The Dark Side of Technorati Tags

68 Comments

Tags are the new black. Everyone seems to be doing it. People are investing in them, companies are promoting them. They even have their own event,Tag Tuesday. So when I finally got around to upgrading Ecto to its latest release, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to insert tags into the posts. Except for one little catch – the tags were linked to the Technorati site. Technorati is one of those new open media start-ups that is always making news, for its ground breaking work, or for some not so great reasons.

I liked the idea of tags, essentially dynamic categories crossed with keywords. Except it bothered me that all the tags I embedded in my post were linking back to Technorati site. Given that very little traffic flows my way from them, I loathe the idea of sending traffic their way. Still, I thought, greater community good and all that jazz. I started poking around. But something did not sit right, and here is why.

I discovered that if the tag was “mortgage” it took me to special tagged page. However, most of the links on the tagged page essentially were some sort of a spam-blog, which basically was set-up for the express purpose of extracting money from Google. Never mind, Technorati gets money from AdSense. I checked out other tags like VoIP, Broadband, DSL, Cable, Vioxx and what not. (I did not check all the popular tags, but I hope you do!) The entries were highly dominated by spam links. Interestingly, the page ranks of these tagged pages were pretty high.

So this is where I lose the plot – I tag my post, Technorati benefits, and despite all that, my tags help spammers who clog my RSS readers gain more readers. That’s absolutely rotten! So essentially the spammers can write a script, generate tags, stay high on the Technorati listings and fool people into visiting their sites. By tagging I am helping this scumbags, the RSS-link blog spammers. This is clearly not going to help Technorati (or infact anyone’s reputation) as a good search tool.

A few months ago when I got to see Yahoo’s new My Web 2.0 Beta, I had the same feeling. As a consumer, Yahoo and Technorati (and others) wanted me to tag stuff, because it would help their products get better, which means they can monetize those products better. (Of course, the argument is that you are getting better search. Not sure I am, but that’s the line.) I think this expectation stemmed from the early adopter enthusiasm for tags.

Also driving this “thought” is Flickr. Many forget that Flickr is a photo site, needs a finite amount of meta data, and can be tagged because there are a few hundred thousand ways to tag information. A puppy is a puppy is a puppy. Rather a bat is a bat even if its flat. What works for photos doesn’t work for words. I think a lot of people, infact most people would disagree with my assertion. Time will tell if I am wrong or right, but meanwhile, I am not sure I am tagging the blog fantastic anytime soon.

Update: More stuff emailed by Shelly which highlights her own post, Rebecca Blood’s writings, Consuming Experience and Blog Business Summit. These are counter arguments to what I had to say. Dave Taylor wrote, Technorati Tags – Good Idea, bad Implementation, back in March 2005. This one is a must read.

68 Comments

Jamal Hansen

Om,
I think that you have a point, but it is one that is true of society and not of tagging. Tagging is not the saviour of the internet, it is just an interesting new way of organizing data that more closely resembles the way I think than bookmarks do.
As far as being innundated with ads and having companies wanting you to do the work to improve their products goes, isn’t that true of any search engine? You find many results that are sponsored, you may also find banner ads and popups on the page. This is not to mention the fact that you are improving the engine every time you post to your blog, since you are adding content to their feed.
The concepts of marketing, mindshare and advertising are not limited to web browsing, email or even computers. How many ads, billboards and comany names do you see every day? How many do you ignore?
I think I am getting a little off topic. My point is not that your comments are not true. They are indeed valid. However they should not target tags or tagging or any other technology.
What can we do about it? You can avoid new technologies and companies that use them. Or, you can use the services that are worthwhile that have ads (IMHO Google and Technorati are good examples) and explore open source alternatives. Also you can look into and support organizations that actively work to reduce the number of times that we have to be bombarded by ads. Adbusters is a good example of this, but even Firefox come with a popup blocker that does it’s part.

mark pincus

i personally dont think it benefits technorati nearly as much as all of us to have tags work. first, i seriously doubt technorati is making bank on its google ads. second, i think we all want to get to a better way to find and be found. OM has great insights on this but the only way i can find them is a) i read his blog religiously or b) another friend emails me the post. i want a way to click ‘tags’ and get the relevant discussion (no spam) surfaced. rather than kill the meme bc its getting spammed, we should stay connected to the original kernals and work together to make them happen.

M. Anthony

I have to laugh at all this. Everyone up in arms over “spammers” all the time.
G has developed a very good system of finding and eliminating spam as of right now. And yet, someone sees a spammer using a technique they might use for white hat (wink, wink) reasons and it’s a “problem”.

Like other posters wrote, i use tags but then again, i’m not competing for “lucrative’ keywords like mortgage, or loans.

But a purist might say, a “blog” about mortgages or loans isn’t REALLY a ‘blog” to begin with but a marketing tooland therefore “spammy” by definition.

