Silly Sunday #52 Online Education Sites: and the Spam Goes on.

14 10 2012

On many occasions  (hereherehere and here [1-4), I have warned against top 50 and 100 lists made by online education sites, like  accreditedonlinecolleges.com, onlinecolleges.com.

They are no more than splogs and link bait scams. Thus please don’t give them credit by linking to their sites.

I have also mentioned that people affiliated with these sites sometimes offer to write guest posts. Or they ask me to place an infographic.

Apparently they don’t do a lot of research. The post don’t really fit the topic of this blog and the writers don’t seem aware of my critical posts in the pasts.

Nevertheless, the number of requests keeps on growing. Sometimes I get 4-5 a day. Really ridiculous…

They don’t seem discouraged by my lack of response.

The letters are usually quite impersonal (they just found a wordpress-tag for instance).

———————–

Hey ,

Re:  laikaspoetnik.wordpress.com/tag/medicine-20/

While doing research  for an online educational resource I write for, I ran across your blog and thought you may be interested in an idea for a post I have been thinking about.

The fate of schools in California is tied to the financial health of the state and because of years of economic downturn and recession, the state can no longer support the schools and the price of tuition is skyrocketing. This is making attending college considerably more difficult for many qualified applicants.

I would love to write about this for your blog. Let me know if you’re interested and I will send you a full outline.

Thanks!

———————-

Lately I’m also informed about dead links at my blog. How kind. Three guesses which link is offered instead…..

——————————-

Hi Laika Spoetnik,

I came across your website and wanted to notify you about a broken link on your page in case you weren’t aware of it. The link on http://laikaspoetnik.wordpress.com/2009/06 which links to http://www.visi.com/juan/congress is no longer working. I’ve included a link to a useful page on Members of Congress that you could replace the broken link with if you’re interested in updating your website. Thanks for providing a great resource!

Link: http://www. onlinebachelordegreeprograms . com / resources / bachelor-of-arts-in-political-science-congress /
(spaces added)

Best,
Alexandra Sawyer

—————————-

p.s. ( as far as I know I never linked to visi com, and 2009/6 is not a single post, but many..)

References

  1. Vanity is the Quicksand of Reasoning: Beware of Top 100 and 50 lists! (laikaspoetnik.wordpress.com)
  2. Beware of Top 50 “Great Tools to Double Check your Doctor” or whatever Lists. ((laikaspoetnik.wordpress.com)
  3. Even the Scientific American Blog Links to Spammy Online Education Affiliate Sites… (laikaspoetnik.wordpress.com)
  4. Health and Science Twitter & Blog Top 50 and 100 Lists. How to Separate the Wheat from the Chaff. (laikaspoetnik.wordpress.com)

 





Even the Scientific American Blog Links to Spammy Online Education Affiliate Sites…

28 05 2012

On numerous occasions [1,2,3] I have warned against top Twitter and Blog lists spread by education affiliate sites.
Sites like accreditedonlinecolleges.comonlinecolleges.com, onlinecollegesusa.org, onlinedegrees.com, mbaonline.com.

While some of the published Twitter Top 50 lists and Blog top 100 lists may be interesting as such (or may flatter you if you’re on it), the only intention of the makers is to lure you to their site and earn money through click-throughs.

Or as David Bradley from Sciencebase said it much more eloquently than I could:
(in a previous comment) 

“I get endless emails from people with these kinds of sites telling me I am on such and such a list…I even get different messages claiming to be from different people, but actually the same email address.They’re splogs and link bait scams almost always and unfortunately some people get suckered into linking to them, giving them credence and publicity. They’re a pain in the ‘arris.

These education sites do not only produce these “fantabulous” top 50 and 100 lists.
I also receive many requests for guest-authorships, and undoubtedly I’m not the only one.

Recently I also received a request from mbaonlinedegrees to post an infographic:

While searching for resources about the internet, I came across your site and noticed that you had posted the ‘State of the Internet’ video. I wanted to reach out as I have an infographic about the topic that I think would be a great fit for your site.”

But this mba.onlinedegrees infographic was a simple, yes even simplistic, summary of “a day at the internet”:

How many emails are sent, blog posts are made, how many people visit Facebook and how many updates are updated, and so forth and so on. Plus: Internet users spend 14.6 minutes viewing porn online: the average fap session is 12 minutes…
(How would they know?)

Anyway not the kind of information my readers are looking for. So I didn’t write a post with the embedding the code for the infographic.

Thus these online education affiliate sites produce top 50 and 100 lists, blogposts, guestposts and infographics and promote their use by actively approaching bloggers and people on Twitter.

I was surprised to find¹, however that even the high quality Scientific American science blog Observations (Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American) blindly linked to such a spammy infographic (just adding a short meaningless introduction) [4].

That is an easy way to increase the numbers of blog posts….

And according to an insider commenting to the article the actual information in the infographic is even simply wrong.

“These MBAs have a smaller brain than accountants. They don’t know the difference between asset, revenue and income”.

If such a high authority science blog does not know to separate the wheat from the chaff, does not recognize splogs as such, and does not even (at the very least) filter and track the information offered, …. than who can…. who will….?³

Sometimes I feel like a miniature version of Don Quixote…

————-

NOTES

1.  HATTIP:

Again, @Nutsci brought this to my attention:

2. In response to my post @AdamMerberg tweeted a link to a very interesting article in the Atlantic by Megan McArdle issuing a plea to bloggers to help stop this plague in its track. (i.e. saying:  The reservoir of this disease of erroneous infographics is internet marketers who don’t care whether the information in their graphics is right … just so long as you link it.). She even uses an infographic herself to deliver her message. Highly recommended!

3. This doesn’t mean that Scientific American doesn’t produce good blog posts or good scientific papers. Just the other day, I tweeted:

The referred article Scientific American puts a new meta-analysis of statins and an accompanying editorial in the Lancet in broader perspective. The meta-analysis suggests that healthy people over 50 should take cholesterol-lowering drugs as a preventative measure. Scientific American questions this by also addressing the background risks (low for most 50+ people), possible risks of statin use, cost-effectiveness and the issue of funding by pharmaceutical companies and other types of bias.

References

  1. Health and Science Twitter & Blog Top 50 and 100 Lists. How to Separate the Wheat from the Chaff. (laikaspoetnik.wordpress.com)
  2. Beware of Top 50 “Great Tools to Double Check your Doctor” or whatever Lists. (laikaspoetnik.wordpress.com)
  3. Vanity is the Quicksand of Reasoning: Beware of Top 100 and 50 lists! ((laikaspoetnik.wordpress.com)
  4. What’s Smaller than Mark Zuckerberg? (blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/)




Health and Science Twitter & Blog Top 50 and 100 Lists. How to Separate the Wheat from the Chaff.

24 04 2012

Recently a Top 100 scientists-Twitter list got viral on Twitter. It was published at accreditedonlinecolleges.com/blog.*

Most people just tweeted “Top 100 Scientists on Twitter”, others were excited to be on the list, a few mentioned the lack of scientist X or discipline Y  in the top 100.

Two scientist noticed something peculiar about the list: @seanmcarroll noticed two fake (!) accounts under “physics” (as later explained these were: @NIMAARKANIHAMED and @Prof_S_Hawking). And @nutsci (having read two posts of mine about spam top 50 or 100 lists [12]) recognized this Twitter list as spam:

It is surprising how easy it (still) is for such spammy Top 50 or 100 Lists to get viral, whereas they only have been published to generate more traffic to the website and/or to earn revenue through click-throughs.

It makes me wonder why well-educated people like scientists and doctors swallow the bait. Don’t they recognize the spam? Do they feel flattered to be on the list, or do they take offence when they (or another person who “deserves” it) aren’t chosen? Or perhaps they just find the list useful and want to share it, without taking a close look?

To help you to recognize and avoid such spammy lists, here are some tips to separate the wheat from the chaff:

  1. Check WHO made the list. Is it from an expert in the field, someone you trust? (and/or someone you like to follow?)
  2. If you don’t know the author in person, check the site which publishes the list (often a “blog”):
    1. Beware if there is no (or little info in the) ABOUT-section.
    2. Beware if the site mainly (only) has these kind of lists or short -very general-blogposts (like 10 ways to….) except when the author is somebody like Darren Rowse aka @ProBlogger [3].
    3. Beware if it is a very general site producing a diversity of very specialised lists (who can be expert in all fields?)
    4. Beware if the website has any of the following (not mutually exclusive) characteristics:
      1. Web addresses like accreditedonlinecolleges.com, onlinecolleges.com, onlinecollegesusa.org,  onlinedegrees.com (watch out com sites anyway)
      2. Websites with a Quick-degree, nursing degree, technician school etc finder
      3. Prominent links at the homepage to Kaplan University, University of Phoenix, Grand Canyon University etc
    5. Reputable sites less likely produce nonsense lists. See for instance this “Women in science blogging”-list published in the Guardian [4].
  3. When the site itself seems ok, check whether the names on the list seem trustworthy and worth a follow. Clearly, lists with fake accounts (other then lists with “top 50 fake accounts” ;)) aren’t worth the bother: apparently the creator didn’t make the effort to verify the accounts and/or hasn’t the capacity to understand the tweets/topic.
  4. Ideally the list should have added value. Meaning that it should be more than a summary of names and copy pasting of the bio or “about” section.
    For instance I have recently been put on a list of onlinecollegesusa.org [b], but the author had just copied the subtitle of my blog: …. a medical librarian and her blog explores the web 2.0 world as it relates to library science and beyond.
    However, sometimes, the added value may just be that the author is a highly recognized expert or opinion leader. For instance this Top Health & Medical Bloggers (& Their Twitter Names) List [5] by the well known health blogger Dean Giustini.
  5. In what way do these lists represent *top* Blogs or Twitter accounts? Are their blogs worth reading and/or their Twitter accounts worth following? A nobel price winner may be a top scientist, but may not necessarily be a good blogger and/or may not have interesting tweets. (personally I know various examples of uninteresting accounts of *celebrities* in health, science and politics)
  6. Beware if you are actively approached and kindly requested to spread the list to your audience. (for this is what they want).It goes like this (watch the impersonal tone):

    Your Blog is being featured!

