May 19 2004

Blog Blacklists: A New View of Internet Vigilantes

I always thought that spam blacklists were well intentioned but problematic for the email ecosystem, since they are vigilantes in action and have no accountability and trackability. Periodically, I’ve even pondered whether or not they violate someone’s first amendment rights. It’s maddening to know you’re a good guy in the email world, you can get put on a blacklist because some anti-spam zealot decides he or she doesn’t like you on a whim, you can’t complain or get off of the list, you may not even know you’re on the list, then you’re downloaded thousands of times by naively trusting or equally zealous sysadmins, and boom — your emails aren’t getting through any more.

Then yesterday, I was looking at what’s probably the first blacklist for blog comment spam, dubbed by Brad Feld as BLAM. I immediately found myself using it myself to prevent my blog from getting overrun by the newest Internet evil. (Of course, I should be so lucky…my fledgling blog has all of one comment on it, but I’m sure there are scores of people ready to comment at a moment’s notice.)

So here we are at the dawn of a new era: the beginning of the blacklist for blam. I’m an early adopter of Jeff Nolan’s pioneering list and proud of it, which made me rethink my view of email blacklists for about five minutes. It didn’t ultimately change that view — email blacklists still have all the problems I mentioned above and have run amok — but it does make me hope that there’s a better long-term solution for stopping blam than the one the world of email has ended up with. Fred Wilson has some good thoughts on better tools for this as well.

Necessity, as always, is the mother of invention, but hopefully the blam blacklist situation won’t get out of control before someone tries to fix it, which may be too late. What I think we need now to solve the blacklist problem is a blacklist of blacklists, but that’s another story for another posting.