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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA

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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

Should Old Spam-quaintance Be Forgot?

(Happy new Secondhand SCIENCE! This time, we’re talking about prions. It sounds like some kind of vegan unicorn-farting car, but no — it’s science! Have a gander.

Also! If you’re around Boston on Thursday night, come see our sketch group Always on Deck at Sketchhaus at ImprovBoston. It’s mostly new, and probably fabulous. No, seriously.)

The start of a new year seems like a good time to reflect.

Not in a mirror. Good lord, after the holiday feasts and the powersleeping and the sitting on my ass for two solid yet squishy weeks. No.

Instead, I’ll reflect on my tiny (and indirect) role in the sad and spammy state of the modern internet.

(Oh, it’s not so weepy as all that. I’m just being dramatic.)

Spam is everywhere online. Crammed in your inbox. Wedged between your YouTubes. Aggravating your articles. It’s constant.

If you spend a lot of time on the internet — particularly on this site, where I’ve bitched about this for years — then you’ve also run into the odd and annoying species of network flotsam called “comment spam”. For the most part, these are gibberish messages, not even meant for the eyes of actual readers (or link-clickers). Rather, as I understand it, it “works” like this:

Filthy spam robot makes programmed access to a blog or other site that accepts comments. Filthy spam robot runs program to submit comment with keywords and links to dubious bullshit pages hawking knockoff handbags, fake watches and deep-discount Tic-Tacs repackaged as peener pills. Google then indexes those blog pages for search, notices the millions of links associated with the keywords, and shoots those links to the top of internet searches for… I don’t know, “Cooch purses”, “Rolexuses” and “Viiiagra”, I guess.

I put “works” in quotes above because I’m told that a few years ago, Google figured all of this out. They didn’t appreciate being made search engine pawns by a bunch of pseudo-Cialis sickos, so they rejiggered their algorithms to put the kibosh of this nonsense. Spam all the comments you like; Big Googs knows what that looks like now, and is through rewarding your shenanigans.

“No one is clicking on the links, or seeing them, or telling Google how great faux Russian ‘Bearburry’ coats are.”

So those shenanigans stopped, right?

No. The comment spambots churn on, merciless and impotent, even today.

But, you might protest, surely the spammers have changed tack? They only ping big popular sites, trying to actually get eyeballs and clicky mouse-fingers onto their greasy links?

That’s where my little part comes in.

Up in the aside above, I mentioned my other site Secondhand SCIENCE. It’s a niche site. I don’t advertise it much (except on here, which is also pretty niche). And no one else does, either. So next to no one visits.

That’s okay. I’m writing there — and pretty much everywhere else — largely for my own amusement. I started the site last February, and there are something like eight comments on it right now. Half of them are mine, responding to a friend I used to work with who sometimes reads. The other half are his. It’s quite possible we’re the only two who’ve seen the site in the last ten months.


In the fall, I was writing my 34th Secondhand SCIENCE post, and happened to notice that the spam comment filter on the site had been working a bit harder of late. After seeing none of that nonsense for the first few weeks, the trickle of tripe had started. And at that point, it was up to a steady stream. In fact, the comment blocker boasted it had shitcanned more than 14,000 spurious spamments to that point.

That got me thinking. I post once a week, so I extrapolated out and determined my 50th post would be the first of this new year, 2015.

(Tomorrow, if you’re interested. Tune in any time, folks.)

I wondered whether the spam — this particular sort of now-ineffective, easily-rerouted, pointless, brainless spam — would really keep coming. None of it is getting through. No one is clicking on the links, or seeing them, or telling Google how great faux Russian “Bearburry” coats are. I know they’re automated, and they’re hitting six million sites at once. But they’re illogical, on every front, and hopelessly outdated.

Surely it couldn’t keep pace. The stream must be at maximum firehose level already. I decided to pay closer attention, and see whether the number of comments blocked hit 50,000 before or after my 50th post.

Tomorrow, I’ll write that 50th post on my mostly-unknown, nigh-unvisited niche little website.

And the total number of spam comments that have been left (and blocked) there, as of this evening?:

134,428. And counting.

That’s the internet, kids. Happy new year.

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Me on Film 'n' Stage:
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30 Facts: Alton Brown
A Commute Dreary
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Eight Your 5-Hole?
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Selected Clips:
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  04/30/05: Goodfellaz
  04/09/05: Com. Studio
  01/28/05: Com. Studio
  12/11/04: Emerald Isle
  09/06/04: Connection

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Selected Things:
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  #7: My Name
  #11: My Spelling Bee
  #35: My Spring Break
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