    Hi There,

    I recently compiled a list of the best librarian blogs, and I wanted to let you know that you made the list! You can find your site linked here: [...]

    If you have any feedback please let me know, or if you think your audience would find any of this information useful, please feel free to share the link. We always appreciate a Facebook Like, a Google +1, a Stumble Upon or even a regular old link back, as we’re trying to increase our readership.

    Thanks again, and have a great day!

While some of the list may be worthwhile in itself, it is best NOT TO LINK TO DOUBTFUL LISTS, thus not  mention them on Twitter, not retweet the lists and not blog about it. For this is what they only want to achieve.

But what if you really find this list interesting?

Here are some tips to find alternatives to these spammy lists (often opposite to above-mentioned words of caution) 

  1. Find posts/lists produced by experts in the field and/or people you trust or like to follow. Their choice of blogs or twitter-accounts (albeit subjective and incomplete) will probably suit you the best. For isn’t this what it is all about?
  2. Especially useful are posts that give you more information about the people on the list. Like this top-10 librarian list by Phil Bradley [6] and the excellent “100+ women healthcare academics” compiled by @amcunningham and @trishgreenhalgh [7].
    Strikingly the reason to create the latter list was that a spammy list not recognized as such (“50 Medical School Professors You Should Be Following On Twitter”  [c])  seemed short on women….
  3. In case of Twitter-accounts:
    1. Check existing Twitter lists of people you find interesting to follow. You can follow the entire lists or just those people you find most interesting.
      Examples: I created a list with people from the EBM-cochrane people & sceptics [8]. Nutritional science grad student @Nutsci has a nutrition-health-science list [9]. The more followers, the more popular the list.
    2. Check interesting conversation partners of people you follow.
    3. Check accounts of people who are often retweeted in the field.
    4. Keep an eye on #FF (#FollowFriday) mentions, where people worth following are highlighted
    5. Check a topic on Listorious. For instance @hrana made a list of Twitter-doctors[10]. There are also scientists-lists (then again, check who made the list and who is on the list. Some health/nutrition lists are really bad if you’re interested in science and not junk)
    6. Worth mentioning are shared lists that are open for edit (so there are many contributors besides the curator). Lists [4] and [7] are examples of crowd sourced lists. Other examples are truly open-to-edit lists using public spreadsheets, like the Top Twitter Doctors[11], created by Dr Ves and  lists for science and bio(medical) journals [12], created by me.
  4. Finally, if you find the spam top 100 list truly helpful, and don’t know too many people in the field, just check out some of the names without linking to the list or spreading the word.

*For obvious reasons I will not hyperlink to these sites, but if you would like to check them, these are the links

[a] accreditedonlinecolleges.com/blog/2012/top-100-scientists-on-twitter

[b] onlinecollegesusa.org/librarian-resources-online

[c] thedegree360.onlinedegrees.com/50-must-follow-medical-school-professors-on-twitter

  1. Beware of Top 50 “Great Tools to Double Check your Doctor” or whatever Lists. (laikaspoetnik.wordpress.com)
  2. Vanity is the Quicksand of Reasoning: Beware of Top 100 and 50 lists! ((laikaspoetnik.wordpress.com)
  3. Google+ Tactics of the Blogging Pros (problogger.net)
  4. “Women in science blogging” by  ( http://www.guardian.co.uk/science)
  5. Top Health & Medical Bloggers (& Their Twitter Names) List (blog.openmedicine.ca)
  6. Top-10 librarian list by Phil Bradley (www.blogs.com/topten)
  7. 100+ women healthcare academics by Annemarie Cunningham/ Trisha Greenhalgh (wishfulthinkinginmedicaleducation.blogspot.com)
  8. Twitter-doctors by @hrana (listorious.com)
  9. EBM-cochrane people & sceptics (Twitter list by @laikas)
  10. Nutrition-health-science (Twitter list by @nutsci)
  11. Open for edit: Top Twitter Doctors arranged by specialty in alphabetical order (Google Spreadsheet by @drves)
  12. TWITTER BIOMEDICAL AND OTHER SCIENTIFIC JOURNALS & MAGAZINES (Google Spreadsheet by @laikas)






Jeffrey Beall’s List of Predatory, Open-Access Publishers, 2012 Edition

19 12 2011

Perhaps you remember that I previously wrote [1] about  non-existing and/or low quality scammy open access journals. I specifically wrote about Medical Science Journals of  the http://www.sciencejournals.cc/ series, which comprises 45 titles, none of which having published any article yet.

Another blogger, David M [2] also had negative experiences with fake peer review invitations from sciencejournals. He even noticed plagiarism.

Later I occasionally found other posts about open access spam, like the post of Per Ola Kristensson [3] (specifically about Bentham, Hindawi and InTech OA publishers), of Peter Murray-Rust [4] ,a chemist interested in OA (about spam journals and conferences, specifically about Scientific Research Publishing) and of Alan Dove PhD [5] (specifically about The Journal of Computational Biology and Bioinformatics Research (JCBBR) published by Academic Journals).

But now it appears that there is an entire list of “Predatory, Open-Access Publishers”. This list was created by Jeffrey Beall, academic librarian at the University of Colorado Denver. He just updated the list for 2012 here (PDF-format).

According to Jeffrey predatory, open-access publishers

are those that unprofessionally exploit the author-pays model of open-access publishing (Gold OA) for their own profit. Typically, these publishers spam professional email lists, broadly soliciting article submissions for the clear purpose of gaining additional income. Operating essentially as vanity presses, these publishers typically have a low article acceptance threshold, with a false-front or non-existent peer review process. Unlike professional publishing operations, whether subscription-based or ethically-sound open access, these predatory publishers add little value to scholarship, pay little attention to digital preservation, and operate using fly-by-night, unsustainable business models.

Jeffrey recommends not to do business with the following (illegitimate) publishers, including submitting article manuscripts, serving on editorial boards, buying advertising, etc. According to Jeffrey, “there are numerous traditional, legitimate journals that will publish your quality work for free, including many legitimate, open-access publishers”.

(For sake of conciseness, I only describe the main characteristics, not always using the same wording; please see the entire list for the full descriptions.)

Watchlist: Publishers, that may show some characteristics of  predatory, open-access publisher
  • Hindawi Way too many journals than can be properly handled by one publisher
  • MedKnow Publications vague business model. It charges for the PDF version
  • PAGEPress many dead links, a prominent link to PayPal
  • Versita Open paid subscription for print form. ..unclear business model

An asterisk (*) indicates that the publisher is appearing on this list for the first time.

How complete and reliable is this list?

Clearly, this list is quite exhaustive. Jeffrey did a great job listing  many dodgy OA journals. We should watch (many) of these OA publishers with caution. Another good thing is that the list is updated annually.

(http://www.sciencejournals.cc/ described in my previous post is not (yet) on the list ;)  but I will inform Jeffrey).

Personally, I would have preferred a distinction between real bogus or spammy journals and journals that seem to have “too many journals to properly handle” or that ask (too much ) money for subscription/from the author. The scientific content may still be good (enough).

Furthermore, I would rather see a neutral description of what is exactly wrong about a journal. Especially because “Beall’s list” is a list and not a blog post (or is it?). Sometimes the description doesn’t convince me that the journal is really bogus or predatory.

Examples of subjective portrayals:

  • Dove Press:  This New Zealand-based medical publisher boasts high-quality appearing journals and articles, yet it demands a very high author fee for publishing articles. Its fleet of journals is large, bringing into question how it can properly fulfill its promise to quickly deliver an acceptance decision on submitted articles.
  • Libertas Academia “The tag line under the name on this publisher’s page is “Freedom to research.” It might better say “Freedom to be ripped off.” 
  • Hindawi  .. This publisher has way too many journals than can be properly handled by one publisher, I think (…)

I do like funny posts, but only if it is clear that the post is intended to be funny. Like the one by Alan Dove PhD about JCBBR.

JCBBR is dedicated to increasing the depth of research across all areas of this subject.

Translation: we’re launching a new journal for research that can’t get published anyplace else.

The journal welcomes the submission of manuscripts that meet the general criteria of significance and scientific excellence in this subject area.

We’ll take pretty much any crap you excrete.

Hattip: Catherine Arnott Smith, PhD at the MedLib-L list.

