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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?



 9:50 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

I see your point Coffee, but I disagree. If a new member provides a URL that I can use, that is relevant or provides additional information then it serves a purpose for me.

If Brett provides a link to a product that doesn't fit my needs, the information does me no good.

A lurker might not post until a contribution they are confident about can be made.

For me, there is no distinction made between how long they have been a member or how many posts they have made.

It is all about the information.


(edited by: digitalghost at 9:54 pm (utc) on Mar. 21, 2002)


 9:54 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)


The fact of the matter is this:

99% of the time, it is the member with a post count of 2 that joined yesterday that is going to be promoting a product or dropping a URL. The argument is based on past history and what we have seen here on the board.

I don't judge people's knowledge based on their post count or when they joined, but I may gauge how much I trust what they are saying by what I have seen them post in the past.

There is too much riding on it to trust everyone.


 10:08 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

>The reason I love this place is because of the lack of 'self promotion' and the willingness for everybody, no matter who they are or how long they've been around, to help a fellow webmaster

Well put jeremy! The time investment by the mods IS what keeps us talking about relevant issues without becoming an advertising board.

DG.. I agree that it does not matter who posts the right information for you, if it is the case of a certain piece of info you need. I believe what everyone else is trying to get across is: Sometimes you do not have a clue where to begin on an issue, or how to go about an important task for the first time. You post a question, and get anywhere from 1 to 30 different responses/ways to accomplish your task. You then have to pick between the methods and recommendations blindly. Without any other gauge available, post counts, join dates, and familiar names can be a useful tool. Higher post counts and vetran members, on the whole, have been through the same experiences, often for longer periods of time. To make up your mind on which advice to take, experience is often worth its weight in gold. Post counts and join dates, while certainly not bulletproof markers of expertise, can help.


 10:19 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

My first post dropped a URL. To a discussion in another forum about a topic I wanted to address. The URL had the link removed but the URL remained.

I received a polite email explaining why the link was removed. I understand the reasoning behind it, but still feel that worthwhile avenues of discussion are shut down.

There are many people out there that have questions about various products. This forum seems a natural place to get answers. Sometimes, a link serves a valid purpose. The danger I see is that a witch hunt mentality will override valid posts.

I've already backspaced product names to comply with the no product link requirement, at a disservice to the surfer asking a question. At what point does the value of a link override the fear of spam?



 10:22 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

Personally I couldn't care less about the post count/joined date, a post is a post nothing more nothing less. A case in point, we have a junior member here who also happens to be one of *the* recognised industry experts, do you/we take less notice of their posts because of the junior status?

Everyone has something to contribute.

HEY digitalghost, are you related to cyril? j/k


 10:24 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

>post counts

A year or so ago, Oilman ran a thread on trying to nail down the impact of a member's post count upon new members or less board-savvy ones. It was all anecdotal, of course, but there wasn't much doubt that it was being used as one of the primary factors. On the whole, we think it should be discounted (that's why FOO was turned off). In practice, a low post count turns out to be the first and best indicator for a moderator to go on spam alert.


 10:49 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

I'm new to this forum, but certainly not to the Internet or online services. I was in charge of a forum via CompuServe several years before most of us ever used the Internet. We were called SYSOP's back then. Back in the good old days we didn't have to worry to much about SPAM. In those days a few carefully sent FLAMES would take care of the problem. I haven't heard the term flame in a long time. These days if we flamed someone, we'd be accused of sending SPAM. Just an example of how fast things change in the world today.

<email fixed per member request>

(edited by: Marcia at 5:48 am (utc) on Mar. 23, 2002)


 11:06 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

>I find this topic somewhat amusing.

He he, me too! Seems, if I read this right, most do. Or we wouldn't be here.


 11:21 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

HEY digitalghost, are you related to cyril? j/k

<sarcasm>Must be an inside joke. Maybe if my post count were higher I'd be privy to the humor in it. </sarcasm>



 11:36 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

I can somewhat sympathize with Brett (I think he has the best interests of all involved in mind). It can be a tough issue to grapple with.

