Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

In this day and age, when it sometimes seems as if the business community is out of touch with the customers upon whom they depend,  it is refreshing to see one company respond quickly and politely to a customer’s concern over a potential problem.  I am referring to the good people at, who have earned my respect and praise for their response to my concerns, and more important, for their response to the blogging community at large.

Here is a little background.  If you are a frequent visitor to blogs of any genre, you may remember a period of time earlier in the year when suddenly, it seemed as if every blog in existence posted an image of what is called a “word cloud”.  The clouds that were posted on these blogs were primarily generated from the website mentioned above.  From comments on the blogs at the time, it became apparent that word clouds were very well accepted by bloggers and their readership.  This generated a lot of traffic at, who is in the business of selling products utilizing the word cloud concept.

Recently, one of the blogs that I regularly read indicated that there had been a marked increase in comment spam, and the author wondered what could have caused the sudden increase.  As I thought about this, for unknown reasons my mind flashed back to the word cloud I had seen on that site.  Could this be the culprit, I wondered?  By performing a search on “word cloud”, I was able to locate numerous blogs that had posted their own version of a word cloud.  By than searching those blog’s archives for “spam”, it soon became apparent that many of those blogs had also experienced an increase in spam.  Could the increase in comment spam have been caused by the submission of their URLs to the site?  I am not well versed in this type of thing.  I can’t fathom why spam even exists in the first place, let alone figure out how it is accomplished.  So I thought, “why not ask directly?”  Here is the correspondence that ensued:

On 5/2/06, Hal Mitzenmacher wrote:

There are many people in the blogging community who have noticed a marked increase in comment spam on their blogs since submitting their URLs to Snapshirts.  Is there more going on here than meets the eye?  If you were to perform a web search on snapshirts + spam, and then examine the result, you will see what I am referring to.  Would you please address this issue on your blog for those of us who may feel doubts about continuing the use of your services?

Thank you.


Response from

Mr. Mitzenmacher,

First, I want to thank you.  You have brought a flaw in our old fulfillment methodology to our attention.  Upon receiving your message we immediately took what steps we could to rectify the situation.  In the past, we had included the weblog URL on the T-shirt’s order page to ensure customers received the T-shirt that was directly linked to their blog.  This inadvertently made those URLs available on the Internet for persons with malicious intent.  We have subsequently updated our fulfillment technology to allow instant T-shirt generation and purchase, so we no longer publish any information beyond the image.  After receiving your message yesterday and realized what had likely occurred, we immediately removed all pages from the Internet that were generated using our older methodology.  Those pages are no longer accessible over the Internet.

Second, I assure you that I have NO direct affiliation with ‘sploggers’, comment spammers or spam providers of any sort.  If you want to call, my cellphone number is xxx-xxx-xxxx and if I could afford a ticket to the Ozarks I’d fly out so you could look me in the eye on this one.  Weblog producers are our sole customers and we are very sensitive to the highest standards of customer service that must be maintained in serving this community.  We were taken advantage of but in no way did we collude with anyone to produce this unfortunate result.

Third, you mention other bloggers experiencing this effect and commenting on it.  I searched the “snapshirts + spam” combination on Google, Google Blog Search, IceRocket, Bloglines and Technorati but was unable to find another blog post on this issue.  If you are aware of other blog posts or bloggers with this issue I’d appreciate any link so that I can address this issue personally with them as well. Last, but most certainly not least, I want to apologize for any inconvenience this has caused you.  I will be posting a notice on our blog today with this information and links to free tools and add-ons for various weblog systems which can be installed to combat comment spam.  For wordpress, I use Spam Karma, which has a 100% record on my personal blog for catching comment spam and permitting actual comments.


Jonah Keegan


My reply to

Mr. Keegan, 

As I read the original email that I submitted to you, specifically, 

“There are many people in the blogging community who have noticed a marked increase in comment spam on their blogs since submitting their URLs to Snapshirts”  

I can see that I might have been a little vague regarding other bloggers experiences.  I did not mean to imply by this statement that other bloggers necessarily made a connection between the increase in spam they were experiencing and the submitting of their URLs to Snapshirts.  I am the one who made this connection when, while visiting many differing types of blogs on a regular basis, I began to notice a pattern.  There was a short period of time when it seemed as if  every blogger in cyberspace was posting their own word clouds.  Here is a comment I made on one blog’s Word Cloud post:

“A Google search of “word cloud” now produces over 11,200,000 hits, mostly from bloggers! I wonder how many t-shirts Snapshirt will sell? And how long before a Wordpress “Word Cloud” plugin appears?” 

Shortly thereafter, many of these same blogs began reporting an increase (sometimes dramatic) in the volume of comment spam they received.  This can probably best be seen by using the same methodology as I did.  Perform a search to find blogs that posted their word clouds, and then, from within each individual blog, perform a blog search of posts pertaining to comment spam.  When I saw the results obtained with this methodology, my suspicions became aroused.  Whether there is a cause-and-effect relationship, I don’t know, as I know little about comment spam (other than the fact that it is obnoxious and annoying).  It might well be that this same methodology would yield statistically identical results by searching these very same blogs for “sun spots”, for example.  I just do not know.  Which is exactly why I contacted you to inform you of my suspicions.

