Yesterday John Battelle emailed me to ask about Rae’s post. This will be a little inside baseball to some people who don’t live and breathe search and Twitter, but I figured I’d take what I emailed to John, add some pictures, and post it here. Here’s the email:
Sorry for the delay in replying; I’m really behind on email because I’ve been talking about Chrome this past week.
The short answer is that back in July I saw this post http://www.davidnaylor.co.uk/twitter-backlink-tip.html . David Naylor was pointing out that Twitter intentionally nofollowed links in the “Web” part of a Twitter profile, but that you could embed a link in the “Bio” field that would flow PageRank:
Dave’s blog is read by a bunch of SEOs, including quite a few blackhats, so it was pretty clear to me that Twitter might get hit by spammers who jumped onto Twitter just to get PageRank, or by bots who signed up a ton of accounts automatically trying to get links.
I wasn’t sure of Evan Williams’ email address, so I took my best guess at two of Evan’s emails and dropped Evan a quick note pointing out Dave’s post and that spammers might start attacking Twitter soon because of this. Because I wasn’t sure of Evan’s email, I also sent Evan a Twitter saying “@ev, dropped you an email about (the post that Dave did)” That was all in July, and I forgot about it.
Evidently just in the last few days, Twitter changed that Bio link to a nofollow link. A few thoughts:
- My guess is that spammers have started to attack Twitter more, probably at least partially to get links/PageRank. In an August post at http://blog.twitter.com/2008/08/turning-up-heat-on-spam.html , Biz Stone mentioned that Twitter was hiring their first full-time spam fighter. For a company of ~25 people, a full-time spamfighter is a lot of resources. Evan/Biz have seen how dedicated spammers can hurt users’ experiences at Blogspot, so I imagine that they want to keep Twitter really clean and lock out any spammers early.
- It could be that as part of the process of looking at spam attacks on Twitter, the Twitter team asked “What are the incentives for people to spam Twitter? Are we leaking links to spammy sites anywhere?” If they were asking those sorts of questions, it makes sense if they decided to nofollow the Bio link to prevent spam accounts from attacking Twitter.
- I dropped Evan an email about Dave’s post just as a heads-up in July in case he wasn’t aware of it, but people have been talking about gaming Twitter for links even before that, e.g. http://nickwilsdon.com/do-you-want-some-followe-links-from-twitter/ :
and there’s another post someone did in March called “Gaming Twitter for Thousands Of Backlinks”:
By the way, I totally support if Evan wanted to lift nofollow for real users in some way, but I figure that Twitter probably wanted to protect themselves against spam as a first step. Given that a month or so after I dropped them a note, Twitter hired a full-time spam person, I’m not surprised if Twitter was starting to see more spammers show up and wanted to take strong action to push back on spam as a first step–if Twitter got gummed up with spam that would be bad for everybody. Perhaps down the road they’ll look at ways to keep flowing PageRank to real users while not opening themselves to a spam attack. I would imagine that they have pretty good signals that would let them separate (most) real users from (most) bots/spammers. So Twitter could take steps such that most users would still get PageRank by removing the nofollow on sufficiently non-spammy users.
That’s what I sent to John by email, minus the pictures.