I do feel as though I'm walking on eggshells with some subjects. The issues I'm more passionate about also happen to be the same issues I work with on the net. I want to discuss new and old ideas but I feel as though there is a conflict of interest with some subjects so I'm hesitant to start new threads. It's gotten to the point where I don't feel comfortable even reporting new info or ideas I stumble across.

As far as forum post count goes, don't put any weight upon them. I have 526 because I changed my member name some time back and only one or two those replies have any real value ;). On the other hand, GoogleGuy has 156 and I'm sure everyone here has scraped and prodded through each and every post he has made.


 11:43 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

It's gotten to the point where I don't feel comfortable even reporting new info or ideas I stumble across.

Been there, done that and I haven't been a member here long. I don't know what information sources are on the A list.



 11:48 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

Promotion aside, keeping links and references to products at a minimum forces the poster's post to become the reference, it makes for interesting discussion and brings out information that cannot be obtained anywhere else.

One of the things I have always disliked about spammed out forums is the lack of "personality" they end up with, none of the posters seem real, questions answered with a link are repeated mercilessly everytime that same question is asked the same link gets posted. Eventually the links take on a certain tumbleweed character in each thread as that forum gradually becomes a ghost town.

IMO the problem with links is that even if on target, even if authoritative, they end up creating a reference forum instead of a discussion forum. Part of what I like and value here is the perspective and experience of each individual, new or not so new, and the unique points of view they bring to bear on the discussions at hand.

Links to other sites and references to products don't tell me much more than what I could get with a quick search at Google, but a discussion of which features are absolutely necessary rather than which product has them, or someone's experience in redirecting with javascript rather than a link to the javascript site, is priceless (kinda reminds me of that v*i*s*a commercial).


 11:55 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

There is no "A List," DG... stop being so negative and try to work with us a little here, eh? ;)


 12:08 am on Mar 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

I'm certainly not negative. I am however a realist.

I have seen several questions asked that required detailed, technical answers. I have also seen those answers supplied at other forums where the level of expertise was comparable or above the level of expertise presented here. A simple link to that forum's thread would have answered the question.

A link like that is prohibited.

I have also seen information presented at other forums that would complement the info presented here or provide fuel for added discussion.

In several instances, a simple link to the tech specs of a product provide all the information that is needed. I am never interested in someone's "feelings" regardings a product or information. Facts on the other hand interest me.

Lack of noise may be desirable, but if it shuts off an avenue of information the cost has to be weighed.



 12:24 am on Mar 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

A link like that is prohibited.

Much like a retail store giving you the expected delivery date of an out of stock item, rather than saying, "Oh yeah, our competitor on the other side of town carries that too... They have it in stock for only $XX." A realist ought to understand that. If you're trying to build a community, you don't do it by hawking real estate for a neighborhood in the next town.

Now, if it's a resource that we absolutely cannot provide, like computer hardware or a pre-programmed shopping cart solution (popular topic of late, it seems), it's fairly well accepted to give recommendations for products you've used and liked... Much like the clothing store will be happy to refer you to the nearest auto parts supplier if you're looking for an alternator.

But if someone comes in asking why x-and-so-javascript doesn't work in Miscellaneous Browser v., that's something that will probably be quite adequately addressed by our own exceptional members, right here... and myself, I'd just as soon have a one-stop shopping forum than have to go clicking off to other sites all the time, just because the question has been asked somewhere else first.


 1:30 am on Mar 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

Mivox, you used a very simplified argument to sound plausible but it doesn't address the issue properly.

Technical issues that are thoroughly covered in technical forums could be used quite effectively.

If the resource is sound, and this one is, there shouldn't be any worries about referring someone to a forum that addresses the topic at hand if information isn't forthcoming in this forum.

If someone is requesting information on XML, this isn't the place to find answers. XML seems to be largely ignored here. The brief pieces I've seen on P3P also indicate that other avenues of information might be appropriate.

So, rather than just ignore the request for information, or provide a vague response, wouldn't it be advantageous to point someone to a resource in which their questions could be answered?

In regard to professional community spammers, (the original topic), if they are as good as indicated, detecting them would prove very time consuming. If they aren't any good, they will be spotted almost immediately.

What is the expected ROI for an ad hoc committee designated to stem the problem? What criteria would be used to determine if indeed it is spam or a legitimate link? Brett mentioned 3 posts per day. Hardly sounds like an epidemic. In fact, it seems as if the protocols that are in place are working quite well. A bit restrictive, but working.