The tone and speed of your reply indicates your sincerity about this issue.  No need for you to travel out to the Ozarks so I can “look you in the eye”,  however, should you ever get the chance, I’m certain you would find the area a delightful place to visit.

Hal Mitzenmacher response:

Thank you.  I can tell you our sales are far less than 11.2 million, wouldn’t that be something…  :)  We are very grateful to the blogging community however, for providing us such a uniformly positive reception and sending us a steady stream of visitors.

I can also tell you we are working to develop a free word cloud plugin for wordpress or any blog, with some features we hope will appeal to bloggers as much as our t-shirts do.

Thanks again for bringing this to my attention.


Jonah Keegan


I have checked the website today and I have found that they have, indeed been hard at work addressing this issue (see post here).  And as a showing of confidence, here is the word cloud that I have just produced from the website:

Ranch Ramblins word cloud

14 thoughts on “Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

  1. Who’s this Pablo fellow that shows up in your cloud?

    The sudden and significant increase in my spam comments may or may not be related to my visit to the Word Cloud site. I should acknowledge that at about the same time, I added my blog to one of those blog directories. It may be that it was merely a device to get URLs to sell to spammers. Or there may be some other reason that I don’t know about.

    My comment system has a spam filter, and it catches nearly all of it. I can review the hundreds of spam comments and release any I identify as legit, but when I open the bucket and find 500 comments to be addressed, I don’t take the time to scroll through them. I simply delete the lot. I may be deleting a few legitimate comments as a result, but I don’t seem much of an alternative.

    Still, some spam gets past the filter, and I must delete these individually. No great hardship, especially since the comments are generally to very old posts where they won’t be bothering anyone anyway.

    It would be nice to be spam free, however. I don’t know if I will ever be free of it. So far I have more than 25,000 of the damned things, and I’m getting more than 500 a day.


  2. That Pablo fellow seems to show up at so many of the sites I lurk at, I thought it best to make sure he was included in my cloud 🙂

    The logic behind all this comment spam totally eludes me. My instincts tell me that there must be an economic incentive for the companies who do this, but I also have a hard time believing that significant sales of any type can possibly arise directly from the spam messages. I must have been absent that day while in business school!

    Duane, thanks for the interesting link to Captcha on Wikipedia. So far, the Askimet anti-spam service seems to be working fine for me, but like Pablo, I hope no legitimate comments get lost in the cache (not much of a problem for me, as I am inundated with 10’s of comments per month). I thought of installing some type of verification feature, as on blogger, but I will only use that as a last resort. For guys like me whose eyes are on the “other side of the hill”, those word verification graphics can sometimes seem like an eye-test from a sadistic optometrist!

    Having a company such as respond seriously to an unsolicited email is a great feeling – I wish it happened more often.

  3. Heavy spammers make millions, becuase there are some very, very stupid and/or naive people out there. It has been demonstrated time and again that one can place a dialog on the screen that says essentially “Don’t click me, I will erase your hard drive” and people will click it anyway. Now, promise some free cash, porn, or other good times, and they’ll tap that mouse like there’s no tomorrow.

    Research has also shown that people click ads in their email or on a website routinely – each visit (hit) generates a fairly high profit for the host of the ad. In fact, just having the ad appear on your webpage generates you revenue, whether visitors click the link or not!

    Perhaps part of the problem is that we consumers don’t seem to mind the 10% (or whatever the percentage) advertising tax on our goods. I’m sure someone prior to me came up with the theory that bilking people for billions one cent at a time is the surest way to avoid rebellion.

    There are also some free-to-spammers economics out there. A spammer’s content is heavily subsidized by us, the internet consumer, and the “backbone” providers and major players who must essentially overbuild their infrastructures by at least 10x. While a spammer may pay for his/her own internet host/connection, they do not pay their fair share for downstream router or system usage. Consider that a single email with a hundred thousand AOL email recipients requires a single mail message upload (in theory, not quite in practice), and the expense of delivery and storage is the burden of AOL and the AOL consumer. Sigh.

  4. Gin – Thank you for the info on KittenAuth as an alternative to Captcha or other human verification systems. It seems to be a much quicker and simpler method than Captcha, with an added side benefit. By the clever selection of the pictures used in the scheme, we could accomplish two things. First, we filter out computerized robots. Second, we could also filter out some of the people we don’t want to leave comments. Let us presume that one’s blog has a botanical theme. By posing the challenge question as “select the three icons depicting a “stylophorum diphyllum”, we will have eliminated everybody but botanists (or people willing to research “stylophorum diphyllum”). Comments coming through this type of system might end up being more authoritative or thoughtful than they presently may be. My example here might not be the best, but then again, I’m not all that clever 😉

    MrC – Your assertion that there is large amounts of money to be made through spamming set me off on some research. Lo and behold, once again, you are right on target. I was startled to find that a sales closure rate of one per million spam messages sent is considered to be a highly successful marketing campaign. When I studied marketing (in the dark ages), a marketing manager would consider a campaign successful if it had a closure rate of one per hundred mailings!

