Google Blogoscoped


Wiki sandbox

Prometheus [PersonRank 1]

Thursday, June 3, 2004
20 years ago

Pillipp, I have had to lock four of my wikis to control your trashy misuse of them. For many people, the internet is a production tool. Converting portions of it to your own little SEO litterbox is arrogant conceit, more suited to politicians than to internet technologists. I'm glad I've hunted you down.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

20 years ago #

I'm sorry to hear that Prometheus.

However I do not understand why you care what is in the sandbox, as it is intended to play around with. Wiki Sandboxes should not even appear in the search engine result pages where I found them – they are only littering up the results, as they contain only nonsense. If you exclude them via the robots.txt or other means, nobody will find them, as nobody should.

(Besides you don't need to hunt me down, as I openly stated what I did in my blog, and I left an obvious message in Wiki Sandboxes.)

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

20 years ago #

You can find my update on the issue at

Eythian [PersonRank 1]

20 years ago #

Good that you have stopped, it is pretty annoying for those of us who run wikis. I have had a total of 3 or so spam incidents on mine, counting yours (these started only a few months back). I have no interest in providing a service for others to advertise their websites. The sole purpose of a Sandbox is to experiment with what the wiki can do, in a way that won't matter if you mess it up. I'm not yet willing to lock it down to prevent this, but actions like this erode at the community/collaberative nature on which a wiki is based. It is hard enough getting people to edit it as it is, without having to make them jump through hoops to ensure they aren't a spammer.

The idea of using a robots.txt to stop google finding the sandbox has some merit, however has problems of it's own, there are still ways you can find a wiki, and then jump to its sandbox page, or simply edit the main page, which is more annoying.

The argument that 'the sandbox is there for this kind of thing' can be reduced to: 'the purpose of email is to send messages'. Given that is so, isn't spam still annoying?

Matt Brubeck [PersonRank 1]

20 years ago #

I am a member of several open-source software projects that use wikis as tools for open collaboration. The spam in our wikis hurts our development efforts in several ways.

First, it spams the RecentChanges pages, making it less useful as a change notification system. In many cases, this also spams the mailboxes and newsreaders of users who subscribe to RecentChanges notifications. We are no longer able to use the wiki as a communications tool because most of the messages are generated by SEO spam.

Second, it puts off-topic words and phrases into our wikis. This causes them to show up in completely unrelated web searches. Strangers then find our wikis thinking that they are related to other topics, and edit pages without realizing what the site's actual purpose is.

Third, in order to fight these effects, we now need to spend ridiculous amounts of time blocking or cleaning up after SEO spam.

Please, don't spam wikis. The SandBox page is there for a purpose: to allow users of the wiki to learn to use the software. It is not meant to be "a place where anyone can create backlinks."

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

20 years ago #

Matt, I accept your points. Just a question: why do people get alerted about changes in the sandbox? Why is there not a simple method which will empty the sandbox every night or so?

Also, as you mention Wiki sandboxes may litter search results and bring upon the wrong people... so why are they not excluded from search results?

I agree there would still be a way for people to find it, but as for me and many others, we just entered "Wiki Sandbox" and the like into Google and edited the pages that were coming up – thinking there is no harm that can possibly be done to a sandbox.

In any case it seems Wiki software is not up to handle these things.

Ethyan, you say "The argument that 'the sandbox is there for this kind of thing' can be reduced to: 'the purpose of email is to send messages'. Given that is so, isn't spam still annoying?"

I believe if I put my email on a website and I call it a "sandbox email" and I actively invite people to send emails for testing purposes, then no, whatever would arrive in my inbox could not be classified as spam. Spam specifically works without invitiation, which makes it so nasty.

But let's rest the issue for now until the dust settles. I hope no one got harmed. :)

Joseph [PersonRank 0]

20 years ago #

I am glad you stopped spamming Wikis. Wiki users already have enough spam from real spammers, we don't need a game turning regular good people into spammers.

This game is getting way out of hand. I can see how some people may think links on a SandBox aren't hurting anything, but it is just plain webspam no matter where they put it. Your original thinking is likely exactly how many Wiki spammers think.

