Most of my friends are two-thirds spambot

by Henry Farrell on November 4, 2009

So we were down for a few hours this afternoon thanks to a massive flood of comment spam. Tyler Cowen had a “post”: a few weeks ago on the cognitive benefits of spam, which made me realize that much of my knowledge of the society I live in comes from trawling this spam and deleting it. At least 80% of the (presumed) female celebrities whose nude pictures are yours if only you click on this dodgy-sounding address are known to me from spam and spam alone (Jessica Simpson???). I would have no idea that “Ugg boots” (whatever they are) existed, let alone that anyone cared about them, were it not that a particularly persistent Chinese spammer tries to tell the users of my “academic blog wiki”: about them at every possible opportunity. Sadly, given the existence of “Chris Uggen”:, I can’t just ban page changes using the term in question.

There’s a quasi-serious point buried in there, which is that the Internets, and the possibilities it offers to non-regular TV watchers like me to retrieve the information that we are interested in _and no more_ can lead to deficits in certain kinds of common cultural knowledge. Not the kinds of civic knowledge that Cass Sunstein etc care about – but celebrity gossip, junky pop culture etc.1 Targeted advertising – to the extent that it actually works – is obviously no solution. But spam, designed as it is to cater to the lowest and broadest of tastes actually provides me with significant information that I probably wouldn’t pick up otherwise. Not that it makes spam trawling worthwhile or anything, but at least it gives me _some_ benefit.

1 Not that I am above these things at all; just that I don’t usually have the time, energy and attention to dig it out. It has to be a Jon Stewart-worthy scandal, preferably involving Republican senators, highly specialized providers of intimate services, and greased porcupines or the like, to make it through my filters.



Matt 11.04.09 at 2:41 am

I would have no idea that “Ugg boots” (whatever they are) existed

I’m sure you know about Ugg boots, even if you don’t know the name, because surely you have some female students, and I’d fall dead on the ground if a significant portion of them didn’t wear Ugg boots any time the weather was below, say, 75 degrees. (This group over-laps heavily with, but isn’t identical to, the group that wears tall, brightly-colored galoshes every time there’s a dark cloud in the sky.)


Ugg Kings 11.04.09 at 7:34 am

Buy Ugg Boots Discount


bad Jim 11.04.09 at 8:49 am

It would make life easier for many of us if you could set up your filters so that they could, for example, discriminate between cia1is and socia1ism. For example (although this could be done more inscrutably, and perhaps more elegantly, using regular expressions) :

reject if “cia1is” and not “socia1is”
reject if “ugg” and not “uggen”

For some implementations, this could be:

if “social” skip next rule

Alternatively you might list banned words someplace, so that if a post hangs up in limbo we could consult the index and learn that p0ker is our problem.

I’m a southern Californian who owns a pair of fleece-lined boots, and they can be pretty comfy on cold damp mornings. People from the right coast and the flyover midriff tend not to know that “late night and early morning low clouds clearing to afternoon sun”, our most usual weather, means that you need a wrap in the evening, even in the summer, most of the time.


Chris Bertram 11.04.09 at 9:22 am

Ugg boot are actually quite an interesting phenomenon for anyone interested in branding and the like. There’s an original Australian artifact, which for which “ugg boot” is the generic term and then there’s a version made by a US firm and manufactured in China. Needless to say, it is the US/Chinese version that has been trademarked in various places and is now believed to be the “authentic” item by teenagers all over the place, many of whom wouldn’t be seen dead in, say, an Australian boot made by Emu, which they mistakenly think as being as comparatively uncool as a Sanyo cassette player to a Sony Walkman.


JoB 11.04.09 at 9:27 am

Sanyo cassette player??

Sony Walkman???

How old are you?


bad Jim 11.04.09 at 10:11 am

A casual encounter at work found me and a contemporary explaining things about the war in Vietnam to some younger folk. The discussion wandered back to World War II, I and the Civil War, and left me wondering at what point our listeners would twig to the fact that we were relating things we’d learned rather than what we experienced. The Punic wars? How old did they think we were, anyway?


John Quiggin 11.04.09 at 10:12 am

I not only own the boots but I call them ugg boots and always have.


leah farrell 11.04.09 at 10:51 am

vis a vis the Ugg boots, although I’m not surprised they have failed to make a significant impact on your life thus far, they were first sported by the likes of wifs such as Sienna Miller and represent a constant reminder to those of us with fat calves of just how unflattering a garment can be. I presume they’re not on Nicole’s christmas wish list!


leah farrell 11.04.09 at 10:53 am



Zamfir 11.04.09 at 10:58 am

Without comment threads, I would have never known that cassette players once existed.


chris y 11.04.09 at 11:12 am

8 tracks, however, probably qualify as steampunk.


JoB 11.04.09 at 11:21 am

7 – how young are you?


Old-Timer 11.04.09 at 1:41 pm

There are a number of regular expression dialects. In one of the most widely used, “[Uu]gg\B” will accept Uggen and reject ugg.