  5. This is a very interesting dialog. I get so much spam that it would be hard to pinpoint a single cause, but it has been very informative to read how the business works. Thanks

  6. An interesting article over at Network World citing a new study about SPAM

    claims that spam targets with the promise of porn has a 5% (that’s huge!) hit rate, compared to the 0.025% and 0.0075% rates for drugs and Rolex watches, respectively.

    Marianne – I empathize with your spam-full inbox situation. I used to use a large ISP / phone conglomerate, and despite their anti-spam filtering claims, I found so much spam made it into my inbox (false negative), or non-spam routed into my junk mail folders (false positive), that there was really no point in using the filters at all. I still had to scan each and every message, and that sometimes was several hundred per day! I gave that up about 5 years ago, and setup my own mail, anti-spam, anti-virus server using the best software available, and have learned some very valuable and interesting things about email and spam during all these years of analysis and monitoring.

    I’ve discovered that there is a single cause for vast majority of excessive SPAM; that is, consumers submitting their email addresses to non-reputable websites. In a fun test once, I discovered that submitting a (throw-away) email address to one of these sites immediately generated SPAM from dozens of companies, much of which had nothing to do with the original claim. Once your email address gets on email address lists (which contain tens or hundreds of millions of email addresses – “potential customers”), it is impossible to remove it. These lists are sold openly to spammers. Worse yet for domain name owners (e.g..,, insecure, hacked computers on the internet are turned on to spamming “bots”, that send spam email to thousands of semi-random email addressess (by using comon names and dictionary words tacked onto the domain name (e.g.. “”) and the entire domain name becomes a spam target, hit by the thousands.

    The moral of this long story – never, never, never give your email address to un-trusted, nefarious websites or email requests, no matter what the promised reward.

  7. According to an article in USA Today of 7-20-2004 the anti-spam industry at that time was a billion dollar industry.

    Anti-spam industry consolidating

    It is nearly two years later, so I suspect the annual revenues of anti-spam products has grown appreciably since then. In my more paranoid moments, I can’t help but think that there is a connection between the growth of spamming, and the companies that profit from “defeating” it. If my paranoiac reasoning is correct, than there never has to be any sales closures for the product being hawked, as this is not the motive for the spam in the first place, but merely a pretext for the sale of anti-spam products.

    Similarly, I sometimes feel the same paranoid suspicions regarding the source and motivations behind virus outbreaks. It seems that if one wanted to “follow the money trail” of these activities, one should not overlook the fact that many companies have built their entire business model on selling annual subscriptions to products and services designed to “defeat” these ever-growing threats.

    Microsoft has built an empire on a simple premise: Provide a product that every computer owner perceives that they need (Windows), and then create a managed version update program to get these same owners to upgrade to the latest, greatest OS (witness Windows, Win95, Win98, WinMe, WinXP, and Vista, not to mention all the flavors of WinNT that have come down the pike). If companies such as Symantec, McAfee and others can persuade everyone that they must not only buy their products, but also constantly renew their subscriptions, than they will have effectively “one-upped” the Microsoft business model. I guess only time will tell if I am being paranoid, or if I am simply being prescient.

  8. Gin, to hyperlink using your own short word or phrase, use the following:

     Ranch Ramblins 

    Sorry for the delay, I just noticed your request for help with linking.  It looks like I might not be much help, as every time I type out the syntax, the WordPress editor interprets it and only shows the shortened text.  If you view this page in Internet Explorer, then from the menu tree select View-Source, you will see the HTML coding that I used to create the link above.  If you enter that format into a comment, it will have the desired effect.

  9. Thanks, Hal. I get the idea. Just wasn’t sure whether blogs rendered HTML code. (And FWIW, I don’t use IE unless I have to. I’m a Firefox addict.)

  10. Pingback: Ranch Ramblins » Blog Archive » What to Title This Post?

  11. I was just looking over the following notice from my web host:

    “We are seeing some congestion on our junkmail filter servers. Some email is being delayed as a result. Most of the delays should be short (less than 10 minutes) but some may be longer (a couple of hours or more). We are going to be migrating the back-end junkmail database to a more powerful server today as well as adding another front-end filtering machine. We expect these changes to resolve the delays.”

    This seems to be just one small manifestation of the infrastructure and downstream costs that MrC refers to. I gather from this notice that it is now a necessity for ISPs to install and manage multiple servers just for the task of sorting (partially successfully) junk from real email. Thanks again, spammers, for all you do in the name of making a buck. Sleep well.

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