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The Solution to Spam: Pay for a Decent Search Engine?

Spam has as many recipes as the tangy original has “secret” ingredients. Each new variety of time-eating spam leaves a bad taste in the mouths of users. Again, not unlike the original.

The world is and has been tired of spam. Spam by email, spam by phone, spam by fax, spam for every search with a result.

One of the founding fathers of the Internet as it is – don’t blame him for that – ranted on the topic recently. Danny Sullivan over at Search Engine Land is annoyed that spam wastes our time on Sphinn and web-wide, and like any good rant, he left behind a solution.

Danny did not say “here is a realistic solution” – he requested, to paraphrase, that spammers quit spamming, or at least that those on the fence create content and be good citizens, not chase spam to the rainbow’s cluttered pot.

Coming from Danny, it was a nice sentiment as we enter the holiday season.

And maybe the mules’ great aunt Zelda will give the mules a cute Mini Cooper S under the Christmas tree this year. You know, instead of her famous homemade (for Easter) goodies in miserable twist-tied plastic baggies.

Hell, maybe the 184 emails filtered into (this sole mule’s) spam box this morning will delete themselves.

Danny’s an exceptionally kind soul, says it like he sees it, and he means well. He also surely knows his true impact will be minimal. Rants are like that.

While not nearly so influential, the mules can understand Danny’s frustration. Like Danny, they have been active in search since “search” meant a keyboard command to next-page scroll on a bulletin board.

There were no terms like SEO or SEM in the good old days of “baud” in the 200 ceiling range – but there were posts concealing their true content… click here for great info, only to get racy letters-n-symbols ASCII pin-ups!

It may be a function of growing older, or of watching an industry grow from roots to a maze of tree-sized weeds, but the mules can often see a good lump of “in our day” brightness from the past.

To assist Danny with Operation Futile, the mules will add their own well-intentioned and equally hopeless idea to the pile of goodwill, chuckling bitterly as they are interrupted by trackbacks streaming in to advertise WoW gold – comment spam, they’d forgotten one.

Here’s a mule solution to spam:

Give the world a paid search experience that doesn’t suck.

Yes, paid.

Google. Can you hear us now?


The mules don’t want to pay for the Internet, nor do they want to pay for search – but they would. Like Danny Sullivan, their time is worth something. Not nearly as much, but something.

A micro-payment per search? Buy “bundles” or prepaid searches? Monthly subscription fee?

Pick one, Google, and then go out and do no evil. SearchWiki is no silver spam bullet, and to date it looks the opposite. Personalized results are little better.

However, the technologies clearly exist to allow collaborative rank-adjusting, moderation, and human UGC review. Create 1099 contracts with punitive measures for graft, and on the other side, deliver a search engine without spam.

Leave paid ads in there, but mark them more clearly. Allow paying-user submissions, and charge them a nominal amount for each submission, with a cap on submissions. Tie accounts to credit cards or bank accounts to avoid waves of multiple accounts. Refund submissions when a site is approved and ranked by internal staff, penalize a hundredfold is the site is dismissed as spam.

There was a time when human-edited content such as the DMOZ returned the best results on the web. That time is past, and the failure was simple: those moderating and editing did so as volunteers. Create a profitable model with risk and reward for all parties with influence, and corruption should diminish – and responses should not take 6 months to review or reject.

When the spiders find major content changes, revisit the pages manually. High-powered Google administrative tools can speed the process along, mixing the best of bots and the judgment of humans.

Craigslist is a second model. Spam and scams were rife, but often human-flagged quickly. Jobs were a mess; Craigslist began charging for “jobs” category posts in most cities. The spam is all but gone from those sections.

Charging for inclusion won’t stop the spam-scammers who are making far more than they spend on inclusion. It won’t include those who provide wads of quality free content – and for similar reasons of gain, unpaid user moderation will only game the system – a good part of what made DMOZ fail.

However, a quality and paid moderation team, working to serve a group of paying subscribers, might just make a search engine that contains great content, appropriately ranked, and very little spam.

Or not. In which case, chalk this as a rant.

The mules are writing a letter to Santa anyway.

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