Wikis are designed to be open and allow many users anonymously share information. By spamming them its forcing many Wiki maintainers to close their wiki to anonymous users. That just hurts all the users of the wiki because many people with good information are going to be turned off by having to register to post.

SandBoxes are for users to try out things, but that doesn't mean they have to be full of garbage. The Wiki I contribute to most has a lot of examples of how to do different formatting on the Sandbox page. This allows users to have examples to work with. Much of the point of a wiki is to add or edit information. A blank SandBox page isn't going to help learn that.

I agree that SandBox pages shouldn't be in Google, but that is not the problem. Real Wiki spammers don't only spam SandBoxes. They hide links all over pages hoping no one will notice. And many times people don't on wikis with lower traffic.

Another problem with Wiki spamming is that under most wiki software, every time a version is despammed, the previous versions are still available and indexed by Google. Those pages should not be indexed by Google, but currently I don't know of any Wiki software that blocks it.

Posts to a Wiki should be on topic and somehow benifit users of that Wiki, not the poster's PageRank.

These are sites I am associated with so I am not going spam your blog with links (I am leaving them as text so they aren't helping my PageRank), but people who don't see Wiki spamming as a problem or want to know more about fighting it should visit them:

Prometheus [PersonRank 1]

20 years ago #

Phillipp, there are of course a great many tweaks possible with wiki software. I've passworded a number of wikis, and have several that offer a read-only view to general visitors and passworded author view to legitimate contributors.

But those are technological solutions to social problems. The core idea of a wiki is community – trust in collaboration, community self-help and monitoring, personal growth through cooperative effort, contributing becuase contribution helps others.

Doing graffiti just because you can get away with it is still doing graffiti. And pooping in a sandbox is still pooping.

Matt Brubeck [PersonRank 1]

20 years ago #

"Just a question: why do people get alerted about changes in the sandbox? Why is there not a simple method which will empty the sandbox every night or so?"

Partly for historical reasons. Wiki has been around longer than Google. Until recently, people from outside the wiki had no real motivation to spam us with links. Because of this, the SandBox in most existing wikis is just a normal page with no extra protection or special status.

There are also practical reasons to keep track of SandBox changes. The sandbox is a place where new users often ask questions like, "Why isn't this numbered list being formatted right?" Experienced users will respond to the questions and show how to correct the formatting. Also, it's useful to know when the sandbox changes so that offensive material (like the vandals who have been placing kiddie porn in some wikis) can be cleaned up quickly.

Newer wikis do have "meta robots" tags and other protections, but there's a limit to what we can do without losing some useful functionality. For example, we can add special code to protect the sandbox page, but that won't stop people from adding and editing their own test pages (and we don't necessarily want to stop people from doing that, since it can be useful for new users).

The sandbox serves its purpose well. It's a simple whiteboard for the users of the wiki. We never thought that people with no interest in the wiki would interpret it as an invitation to use the page as a dumping ground.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

20 years ago #

OK, I did not want to hurt the Wikis, and did not know posting backlinks in a sandbox would be hurting them. I can see now why this can be considered spam. Sorry for any bad done.

One possibility to keep in mind for future Wiki-sandbox-backlinkers – they might not know it hurts the system. Maybe a "Do not use this solely to post backlinks for Google" on top of the sandbox would help for those who would respect such thing?

Adam [PersonRank 0]

20 years ago #

Unlike Philipp, I've not been participating in this SEO contest, but I have learned a lot from watching others!

I also mistakenly believed that there was an 'anything goes' policy in wiki sandboxes, and I agree with Philipp that even a short, simple statement above wiki sandboxes would go a long way towards helping folks understand more about how they work and how they can (but should not be) abused.

Sure, the malicious spam-jerks aren't going to care, but they're the sort of folks who spam sandboxes AND main pages indiscriminately anyway. Folks like Philipp – who clearly are not wanting to harm people or communities – would have been put effectively on notice.

