You name a statistic, and people will try to game it. You find a ranking, and people will learn how to cheat their way to the top. Online or offline, there is a push/pull relationship between those people who cheat and those people tasked with finding and exposing the cheaters. Some of the most annoying examples of this cat and mouse game today can be seen with the abuses of Technorati's "Authority" metric, which gauges how many individual blogs link to one site in a six month period.
A number of bloggers, including some otherwise-respected individuals, have engaged in a "viral tag" game that invites people to link back to them, and virtually, virally, pass it on. As with any good pyramid scheme, the guy at the top gets the best benefits, and those later to the game get less. Over the last month or so, I've seen some individual's Technorati "Authority" skyrocket, as they've moved from an arguably accurate 100-200 external links through 300, 400, 500 and beyond, catapulting them from B-List blog status to garnering a "Top 5k" badge from Technorati, even though the overwhelming majority of recent links are a fraud.
This practice, if it grows, threatens to eliminate any credibility Technorati has in this space, and will erode trust in the company and its statistics. I can see right-minded bloggers who do showcase this statistic honestly, like I do, to start removing the widget from their blogs as it loses value and becomes an object of scorn.
At the risk of ticking off or losing one of my more engaged and loyal readers, Kent Newsome of Newsome.org is one of the most high-profile showcases of this practice. As you can see in his Technorati profile, he is listed among the top 5,000 most popular blogs that Technorati scours, a diamond in the rough emerging from the tens of millions who do blog. But his count is completely bogus. (Just check out the "reactions") The Viral Tags link exchange has, like a virus, taken over his results page, spawning more and more and more sites to latch onto this sultry practice.
This started from Andy Coate's call to game the results of Google's PageRank, and was later spread by the Founders' Cafe, who is keeping tabs on those who have jumped in headfirst.
The practice of viral tags is not a case of intelligent search engine optimization, as is claimed. This is simply Web link spam aimed at artificially giving credibility where there is none. And now that Kent and others have engaged in the practice, it cannot be undone, unless Technorati, Google and others who track these sorts of things put a stop to it cold.
I'm not saying that people like Kent should be wiped out of Technorati and Google, as he actually tends to have some strong content on his blog. I like his posts and have enjoyed commenting and seeing his reactions here. But I find his move here to lack any of the "accountability" and credibility he expects from other prominent bloggers. (See: It's About Choices and Accountability) It's time to lead by example, Kent, and find a way out of this mess.