  1. I Got the Wrong Request from the Wrong Journal to Review the Wrong Piece. The Wrong kind of Open Access Apparently, Something Wrong with this Inherently… (laikaspoetnik.wordpress.com)
  2. A peer-review phishing scam (blog.pita.si)
  3. Academic Spam and Open Access Publishing (blog.pokristensson.com)
  4. What’s wrong with Scholarly Publishing? New Journal Spam and “Open Access” (blogs.ch.cam.ac.uk)
  5. From the Inbox: Journal Spam (alandove.com)
  6. Beall’s List of Predatory, Open-Access Publishers. 2012 Edition (http://metadata.posterous.com)
  7. Silly Sunday #42 Open Access Week around the Globe (laikaspoetnik.wordpress.com)




Expert Curators, WisdomCards & The True Wisdom of @organizedwisdom

9 11 2010

Note added 2010-11-12:  Anyone who wishes to can now email info@organizedwisdom.com to let his/her profile as expert curator removed from the site of Organized Wisdom (see comments by Unity Stoakes, Co-founder OrganizedWisdom)

————————————————————————————————-

Twitter and other Social Media can be full of random rubbish, but can also contain useful information. Personally, I use Twitter for work-related tweets about 95 percent of the time, and I choose the people I follow carefully so that I’m not overwhelmed by a flood of tweets. As I’ve said before: people who I follow are my human filter to the Twitter Noise. And I hope that is vice versa.

Organized Wisdom (http://organizedwisdom.com and @organizedwisdom on Twitter) is a 3-4 year old company that uses a similar approach to filter useful health information out of the daily junk.

Or as Steve Krein, CEO of Organized Wisdom tells Matthew Holt of the Health Care Blog in an interview (video below)

Organized Wisdom has created a new way for people to use the internet to solve their health problems by using experts. We think experts are the missing gap between two worlds: heavily simplified health encyclopedias & dictionaries and complex stuff on the internet (where you are quickly overwhelmed by all the health stuff).

OrganizedWisdom® uses WisdomCards™ , a unique service which helps people easily discover great links, curated by experts and organized by topic.

In principle this is an excellent idea, and that is why I originally joined Organized Wisdom.

I have a badge on my blog and I’m a so-called expert curator and contributor for Medical Education and Medical Librarian (topics)

Profile now removed from Organized Wisdom (2010-11-11)

Profile now removed from Organized Wisdom (2010-11-11)

So far so good. Besides being a creator of content (which is nothing more than being a source for automatically created links present in my health-care related tweets), I’m also a “consumer”. Because I’m interested in Endocrinology I follow @EndocrinologyOW on Twitter. There are many other OW topics on Twitter, that you can follow.

Recently Organized Wisdom launched a new account @ActivityDigest, which -it won’t surprise you- gives an activity digest of the curators. Apparently to stimulate “engagement” (Oh wonderful CEO-terminologies).

This is why I got this tweet in my twitter stream (I don’t follow @ActivityDigest, but I see its tweets once it mentions me).

I felt flattered: “recommended as an expert curator for Organized Wisdom“…. That sounds like any scientists could only dream of.

And before I realised it, I retweeted the message (repeated the message to my twitter stream).

Immediately I felt a bit uncomfortable. And this feeling grew as I saw almost everybody in my Twitter stream being labeled as an “Expert Curator”. … and everybody retweeting his/her “pat on the back” and congratulating each other….

I don’t have the original retweets, but a search for “Expert Curator” shows that last weeks “expert-curator”-retweets still continue

  1. American Heart Assoc
    American_Heart Thanks! RT @ActivityDigest @American_Heart was recommended as an Expert Curator for quality links, expertise. Congrats!…
  2. Rudi'sGlutenFree
    rudisglutenfree Cool! RT @ActivityDigest: @rudisglutenfree recommended as Expert Curator 4 quality links, expertise. http://bit.ly/9IOHME @OrganizedWisdom
  3. EndlessBeauty.com
    _EndlessBeauty Oh wow thank you @ActivityDigest!! We appreciate the recommendation for an Expert Curator :) @organizedwisdom
  4. Michael Bermant, MD
    DrBermant Michael Bermant, MD – OrganizedWisdom Contributor Profile http://bit.ly/99hDES Learn why he is an Expert Curator, see links he has shared.
  5. shade gardener
    shadegardener @ActivityDigest Wow, I never heard of Expert Curator for quality links before, thanks for letting me know I was awarded! :-)
  6. Bamboo Inspiration
    bambooinspired @ActivityDigest Hi and thanks for the Expert Curator for quality links mention! That’s really appreciated
  7. BMJ Group
    BMJ_Group Thanks :o) RT @ActivityDigest: @BMJ_Group was recommended as an Expert Curator for quality links, expertise. Congrats! http://bit.ly/an2Vio
  8. Imagine Nursing
    ImagineNursing Nursing Tweets: BMJ_Group: Thanks :o) RT @ActivityDigest: @BMJ_Group was recommended as an Expert Curator for qu… http://bit.ly/954uDQ

this quote was brought to you by quoteurl

Note (1) the real surprise of some people (Wow, I never heard of Expert Curator for quality links before) and (2) the chaff (endless beauty) between the wheat ((BMJ_GroupAmerican_Heart). I mean: if some of these accounts would start following me, I would probably block them and report them for spam! Really!

Activity Digest  continues its activities. Now everybody knows he or she is a curator,  it tweets what the curators have achieved this week. Probably OW is hoping curators retweet their achievements and spread the word for them. We are not only used as living filters, but even more so as “living ads”!

It made me frown, but the worst thing that struck me today is that the twittered information isn’t really filtered for quality. About a quarter is what I would call SCAM or at least CRAP.

Look on which WisdomCardI land on when I follow a tweet “Tired Of Fake Anti-aging Creams? (Try HGH Energizer”): rubbish by natural healers etc (spread by @EndocrinologyOW)
Similar cards are antiaging medicine that gets at the hormone causessupplements for diabetes support and what about the Type  2 Diabetes Natural Treatment-card. Cinnamon as treatment? Anyone? And of course there are also chiropractor WisdomCard™ cards where “expert curators share great links about chiropractor”.

Part of the problem may be that Organized Wisdom doesn’t only share links from “Health Centers”, but also from Wellness Centers (AgingDietExercise & Fitness etc) and Living Centers (BeautyCookingEnvironment). Apparently one card can have information for 2 or 3 centers (diabetes and multivitamins for example)

I feel used.

Organized Wisdom uses the credibility of me and other curators, including so-called “top expert curators” as Dr Pho (Kevin MD – blog), to cover up the incredibility of others, with the intention to lure users in.

Who doesn’t believe top curators like the ones below? Who doesn’t want to be considered one?

Going through the “expert curator” Twitter search, I saw (only) one very sensible man, EdBennett, who manages web sites for a large academic medical center and creates overviews of social media usage by hospitals. Friendly, he asked to be removed from the Expert Curator list.

I think I will try the same, although (considering the answer of dr Ves), that may not be a sinecure.

Perhaps we can try a concerted action. You know, the power of the crowd….

  1. Ed Bennett
    EdBennett Dear @OrganizedWisdom – please remove me as an “Expert Curator” from your site. Thank you.
  2. Ves Dimov, M.D.
    DrVes @EdBennett I tried this several times but I don’t think it worked… :)
  3. Ed Bennett
    EdBennett @DrVes I like to start by asking nicely.

this quote was brought to you by quoteurl

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Added 2010-11-12: For more striking examples, please read the comments. (anti-quack people “recommending” homeopathy treatment of cancer; dr ves -true expert on asthma beaten by the author of slim-fit-health.info/newsletters/fat-loss-now/…..

Added 2010-11-12: I found a 2 year old post from TechCrunch called OrganizedWisdom, the “Mahalo For Health”, Raises $2.3 Million. Some of the commenters came to the same conclusions (why didn’t anybody pick this up? Vanity? Trust? Ignorance? -this also applies to me I must admit):

Like this one from @Holly (emphasis mine)

I am glad you brought up the “written by people who do not have a clue, let alone ANY medical training [of any kind] at all.” I have no experience with any kind of medical education, knowledge or even the slightest clue of a tenth of the topics covered on OW, yet for some reason they tried to recruit me to review cards there!?! That was my first impression of the company, if they have a bunch of people like me as the final word on their cards, the info will be so off base the site will give the big fail so quick. In my opinion, medical knowledge or advice is not something I would trust from any random joe, so why would I trust anything from random people who work there, considering they have absolutely no experience or knowledge? They advertise that a doctor reviews every card, personally I think that is a bunch of BS, considering neither me nor others that I know work higher up there have any training whatsoever, guess anyone can be a doctor now…

And Josh,

You are correct about some health sites’ contents written by people with limited or non-existent medical knowledge or training; the public at large do not know this. In fact, one of my neighbors, a “MA” or “Medical Assistant,” writes for OrganizedWisdom.com.





When #Twitter Gets Creepy: People Who Force you to #Autofollow

18 05 2010

The third Twitter post in a row. But this one ain’t positive.

It is about privacy and spam.

Let’s first explain some basic things about Twitter.

People can follow you without your approval, at least if you  have a public account. You can follow them back if you like.

You just have to click on the follow button, that is all!
Everyone with a Twitter account can follow Barack Obama, for instance.