I don't see many posts that refer to discussions in other forums as spam. They are usually on target and posted because they are expedient.

Someone referring to a discussion usually isn't hawking a product.

As for community, well, I found my way to a considerable number of forums through posts in a particular forum or a link in a sig. I haven't "deserted" any of them. I have broadened my outlook though.



 1:49 am on Mar 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

XML seems to be largely ignored here. The brief pieces I've seen on P3P also indicate that other avenues of information might be appropriate.

Both of those topics actually have members and/or moderators here who are quite well-versed... and both of those topics have also been addressed before with links to the appropriate technical standards sites. When necessary and/or appropriate, urls to outside information resources are given freely.

you used a very simplified argument to sound plausible

No, I used a very simplified argument because it addressed perfectly well why we don't run around dropping URLs to other online forums in response to questions posted in our own.


 1:53 am on Mar 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

This board is the benchmark for professionally moderated discussions. I don't think it would have reached that status by allowing sigs and other questionable links.

In my line of work, I offer quite a bit of advice to my clients and cohorts. In that offering, I'm constantly using my Print Screen button and posting links to screen shots so people can see what I am talking about.

I've actually been <snipped> a few times in here but realized afterwards that I was in the wrong. Brett was the first to <snip> me and then there was one other. Two <snips> since April 27, 2001, not bad!

I've now learned to use the Sticky Mail link when needed and will send URL's or Screen Shots to various members. If you've got some valuable resources and don't want to get <snipped> in the process, just sticky them to the appropriate people.



 1:58 am on Mar 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

Excellent advice there... Would help out a great many sticky situations, if folks would mail each other more often. ;)

(booo... I know. I couldn't help myself.)


 2:00 am on Mar 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

Okay, but isn't a forum designed so that the information becomes public?

I belong to several email lists that accomplish the dissemination of information as you describe.



 2:03 am on Mar 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

First off I'd like to say that Dukakis tank picture Brett posted is friggin hilarious though I'm not quite sure why. :)

This thread does have somewhat of a paranoid feel to it.

I was encouraged to make my first post after more than 4 months of lurking by Brett's ABC's of SE post where he encouraged people to network.

I'm not the most experienced proffesional on the internet but I do have the sponge like qualities that contribute to fast learning. It saddens me to think that all my posts are suspect because of my low post count or recent 'born on date' I have posted very few url's and they were all pertinant to the subject of the thread. I have never posted a URL that I was affiliated with and if a URL was inappropriate I fully expected it to be removed (thus far none have).

As far as judging the poster by the time spent reading and digesting info here I'm sure I'd rank up there with the best of them at least as far as my time spent here as a percentage of my time spent online.

I think this thread is good and educational but I truly hope it doesn't make us into a bunch of paranoid delusionals.

A major contributor in the battle for 50m page views a year,


(edited by: greektomi at 2:07 am (utc) on Mar. 22, 2002)


 2:06 am on Mar 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

Just an added question.....

What about spam in Sticky Mail?



 2:41 am on Mar 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

>I've actually been <snipped> a few times in here but realized afterwards that I was in the wrong

pageone, thank you for speaking up and giving the reminder. I remember the day you got here, and I remember the thread where you first posted. It was not all by snipping and stickymail. Right out in the open, you were challenged rather rudely, and it was discussed right in the thread for all to see. I remember it because I was involved in that incident. Openly and honestly, there was communication - and you're still here today, a most valuable member of the community.

There may be an average of 3 a day on record, but that doesn't represent even a fraction of all the interactions that take place that need smoothing, warrant extra attention or call for making judgments and decisions. There would be no record of most of those, they're not generally evident to anyone but the person who's involved or someone specificially examining the "moderating" process that goes on here.

The world is full of sycophants, from board rooms to casting couches to online communities. We're distinguished not as a community of "yes-men" and people-pleasers. The membership here represents some of the finest thinking minds, interacting in an open and nourishing environment.

It's not the negative of spam-busting that builds; spam causes erosion, which is why it's positive to examine how to more effectively deal with it. However, it's the multitude of positives that contribute to growth; that is what nourishes and enriches the collective life of a community and the lives of it's individual members.