In the end, content rules as always.
Does a tag really bring traffic?
For topics on non-marketing topics it seems some.
but is anyone ACTUALLY going to technorati to look up “mortgages” or “voip”??

I mean let’s all be honest here.
Is there a reason why you have a rather large adsense code smack dab in the middle of THIS blog (cough)
It wouldn’t be because it increases clickthroughs would it?…lol
to me THAT’S no more or less spammy than throwing a tag (as long as it’s relevant) on a blog (err… marketing tool

Josh Hallett

Om:

I didn’t miss your point about tag-spam. I’ve written about it quite a few times and have noticed it for a while. Heck, the Tour de France wasn’t even a few hours old and there was tag spam:

http://hyku.com/blog/archives/000653.html

I think we’re in an unfortunate situation that any system developed on the internet that becomes popular will eventually be exploited by spammers.

Look at any one of the major RSS watchlist tools, i.e. PubSub/Technorati. I have a few custom RSS feeds that I’ve watched for about 8 months now that are completely useless.

stan ballek

I’ve always thought technorati tags are basically a seo scheme to give technorati pagerank.

Island Dave

Om you’ve hit the nail right on the head. We’ve been battling spammers at BlogShares for months now, and are probably the only large-scale blog-tracking site that bothers to filter out the crap that comes in. There is still a great deal that gets through, but nowhere near the volume that technorati allows entrance. It really makes you wonder, with all the spam currently tracked as ‘blogs’ at technorati, why no filtering has ever been put in place there. Honestly, you can’t catch it all, but with a bit of observation and a really productive week or two, I guarantee they could knock out several million spam listings. Yet, this hasn’t happened, and doesn’t look like it will happen anytime soon. While they may not be in bed with the spammers, they’re darn sure fluffing the pillows.

Om Malik

guys thanks for the messages. josh and michael, i am glad to see your postings. however, you miss the big picture here – tags being abused by spammers. its just the same with any other service. icerocket can be games like technorati as well. or even the personal blog run by link spammers

Michael

Om, I’ve written a reply explaining why your wrong about the tags. It doesn’t have to point to Technorati.

link

Josh Hallett

You don’t have to include the Technorati link or any link to make tags work.

Technorati/IceRocket and other services that look for tags will first look for the categories in your RSS feed. They look in the

[tagname]

line. Most blog platforms insert your content categories in here, but you can get some plugins that will also insert ‘tags’ you specify, but don’t want to create a category for.

That way you can avoid the links to Technorati or cluttering up your blog posts with tags. I wrote up what I did for MovableType:

http://hyku.com/blog/archives/000684.html

M Freitas

Before I start commenting I’ll tell om that I made money for him by clicking on the ads by google…

But that is wrong! If anyone that is not interested in purchasing a product clicks on Ads by Google, this will drive the acquisition costs up, since sellers pay per click.

Making it cost more will either a) divert interest in this kind of advertising somewhere else, or b) make the advertiser block that specific site because of poor sales generated.

In summary you are actually not helping at all by simply clicking to give money to publishers.

Satish Bhardwaj

Before I start commenting I’ll tell om that I made money for him by clicking on the ads by google. Afterall that is why he made the site and it would be no use if no body clicked on the ads. And when I visit any other site I click on the ads by google on that site. Now as to my comments why do people try to play the tecnorati game. Why would they use any tags that will point back to technorati. But if people are already on the technorti site how would the tags on technorati site help technorati. But I’m not spamming by saying that I’m trying to change all this by having the world junk this negative aspect by financially supporting the development of a way of surfing the net that I call server oriented. When this is done people would not be using their computers to program your computer. The present system of surfing the net is a fraud. I hope I ‘ve earned a link back to my site http://www.newerawisp.blogspot.com by clicking on the ads by google on your site.

Adriaan Tijsseling

The next version of ecto will allow you to link tags to wherever you want them to link to. So you could link them to IceRocket or any other service that lists the posts for the given tag.

Otis

If you want to tag your blog posts, those tags will have to point somewhere. If they don’t point to Technorati, they” likely have to point to some other aggregator service.

I see you use WordPress and thus likely its plugin for Technorati tags. Turn that off, and use a plugin that points somewhere else, such as your own blog.

jon

Tags work best in a ghetto, where everyone talks the same (literal and metaphorical) language (one example: AJAX=asynchronous javascript and xml OR a dutch football team).

http://www.jonathanboutelle.com/mt/archives/2005/04/the_trouble_wit.html

Tags and social networking, fused together somehow, would solve this problem, by letting you search the tag space of your own conceptual neighborhood instead of the internet at large. This might also help with the spam problem (unless you let spammers into your social network).

