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Professional Forum Spammers

 1:14 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

re: Professional forum spamming is becoming an increasing problem for us.

There are sites now that specialize in "acquiring targeted" traffic from forums. That is all they do. They go out and find forums that are ontopic to a customers needs and they carefully "spam" the forum to acquire link backs, name dropping, and often direct url dropping to bring back customers.

Some of the techniques they use:

- Tag teams. One or more agents will start and engage in conversations with each other to add credibility to a thread.
- Post count building. Often, agents will increase their post count, carefully contributing to the 'players' in a forum to beef up "nick recognition", and then slowly introduce a topic.
- Classic Q & A with themselves. Forums that don't watch ip addresses real close often have agents that carry on conversations with themselves under two different nicks.
- Name dropping and whisper campaigns. Often they just drop the name of a product with "what do you think of product X". After awhile they come back and work in the url with some member saying, "oh ya, I've heard of them".
- Profile building. I know one company that targets a particular industry, that has two agents with over 50,000 posts around forums under their nicks. With all that posting, those two agents are now considered "experts" in their topic area - and they are nothing more than salesmen.

The problem? They are getting very good at it.

What can we do to stem this tide?



 1:23 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

Did I mention <insert company name> who offer <insert list of services> and they have had high praise from <insert fake praises>.


Seriously, I think it's everybody's duty to keep an eye out for people and companies like this. If someone does spot one I can only advice you to let Brett or another moderator know ASAP.


 1:29 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

Question: Is it a tide that we want to stop?

I for one am guilty of said offences on a number of occasions. It is a good way of getting cheap 'Press Releases'

My views are dump the drive bys pick up on some of the more subtle attempts and remove URLs and give warnings, but if they are good then just give them credit for their work and let it go.

No matter how hard you try some of it is going to get past the filters. The real key is whether the spamming hurts the business or whether spam removal hurts the business in terms of effort expended.


 1:37 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

As an afterthought:

This topic can be considered in very much the same light as the right-click disable problem.

It doesn't take much effort to put off the amateurs but to stop a professional getting at your code is nigh on impossible.

click watcher

 2:00 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

very good topic to bring up brett, thanks.

i think we do want to stop it as far as possible, but thats in an ideal world,
this forum is so well moderated and supported that generally i trust posts that don't stink, i think most of us can spot the really fishy ones, now the very slick ones thats harder.

>>I for one am guilty of said offences on a number of occasions. It is a good way of getting cheap 'Press Releases'

good point, and also of course some url drops are very useful and interesting.

but heres a quick thought...

1 ... make a new forum for "press releases" it could be marked clearly in some way so we all know the nature of it, i'm sure it could be set up to disable direct links or even ban spiders so there is no linkage/page rank benefits to the droppers... suspect posts could also be moved into this forum pending evidence to the contrary.

2 ... allow moderators to have an expanded profile page allowing them to list more than one link and possibly other stuff, we all value the mods here and perhaps we could reward them a bit more.


 2:13 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

yeah - "whispering"

at least that is what the industry calls the spammers. Awhile back I posted here about whispering to get some opinions because my boss was looking into it while I cringed. Fortunately, my boss was disgusted with what it actual was.

I think (and trust) the moderators. Whatever they think they can do to curb the spam is cool with me.

Just my .02 cents


 2:14 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

Depends on how good your analysis facilities and historic archives are. You may be able to spot tag teams by noting when certain nicks spend too much time batting back and forth in a commercial type thread, or if a consistent question - answer pattern shows. I don't know how you store old threads and whether you could extract nicks from that for analysis (reduce threads to nick lists, and analyse for high correlaton, especially by time).

Post count building - problem, because almost by definition, you can't spot them until they reveal their "real" goal by making a drop. And it also closely mimics someone who genuinely is learning more and more about a topic

Q&A - I bet you watch IPs like a hawk, but still someone who undersyood the game could get around it. With the non-realtime nature of posting, you could even divert suspicion by composing 2 or more long posts, and sending them simultaneously, thus "proving" that the nicks are 2 different people. The dumb ones you'll catch, the smart ones you'll never know they are doing it, unless they make a slip, and a mod catches them

Name dropping - Toughie. The forum ought to have a limited amount of this. For example the "Best text editor?" thread absolutely requires it, and there are frequently threads from newbies asking for advice on this or that class of application. The trick is to spot and separate genuine recommendations from drops, and genuine problems from fishing posts. You could simply ban any mention of or link to any commercial site, but that will also hurt the value of the site, as many genuine recommendations get junked

Profile building - If someone invests that much time, what CAN you do? The only solution I can think of is a "member rating" system, so a small number of high-quality posts could attract more approval than 000's of worthless posts, but then you open the personality politics can of worms

Overall, I think : look out for pairings/groupings with a habit of asking a question which leads to just a few replies, including an external link somewhere.

If you know you've got cheaters on the board, confront them in private, clean up or you're gone. If they leave, job done. If they stop, no more problem. If they continue, ban 'em. Profiles and trust take time to build. Make 'em start from scratch. It'll hurt them, and eventually they'll get tired of it or find something else to do.

