Monday, January 04, 2010

Is a Twitterfarm Pranking the Jester?

One of the more interesting discussions I have read since rebooting from a long vacation has been the Twitter weirdness uncovered by the Disruptive Library Technology Jester (a.k.a Peter Murray)

It all started when the Jester authored a blog post detailing his ALA Midwinter meeting plans. It appears that others have been constructed tweets that consist of his blog post headlines with links back to his postings. This practice has increased dramatically in the past few weeks.

The Jester uses a WordPress plugin to inject posts into his Twitter stream. He runs the BackType service to uncover commentary found in other social media sites so they can be added as comments to his postings. It was the BackType service which alerted the Jester to the Twitter updates.

In all cases, the Twitter IDs used are unlike those of other spammers. The account names did not contain a string of numbers and had numerous followers. The Jester did notice one thing in common with all of these updates: they came from the Twitterfeed service.

The Jester speculates that these users are grabbing his blog post feed using Twitterfeed and are then syndicating it into their own Twitter streams. He has since analyzed this hypothesis and uncovered other blogs which are also being tweeted by others.

What is interesting is that the tweets of the Jester's blog post headlines are not spam in of themselves. The shortened URLs to his posts do not redirect the user to spam sites, but instead go to the original posts. However, the Twitter profiles of some of them contain profile URLs for spam.

In the comments of the Jesters post, D0r0th34 speculates and Mr. Gunn concurs, that the prank being performed on the Jester sounds like a Twitterfarm, a la Google linkfarm. Mr. Gunn observes:
"Many of the follower qualification tools use follower ratios to determine spamminess of followers. Additionally, there’s a parallel in "macro" blogging where presumptive search engine spiders are really just post harvesters. The point is to provide real or whitelisted content for getting around spam filters, increasing pagerank, or making it look like a twitter account has real non-spam content."
So, while the Jester's posts are not being used to propagate spam per say, it appears they are being used to make spammer user profiles look, well, a lot less spammy. I guess in a weird way that should make the Jester feel good. His content is good enough to make it around spam filters.

Still, it could be troubling for the Jester if the additional posts directed to his blog flag it for banning/autobury by those sites that keep a lookout for those who post too much (e.g. Digg).
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Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting a summary of my findings. Reading back through my own work, it takes on quite a stream-of-consciousness flavor, and you did a great job of posting the story to date.

I hadn't considered the dangers of being seen as spammy myself by the likes of Digg and other services. But I knew something felt wrong -- or at least very awkward -- about the whole thing.

"Twitterfarm" isn't a word that appears in a Google search; I think Dorothea just coined it and you might push it into general usage.

Eric Schnell said...

Thanks for the comment. I hunted for any prior usage of Twitterfarm as well. It just seemed logical enough to repeat.