Hot on the heels of the recent WordPress fiasco, it looks like Syndic8.com is doing something very similar. Charles Coxhead pointed out that the popular RSS feed index is hosting hundreds of thousands of junk articles, designed to lure search engine traffic to context-sensitive text ads.
Unlike WordPress, the links aren’t hidden; they’re in plain sight at the bottom of nearly every page, added in late November 2004 according to Archive.org. Also, it’s unclear how much the hosted subdomains are benefiting from Syndic8.com’s pagerank of 7.
Here’s a list of the sites I found, with the number of articles indexed by Google and Google pagerank. At current count, over 194,000 articles are indexed.
Do people really think this is a legitimate form of advertising revenue? Jeff Barr and Bill Kearney, the two Syndic8 leads, are both smart guys and they seem to support the practice. But why? Gaming search engines makes the web less useful for everyone. As Leonard put it, “It’s a simple question, right? Is what you’re doing making the world a better place or not?”
Maybe I’m in the minority here. I’d love to hear what everyone thinks.
Update: Interesting discussion in the comments, with feedback from Jeff Barr and GoogleGuy. Jeff comments, “I fully realize that there are lots of ways to fund a ‘public resource’ site like this, and I simply chose one that worked and was available to me.”
Google representative GoogleGuy adds, “This is absolutely webspam… syndic8.com’s choice to ‘rent out’ subdomains to spammers and link to the spam from their home page will directly impact their reputation in search engines.”
May 6, 2005: Philipp Lenssen reports that Syndic8.com was removed from Google’s index entirely. By e-mail, a Google engineer also confirmed that the Google AdSense account for Syndic8’s ad affiliate was terminated.
I agree with Aaron Wall in the comments, who states that it’s Google’s responsibility to make sure people aren’t cheating AdSense. If their quality control for the AdSense program was more rigorous, this wouldn’t be an issue. They’re passively supporting this practice by allowing people to profit off it.
May 12, 2005: Jeff Barr posted a public response on his blog. My response is in his comments.
May 25, 2005: TDavid posted an hour-long audio interview with Jeff Barr, which covers the history of Syndic8.com and a detailed discussion of the advertising issue. This is a great listen with many insights into Jeff’s frame of mind.
He mentions that Bill Kearney warned him about the subdomain advertising deal: “Bill was actually a fairly cautious person. He said, ‘You know what, we’ve got to be a little bit careful here, Jeff.’ And me being a bit naive or maybe a bit too enthralled by getting checks, I said, ‘You know, I think this’ll be okay.’ So I went ahead and accepted that advertiser.” Another new bit of info was that the subdomains were actually provided by multiple advertisers.
As I said originally, I still maintain that Jeff is a smart guy who made a poor business decision, and I think that comes across in the interview. For him, it sounds like a cautionary tale he wants other people to learn from. “Basically, spreading out this story and telling people what happened and these are the things where you need to be careful… I think there’s always room for people to learn.”