T.J. [PersonRank 1]

20 years ago #

As a fellow competitor in the competition and one who also uses wikis. I am often frustrated by those who seem to be obsessed with spam.
I used to create new wiki pages about the competitions, and always checked the policy of the wiki before creating these pages to ensure they were not set up for a specific purpose.
I always liked to write brief information about the competitions, inviting others to join in and provided links to sites providing further information. Is this not the purpose of a large number of wikis out there?
Unfortunately there appear to be a large number of wikipedians who appear to be obsessed with spam, and detest any wiki page that contains a link to an external page.
My pages were often deleted and I was rudely classed as a spammer.
Another problem I encountered was spam and vandalism by other competitors.
I would have liked to have regularly updated some of my wiki pages providing further information and news, but soon realised that the combination of over enthusiastic link deleters and other spamming competitors would make this impossible.

Prometheus [PersonRank 1]

20 years ago #

Almost all wikis have some specific focus, a purpose for community collaboration. No wikis have SEO contests as a focus, an interest, or anything but a supreme annoynace. I've been busy for some weeks now, deleting pages like the ones T.J. says he creates on wikis, reverting other pages back to pre-vandalism versions, renaming pages, locking pages and entire wikis to protect from this puerile, senseless vandalism. A wiki's sandbox is for wiki members to experiment with that wiki's syntax, not for invaders to post totally irrelevant backlinks. Monday I'm going to begin blocking the IPs of all SEO fun-and-games posters for all the wikis I control. Open your own wikis to play your childish games, and stop pooping in other people's sandboxes.

T.J. [PersonRank 1]

20 years ago #

You state "Almost all wikis have some specific focus"
This may be true, but it is not true that they all do.
This is a quote from the user guidlines of a particular one.

"Our intention with this wiki is to create an open and collaborative publishing area where anyone may build or update web pages, enabling a truly free for fall forum"

It also states,

"We do also request that no user ever changes another users words or pictures. If you have something to say about an entry please either append to the current page if allowed or create your own page containing your response to the original entry."
Excuse me if I ask, but do you take the trouble to read the wiki guidlines before you go around deleting other peoples pages, or do you just delete everything you don't like?

President Leechman [PersonRank 1]

20 years ago #

TJ: You're using the same argument Usenet spammers (remember Usenet?) used to use, back when spamming was new. "There's no charter that says this group about skunks isn't also about green card lotteries! Until there's an official charter that says that a group called 'alt.animals.skunks' is about skunks, we're going to continue posting there!"

Shorn of context or even a reference to the site you got it from, why you can argue that it means anything you want, but humans are not computers, humans are supposed to realise that a Wiki is intended to be used for some purpose, and that purpose is inherent in the guidelines.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

20 years ago #

President Leechman, just to let you know: there are special test groups on Usenet. And they are indeed full of nonsense. And nobody cares. A sandbox in a Wiki is like such a test box. Spam is when unrelated messages are posted to non-test groups. In any case, you may know I stopped posting to WIki Sandboxes for reasons stated.

President Leechman [PersonRank 1]

20 years ago #

People do care, or did care, back when caring mattered, before Usenet got broken. Lots of us used to carry a "full feed" of Usenet, you could expect to be able to read any message on any server, so that it was a "distributed bulletin board", and all you needed to do to find a recent message was feed your local server a message ID.

You can't do that any more. You can't even carry a full feed of the "big 8" and leave out altnet any more. And one of the reasons is people who use "empty groups" and "test groups" as extra storage, or as anonymous drop boxes, or whatever other extra traffic people decided to piggyback on top of it.

Usenet has been trashed out... if not destroyed then significantly damaged... by people who figure it's OK to do anything so long as they can come up with a compatible reading of whatever guidelines their ISP accepts.

Spam is the same thing posted many times to 'overload' a communication channel. It doesn't matter whether it's posted to many Usenet groups, to thousands of unsuspecting mailboxes, or to web boards or wikis. Even if you can come up with a rationale why this or that exception is OK because this set of guidelines or that charter doesn't *explicitly* ban it, it's simply casuistry. ANY communication channel, forum, newsgroup, mailing list, wiki, that is used this way will inevitably be overused to the point where it's broken.

So... it wasn't OK on Usenet, and if ten years later it *looks* like it's OK that's because Usenet has been so broken by the abuse that people have given up on the small stuff. That doesn't mean the abuse is "OK", or that it's "OK" to go down the same path with Wiki Sandboxes or whatever other "test group" analog you find next.