Chris Bertram 11.04.09 at 2:10 pm

I can’t believe that words such as “suggestion” and “juggernaut” are routinely trapped by filters.


Salient 11.04.09 at 2:25 pm

What the world needs is a reverse spambot process that can read in a paragraph of text and compute an estimated likelihood of spambot authorship. (We could generalize this: estimate the likelihood the paragraph is advertising a product.) I wonder just how feasible that would be.


Pete 11.04.09 at 2:33 pm

Salient: not sure whether that is sarcasm, but there’s an entire discipline of Bayesian spam filtering techniques that do just that. It’s a sub-category of the wider issue of document classification.


rea 11.04.09 at 2:46 pm

Most of my friends are two-thirds spambot:


Salient 11.04.09 at 2:53 pm

No sarcasm intended, just regrettable ignorance of accomplishments in computing. And to think I’ve just this morning been taking notes on a section on Bayes’ Theorem from an old statistics book, intending to broaden my horizons a bit.


bianca steele 11.04.09 at 3:00 pm

I have seen little girls wearing their Ugg boots in August.


bianca steele 11.04.09 at 3:27 pm

The documentation for WP suggests lack of support for regexps.


JoB 11.04.09 at 3:27 pm

bianca, that’s probably because you don’t live around where John Q lives.


bianca steele 11.04.09 at 3:37 pm

It’s probably at least as warm around here in August as it is where Henry teaches in September or October. A ten year old in a bathing suit and shearling boots looks even sillier than a grown man wearing shorts and a heavy sweater in November.


JoB 11.04.09 at 3:53 pm

22 – Oops (yeah, so they tell me without ever inviting me over there) – but there has to be some place somewhere where Matt could figuratively transport Henry to to be also right even in August.

(by the way: I heard that Monclier is the new thing – a local famosity tells me that it is a lot more expensive than anything else and (presumably therefore although she doesn’t quite make that point) a lot less people are wearing it – off to the shops, I guess)


Tom Hurka 11.04.09 at 4:02 pm

Speaking of old, anyone for gogo boots or Beatle boots?


kid bitzer 11.04.09 at 4:19 pm

you mean george boots. he’s the one i remember especially wearing them.


Salient 11.04.09 at 4:38 pm

Clicking over to Christopher Uggens’ website to give a quick scan through, the first thing I notice says:

…please allow a few weeks for delivery.


First we learn Phillip Hallam-Baker is actually a bot (with a reconstructed dalek laboratory to boot), now Christopher Uggen? Next thing I know it’ll turn out I’m a bot.^1^

^1^This couldn’t possibly be true. I only mention things like the wonderful Barnes & Noble nook[tm][link] from time to time because I like them and want to share! (And that’s a fact.)


chris y 11.04.09 at 5:15 pm

George boots = Chelsea boots?


kid bitzer 11.04.09 at 5:49 pm

yes, there’s a strong resemblance.

but i decline to endorse your identity, since then by substitutivity of boots into an extensional context we would have to conclude that george clinton is chelsea clinton, and thus that parliament is the white house.

all of which can be shown to be false, via the boozilla theorem.


John Quiggin 11.04.09 at 7:56 pm

You could also do a whole post on the “brow” and gender aspect of ugg boots. In Oz, they started out at as gender-neutral footwear at the low end of middlebrow and, as these things typically do, declined to “low”, to the point where I remember a colleague noting the prevalence of ugg boots in an Australian city as an indicator of terminal economic and social decline. But, they are really comfortable boots, at least when worn in the bitter (<20 C !) Australian winter. So, lots of people like me have them for wearing around the house and so on.

Then, thanks to the trademark bandits noted above, ugg boots suddenly became fashionable, but only for women, to the point where, when I last bought a pair, I was asked if it was a gift (happily, the hypothesis of metrosexual cool did not even occur to the salesperson).


Henry 11.04.09 at 8:25 pm

What amazes me is that Ugg boots are still in fashion anywhere (as opposed to just comfy and useful to wear). It’s got to be at least 3 years since Sienna Miller and co were wearing them. Maybe they became fashionable in America a couple of years after the UK?

As far as I can see, the only fashion-worthy reason to wear Uggs is that although they don’t flatter big calves, they are kinder to the averagely chunky thigh. Still not convinced, though.


Henry 11.04.09 at 8:27 pm

Oooops! Not Henry at all – just Maria mooching about his house and using his laptop….


Jacob Christensen 11.04.09 at 11:07 pm

@31 Or was the double nature of Henry/Maria just revealed here? :-)

Anyway, I’m clueless about Gugs. Or whatever they were called. And if I wasn’t, I probably wouldn’t tell you.

By the way: Chris’s homepage tells us his true age. Ah yes, the age of cassette tapes and radio mixes.


fxh 11.05.09 at 11:41 am

Ugg Bots?

JQ – I’m surprised it gets cold enough in QLD to pull the old uggies on at all.


ice9 11.05.09 at 12:39 pm

Uggs insanely popular among Minnesota teens. But they won’t wear them in the snow and ice as that is a rough environment for quality footwear.

ps porcupines won’t grease.


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