The scourge of e-mail–spam–has reinvented itself for the world of blogs, in a phenomenon experts have dubbed “splog.” And Google is in the hot seat.

The search giant’s Blogger blog-creation tool and BlogSpot hosting service, together the most popular free blogging service on the Web, fell victim this past weekend to the biggest splog attack yet–an assault that led to clogged RSS readers and overflowing in-boxes, and that may have manipulated search engine rankings.

“Uh, ladies and gentlemen of the blogosphere, I think we have an emergency on our hands,” Tim Bray, Web technologies director at Sun Microsystems, wrote in his blog in response to what he called the “splogsplosion.”

The attacker, or splogger, used automated tools to manipulate the Blogger-BlogSpot service and create thousands of fake blogs loaded with links to specific Web sites (home mortgage, poker and tobacco sites among them). The move was designed to doctor search results and boost traffic to those sites by fooling the search-engine spiders that crawl the Web looking for commonly linked-to destinations.

The counterfeit blogs also triggered thousands of RSS–Really Simple Syndication–feeds and e-mail notifications, swamping RSS readers and in-boxes.

“The total numbers (of fake sites) must be mind-boggling…” Bray wrote. “The software that’s generating these things is pretty sophisticated; you might think (the sites) were real at first glance.”

The scope of the attack, and the sophisticated automation used to accomplish it, mark a turning point for splogging, a problem experts say has been building for some time.

“It’s been going on for months,” said Matt Haughey, who runs the MetaFilter community Weblog and has blogged about the splog menace. “Over the weekend there was one guy’s gigantic explosion. Someone basically scripted a bot to be able to (create) thousands of (fake) sites.”

Unlike e-mail programs, blogging services don’t have the capability to easily detect and filter out spam, said Bob Wyman, chief technology officer at blog search and tracking service PubSub.

By Elinor Mills

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