At first, Google was just a search engine, but once it reached sufficient scale to be a meaningful driver of traffic, it became a hardcore marketplace for traffic — both one of its own (wildly successful) creation, in the form of AdWords, and one of the market’s creation, in the form of spam. Now that social media sites like Digg have become meaningful drivers of traffic, it’s inevitable that — despite the use of friendly terms like “community” and “social” — these sites will become hardcore marketplaces for traffic. As competition for traffic and attention intensifies, efforts to game the marketplace — i.e. game the “community” — will become more elaborate. Niall Kennedy previously documented this phenomenon, and Elenor Mills at CNET does again today.
Some examples of a “hardcore marketplace for traffic” from the CNET piece:
Companies charge as much as $15,000 to get content up on Digg, said Neil Patel, chief technology officer at the Internet marketing firm ACS. If a story becomes popular on Digg and generates links back to a marketer’s Web site, that site may rise in search engine results and will not have to spend money on search advertising, he said.
Another way to get Web links to a suspicious site is to get inside help from users at a social media site. For instance, spammers have tried to infiltrate Digg to build up reputations and promote stories for marketers, experts say.
Other scammers are trying other ways to buy votes. A site dubbed “User/Submitter,” purports to pay people 50 cents for digging three stories and charges $20 for each story submitted to the site, plus $1 for every vote it gets. The Spike the Vote Web site boasts that it is a “bulletproof way to cheat Digg” and offers a point system for Digg users to submit and dig stories. And Friendly Vote bills itself as an “online resource for Web masters” to improve their marketing on sites like Digg and Delicious.
There’s nothing unexpected or inherently “bad” about this — we just need to remember how quickly “social” can become “commercial” and managing the “community” can become managing the “marketplace.”
(I was tempted to make reference to bribing “gatekeepers,” but I know how that term grates on some people’s ideology.)