If Barack Obama followed me (whether I followed him or not), I could dm (direct message) him. He (or rather his staff) will receive a private message from me in his inbox.

Only people you follow, are able to dm you. This is to protect you against dm’s from whichever fool, Spam and Bots.

Barack Obama has many followers:  3,964,789. This is no surprise, because he is the president of the United States and everyone wants to know what he has to say.

Some people especially in the marketing sector find the numbers of followers that important that they will do anything to assure a lot of followers. They are even willing to pay for it.

There are several companies who specialize in it. Here is a list of paid Twitter services and their rates (from http://zacjohnson.com/buy-twitter-followers/).

  • BuyTwitterFriends.com = 10,000 Followers for $49.99 (0.0049 each)
  • TweetSourcer.com = 10,000 Followers for $60.00 (0.006 each)
  • UnlimitedTwitterFollowers.com = 10,000 Followers for $74.95 (0.0074 each)
  • Twitter1k.com = 5,000 Followers for $104.97 (0.0209 each)
  • SocialKik.com = 10,000 Followers for $150.00 (0.015 each)
  • USocial.net = 10,000 Followers for $447.30 (0.044 each)
  • Tweetcha.com = 10,000 Followers for $474.99 (0.047 each)
  • PurchaseTwitterFollowers.com = 5,000 Followers for $249.99 (0.049 each)

Buying followers….. that is rather shortsighted. My mother always used to say: “You can’t buy friends” (no real friends anyway).

What are followers worth who don’t follow you because you’re tweets are so interesting, or the stuff you sell is so good, etc… Do these followers really ‘follow’ you, in the sense that they follow what you say? And do they keep following you?

Moreover how are those followers recruited? Are they asked to do so? Are they offered money?

Well I don’t think so. There must be easier money strategies.

But how can you make people follow without asking?

Well there may be a sneaky way to force people to do so, without them being aware of it.

At least I think that has happened to me.

Saturday I got this dm:

I was alarmed.

  • First, somebody sends me a dm with a link to a marketing gift. I never click such links, you never know where they lead to. Even if it comes from someone I trust, it may be that his/her account has been hacked, so I have learned…
  • Second,  I’m not following this guy, at least not any longer….
  • Third I have blocked him before, after a similar dm.

The first time I got a dm of @jonathanvolk I thought I made the mistake by accidentally following him. But now (having blocked him before) I was sure that that wasn’t the case.

Out of curiosity (and to block him) I checked his Twitter account. Here I found several people complaining to him about the very same thing (the first tweet appeared later in response to my tweets).

@SorbetDigital appeared to have similar problems, not only with @jonathanvolk, but also with @JohnChow (see her post).

@JohnChow did ring a bell. Didn’t I block him in the past and didn’t I see his tweets rolling by lately?

I quickly checked Friend or Follow, a fantastic program, that shows you the people you follow and don’t follow you in return (following), your fans (who only follow you) and your friends (reciprocal relationship).

And who did I see there? John Chow, plus another guy that I presumably didn’t follow voluntarily: @MrGatherSuccess.
[The 2nd robot to the upper left also isn't kosher, as I found out today.]

Their Twitter pages ((below in blue and pink) have texts according to expectations.
Their follower/following ratio is absolutely skewed (557:1 and 1090:1 respectively)  so apparently their approach works in the sense that they got more followers, probably recruited in much the same way as they “recruited” me.

Strikingly@jonathanvolk and @Shoemoney are among the 100 people John Chow has chosen to follow. @Shoemoney (follower/-following ratio of 1355:1) and @Chow are also almost the only people followed by @MrGatherSuccess. By the way there is also “College Pages”, that links to Online Colleges, you know the site I warned you about on several occasions (Beware of Top 50 “Great Tools to Double Check your Doctor” or whatever Lists and “Vanity is the Quicksand of Reasoning: Beware of Top 100 and 50 lists!”)

Oh and “the robot” tweeted this today

Common features of these people:

  • they are  all Internet marketers,
  • All have let me follow them, (without following me back)
  • Some have sent me dm’s
  • they have many followers, some having skewed follower/following ratios
  • they “know” each other and may refer to each other

Strikingly @jonathanvolk has a post in which he explains how to get 25,000 Twitter followers with “Twitter Followers for Sale”. Juicy detail: Shoemoney gave him the tip. Vice versa at shoemoney.com, Shoemoney advocates to download the affiliate marketing guide of Jonathan.

Are these the guys behind the link services?

Not necessarily. In a recent post (Something Fishy Goin’ On Here… Paid Twitter Followers) @Jonathanvolk seems sincerely surprised about the pissed of reaction of his forced followers. Quote:

The other week I made a post about Paid twitter followers.

In the post I outline a few methods I have used to essentially pay for twitter followers and how much it has cost me per follower. With the methods like paying twittercounter.com, for example, you know exactly where your twitter followers are coming from.

Recently my follower count has been increasing steadily (and fairly rapidly) without me paying for any more services.

I’ve received a few @ messages before saying the person didn’t follow me and they were unsure how they did. I usually brushed it off as a… how can I put it lightly… computer illiterate person.(emphasis mine)

I think however that one of the services I used is using some sort of application access to automatically make users follow those who pay for the service.

The only problem is, I’m not sure which service is doing it… or if it’s just someone trying to get my account banned.

Since I have no way of know knowing… I have no way of stopping it.

Kinda crazy. Either way, be careful buying followers unless you know explicitly where the users are coming from!

——————

Kinda bullshitSince I have no way of know knowing… I have no way of stopping it.” …. Booh!

Let me give you one tip, guys (assuming that you are honest about this): go sit around the table and see which follower-robbering service you share, and do something about it!!

How people can force you to follow is a technical issue, I know little about. Jonathan refers to a follow bug in Twitter that they have found but should have been fixed.

Indeed @librarianbe told me the same in response to my “tweets for help”. He referred to an article in Gizmodo explaining how to force anyone to follow you on Twitter. Apparently the bug was not fixed (yet?), or there is another leak still to be discovered.

Twitter handled the p @  r  n-spam well. I hope it will find a solution to these problems too.

For such forced following and marketing dm’s are not only annoying, and an intrusion on our privacy, they are also bad for the credibility of a tool like Twitter.

So I’m going to block these guys (of course) and report them to Twitter using the ticket file @mrgunn advised me.

Similar problems? Here is the link to file a ticket with Twitter: http://help.twitter.com/requests/new

Meanwhile I advise you marketer guys to reassess the value of your followers. Do you only care about the size of the flock? Is it just the number of sheep? Do you want to impress by numbers? Or do you care about by whom you are being followed? And if what you’re tweeting does matter to them? Because only then you will have value as a twitterer and deserve to be followed. Otherwise, how can I put it lightly…you’re  a bit sheepish.

Added 18-05-2010

According to Twitter Status the bug that permitted a user to “force” other users to follow them was resolved & cleaned up May 10th. However Jonathan send the dm May 15th (although he might have forced me to follow him longer ago).

If you are still seeing folks you are following who you didn’t choose to follow, Twitter advises to use the block or unfollow tools as a remedy.

However, these buttons do not work effectively as @jonathanvolk and @johnchow keep resurrecting again after a total block.

@jonathanvolk reappeared in the Following Tab of Friend or Follow this very night, about 3 days after blocking (see comment).

Twitter, I hope you listen…





Beware of Top 50 “Great Tools to Double Check your Doctor” or whatever Lists.

1 09 2009

Just the other week I wrote a post “Vanity is the Quicksand of Reasoning: Beware of Top 100 and 50 lists!”

In short this post describes that (some) Top 100 etc lists may not be as useful or innocent as they seem. Some of these lists are created by real scam-sites, who’s only goal is to make money via click-troughs and to get as much traffic as possible, via YOU (and me)!

The scam appears in many guises.

  1. As submissions for a  blog carnival, i.e. 100-weight-loss-tips-tricks.
  2. An offer of a health care student who asks you to do a guest post (you only have to link back to his/her site).
  3. In the form of a mail, dropping you a quick line that you’re included in a top 100 list, possibly worth mentioning to your audience.
  4. You just noticed a top 100 list with excellent sites, worth mentioning on Twitter or Friendfeed, so your followers become aware of the sites and pass the message.

The first two are pretty obvious scam. The latter two are more difficult to see through.

Why do I write another post? Because it happened again, today. And I think I should bring the message home more clearly.

Below you see what happens. Berci has found a list with 50 great tools to “Double check your Doctor”. He tweets the link to what he considers a great resource list, and in no time the message and the link are tweeted several times. Some people also post a link on their blog.

