UMBC ebiquity
Storms on Planet Social Media Research

Storms on Planet Social Media Research

Tim Finin, 11:44am 7 May 2009

We maintain Planet Social Media Research (SMR) as a feed aggregator for a set of blogs relevant to research in social media systems. A few days ago I noticed that it wasn’t including new posts from some of the blogs. After updating the Planet Venus software we use and poking around I discovered that our server is unable to access any feeds that resolve to Feedburner.

Apparently Feedburner has a blacklist of IP addresses that it blocks and our server must now be on it. We have a request in to straighten this out and hope that everything will be back to normal very soon. ( I was to get our own blog back onto Planet SMR because I reconfigured the system to revert to the old, non-Feedburner feed.)

We’ve not yet heard from Feedburner/Google and don’t know why we are on their blacklist. It’s unlikely to be a result of our accessing feeds too frequently: we rebuild the site and aggregated feed once an hour and only about ten of our feeds resolve to feedburner.

My speculation is that this is collateral damage in the global war on spam. The easiest way for splogs (spam blogs) to get content is to hijack feeds from other blogs. Web spammers can do even better at disguising their splogs as legitimate sites if they aggregate several feeds that are topically related.

One way to fight such splogs is to deny them access to the feeds. So Google could be trying to protect Feedburner users and also be a good steward of the the Web environment by blocking suspected web spammers from the feeds hosted by Feedburner.

So, my guess is that the Google thinks that the Planet SMR site is a splog. We are not, of course. We only include the feeds of blogs that want to be on SMR. We also do not host any ads, which is a motivation for most splogs.

If our speculation is right, and Google is blocking our access because it thinks we are a splog site, then there will be many other legitimate feed aggregator sites that have or soon will have this problem.

By the way — we are always interested in suggestions for new blogs to add to Planet SMR. If you have or know of one, contact us as planet-smr at cs.umbc.edu.

update 5/8: We’ve identified and solved the problem, thanks to Google Freebase ‘community expert’ Franklin Tse. The problem was due to our having an old entry for the freebase IP address in the server’s /etc/hosts table. I think we added when we were having some technical difficulties some years ago and wanted to keep our key services running smoothly. I guess the trouble with quick temporary hacks is that they’re easy to forget and come back to bite you.


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