On Tue, Nov 12, 2013 at 1:29 PM, Chris Steipp <csteipp(a)wikimedia.org> wrote:
I'm opposed to this change. A site administrator
with a big enough
community to address spammy links, and wants to enable this feature, is
likely savvy enough to change the preference from true to false.
I think setting this to false by default is going to encourage spam bot
authors to target MediaWiki specifically, more than they currently do.
The available statistics
<http://www.wikirobot.net/wikibase_breakdown.aspx>show that most sites
leave nofollow on. That could be because they
carefully weighed the pros and cons and decided to leave it on, or (in my
opinion more likely) they didn't think much, or at all, about it. When
people don't have a strong opinion one way or another about what to do, or
any immediate crisis impelling them to action, they often tend to get
distracted by other priorities and leave the default in place.
You're right; if more wikis were to switch off nofollow, it almost
certainly would encourage spammers to target MediaWiki more. That in turn
would likely tend to prompt affected site owners to install more/better
antispam tools, and would stimulate demand for development of such tools.
Of course, there are costs associated with allocating labor to those
activities; I'm just saying the problems can be mitigated from what they
would be if the community could not adapt. Admittedly, there might be some
attrition because some site owners will simply give up. In economics
parlance, it's a question of how
demand for the benefits of wiki site ownership is; if it's pretty
inelastic, then site owners won't be deterred by the spammers.
Shutting off nofollow could encourage more editing in general, not just
spambot editing. Sometimes there's a grey area of semi-spam, in which
people make edits that are somewhat useful to the project's goals and also
somewhat promotional. Arguably, much of Wikipedia's content was contributed
by people pursuing some sort of personal agenda that happened to be enough
aligned with Wikipedia's goals that the two were able to coexist.
Sometimes, people who wanted to engage in promotional editing probably got
involved in other parts of the community, and edited unrelated articles, in
order to make their agendas less obvious.
If people realize that they can bring up the pagerank of sites pertaining
to their favorite entities, activities, interests, etc. by editing wikis,
they might get more interested in doing so. An increase in contributed wiki
content can in turn attract more visitors (who typically find the sites by
search engines); some of these visitors will become editors, and so on, in
a virtuous cycle. The more visitors and contributors there are, the more
resources (including editors' labor) become available for fighting spam,
and thus the problem takes care of itself, and then some. It might be that
with a more vibrant <http://wikiindex.org/Category:Vibrant> wikisphere,
there will actually be less spam on wikis because it will get noticed and
removed faster, and the larger wiki community will be able to support the
allocation of more MediaWiki developer labor, some of which will go to
developing antispam tools.
To use a gardening analogy, I think it's a question of whether the plants
can outgrow the weeds and choke them out, or grow away from them (like a
tomato plant whose tendrils climb a fence) if we stop applying a certain
weed killer. Ideally, you don't want to apply an unnecessary weed killer.
Some kinds of plants can handle the weeds on their own; some (e.g. corn, if
I recall correctly) can't. I'm not sure if the wikisphere is more like a
tomato plant or a cornstalk. I've operated several wikis and never had to
rely on nofollow; Asirra and a reasonable level of diligence always took
care of the spammers pretty well.