  1. Bertalan Meskó
    Berci 50 Great Tools to Double Check Your Doctor http://ff.im/-7q7DA
  2. Liza Sisler
    lizasisler Good resource list RT @Berci 50 Great Tools to Double Check Your Doctor http://ff.im/-7q7DA
  3. Bart Collet
    bart RT @Berci: 50 Great Tools to Double Check Your Doctor http://ff.im/-7q7DA
  4. Guy Therrien
    gtherrien RT @bart: 50 Great Tools to Double Check Your Doctor – Online Nursing Classes http://ff.im/-7q9pK
  5. zorgbeheer
    zorgbeheer DELI 50 Great Tools to Double Check Your Doctor – Online Nursing Classes: You probably know that Googling yo.. http://bit.ly/n1NXc
  6. ekettell
    ekettell RT@Berci 50 Great Tools to Double Check Your Doctor http://ff.im/-7q7DA
  7. Robert L. Oakes
    RobertLOakes RT @Berci: 50 Great Tools to Double Check Your Doctor http://ff.im/-7q7DA (via @ahier)
  8. dr. Horváth Tamás
    ENTHouse RT @Berci 50 Great Tools to Double Check Your Doctor http://ff.im/-7q7DA
  9. Sagar Satapathy
    sagar13d 50 Great Tools to Double Check Your Doctor. URL: http://tinyurl.com/mlmf47

this quote was brought to you by quoteurl

Finally this will result in more traffic to the website onlinenursingclasses and a higher rank in Google.

Indeed 12 hours after Berci’s tweet, searching for “50 Great Tools to Double Check Your Doctor” (between quotes) gives just 21 hits (similar hits not shown), many of which can be traced back to the twitter posts.
All but one are positive: the last hit is my warning, which was only received by ahier and TheSofa. Ahier deleted his original positive tweet from Twitter.

Also worrying is that the spam site was bookmarked by various Stumble upon visitors. And that the one person that made the Stumble upon review also “liked” similar sites, like Online Classes and Learn Gasms. So probably a whole team takes care that the site is socially bookmarked. When several people “like” a site others may be attracted to the site as well. That is the principle of social bookmarking sites. And you and I do the rest….

1-9-2009 0-55-13 Google results 50 great tools

Why is this bad? You can read more in my previous post or in the post “Affiliate sites” at Ellie <3 Libraries.
In addition, Shamsha brought another post to my attention, again from a librarian:

Top 100 Librarian Friendfeeds to follow at cheapie online degrees com at Tame the Web.com.

which refers to

http://www.librarian.net/stax/2970/why-i-dont-accept-guest-posts-from-spammers-or-link-to-them/

Tame the web gives some very good advice

I sometimes see other libloggers linking to sites like these and I have a word of advice: don’t. When we link to low-content sites from our high-content sites, we are telling Google and everyone that we think that the site we are linking to is in some way authoritative, even if we’re saying they’re dirty scammers. We’re helping their page rank and we’re slowly, infinitesimally almost, decreasing the value of Google and polluting the Internet pool in which we frequently swim. Don’t link to spammers.

How do you know that you can’t trust that particular site?

Well here are some features I’ve noticed (for the spam sites in “my”field)

  • All the sites that publicized such list were educational, mostly directed at nurses or other health practitioners. Some even end at org. Examples:
    • nursingschools.net
    • associatedegree.org
    • rncentral.com
    • Learn-gasm
    • onlineclasses.org
    • onlinenursepractitionerschools.com
    • searchenginecollege.com
    • collegedegree.com
    • ultrasoundtechnicianschools.org
    • phlebotomytechnicianschools.com
    • MiracleFruitPlus.com.
  • All sites have a Quick-degree, nursing degree, technician school etc finder. Mostly it is the only information at the ABOUT-section (?!)
  • The home page often contains prominent links (clicks) to Kaplan University, University of Phoenix, Grand Canyon University, and/or others.
  • People behind the site often approach you actively (below are some examples) to gain your interest.
  • It is unclear how the lists are made and who is behind it.
  • There is no real information, only lists and degree finders.

So spread the word! Be careful with those list. DON’T LINK TO THEM! And if you see a possible interesting list, first CHECK the site: WHO, WHY, WHAT, WHERE AND WHEN. Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all!

31-8-2009 21-23-07 online nursing

The degree finder at the about page

1-9-2009 1-32-11 about 100 list

Prominent links to some Universities

1-9-2009 2-30-23 universities online nursing

An example of a letter drawing your attention to a list

1-9-2009 2-56-49 hi we just posted an articleAn example of a letter asking to write a guest post.

31-8-2009 23-56-03 guest post

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Technorati authority dropping due to anti-spam initiatives?!

29 10 2008

In the previous post (Technorati rank & authority dropping like the stock market) I mentioned the acute overnight drop of my Technorati Authority from ~46 to 5 and the loss of many backlinks.

Here I suggested that this dropping in authority might be connected to the loss of Google backlinks.

From the Technorati discussion forum it is apparent that many other bloggers are having similar problems: the loss of blog reactions and thus “authority”.

Going through some of those discussion, I found that answers of the administrator gave a clue to the cause of the vanishing pings.

In the discussion string http://support.technorati.com/discussions/topic/4655 the administrator wrote on October 17, 22 and 28 respectively (see Figure):

[Note the different insight over time and the light hearted tone:

" Hello all, we did a bit of spam cleaning over the weekend..." ]

The last response links to a blogpost of Ian Kallen on October 27, entitled: Data cleanups and mishaps, that clearly confirms that the “mishaps” do relate to (finally) cleaning up Technorati spam in a very rigorous way.

Here is the integral text of the Technorati blogpost.

“Technorati has a number of initiatives in the works to improve the data in our search indexes and analytics systems. Web spam sites (splogs) have long been an issue that we’ve been working to address. The days when pings came only from legitimate blogs are long gone. Including all of the spam and duplicates, Technorati receives over 8 million pings per day. Over 90% are recognized and blocked as soon as they’re received. The remainder is allowed into the system and selectively processed – a large portion is determined to be spam later.

Recently, we’ve been focusing on link farms and pornography sites that have been getting into the system. Link farms are networks of sites linking to each other and other sites with the intention of raising search rankings. Sometimes, these sites link to legitimate blogs to “camouflage” these intentions or simply because the content has been stolen from another site. During a recent scrub of the system, a number of legitimate blogs were misidentified as spam. The flags set on those blogs were reversed, so going forward they are being indexed correctly again. However, some of the link and post data scrubbed from our search and analytics systems could not be reverted. We’re working on upgrades to make that data handling better managed but in the meantime, there are some gaps in certain blog’s data which may affect the authority of blogs they linked to. Additionally, some blogs suffered authority drops due to being the beneficiary of camouflaged links from spam sites being removed (wittingly or not); when those spam sites were removed, so was a portion of the authority of the legitimate blogs they linked to.

We have a number of technology initiatives in the works to improve the scaling characteristics and data quality of our systems. More news will be arriving on that in the weeks and months ahead.

Indeed this explains a lot. As I wrote in previous posts ( Blog Spam and Spam Blogs 1 (see here) and 2 (see here)) many splogs have linked to my blog and much of my content has been and is being stolen by such blogs!!

So I’m punished twice and hard for writing about health related issues (the desired niche for spamblogs selling cialis, viagra and those kind of drugs).

Once by blogs stealing my content and ending up high in ranking (see comment of Wowter and Keith Nockels here) and once by Technorati finally cleaning up those spamming blogs in a rigorous way, dragging me along in their slipstream!

Thanks Technorati! For shooting holes in my ranking, not responding to my mail and not adequately helping those who are hit by your rucksichtloss (excellent German term for what has been done, something like recklessly in English) weeding of the spam blogs that you’ve allowed to exist in Technorati for years! (see this critic in Wikipedia mentioned in my previous post).

Technorati, what are you going to do about it?






Blog Spam and Spam Blogs (2)

14 09 2008

In a previous post I gave two examples of Health Blogs that are really pills-selling-sites. In this post I will show two examples of real Spam Blogs.

Spam blogs or splogs are usely fake weblogs where content is often either inauthentic text or merely stolen (scraped) from other websites. All spam artificially increases the site’s search engine ranking, increasing the number of potential visitors.

Database-management blog: no longer exists

Original post at this blog above and comment below.

One Spam blog that I wanted to show you, is no longer available. It is called Database Management.

Technorati-profile (authority=51)

This blog had no own content, but scraped it from blogposts having the (WordPress?) tag “database”. Although the post does link to the original site, it doesn’t refer to the author’s proper name, but some automatically generated fake name. For instance Shamisos instead of Laikaspoetnik (see Fig).

When I tried to place a comment on their site I had to login into the WordPress-account (although I was already logged in into mine). That’s when I began to really distrust it.

It’s technorati profile still exists (see Fig.). It is clear that the blog has rapidly increased it’s “authority” in the few months it existed. From zero to 51.
Many blogs linking to this blog are also gone or peculiar. Other blogs might have just linked to the spam blog because they assumed that this was the original post, not the copy. Presumably by having so much content on ‘database management’ the splog gets more traffic (of the preferred kind). This might be an example of a splog that backlinks to a portfolio of affiliate websites, to artificially inflate paid ad impressions from visitors, and/or as a link outlet to get new sites indexed (Wikipedia).

The second example of a spamblog is a very interesting site for Medical Librarians: Generic Pub, with the webadress: http://genericpubmed.com/pub/ with posts about PubMed. Really high quality information. Why? Because the posts derive from elsewhere. All of my posts about PubMed are in there, as are those of my colleagues, and perhaps your posts as well. There is no clue as to where the post really came from. You don’t get any pingbacks, unless the (original) post linked to you. That’s how I found out. As with the other spamblogs you cannot comment. Comments are always closed.

one of my posts on Generic Pub

The blogroll of Generic Pub

Blogroll of Generic Pub

Generic PubMed homepage

Generic PubMed homepage

The site does not hide its real intentions. To the left is a huge pill “cialis” and the blogroll consists of only pills, as well as PubMed tag feeds of Technorati and WordPress.