Foo posts don't go on your official count, but are they recorded? If so, relate a suspicious nicks "real" count to the Foo count. I bet the pro spammers spend precious little time in there on average. If my Foo count was added to my total, I'd be RC (then again, RC would be God)

Talk to the mods. They know their fora, and the names they expect to see in there on a regular basis, I bet. Odds are they will be able to ID any possible dodgy nicks, because they have a relatively small area to concentrate on. Any nick that appears on multiple lists merits investigation, and a post-by-post analysis of their history. Too high a drop count, and they get put on notice to behave. Further transgressions mean goodbye

Keep an eye on other boards. Try to relate nicks over several boards. I know we have several here who keep the same IDs over mulitple locations, you need to find the ones who don't. Look for topics occuring in multiple places. Todays drop to a printer manufacturer is replicated in a different forum, but the user name is the same in both cases. Maybe it is a genuine question, but I doubt it. The times don't seem to stack up right

I feel like I'm preaching to the choir with a lot of this :)


 2:46 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

I feel a little stupid for not seeing this happen very often here...it's not like spamming is a new word for me.

The good moderation and the good spirit of this board are the best counter measures you can have I think, and as far as I can tell it's working pretty well.

Can you give us an idea of the extent of the problem for wmw ?


 2:51 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

I think if the moderation is good enough then it should scare those sort away. Just ban them! Can't be doing with people like that who want to abuse a damn good resource!

(edited by: engine at 3:18 pm (utc) on Mar. 21, 2002)


 2:52 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

extent of the problem for WebmasterWorld ?

It keeps us busy!


 2:52 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

He's a modified tag team example seen several times in these forums. It's the "I have a tech problem - can you solve it?" routine:

- ZippyNick: I can't seem to figure out how to get the cow to jump over the moon. Anyone have any ideas?

- SeniorMember1: Well, you need to go to the dairy first, and find the right cow.

- SeniorMember2: You have to use cows from Wisconsin.

- SeniorMember3: Don't milk them for 24hours before asking them to jump.

- SeniorMember4: It only works with heifers.

- SeniorMember5: They'll only do it during a Google update.

- CoolNick: You ever try the new "SuperHay" - they say cows can jump further with it.

- ZippyNick: Thanks. I ended up using the SuperHay brand. All my cows can jump over the moon now - you guys rock!

Determining if that is a tag team, is all but impossible. It really could be innocent. What would you do? (it's a drop/branding post for SuperHay.com)

Some of the other favorites include:

Has anyone tried this site before?
Hey, My friend told me about.
Has anyone used this before?
What if I used product X?


 2:55 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

Brett, here's how you solve the problem... You find out who they are, and embarrass them by posting their nick and IP address in a special part of the forum.


 3:05 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

Just like the good pillory days!

Frankly, this forum is too valuable to get ruined by such a practice.


 3:16 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

>> posting their nick and IP address in a special part of the forum

2 problems. 1) Throwaway nicks. Ask a domain spammer, you don't worry about long-term viability, quantity counts. Get some posts up, 95% go down, you still make on the 5%. Your nicks get spotted and banned, create some more. Some go about 5 posts before dropping, some develop over months into valued members before dropping. You can even use your long-termers to rat on the throwaways

2) genuine errors. Sometimes you post without thinking. I've done it myself a couple of times. I got one particularly well-concieved spam mail, and posted a link to their site. I got rightly slapped for it

It would have been quite off-putting to have been put up in the "Hall of Shame" for an unthinking slip like that


 3:19 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

okay, but I'm talking about the obvious types Brett stated.


 3:31 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

It's not obvious at all even with the type Brett pointed out... here's one of my first posts:


How easy is it to spot a - "can anyone recommend a resource" - that is basically a plant as opposed to a genuine request for help?


 3:52 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

Bingo. If you had been part of a tag team promoting one or more BB systems, that would have been perfect, probably even bringing up your target system up without your direct involvement. If not, your alter ego steps in


 3:55 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

>What would you do?

I think the only option is to rely on seniormembers 1-5 and others to verify that claim and look into the product. It should interest them if it really does make cows jump over the moon. They will quickly notice if it does not and post that.

There will be contradicting opinions, and that gives the thread value, even if the owner of the product may also benefit. I agree with Ian
"if they are good then just give them credit"
..if the product is good it should be mentioned here.

I think the boards policy should either be to never discuss or mention specific products (virtually impossible), or accept that they are part of our trade, and discuss them.

I don't think there is harm in reviewing a product together.
It's not like we get many WP related posts here anymore , there are only so many things you can say about it ...then again it would have been really stupid if it was never discussed in a forum like this.

Eitherway..seeing the seniormembers 1-5 not agree with each other (love your example:)..
it should be clear to most readers they should form their own opinion and not read the thread as a recommendation.

I think the idea of a clickthough script to eliminate the linkpop advantage for spammers is good.

I understand you would want to keep an eye on zippynick and coolnick...but not make the mistakes that have and are being made on other boards. Maybe you just need more moderators of the same quality you have now.


