Slashdot, one of my few ‘must scan three times a day’ sites, has notoriously poorly coordinated and unskeptical editors. As a result, they often run stories that are different from ads only in that /. doesn’t charge for the service.
Yesterday, though, I saw a new wrinkle: a post sent in by an esavard, using the already pointless sound and fury around the Apple/Intel matchup, to flog a new! improved! YALD (Yet Another Linux for the Desktop) with the goals — who could imagine such audacious goals! — of making Linux easier to use, making applications simpler to create, and just generally making sure everyone has a pony.
So, to add a little foam to what was pretty small beer, esavard pointed to the Wikipedia entry about their YALD, saying “If you want to know more about Symphony OS, a good starting point is a Wikipedia article describing the innovations proposed by this new desktop OS.”
Now at that point the Wikipedia entry was around three weeks old, had been edited 29 times, and 20 of those edits were by the same user, EliasAlucard. The first edit to that page after being picked up by slashdot (from an IP address with no associated username and with no other history of edits) added a note under the header Trivia: “On 8 June 2005, the Symphony OS website was a victim of the Slashdot effect.” (I deleted this bit of self-aggrandizement just now, though we’ll see how long Elias lets it go.)
Then, today, when someone pointed out on the related Talk page that our pal EliasAlucard had created a Wikipedia advertisement, he replied “Guess what? No one cares about your opinion of what it looks like. Give it a rest already.”
This is an interesting kind of spam, or maybe we could call it a reputation hack. I have no way of knowing who esavard is in relation to EliasAlucard, but I am betting they are pretty closely related. They create a Wikipedia page, point to it as if to demonstrate independent interest for the project in their potential slashdot post, then point to the slashdot effect on the Wikipedia page as proof of said independent interest. Voila, an instant trend.
This is the downside of the mass amateurization of publishing. Since the threshold for exclusion from the Wikipedia is so low, there is almost no value in thinking “Hey, it’s got a Wikipedia article — must be serious.” We have the sense-memory of that way of thinking from the days where it cost money to publish something, and this class of reputation hack relies on that memory to seed the network with highly targeted ads.
And it’s a hard hack to stop, since it isn’t exactly vandalism. Most articles have only a few editors in the early days, so it’s an attack that doesn’t have an obvious signature either. It’s relatively to see how to defend against vandalism of high-stakes pages, but it’s hard to see how to defend against the creation of pages where so little is at stake for anyone but the advertiser.