Just a thought…

Niall Kennedy

Some small corrections. A Technorati tag page may contribute to referrals to your blog but it does not increase your link count rating used by search engines — commonly called PageRank, WebRank, etc. Technorati defines a meta robots value of “index,nofollow” on each of these pages to let web crawlers know that they are allowed to index the content of the page but they should assign no weight to the links on the page.

Yes, there is spam content within the Technorati index. We organized a web spam summit back in February to get the key industry players together to share our best practices and create some long-term solutions and collaborative channels. It’s an arms race but we are removing thousands of spam sites daily.

I personally use tags on my site to help me categorize my own posts and to supplement my existing category structure. If I had a category of VoIP I might use tags to drill down to a higher level of detail by tagging the post Vonage, Comcast, Skype, DialPad, Poland, Estonia, etc.

I have heard a lot of feedback from users who use tagged for small groups and research topics. Take a look at the tag results for slingbox and I think you will results of use to people searching for information on that product.

Niall Kennedy
Community Manager
Technorati

Shelley

Geez, this was discussed months ago. And I’m surprised you didn’t notice that Technorati turns off bot following with metadata, so that Google et al don’t follow the links on the page.

This is interesting, too. This denies Google juice to the spammers, true. BUT, how the Google algos work is that you lose juice for so many links outgoing on a page. So bringing links in, turning off outgoing behavior, actually boosts the juice flowing to the Technorati page.

Now, as to how the tags work. First of all, Technorati turns categories into tags anyway. You don’t necessarily have a choice whether you’re tagging or not. Second, the filename and tag verb have to be the same to pickup, and it has to be present in fullcontent in your RSS feed if you provide fullcontent. Also, it can’t be below the fold if you want it picked up.

Third, you don’t have to point to Technorati, and Technorati will still pick it up for a page, but the link juice can go elsewhere.

Soooo, point to a WikiPedia article on the topic, and use the tag format, and you can ‘tag’ without sending juice to any organization other than Wikipedia, which frankly, gets a lot anyway.

(PS — there is a point on tag pollution. I’ve found technorati tag pages with no entries being returned on Google searches. )

Joseph Scott

When I added tags to my blog (using WordPress and Jerome’s Keywords Plugin) it defaulted to linking the tags back to Technorati. I wasn’t happy with this, after all, they were tags for my content. Fortunately it was pretty easy to make the tags link back to my site with a listing of all the posts with that tag.

I’d recommend looking around for code that supports the same abilities.

I noticed you didn’t mention del.icio.us, the other big site for tags. Any thoughts on how that is working out?

Clay Smith

Here’s another side of things: I get a lot of traffic from Technorati, but I use tags that are not so commercially viable — not because I’m trying to, but because those tags accurately describe the content of my site. I guess you’re between a rock and a hard place because you actually blog about ‘mortgage,’ ‘VOIP,’ etc.

Connected

I can’t help feeling a bit jealous – I wish I had come up with a way of ‘conning’ millions of sites to send me targetted traffic so that I could sell advertising – AT NO COST!

I’m adding tags to my site for one more week and if I don’t get any traffic I’m boycotting Technorati.

BTW Om I put you in 10blog list. I tagged it but given that Technorati never pick up my tags you never would have known!

http://www.connectedinternet.co.uk/blog

tim

Meta-tag your own data to someone else’s profit? Hmm sounds familiar…

Can anyone say ‘Gracenote’ aka CDDB?

We were burned then by a closed but ‘free resource’ that quickly turned profit, so JUST SAY NO…

Dare Obasanjo

I preferred Technorati tags when I saw them the first time around when they were called HTML meta tags.

And just like HTML meta tags they are being abused by spammers until they are next to useless.

Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.

Om Malik

MP, I think this is an emerging problem and people are doing this to game google’s system. how ethical is it really when one search engine is creating problems for another search engine. in otherwords what is technorati’s meat turns out to be other search engine’s poison

Om Malik

bob

thanks for the tip. i appreciate that. i might hit you up with further questions so please bear with me.

i was actually trying to point to the public tag space. (explained how i stumbled upon it)

Bud Gibson

Om, with a little work, you can get ecto to put the tags in your own tag space. What I do is have ecto load the tags into the keywords. Then, my blog template takes the keywords and puts them in my post using technorati’s tag format but with my URL.

BTW, I got the guy who maintains ecto to make what I did above possible. I do not think it would be such a big deal to request of him that he allow you to input your own tag base URL.

As for the spamming issue, that really comes into play in a public tag space like technorati.

Michael Parekh

Also, you highlight the other side of the blog spam farm phenomenon that I and others have been talking about of late in the context of “blog plagiarism”. They’re now marrying the filched content with filched traffic via the tags.

Michael Parekh

Well articulated, Om…you’re providing good food for thought after the first “oh, wow” wave of enthusiasm over tags wears off.

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