 3:58 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

gethan, thanks for that link! I did not know you are one of them! And I see that even Tabke is on your tag team:):)

Post building and profile building is such a time-consuming exercise that only really desperate people try it on well controlled forums.

And you can't really stop really desperate people, can you?

A few simple filters and rules eliminate 90% of the problem. The remaining 10% would be so difficult to detect that it's simply not worth it.


 4:00 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

I've been spammed by these pros you talk about -- really only savy and diligent moderation will work.

The problem is that soon all the amaturs start emulating the pros too.

>make a new forum for "press releases" it could be marked clearly in some way so we all know the nature of it

I did this for the amaturs for awhile. Now I've even gone one better and created a press release news bureau on a seperate site with a blog script with XML and Javascript syndication. I channel the "little guy" content providers there. I envite them to spam me. (But I still moderate the posts.) The trick is to channel the energy in a more productive direction. I don't know if that will work for the pros though.


 4:11 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

<brief sidebar>
>I don't think there is harm in reviewing a product together.

Product reviews have another HUGE problem, legal liability. Contrary to what many assume, if we have a member who vents his wrath against a service or product and his claims are later proven to be unfounded... uh-oh. Don't think they don't find out about it, either. Besides the fact that many, many tech reporters read here to get their story "ideas" wmw has incredible visible/lurker traffic that can really smoke a link if someone drops it. Have you ever noticed just how often XYZ shows up in a thread when we're discussing XYZ Company?

> start emulating the pros too.

Bingo! That's a major problem. New members see it and assume it's OK to post similar.


 4:19 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

great discussion...

I think it will all come down to how well the moderators know thier area (mentioned above).

what about subdomain analysis to track tag teams - or do you see people using revolving instead to get around that?


 4:51 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

I know of one company set up that is entirely based around infiltrating forums / newsgroups etc doing this.

URL snipped :) sell their services as a PR drive on a retention.

Don;t know if it works, but they profess their ability to hide *unnoticed* in the forums to prey on any unsuspecting user.

I think as long as it totally matches what the user is requesting, then fair enough - its up to the others in the forum to either agree or disagree.

For example of sbdy asked which search engine to use in a forum somewhere and googleguy said that his was quite good, I would have to agree.

But if sbdy asked where the best place SEO forum was and sbdy from wordonthestreet said webmasterworld.org, I would have to disagree.

After all there is plenty of conflicting advice shooting around even this monolith of a forum, the key for everyone is deciphering which they want from which they don't.

And I think blatant spammers do more harm than good to their brand, especially when its a well used forum because it ends up with a hige thread just slagging off their service!


 5:12 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

This is one forum where the marketer can get a lot more targeted traffic by learning from the forum than by spamming it.

I'll bet if they arrive with the intention of spamming the forum, before long they will learn what an amateurish tehnique that is, when compared to what this forum has to offer.

Anyway, having good moderators is the best defense against forum spammers.


 5:16 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

I feel a "I love you guys at WW, I've never clicked with anyone like you guys before" spasm coming on!!

Group Hug all round!


 5:22 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

Great thread!

Some of you might remember when I posted about a year ago about this. I almost lost my job because I flatout refused to spam messageboards to promote our company site. I never did it, and I stuck to my guns. In the end I was able to talk the company out of it.

I would hate to see business reccomendations go away though completely. I recently changed my host company to a company recommended here on this board, and I'm very happy. As a general rule, I tend to pretty much ignore any kind of recommendations from someone with only a few posts. Most of us know the veterans of the board, and who to trust and who not to.

I recently had an interesting experience on my board. We had actually done some write-ups about a product, and sent them some traffic. They posted on our messageboard about their product, and I didn't mind since it was a related product to our site, and we were promoting it anyway. A month later they came back, and with the same exact nick represented themselves as a customer and made a bunch of false statements about the product and how everyone should go buy it. Instead of deleting it like normal I posted my disappointment in response, and then locked the thread down. I removed posting privileges from that nick so that they could not edit it. Now everyone who reads that thread sees that company in a different light. :)


 5:33 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

I think somebody just slipped in a URL as we speak.


 5:44 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

wasn't me was it?? see even genuine ones can't be trusted!!! what a traitor I feel (if it was, it may just be guilt though!!)


 6:09 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

Brett this post is giving me a headache just thinking about the things I have seen in this forum.

Like Mivox's New Mug (sorry mivox) and things like "which is better WPG or TD"

couldn't we have name/url drop button on each post and a set of spam police.


If you want a great deal on .......visit www.........;)


 6:19 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

Build counter-tag-team.
Put more moderator on the job.
Monitor IPs.
All questions that get answered by a product/company name are suspect.
Metrics that try to mesure expertise of users (UserRank ?) will be abused. So it's may be better to not use this kind of indicator and let the people judge by themselve by reading the posts.

I think that the moderators at WMW are doing a great job. I'v broken the rules
(mainly because I havent read them before posting) but advice from the moderator are always full of sense and are very well received.

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