1. There's no such thing as a "free for all" service, not really, and a moment's examination of the service will almost always let you know what the anticipated audience is.

2. And for the few cases where someone *does* think they're offering a "free for all" service, the thundering horde will change their mind pretty quickly. And if the service is big enough to be useful for spamming, well, it'll be destroyed in short order or it will cease to be "free for all".

So when you think you have found an exception to this rule... look closely, odds are you're not paying attention.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

20 years ago #

President L., I accept the points you make which is why I have stopped posting to Wiki sandboxes.

I don't think it's an obvious argument and I do believe excluding Wiki Sandboxes via robots.txt will both keep the Google-results clean, as well as shield the box from being found (and used). Additionally, I think Wiki masters should delete their sandbox on a daily basis, automatically – furthermore exclude it from general change-lists – etc. to keep manual editing to the non-sandbox areas.

I still don't understand why something like a newsgroup alt.test could possibly be hurt from anything (spam, backlink-postings, whatever) but I guess I still don't get it.

President Leechman [PersonRank 1]

20 years ago #

It's not that "alt.test was hurt".

It's that "Usenet was hurt by thundering herds in groups like alt.test".

In 1990, you could carry a full feed of Usenet without a huge investment in hardware or bandwidth.

In 1994, it was still possible to do that for Usenet proper, setting aside alt and sticking to the formally handled Usenet groups.

By 2000, you couldn't do that, because in every hieraerchy there were test groups and other "free for all" groups, so when you subscribed to a hierarchy you couldn't help but get a few hogs that blew out your bandwidth.

This meant that you had four choices:

1. Suck it up and find the budget, figure out a way to make it pay.

2. Spend a few hours a week manually filtering out the latest "empty" group that had been discovered by the bandwidth pirates.

3. Quit carrying Usenet, buy a feed from people who chose door #1.

4. Come up with a custom software hack that filtered out the victimised groups automatically. And keep updating it as the bandwidth pirates found out about the hacks and worked out ways around them (like splitting half a gig of pirated movie into 32k chunks).

I'm sure you can see the obvious parallels with what you're asking the people running wikis to do.

And I do think it's an obvious argument. Back in 1994 when the first usenet spam was in the news, it was obvious. In 1968[1] it was obvious. In the 18th century it was obvious. It's called "The Tragedy of the Commons", and nobody's found an exception in centuries.


SpammersSuck [PersonRank 0]

20 years ago #

Just because I don't have a sign on my lawn that says "No pooping allowed.", does that mean that you have the right to crap on my lawn?

Its called curteousy and common sense. You need both.

hb [PersonRank 1]

20 years ago #

What the heck does 'nigritude' mean, anyway.... is it a made up word?

Alkivar [PersonRank 0]

20 years ago #

nigritude was picked along with ultramarine because the keyword combination initially recieved 0 results on google before the contest began. as far as i can tell nigritude is defined as

Nigritude Nig"ri*tude, n. [L. nigritudo, fr. niger black.]
***Blackness; the state of being black. --Lamb.

[ Alkivar]

Doh [PersonRank 1]

20 years ago #

"Just because I don't have a sign on my lawn that says "No pooping allowed.", does that mean that you have the right to crap on my lawn?"

Actually in this case you have a sign that says "Poop here".

And someone actually did. Boohoo.

Did he use tons of bandwidth or CPU? If he didn't then it was just good old poop. Just you didn't like the smell. Tough. Change the sign then. Add "Only nice smelling poop here- owner defines what's nice". Sheesh.

Use captchas and stuff like that. Then at least someone may have to work hard dump a lot of poop. Do that ASAP before some worm writer or whoever decides that wikis are ripe (so far they aren't that ripe yet).

ta bu shi da yu [PersonRank 1]

20 years ago #

"Nigritude" could be seen as pretty rude by black people. Just a thought.

Dave [PersonRank 0]

20 years ago #

I have my own wiki. I also participate in many wikis. I could care less if people spam my wiki. I also could care less if you mind that I spam your wiki. It's your damn fault for allowing me to. I can do what I want. And I don't mind if people spam my wiki to get a higher google ranking.

Hugues [PersonRank 0]

20 years ago #

I disagree with off topic postings in wikis.
But do wikis often have a definite topic other than "POST HERE" ?