If you strip of the web adress to: http://genericpubmed.com you arive at the homepage, which is unmistakingly a pharmaceutical e-commerce website. Why is this done? Perhaps the sites looks more reliable whith all those PubMed posts or perhaps the site might be easier to find.

One way or another, these two sites steal posts from other sites. Tags used by Technorati or by WordPress, that can be easily transformed into a feed make it very easy for these spambloggers to automatically import blogposts with a certain tag.
By the way, did you find your post in there?

Previous post, see here.

————————————————————————–

Database-management blog: no longer exists

In een eerder post heb ik 2 voorbeelden gegeven van blogs die eigenlijk tot doel hebben pillen te verkopen.

Nu 2 voorbeelden van echte Spam Blogs.

Volgens Wikipedia: Spam blogs of splogs zijn doorgaans nep-weblogs, waarvan de inhoud vaak min of meer gestolen wordt (“scraped”) van andere websites. Dit verhoogt de ranking door zoekmachines en zorgt ervoor dat het aantal bezoekers toeneemt.

Een Spam blog dat ik jullie wilde laten zien, is niet langer beschikbaar, tw. Database Management.

Dit blog had alle inhoud gepikt van posts met de (WordPress?) tag “database”. Er wordt wel gelinkt naar de originele site, maar de naam van de auteur wordt vervangen door een of andere automatisch gegenereerde naam, bijv. Shamisos in plaats van Laikaspoetnik (see Fig in engelstalig gedeelte).

Toen ik een commentaar wilde plaatsen op deze site, werd ik gedwongen in te loggen in WordPress, terwijl ik nota bene al ingelogd was. Vanaf dat moment vertrouwde ik het echt niet meer.

Het technorati profiel van deze site bestaat nog steeds (zie fig in engelstalig gedeelte). Het blog is in enkele maanden tijd van 0,0 tot 51 gestegen in “authoriteit”.
Veel blogs die naar dit blog linken zijn ook opgeheven of zijn verdacht. Andere blogs hebben misschien slechts per ongeluk naar deze splog gelinked, omdat men dacht met de originele post van doen te hebben, niet de kopie. Waarschijnlijk krijgt de splog zo meer verkeer van mensen die juist in database management geinteresseerd zijn. Mogelijk is dit een splog die teruglinkt naar een aantal klonen en vice versa. (Wikipedia).

Het 2e voorbeeld van een splog is een erg interessante site voor medisch informatiespecialisten, nl Generic Pub met het webadres: genericpubmed.com/pub. Allemaal kwalitatief zeer goede posts over PubMed. Maar ze zijn wel gejat. Al mijn berichten met de tag PubMed zijn er te vinden, evenals die van mijn collega’s en misschien uw berichten ook wel.
Nergens is de ware herkomst van de berichten te herleiden. De echte auteurs krijgen normaal geen pingback, alleen als de oorspronkelijke post een link naar hen bevat. Zo kwam ik er eigenlijk achter. Evenals de andere splogs, kun je geen commentaar plaatsen.

De website verhult zijn werkelijke bedoelingen niet. Links staat een reuzachtige pil “cialis” en de blogroll bevat alleen namen van pillen alsmede de feeds van de PubMed tags van Technorati en WordPress.
Als je het webadres stript tot: genericpubmed.com kom je op de homepage, onmiskenbaar een e-commerce site. Waarom verschuilt men zich achter zo’n blog? Lijkt de site er betrouwbaarder door of vinden potentiele klanten de site makkelijker?

Hoe dan ook deze 2 sites stelen van andere websites. Een feed nemen op Technorati- of WordPress-tags is een eitje, en dit maakt het deze spambloggers erg makkelijk om automatisch blogposts met een bepaalde tag te importeren.
Tussen 2 haakjes, heeft u uw post al getraceerd?

Vorig bericht in deze serie, zie hier.





Blog Spam and Spam Blogs (1)

11 09 2008

Flickr.com cursedthing (CC)

We all get our spam once in a while. Most of the time spamfilters block them. Askismet works well at this blog. Often you recognize spam by the hyperlinks or the words, i.e. “viagra”.

But sometimes spam is not so obvious. In 2 separate post I would like to give some examples of less obvious blog spam, spamblogs and something in between.

Acccording to wikipedia:

Blog spam is done by automatically posting random comments or promoting commercial services to blogs. Any web application that accepts and displays hyperlinks submitted by visitors may be a target.

Conversely, spam blogs are usely fake weblogs where content is often either inauthentic text or merely stolen (scraped) from other websites.

All spam artificially increases the site’s search engine ranking, which often results in the spammer’s commercial site being listed ahead of other sites for certain searches, increasing the number of potential visitors and paying customers.

Blogs & Spam: “Spam” by request?

David Rothman describes at his blog how he is often mailed by people asking him to post about their site, which often is “just a lousy site solely meant for pharma marketing”. He refuses if the site isn’t really useful, but apparently many of his fellow health bloggers aren’t that fussy, since those particular sites often manage to get mentioned on other health blogs anyway. David hopes that the blog-reader will read through this, but is that really the case? The blogger may be considered an expert in the field (that’s why he receives an email) and people may be inclined to take his word for granted. Striktly taken this may not be spam, but it sure works the same way.

Spam Blog (1). “Spam” hidden behind “Breaking Health News”

About a week ago, I had a look at WordPress.com and saw an interesting featured post with the (WordPress) tag “Health”.
At WordPress “Featured Posts” are at the top of a tag list -in this case “Health”-, which increases traffic to such posts). The subject captured my attention, because it was about Addison’s disease (which I have). I read it.

Somebody with primary Addison (Primary Adrenal failure, which leads to inability to make the hormones cortisol, aldosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)) asked whether the menstrual irregularity she developed a year ago could be caused by the replacement therapy with Hydrocortisone and Fludrocortisone and if this could lower her fertility.

The answer (see here) was rather lengthy, it discussed the causes of menstrual irregularity, primary Addison’s disease, replacement therapy, that (the often not replaced) DHEA might improve general well-being, and finally comes to possible explanations:

  • changes in menstrual cycle could be related to too much or too little of the replacement hormones
  • recurrence of menstrual cycles was reported in one patient treated with DHEA (also considered as a supplement, by the way).
  • advice: consultation of an endocrinologist.

Nothing really wrong with this. However a more plausible explanation wasn’t mentioned, i.e. that the reduced cycling might be due to the disease itself. Nowadays the main cause for primary Addison is auto-immunity, and auto-immunity often doesn’t come alone. Gonadal failure can occur in approximately 5% of the woman with auto-immune Addison’s (Williams Textbook of Endocrinology, E-medicine).
For instance in 100 Dutch patients the distibution was as follows

… In 47% of the patients with autoimmune Addison’s disease at least one other autoimmune disorder was present. Primary hypothyroidism had the highest prevalence (20.5%), followed by vitiligo (9.6%), non-toxic goiter (8.4%), premature menopause (7.3% of the women) (….).
From: P.M.J. Zelissen et al, J Autoimmun. 1995 Feb;8(1):121-30.

I tried to place a comment. However, comments were closed (at the date of posting). Odd. I must say that I already found it weird for a patient to start with I actually have an interesting question.” No one says that, but rather:

Help, I’ve Addison and my menses become irregular, I want to have children, so I’m afraid that I’m becoming less fertile. Can this have anything to do with the corticosteroids I take?”

An even closer look points out that:

  • both the Q & the A are written by the same person.
  • The automatically generated “Possibly Related Posts” only link to posts at the same blog
  • as do all “so called comments” (so a kind of self-ping).
  • There is no info whatsoever about who is behind this site.
  • The tab “About” is really the tab Pharmacy Store, where a bunch of “high quality medications” are offered.
  • If I click on fosamax (which a lot of ex-Cushing (panhypopituitary) Addisonpatients need), I ‘m linked to a really (recognizable) commercial site: see here

Is this so bad? Well at least as bad as a lot of commercial-pills-selling-sites that don’t look like commercial-pills-selling-sites. It is quite misleading to use a blog on “breaking Health news” as a cover-up for real intentions: selling. Readers cannot respond, only trackback. Furthermore, in this particular case, the information was not really adequate for patients either (although “partially prepared” by pharmD candidates). One may also wonder why such a post becomes the featured Health blog at WordPress. Well, it will have suited them (and their tag “health” is well-thought-out).

But there are better (or really worse) examples of real spam blogs. Two examples will be given in the next post (see here).

Flickr.com cursedthing

———————-

We hebben allemaal wel eens last van spam. Meestal wordt spam wel door spamfilters geblokkeerd. Askismet houdt in ieder geval het nodige tegen op dit blog (700 spam). Vaak herken je spam wel aan de (vele) hyperlinks of termen als “Viagra”.

Soms is echter niet zo duidelijk dat het om spam gaat. In tenminste 2 berichten wil ik voorbeelden geven van minder evidente blogspam, spamblogs en wat daar tussenin zit. Het zijn dingen waar ik toevallig tegenaan gelopen ben.

