This weekend at Sheffield BarCamp I saw a presentation by Tim Nash about how some SEO providers are achieving high rankings using web spam. He explained, quite eloquently, how a technique called Markov Chains is used to create alternative copies of some source content that, to a search engine, has the same keyword profile, but cannot be linked back to the original content or to any of the other Markov derived versions. Of course to a human reader the Markov derived versions are absolute nonsense, but to a search engine, they look like legitimate pages of human created content. So when sprinkled liberally with links to the spammer’s target URL, the search engine rank that URL higher as a popular destination. Now, I have no problem with people who use ingenuity to find kinks in the systems to bend to their own advantage, but it seems to me that it is not the (big nasty corporate) search engines who are being conned here, and it’s not just the users or the people who just want to create interesting and useful content but it’s the whole community that eventually loses out. As the spam-arms-race spirals it becomes harder for us to find useful content or to get our useful content found. While writing this I found that Seth Godin (unsurprisingly) put it much better..