? One person’s blog might be another’s splog.

Of course, we noticed this OWL blog because it came up in a Technorati Search — the most recent OWL Links post appropriated text from one of our Sourceforge pages on an OWL reasoner.

The information this OWL blog collects is certainly useless — any occurrence of the word owl or owls is reason enough for text to be included. It might be about birds, RDF vocabulary, a street in Houston, a bar in Baltimore, Hedwig, or the Temple University basketball team. The blog doesn’t carry the usual signs of sploginess, though — links to off-topic sites, ads, links to other splogs, etc. Googling for sites hosted by bpeleven.com, however, reveals hundreds of suspicious sites. Most still don’t seem sploggy, though, just useless.

Things became clearer when we discovered wpeleven’s OWL site. This mirrors bpeleven’s but carries a full compliment of ads, including several for semantic web products like Racer and Altova.

So, what’s going on here with bpeleven.com and wveleven.com? Further exploration reveals related domains like wvfour.com through wveleven.com and bpseven.com through bpeleven.com. There may be more with different prefixes, who knows? The IP addresses are to various hosting companies and many seem to be unused.

I’d characterize this as a splog farm where seedlings like owl.bpeleven.com are planted on a new domain hosted at a new service and allowed to grow for a while. When they’ve reached maturity, they are put to work by carrying ads and paid links to target sites and become full blown splogs. Over time, search engines begin to wise up and cancel their ad accounts and/or block them and the splogs are plowed under. In the mean time, a new crop of virginal young splogs are ready over at bp.twelve.com.