Each member here is not merely a nickname and an IP number; each is an individual, highly valued and respected as such. And each one makes their unique contribution to what constitutes WebmasterWorld as a community. We need to deal with what can erode, but let's remember that there's a collective consciousness that's created by the positive contributions of all the individual members that makes a community an actual place to gather rather than just a URL.


 2:42 am on Mar 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

Okay, before this takes an ugly turn I think I should clear something up.

If an question is asked and is answered by someone here and the answer is good, then there is no reason to provide a URL to another source.

If the question is asked, and answered poorly, and there's a wealth of information residing at another forum that is off limits here because of some odd rule then the members are being done a disservice.

A link to a technical standards site isn't sufficient if someone has specific questions on the implementation of P3P. The reason I am using P3P as an example is because someone had a very specific question here that was addressed in depth at another forum. The answer here wasn't sufficient.

A link to that thread would have resolved it. I surely wasn't going to post 3 pages of someone else's solution here or anywhere.

There are MANY good sources of information on the web. It is impossible for one site to garner all the experts in one place. Limiting viable means of information is not the intent of Brett or anyone else I am assuming.

This find the answer here or forget it attitude is disturbing. It is tantamount to saying that WMW wants all the good information you can bring in, but once you get it here, please keep it here. That is pretty much the antithesis of what I feel the web is all about. Free flow of information.



 4:13 am on Mar 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

> How big of an issue is it?

My 3 a day was an under estimate. A couple mods reminded me of a few 15+ days just last week. It's very definately a growing concern because of the amount of time it takes to deal with each one. We take any action involving user messages very seriously. There is no other forum that I know of that holds user messages in such esteem as we do. No other forum respects copyrights and user contributions the way we do.

>cannot accurately assess that by looking solely at their post count.

No you can't WG, that's true. How about adding "byte count" to the profile?
I will add, that if private forums counted to post counts there'd be alot of mods with 5+k to their post counts. There's 40k msgs in mods/admin forums, most of which is discussions of the above issues. Every time there is an edit, there is a post and an explantion as to why. We always cross check each others work.

Three out of stickymail:

1: > So give us some expert rank?
2: > Member Plonk files?
3: > Message or thread scoring?

We thought along each of those lines.

We aren't fond of the first two. If there is a perpetual problem with a member it should be delt with off the board. We do a bit of that, but haven't had any real continuing troubles.

The third one is interesting. There are a couple of ways that you could do that:

a: a plus or minue +/- next to a message to allow senior members to score posts plus or minus. Members could then set a rank level of only those msgs they wish to see. The trouble in the forum format is that we tend to wander a bit (this thread for example) all around topics and they are related. That's both the strong points and weak points of the flat message thread format.


 7:46 am on Mar 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

I would just add that the moderators do a great job, and say thank you <round of applause>!!!!</applause> and think this thread was an excellent idea. Unless you folks are all dying of overwork, I'd say "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."


 8:26 am on Mar 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

Thanks for the good word, SmallTime

I can say that every time I need to deal with a URL in Browsers and HTML, there's automatically a tension. I appreciate that some issues about page design can be difficult to explain fully using only words or code snippets -- and a URL makes the job seem a lot easier.

On the other hand, the looser I get with allowing URLs, the more links I see that don't need to be there for the sake of the discussion. Even further, those posts are often a side track, however subtle, from the topic at hand. Whether intentionally promotional or not, these posts are often part of the "noise" and not the "signal".

So there's always a trade off: keep the "signal" strong, or set a precedent that may hurt the overall usefulness of the board, even though it helps in one case.

I've recently decided that it is useful to require words over examples. For one, it makes the forum content more easily searchable into the future. Also, in some way, a well worded question often points toward its own answer. I;m sure we've all noticed this - explaining a situation well helps to resolve it.

Yes, that means the person writing the post needs to do more work up front. Well, that's not a bad thing, IMO. It helps to boost the signal.

>> dying of overwork...

Well, there are days!