Eerst wat definities. Volgens Wikipedia :

Blog spam is done by automatically posting random comments or promoting commercial services to blogs. Any web application that accepts and displays hyperlinks submitted by visitors may be a target.

Conversely, spam blogs are usely fake weblogs where content is often either inauthentic text or merely stolen (scraped) from other websites.

All spam artificially increases the site’s search engine ranking, which often results in the spammer’s commercial site being listed ahead of other sites for certain searches, increasing the number of potential visitors and paying customers.

Blogs & Spam: “Spam” op verzoek?

David Rothman vertelt op zijn blog dat hij vaak een verzoek per mail krijgt om een post te plaatsen over een bepaalde site, terwijl het gewoon om een belabberde farmaceutisch e-commerce site gaat. David weigert dit als de site slecht is/zijn lezers niets biedt, maar kennelijk zijn z’n collega bloggers niet zo kieskeurig: vaak worden dergelijke sites binnen no time wel op andere gezondheidsblogs besproken. David hoopt dat de lezers van dergelijke blogs hier doorheen kijken, maar ik vraag me af of dat werkelijk zo is. Degene die erover schrijft op zijn blog wordt al gauw als expert gezien (daarom kreeg hij ook dat verzoek) en lezers zullen al gauw geneigd zijn wat hij bespreekt voor waar aan te nemen. Strikt genomen is dit wellicht geen spam, maar het resultaat is hetzelfde.

Spam Blog (1). “Spam” verborgen achter “Breaking Health News”

Ruim een week geleden zag ik een interessante post bij de “featured posts on Health” bij WordPress.com.
Bij WordPress komen “Featured Posts” bovenaan de posts met een bepaalde tag, in dit geval “Health” te staan. Ze worden daarmee extra in het zonnetje gezet en krijgen extra veel bezoek. Maar in dit geval trok ook het onderwerp mijn aandacht, omdat ik het zelf heb: de ziekte van Addison.

Iemand met primaire Addison (uitval van de bijnieren waarbij de oorzaak in de bijnieren zelf ligt, niet in de aansturing. Hierdoor worden de hormonen cortisol, aldosteron en dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) niet meer gemaakt) stelde een vraag over haar sinds een jaar vaak uitblijvende menstruatie. Ze wilde weten of dit iets te maken kon hebben met de substitutietherapie met Hydrocortison and Fludrocortison.

Het antwoord (zie hier) was nogal weinig to the point. Het volgende werd breeduit besproken: de oorzaken van onregelmatige menstruatie i.h.a., primaire Addison, substitutietherapie, dat het vaak niet gesubstitueerde DHEA (eigenlijk ook vaak gebruikt als voedingssupplement) de kwaliteit van leven kan verbeteren, om tot slot met enkele mogelijke verklaringen te komen:

  • veranderingen in de menstruatiecyclus kunnen samenhangen met te weinig of te veel vervangende hormonen (maar niet door fysiologische doses, hetgeen het streven is bij vervanging).
  • één patient kreeg weer een normale cyclus na gebruik van DHEA (overigens werden ook de andere hormonen beter ingesteld)
  • tot slot een algemeen advies; ga naar je endocrinoloog.

Hier is niet echt wat mis mee (vooral met het laatste advies). Zij het dat een voor de hand liggende verklaring niet genoemd wordt, namelijk dat een onregelmatige cyclus en verlaagde vruchtbaarheid ook kunnen samenhangen met de ziekte zelf. Tegenwoordig is de belangrijkste oorzaak voor primaire Addison autoimmuniteit (afweerreactie tegen eigen weefsels/organen) en autoimmuniteit komt vaak niet alleen. Uitval van de geslachtsorganen kan in zo’n 5% van de patienten met primaire Addison voorkomen (Williams Textbook of Endocrinology, E-medicine).
Bij 100 Nederlandse patienten was de verdeling bijvoorbeeld als volgt:

… In 47% of the patients with autoimmune Addison’s disease at least one other autoimmune disorder was present. Primary hypothyroidism had the highest prevalence (20.5%), followed by vitiligo (9.6%), non-toxic goiter (8.4%), premature menopause (7.3% of the women) (….).
From: P.M.J. Zelissen et al, J Autoimmun. 1995 Feb;8(1):121-30.

Ik probeerde een reactie te plaatsen op de blogpost, maar dat was niet meer mogelijk. Nou ja niet meer: het was de dag dat het bericht geplaatst was. Raar. Ik moet zeggen dat ik al mijn wenkbrauwen fronsde bij het zien van de aanhef I actually have an interesting question.” geen patient begint zo, maar zegt eerder:

Help, Ik heb Addison. Mijn cycli worden onregelmatig en ik wil nog graag kinderen hebben, dus ik ben bang dat ik minder vruchtbaar wordt. Kan dit komen door de corticosteroiden die ik ter vervanging inneem?”

Geintrigeerd ging ik verder op zoek.

  • De Q & de A bleken door dezelfde persoon geschreven.
  • De automatisch gegenereerde “Possibly Related Posts” linken alleen naar berichten op het blog zelf.
  • Dat geldt ook voor alle commentaren (een soort zelf-ping).
  • Er is nergens info over wie er achter de site zit.
  • De tab “About”/”Over” is eigenlijk de link naar de “Pharmacy Store“, waar een reeks “high quality medications” wordt aangeboden.
  • Als je bijvoorbeeld op fosamax (vaak gebruikt door ex-Cushing Addisonpatienten) klikt kom je op een duidelijk herkenbare commerciele site terecht: zie hier

Is dit zo erg? Nou dit blog is net zo erg als die pillen-verkopende websites die er niet uitzien als pillenverkopende websites. Het is nogal misleidend om je blog te presenteren als een blog over “breaking Health news” om je werkelijke bedoelingen te verbloemen: pillenverkoop. Lezers kunnen niet reageren, alleen trackbacken. Verder was de informatie ook voor patienten niet helemaal volledig. Je kunt je ook afvragen hoe zo’n blog nou een featured Health blog bij WordPress wordt. Nou, het was wel lekker meegenomen (en ze kennen niet voor niets de tag “Health” toe).

Maar er zijn betere (or eigenlijk slechtere) voorbeelden van echte spam blogs. In de volgende post (zie hier) zal ik er twee bespreken.





Twitter Traumas: Twitter’s Janus Face

7 08 2008

In a few posts I praised Twitter, the free microblogging service, for its value as a rich source of social contacts, news and ideas. See for instance this post about Twitter as a modern tamtam or this one titled: “Forget Hyves go Twitter”.

In the short period I used it (2 months) I also noticed some drawbacks: its frequent down times, for instance. The sudden disappearance of half of my followers, a phenomenon, which appeared to affect half of the Twitter community last week. The vanishing of part of the archive (@Deeboeks). However, last week the situation has come to a head by the banning of some if its most active users. Why? Because these highly following and followed twitterati were apparently suspected as spammers. Without thorough verification, that is. These addicted Twitter-users were greatly inconvenienced.

@davedelaney: “(from his blog) Take my email analogy and consider how you would feel, or as if someone took your personal journal and address book and refused to return them.”

@pfanderson: (from her blog) “Now, two important points. First point, earlier this week I stated in this blog that Twitter is my #2 productivity tool. In other words, this is REALLY important for me! Second point, Twitter funkiness (like Second Life funkiness) is not unusual, so at first I did not realize this was anything beyond the typical. (…..) All kinds of alarms went off. I had just been asked to demo Twitter (among other social techs) at an important upcoming meeting. Wait a week? For them to just look at the problem? Ummm, that could be a REAL problem!”

Well, it isn’t bad when spam is banned. Indeed many of the spamming or advertising twitterati are following a huge number of people, but are followed by relatively few. Thus a ratio of 1500:50 sets the alarm bells ringing. But then you must do a second check: of profiles, website links and tweets, of course. A proper check of @davedelaney, @tibbon, @conniecrosby, @skalik, @marjarpanic, @abrudtkuhl, @pfanderson (one of my favorites) @narain (a twitterer I referred to as bringing breaking news about Bomb blasts in Bangalore!!) would have learned that these people intensively use twitter for serious purposes. Quite different from other twitterers that follow a whole crowd, only producing twitter messages like: “want to do X than look at this (= my) website” or all kind of quack. And these twitter-spammers are not banned…

But everybody can make mistakes, as long as you….. right, 3rd problem….. communicate it directly to your customers, preferably before you ban them. And if you faile to do so, … right 4th mistake…. do you best to fix the problem and …..o.k. 5th really unforgivable mistake …. always give yours sincere apologies!!

Nothing of the kind happened and that is really bad. If I could, I would ban @Ev (Twitter’s silent leader who was enjoying wine and pie while some of his most loyal users were panicking, according to @davedelaney‘s description) at least for a while. Without checking, without notification, without responding to his frequent requests for help, and foremost without any apology afterwards!!

As far as I know all accounts are back now, but it has cost these people a lot of precious time and has changed their feelings about twitter as a program.

@davedelaney has a poll at the end of one of his post asking:

Are you having second thoughts about Twitter now?”

66% of the responders gives an affirmative answer.

There are some Twitter alternatives, but as Delaney says:

“Of course my main love for Twitter is the Community (…). Without the people there would be no Twitter. I don’t love Twitter, I love the people on Twitter who make it such a vibrant place to be. I don’t love Twitter, I don’t even like Twitter at the moment – I may even hate them.”