What I Uberdisagree is the choice of nigritude as a keyword. Yes it is offending. Alkivar is almost right but he probably found his definition in a politically clean dictionnary.

Nigritude stands for : The state of being a niger. (and not solely black which would be quite neutral)
And I will always consider the mord "Niger" as an insult.

Bob [PersonRank 0]

20 years ago #

Christ, you people take your wikis way too seriously. If you don't want people walking into your house uninvited, you lock the door and give a key to people you want to allow in. Wake up – it's 2004 – usernames and passwords are the only way to stop it!

As for the "insult value" of the word "niger" – I thought you wanted free and open contributions on the internet? I don't care for the connotation, but I'm not one of the panty-waists crying foul over it. You can't have it both ways – free speech means FREE speech... whether you like it or not. Just as I may not like the fact that some of you are whining like little bitches, it's still free speech – regardless of the fact that you're acting like someone who's been victimized.

One way or the other, I think the target of your wrath got the fucking point. Let it go already – you know what they say about arguing on the internet.

James [PersonRank 0]

20 years ago #


Yes, we take wiki's seriously. Imagine a public library that forced you to submit a request by post before you were allowed in, with a security guard on the door, because some people had been scribbling in the books. Yes, people can still use the library; but it's of less use now, because people are put off from going. Same with wikis. The fact that anyone can roll up and add to the community without having to jump through hoops first makes it what it is. Being forced to instigate user controls because of a tiny handful of asshats damages the wiki.

Philipp has stopped wiki spamming now, which is a good thing; but there are many others who are just waking up to the fact that they can abuse communities openness for a profit.

John [PersonRank 0]

20 years ago #

Why are sandboxes spammed? Because they show up. If they stop showing up, there is no point in spamming them. So what happends next? Wiki spamming?

Antony [PersonRank 0]

20 years ago #


Niger is:
- A country in West Africa.
- An African river that flows into the South Atlantic.
- The surname of Simoen in the Bible.

If "Niger" is offensive to the blacks, then why do the populations of Niger and Nigeria (who are mainly black) not change the names to something inoffensive?

Which dictionary did you find your definition in? And what does it define "Niger" as meaning?

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

20 years ago #

"Nigritude Ultramarine" was chosen because the company starting this Google-challenge is called "Darkblue". Why didn't they chose "Dark Blue" then? Because that would have pushed pages down the rankings which already exist. Nothing existed for "Nigritude Ultramarine" prior to this contest, making it a good phrase to play around with. Mind you (for better or worse) most commercial search engine optimizers will try to change *real life* rankings, not a sandbox ranking like ours.

matt [PersonRank 0]

20 years ago #

Bob: what has it being 2004 got to do with anything? Or is it that you expect the whole human race to have become as cynical and debased by now as the spammers (and, apparently, you)?

"Rah rah, I can do anything I like unless you explicitly go out of your way to stop me. Anything you let me do is your fault, not mine. Oh look, I broke into your house and murdered your family; too bad, you let it happen. Nothing to do with me."

Sorry, but that position is diseased.

Everything about backlink spam, just like all previous kinds of spam, is essentially founded in this sociopathic notion. It says: everything in the world exists for us to exploit, and nothing else has any value except our right to advertise. Anything that can be done, should, and everyone else should just grin and bear it.

So every blog and wiki and chat forum and information resource is rapaciously colonised, every channel becomes choked with worthless cruft, but it's OK because you're just exercising your god-given rights to do whatever the fuck you like.

And there's yet another commons that's being polluted by all this backlink spam: the space of searches. SEOs argue that what they're doing is just legitimately taking advantage of the way Google (or whoever) works, but this is revoltingly disingenuous.

Nobody goes to Google because they want to find the most deviously gamed pages, they go to find most relevant. Google does a lot of work to try to help them get that; spammers strive to prevent them. The *only* thing SEOs do is muddy the water and make the service less useful. You can argue it up and down however you want, but you can't change that fundamental fact.

So, I don't care what kind of invitations you'd like to think you have: spam is wrong, and so are you.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

20 years ago #

Matt writes "And there's yet another commons that's being polluted by all this backlink spam: the space of searches."

