Saturday, August 20, 2005

BlogSpot's Flag button: assuming the worst

An anonymous comment to my previous post on BlogSpot’s Flag button raised one point worth expanding on further:

It’s amusing to read all these conspiracy theories about what Google will do with this feature. Do you just assume the worst possibility and that the company that brings you a free blogging and hosting tool is to harm its users?
Ah, it’s speculation when the outcomes are good, but it’s conspiracy when they’re bad; and it’s unthinkable to question the hand that feeds you.

Well, piffle. It’s never wrong to question or to explore possible outcomes.

Are Google setting out to intentionally harm BlogSpot users? Obviously not. But there’s an important point here, which is this: simply believing your actions are harmless—Google’s often-quoted “don’t be evil” credo—isn’t always enough to prevent harm from happening. The most well-meaning action can be harmful, whether by ignorance or by unexpected consequences.

Arguably, Google’s custodianship of Blogger, since its acquisition, hasn’t been that great for BlogSpot users. Not because Google has actively harmed us, but because by failing to act decisively on the growing spam problem it has gradually eroded our reputation: as I commented earlier, to the point at which there are calls for BlogSpot to be excluded from search engines. “Probably spam” isn’t a nice pigeonhole for those of us running legitimate blogs here to be put into.

I saw the Flag button as a good thing because I saw it as a sign that Google’s finally woken up to the BlogSpot spam problem. But I’m still on the fence as to whether it’ll prove to be a good or bad thing in the long run: as I said in my initial post, it all depends on how Blogger staff respond to flagged blogs.

A recent post on the Blogger Buzz blog attempts to defuse some of the concerns:

We’re not automatically removing content based on the flags. We’re using the feedback from Blog*Spot readers to help assess what the community has noted as potentially objectionable.
So far, so good: the Flag button is a way to bring problems to a human moderator’s view. But oddly, both the original announcement and the clarification back away from any mention of spam:

To clarify, our primary concern is to avoid promoting objectionable content in places like NextBlog or the Dashboard.
How odd. So, it’s more important to keep the occasional “fuck” off the Dashboard than it is to address the search engine noise caused by BlogSpot’s deluge of spam blogs? I took a quick random spin through 10 blogs; 6 of them were spam (all links are nofollow):
I’ve flagged ’em all; feel free to follow suit. I’ll check back in a week or two to see if anything’s happened.

[Update Saturday, August 27: all gone.]

Is the Flag button intended for reporting spam at all? Blogger Buzz doesn't carry comments, so I’ve sent them an email asking for further clarification:

Shouldn’t your primary concern be addressing the huge problem of BlogSpot spam blogs? The Blogger Help page on the Flag button discusses spam, but neither of the Blogger Buzz announcements have made any mention of it.

So, is the Flag button intended as a mechanism for reporting spam, or is it simply for dirty words? And if it is a spam-fighting tool, why not tell your users that it is? We'd be more than happy to help you out by flagging spam when we see it.

Categories: Spam


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I am putting together a separate blog on this particular topic.