When Good Clicks Go Bad

Illustration: Greg Mably

In recent months the blogosphere ( there ’s a term that came out of nowhere to reach mainstream status) has been abuzz with talk of click fraud --illegitimate or nonrelevant clicks on advertising links--and its potential effects on the online advertising industry. Of the dozens of posts I’ve seen, one in particular tickled my lexical fancy. Back in July of this year, Dallas Mavericks owner and heart-on-his-sleeve blogger Mark Cuban (http://www.blogmaverick.com) said in a blog post, ”There has been a slight upturn in the debate over clickfraud.” Hey, wait a minute, I said to myself, when did the phrase click fraud become the word clickfraud ? Google it, though, and you’ll find more examples than you can shake a stick at (if you’re the stick-shaking type).

The melding of phrases into single words--a process called compounding --is a common source of new words in the English language: airport , bookcase , flowerpot , and wristwatch are just a few examples of words that started out their linguistic lives as two-word phrases.

But the new compound clickfraud isn’t the only neologistic action in this area. In that same Cuban post, he also used the word clickfraudsters (people who engage in clickfraud), a term that already has a bit of traction among bloggers. (Can clickfraudulent be far behind?) These no-goodnik scam artists have a number of nefarious tricks up their digital sleeves, including the use of the link farm , a collection of sites with pages that link to every other page in the collection. This helps get the sites ranked higher in search engines, and the pages are composed of advertising links for the unaware to click (there is no content in sight; they’re content-light ). A similar beast is the spamblog or splog , which consists of nothing but advertising, often presented as though it were real content (so it’s called spam content ). Some of these pages appear to have honest-to-goodness articles and content, but they’re actually scraper sites that have stolen ( scraped , in the vernacular) text from legit sites.

The point of many of these spamsites is to take the user from a search engine to an advertiser (via a revenue-paying click on the clickfraudster’s site, of course), a goal called, euphemistically, direct navigation .

Finally, some scammers think waiting for clueless users to click ads is too slow. Instead, they rely on hordes of zombies , computers infected with viruses and worms that command the machines to click on the scammers’ ads--a dark take on the get-rich-click scheme.

Get Thee Behind Me, Web 2.0

Back in my June column, I told you about Web 2.0 , the buzz phrase du jour. It turns out that lots of people don’t like (well, okay, despise) the term Web 2.0 because they see it as just a bunch of marketing hooey. If you fall into that camp, an alternative name is becoming increasingly popular as some folks, their inner geeks in full view, are stumping for the phrase chmod 777 web .

Unix mavens will recognize the inference immediately and will be chuckling to themselves. For everyone else, here’s the background: chmod is short for ”change mode,” and it’s the Unix command you use to change the permissions on a file or directory. There are three types of permissions--read, write, and execute--and each one is either on (1) or off (0). So if a file has read, write, and execute permissions turned on, you write that as 111, which is the binary equivalent to decimal 7. Lastly, you specify three different sets of permissions for each object: the owner of the file, the members of the file’s group, and everyone else. So if you give read, write, and execute permission to all three sets of users, that’s written as 777, and the command that applies these permissions is chmod 777.

So what does this have to do with Web 2.0? Well, the Web has always been about reading (users have ”read” permission), but Web 2.0 is characterized by socially produced knowledge such as that found on wiki -based sites (”write” permission), and by sites that look and feel like desktop programs (”execute” permission). So chmod 777 web has all the essential characteristics of this new phase of Web development built right into the phrase.

That’s not to say that chmod 777 web is destined for lexical stardom. It’s not a phrase that trips lightly off the tongue; explaining what it means takes too long; and it’s Geeky with a capital ”G.” Still, I love it, because it exudes an in-your-face cleverness and an admirable compactness (so much meaning in such a short phrase!). It wouldn’t surprise me to see this phrase take up residence in some of the blogosphere’s nerdier neighborhoods, especially those where ”Web 2.0” is a verboten term.

About the Author

Paul McFedries is a technical and language writer with more than 40 books to his credit. He also runs Word Spy, a Web site and mailing list that tracks new words and phrases (http://www.wordspy.com).

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