If a Wiki Sandbox is appearing within a search, then the Wiki Sandbox is actually polluting this search. Because it contains mostly nonsense. Excluding Wiki Sandboxes from search engines via robots.txt (or the meta-tag within the head-section of the sandbox) would solve this problem.

"SEOs argue that what they're doing is just legitimately taking advantage of the way Google (or whoever) works, but this is revoltingly disingenuous."

Some SEOs – not all – would actually employ a whitehat strategy trying to push a real company with real web site and real content up to where it belongs. This can be done by e.g creating meaningful titles, tidying the HTML, non-JavaScript navigation, and so on.

SEO has probably done more to accessibility than any other strategy used by HTML evangelists or the W3C. I'm not saying SEO saved the Web, but you have to agree there are two sides to every story.

Marc [PersonRank 0]

20 years ago #

Instead of saying "those evil people should not have done that", why don't you adjust your strategy so that it cannot happen again? The situation is a good example of a commons as described by Garrett Hardin in "The tragedy of the Commons". He explains that we should not expect a good future for commons. The attention of users by email also is a commons: the (rational) advantage for each is to send more spam, because there is an incentive much bigger than the disadvantage, and the cost is born by the population and not the sender. That implies that the interest of each user collides with that of the group as a whole. It seems that we live in a world where the only common value is money, therefore you will always find someone who does not share your "common sense" and who will do anything to get an advantage. So if the system is a commons, it is to be expected that it will be overused at some point.

Jake [PersonRank 0]

20 years ago #

I think using Wikis to affect google rank is quite innovative! However, The first e-mail advert was considered innovative as well. I think we have to be very careful here.

Mark.r [PersonRank 0]

20 years ago #

damned thats a good read... i have to day that i am of the opinion that if you provide an open fourm, then you should expect it to be exploited, like guestbooks, they get crap written in them all of the time, and message boards ALWAYS need a moderator, the same applies to WIKI, it seems that because people provide this service under the impression that only nice people will use it – theyre in cloud cucoo land.

its not even like people were openly editing the main contents of the wiki, just some crappy scratchpad that mostly contain "this is a bullet pointed list, this is a table of information, this is a link". i think no harm done as sand boxes dont relate to the main wiki content.

Prometheus [PersonRank 1]

20 years ago #

T.J. said, "Excuse me if I ask, but do you take the trouble to read the wiki guidlines before you go around deleting other peoples pages, or do you just delete everything you don't like?"

Don't you read the wiki guidelines so you'll know the reason and goals of the community before creating pages? The members of a wiki are a self-protecting community. They help each other, and care about each other, and protect each others' intellectual property and rights. Spammers aren't welcome, and their efforts are cast out of the community, just as neighborhoods in urban areas round up and cast out drug pushers.

If you don't understand what wikis are all about, stay away from them.

President Leechman [PersonRank 1]

20 years ago #

"If you don't want people walking into your house uninvited, you lock the door and give a key to people you want to allow in."

I've locked my house, but I'm damned if I'm going to put up a chain link fence around my lawn to keep you from sticking bandit signs into the turf.

"Instead of saying "those evil people should not have done that", why don't you adjust your strategy so that it cannot happen again"

I've been adjusting my startegy to keep from being victimised by spammers for ten years now. I've shut down two of the websites I used to maintain, I'm not actively maintaining a third (ironically, it's one that has occasionally reviewed people in your business... you lose, dude). I'm actually blocking entire countries from my mailserver because I can't afford the bandwidth charges just from accepting and discarding the spam that comes to them. Every time some new service shows up online, no matter how clear it is to the people who built it that it's not for random spammers to plant their broadsides, some smart ass comes along and decides they're wrong.

At a certain point you have to switch from "if you don't have a chain link fence around your yard, you're inviting advertisers to put signs on your lawn" or "if you allow the kids to play with chalk on your driveway you 've gotta expect advertisers to take advantage of it" over to "this is unacceptable behaviour, and should be illegal".

We passed that point years ago, and are now accelerating at six gees for the edge of the universe.

alterego [PersonRank 2]

20 years ago #

It is not in the spirit of the web. Bottom line.

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