 9:43 am on Mar 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

I personally get really angry with anyone who tries to ruin a good resource. I know I've had my fair share of set-to's with the moderators over my time here, and personally don't go for some of their parent like approach to deleting some topics. Some of my topics have been deleted because they didn't feel that they were "correct", but I really feel a moderator should let the people use their own brain. But still, the point is, this is a place to get good advice, and not advertise! If somebody wants to advertise, then they can go and pay for overture!


 11:30 am on Mar 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

would it sound stupid to have a "Spam Free" mentionned under the "Senior Member" or "New User", in the profile part of the post?

this would simply be triggered by a vote of the moderators for instance. it shows that it's not a question of time, or number of post, or size in k of posts, but merely confidence from the people who actually admin the forum.

when a mod feel like you sound like a good person, they would go to your profile and click a box. after N boxes are clicked (N, which could still vary according to number and sizes of posts, and time since joining in), you get the "spam free" tag.

"Spam Free" could be "Trusted Member" or "Preferred Member", for instance. there already is a "Preferred Member", along with the "Senior Member" and "New User", but i don't understand what it means because it's not a question of date nor number of posts, from what i noticed...

is it related to what i talked about? i think this could be clearer and used more efficiently.

i am very new in this forum and i really find it amazingly useful and well managed. i feel "safe" because posts are usually made by people who know, and have an interest in what they talk about, and because the mods do their job pretty well. i would tend to "believe" everything that is said here, as opposed to junked up forum where spammers post freely. there should be a way to "gain" credibility in this forum so that spammers would have to really work a lot and for a long time before their post go unnoticed.

click watcher

 12:20 pm on Mar 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

there already is a "Preferred Member", along with the "Senior Member" and "New User", but i don't understand what it means because it's not a question of date nor number of posts, from what i noticed...

senior member = totally cool dude

only joking!!! seriously i think this is largely a backend problem and i think the work going on in the background logging ips and analysing posts is really where any solution lies, ultimately combined with a judgment call from brett and the mods,

naturally if you consider it, if you were a serious professional spammer with a business model then to be in a trusted position in a successful board like this would be really valuable - so whats to stop someone putting enough effort in to become a moderator themselves, after all if its your job you could spend all day on the top boards so it wouldn't be difficult to do and like a good spy its easy enough to hand out "last weeks" information dressed up as informative posts.

it is a serious issue, i have no stats but i imagine the hits on and therefore influence of this site must be huge and why should my and all other contributors hard work by used by spammers as cheap product placement.

I remember when news groups were a good place to find information. Now look at them. In my view, a total waste of time. Nothing but spam and trash is left in most of them. Do what you have to do to keep this and other forums from being turned into one large SPAM advertisment factory.

i realise i'm more ranting than adding anything positive to the discussion but any block on posting links would be severely detrimental to the board i think, as has already been said/suggested members reporting suspicious posts to the mods especially when they appear to be mirrors of others dropped on other boards, and we have to trust the admins/mods to make our decisions...

in court cases i'm all for the prosecution proving their case beyond reasonable doubt, but here i don't believe any legitamate member would be too upset if their post was squashed as a possible suspect - obviously i'd be a bit angry in the moment, but i'd quickly realise that it wasn't personal, i hope :), and accept that its for the long term good.


 2:28 pm on Mar 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

It saddens me to think that all my posts are suspect because of my low post count or recent 'born on date'

I still feel that it's not quantity but quality with regards to posts. I, too, am not even close to being an expert on this stuff, and I certainly have had my share of dumb questions/responses posted on this board...therefore, my post count is higher than yours, but does that necessarily mean my posts are better? Hardly. Post count or "born on" date should have minimal bearing on the validity of anyone's post.

I'm still interested to hear about spam in sticky mail. Wouldn't a quick note in a discussion like "Check your sticky mail...I've sent a link to site that will anwswer your question in more detail" be acceptable? AND, which is more evil: a product drop or link to a resource (i.e. productXYZ gathers all your stats and washes your car vs. go to youranswer.com for more info)? Or are they both bad and need watching?

Besides, I've seen links slathered throughout discussions on this board, but they've all been pertinent to the thread. So obviously it's not like any link automatically gets snipped.

It just seems like this discussion has spiralled out of control...there's no big brother, folks. There are only moderators who are keeping us all firmly planted in the TOS.

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