The other other voting fraud – PageRank Molestation for Profit!

by DeAngelo on February 3, 2011

It seems there’s tons more voting fraud than I previously described . Given that a recent meme around Google PageRank abuse is now about 3 weeks old, it’s ancient history in Internet Time. Techrunch had the first mention of it that I saw (aside: one of the more insightful TC posts in recent memory) and Mr. Atwood at CodingHorror had a nice summary of the same thing after he got bitten while working on stackoverflow. The Techcrunch post describes how a company called Demand Media is basically using an army of low paid volunteers to swamp google with low
quality ad-ladened garbage targeting popular keywords, thus rendering Google far, far less useful.

What’s Old is New Again!
While the meme just caught fire recently, surrounding low value content with ads has been going on for years now. During the course of doing some research for one of my new projects, I ran across this article by Aaron Wall , who seems to be an extremely well-respected SEO expert (unlike many of the bullshit artists running around out there). It’s an absolutely brutal takedown of Jascon Calacanis and his approach to building out Mahalo. According to Wikipedia’s web page on

” [Mahalo] differentiates itself from algorithmic search engines like Google and, as well as other directory sites like DMOZ and Yahoo! by tracking and building hand-crafted result sets for many of the currently popular search terms.”

Wait, isn’t that what the aforementioned Demand Media does? ( Well, I guess one difference is that Demand Media never claims to be a search engine.)

New Age Plagiarism?
Anyway, back to Aaron Wall’s breakdown – he claims that Mahalo’s true purpose is in fact to make money by essentially scraping user’s content and surrounding them with ads via the use of automated bots. And to make matters even worse, he says that (at the time) Mahalo was not even linking back to the original content authors while ranking higher than the original author in PageRank. (This is the issue Jeff Atwood raised around content scrapers of Stackoverflow material). This kind of stuff is on the gray edge of Google’s terms of service at the very least. Aaron’s reasoning behind why Mahalo was allowed to do this brings back memories of Enron and Arther Andersen. Short version — when the police are paid by the criminals, Bad Things Happen.

Jason Calacinis normally has a boisterous personality. I’ve heard many interviews with him (most of which I enjoy, btw) and he’s generally quite animated. His tone when responding to Aaron Wall’s claims here and here is very, very, veeeeery subdued. If I had to guess, Jason knows he’s in a Grand Canyon-sized hole and that an aggressive approach would only serve to dig him deeper. To his credit though, at least he didn’t try to pretend like Aaron didn’t exist.

Internet Gold Rush 2.0?
Anyway, this makes me wonder – if Demand Media can go IPO with a $1.5 billion valuation (after losing $3 million the previous year), why doesn’t Jason just do an IPO with Maholo? If a company that loses millions per year can seemingly do it successfully, why can’t Mahalo?

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