Yahoo has moved to curb unwanted advertising on the message boards in its finance section, taking up the delicate task of policing a heavily trafficked area without appearing to censor rivals.
The Santa Clara, California-based portal giant this week initiated three steps to block what it calls "repetitive postings of the same message across numerous message boards," according to Mike Riley, senior producer of Yahoo Finance. More commonly known as spam, such posts--generally unsophisticated commercial pitches--are typically unpopular among Net users, though many defend the practice.
Yahoo is blocking access to Web addresses advertised in spam messages, closing the user accounts of individuals judged to be "spammers," and deleting spam posts throughout its message boards, Riley said. The company acted in response to "a large number of complaints," he said.
The move has sparked controversy among those newly frozen out of Yahoo Finance. Users have complained of censorship and suggested Yahoo's motive is to hinder commercial rivals, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
Yahoo isn't alone in trying to steer a course between what some users view as an irritant, and others describe as free marketing on the Internet. In the past, America Online has taken spammers to court for violating a company policy that prohibits unsanctioned marketing pitches to its subscribers.
Traditionally, AOL has toed a fine line. In the past the online giant has defined spam as any unsolicited email offer sent over its network by a company with which it does not have an established business relationship. While AOL has said it rarely, if ever, sends email promotions to its members, the company acknowledges that it has the ability to use email to promote its third-party partnerships.
Yahoo acknowledged that some of the Web sites now blocked from its finance section are competitors. "There's some overlap with some of what Yahoo does," Riley said.
But Riley insisted Yahoo's initiative stems from its acting on user feedback. "The exclusion of some URLs from posts is not in response to competitive threats, real or perceived," he said.
Message boards devoted to financial topics are very popular among investors and particularly day traders. Two other well-known message boards include Silicon Investor and Raging Bull.
According to Media Metrix, Yahoo Finance was the most highly visited site of its kind for May of 1999. Its combined "reach" was 8.7, meaning nearly 9 percent of all Web users visited the section. Its next closest competitor is Quicken Financial Network, which logged a 7.3 percent reach.