Further reading:

On Dave Delaney’s blog (August 3rd) : 5-reasons-why-i-hate-twitter. Very balanced: he also gives 5-6 reasons why he loves Twitter; some alternatives mentioned as well)

An account of the banning adventure :can also be found at the blogpost of @pf anderson: twitter_banning.html and on here slideshow on Flickr

****************************************************************************

Eerder promootte ik Twitter als een microblogging-dienst, omdat het zo’n rijke bron is van sociale contacten, nieuws en ideeen. Zie bijvoorbeeld de berichten: Twitter as a modern tamtam en “Forget Hyves go Twitter”.

Maar in de korte periode dat ik het gebruik, ondervond ik ook enkele nadelen. Twitter is bijvoorbeeld herhaaldelijk niet bereikbaar (“down” , “upgrading” of te zeer belast). Vorige week verdween ongeveer de helft van mijn fans (en ik heb er al zoveel), maar “gelukkig” bleek ik niet de enige te zijn. Soms verdwijnt een deel van het archief, bij @Deeboeks bijvoorbeeld: “Al mijn tweets van voor 6 april 2008 zijn uit ‘t archief verdwenen”. Maar vorige week was toch wel de klap op de vuurpijl. Opeens waren de accounts van de meest actieve twitteraars verdwenen. Waarom? Ze werden kennelijk van spammen verdacht en zonder staving verwijderd. Dat bracht behoorlijk wat ongemak met zich mee, daar dit juist mensen zijn die Twitter veel gebruiken en er deels ook afhankelijk van zijn. Voor @pfanderson: is Twitter is haar “#2 productivity tool“. @davedelaney: “zegt het als volgt:

“consider how you would feel, or as if someone took your personal journal and address book and refused to return them.”

Natuurlijk is het bannen van spam niet slecht. Als de verhouding following/followers 1500:50 dan moet er wel een belletje gaan rinkelen. Maar dan moet je vervolgens het e.e.a. checken: profiel, evt. website en natuurlijk de aard van de tweets.
@davedelaney
, @tibbon, @conniecrosby, @skalik, @marjarpanic, @abrudtkuhl, @pfanderson (een van mijn favorieten) @narain (die het nieuws over de aanslagen in Bangalore bracht!!) zijn intensieve en serieuze gebruikers. Dat kun je in één opslag zien.

Iedereen kan fouten maken, maar je moet natuurlijk wel goed en tijdig communiceren met je gebruikers, alles doen om de fout te herstellen en vooral achteraf je excuses aanbieden. En dat is allemaal niet gebeurd.

Wat zou ik graag Twitterbaas @Ev (die alleen twitterde dat hij heerlijk genoot van wijn en quiche terwijl zijn klanten in paniek waren en om zijn hulp vroegen) het zelfde lot doen ondergaan: account rucksichtlos verwijderen, niet op de hoogte brengen, niet reageren en niet helpen. En natuurlijk al helemaal geen excuses aanbieden!!

Ik geloof wel dat alle accounts nu weer in orde zijn, maar het heeft deze mensen wel veel ergernis bezorgd en hun gedachten over Twitter veranderd.

@davedelaney heeft zelfs een poll gezet onder zijn Twitterbericht met de vraag:

Are you having second thoughts about Twitter now?”

66% van de mensen die hierop gereageerd hebben zegt ja.





Virus attack

8 06 2008

The recent Google Doc spam attack made me think of the video my daughter (14) recently showed me. She gave me the link to ongein.nl, but I found a better version on Youtube, that can be enbedded.

It is Animator vs. Animation 2 by Alan Becker

Enjoy it! Watch it till the END. Lol firefox!

——–

NL flag NL vlagDit spreekt voor zich. Een hele leuke animatie, waar mijn dochter me een tijd geleden op attendeerde Ik moest er weer aan denken nadat ik eergisteren zo’n vervelende spam binnenkreeg. Het begin is wat traag, maar daarna gebeurt er zoveel. Ik zie er steeds meer in. Vooral firefox is prachtig, maar ook The END. Herkenbaar. Geniet ervan!





Google docs as a way to publish spam!!

7 06 2008

I just learned how to use Google docs for sharing and publishing documents. Yesterday I received an email-invitation by someone unfamiliar to share a Google-doc. The doc was called Spoetnik X document, where Spoetnik X is a fellow course member.

I took a look, but the doc was weird, with pictures of X all over the place, pictures of other people as well & funny text (codes, links?) in between. I recognized X’s picture, seen it somewhere on the web. On top of the post it said in RED with huge letters:

The document owner is not allowing collaborators to invite other people.

Meanwhile a commercial site had visited my blog consulting the same page twice. A page with one comment …made by X!
Dotcom entered my page by searching for X’s g-mail and dotcom left by the link to X’s page……

When I revisited the Google Doc some time later, the number of obscure cooperators had increased.
X had become one of them.

This did it. I tried to reach X in vain and deleted the doc.

Now I could be wrong, maybe it was just a joke. So I googled: google docs spam.

The result: almost 5.000.000 hits, most of them warning “Google Docs Being Used for Spam“. Apparently it is an easy way to circumvent spam filters.

Today I contacted the commercial site and they promised to check if their webforum had been misused.

Earlier I wrote that G-mail was vulnerable to spam. But it seems that more Google apps are at risk.

According to Wikipedia a weak point of Google apps is Cross-site_scripting

Want to read more? Here is an excerpt from VNU-net, written by Robert Jacques on June 3th!

Spammers exploit Google Docs
Cyber-crooks turn to mainstream hosted services

[.....] Spammers are instead moving towards the exploitation of free mainstream hosted services such as Google Docs, Google Calendar and Microsoft SkyDrive.

“The savvy and accurate cyber-criminals of today seem to have abandoned the attachments tactic that was so innovative in late 2007 and are exploiting free hosted applications which have become mainstream in 2008,” said Mark Sunner, chief security analyst at MessageLabs.

“The spammers are taking advantage of the fact that these services are free, provide ample bandwidth and are rarely blacklisted.

“This is one more addition to the growing list of ways in which the spammers have succeeded in outsmarting traditional detection devices.”

MessageLabs intercepted spam emails in May which contained links to spam contained in documents hosted on the Google Docs environment.

Traditional spam filters do not block links to the Google Docs domain, and spammers are using this to their advantage and even tracking their success through Google Analytics [....]

Or read this interview at: http://news.cnet.com/8301-10789_3-9951535-57.html

—————

NL flag NL vlag

Gedurende de Spoetnik cursus had ik net kennis gemaakt met Google docs. Heel handig om documenten te delen en te publiceren. Toen ik gisteren een doc kreeg met de naam van een Spoetnikcollega keek ik wel een beetje raar op. Ik kende de afzender niet, maar ja namen van blogs en gmails stroken vaak niet geheel met elkaar. Dus ik dacht, is misschien wel een document om X mee te verassen.

Ik ging maar eens kijken, maar het doc zag er vreemd uit, tig keer de foto van X en ook wat andere foto’s eronder, met onder elke foto een naam en 1 & 2, 3&4 etc en vreemde teksten, mogelijk links. Ik waagde me er maar niet aan. Bovenaan stond in rode koeieletters:

The document owner is not allowing collaborators to invite other people.

Bijna tegelijkertijd had ik in de sitemeter gezien dat een dotcom site mijn blog had bezocht en wel 2x dezelfde pagina met daarop maar 1 commentaar: die van X. Op mijn pagina was te zien dat die persoon had gezocht op gmail X en mijn blog verlaten had via een link naar X’s pagina.

Toen ik later nog eens naar het Google Doc ging kijken was het aantal onbekende samenwerkers toegenomen. X stond er zelf trouwens ook bij.

Dit deed de deur dicht. Nadat ik X vergeefs had proberen te bereiken, verwijderde ik het doc.

Of was ik paranoide? Misschien was het gewoon een grapje. Even checken op Google: google docs spam.

Huuu, bijna 5 miljoen hits, bijna allen waarschuwden ze ervoor dat Google Docs als spam gebruikt kunnen worden. Het is nl een hele mooie manier om spamfilters te omzeilen en om de links (na publicatie) heel effectief te verspreiden.

Ik heb wel met de commerciele site gemaild en kreeg direct antwoord dat ze vreesden dat iemand hun webforum had misbruikt. Ze zouden het proberen uit te zoeken.

Eerder had ik al gemeld dat spammers de beveiliging van G-mail gekraakt hadden. Nu blijkt dat alle Google-apps kwetsbaar zijn.

Volgens Wikipedia is een zwak punt van Google apps het zgn “Cross-site_scripting” (je hoeft niet steeds opnieuw in te loggen in een nieuwe applicatie, je bent dus semi-permanent ingelogd)

meer lezen:

1. VNU-net, Robert Jacques (3 juni 2008)! :Spammers exploit Google Docs. Cyber-crooks turn to mainstream hosted services (zie fragment hierboven)

2. http://news.cnet.com/8301-10789_3-9951535-57.html (interview)

3. En een possibly related (nederlandse) post die wel relevant lijkt (van 23 dingen)

Nou ik ga dus nog voorzichtiger worden.








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