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|Professional Forum Spammers|
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?
|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.
Thanks WebGuerrilla for pointing out that although my post count is low my word count is high ;)
I think this discussion started by IanTurner is another good opportunity for us to discuss as a community, the direction we take in the forums.
Pointing specialist questions to other forums [webmasterworld.com]
Would WebMasterWorld lose out?
Iíll restate what I suggested there and that is, if you canít find the information through the site search that you are looking for then post a question and if you know of an expert out there somewhere who may possibly know the answer then invite them to participate here. Itís fair to remind them that we do have strict guidelines we follow when posting and suggest they carefully read the usage agreement [webmasterworld.com] before posting. In fact, I wonder how many folks actually read this agreement before posting for the first time and understand it? It might be in many of our best interests to revisit this from time to time.
As a mod I try to be very careful with my editing but some forums such as content often scream for url drops. The blogging [webmasterworld.com] discussion is a great example. I think the information provided through that discussion was incredibly valuable but I tell you it took constant diligence to assure that each drop made was an ok drop.
I sometimes find it a challenge to respond to discussions without dropping outside urlís. I often use the site search and try to bring discussions forward that have pertained to the discussion at hand and then if Iím interested Iíll do some outside research and if applicable Iíll summarize my findings. Isnít there a saying that itís better to teach folks how to fish then to feed them once?
Certainly, there are no easy answers in a lot of cases. If a Senior Member puts up a post asking for suggestions for a low-cost UNIX web host or a good ad-rotation script, chances are it will be considered legit. If a newbie stumbles onto WMW and asks the same question, the post will be highly suspect.
Ultimately, I think this should be the guide to moderators: is the discussion that emerges helpful to WMW members interested in that topic? Links are the lifeblood of the web, and add value and utility to any discussion of products, services, and techniques. Very few spammers have the patience to build a track record, and those that try to do so quickly will be fairly obvious. I'd say err on the side of maximum reader utility. I know I spend a lot amount of time looking for products to perform some specialized function - places like WMW provide a great place to get help, quickly - and that includes specific product identification. (Success story: last week I needed to find a bulk graphics converter that had an elusive auto-trim feature. Toadhall recommended a product that did the trick. For all I know, Toadhall owns the company - I really don't think so, but who cares? I got a solution very quickly that was right on the money. I avoided hours of searching, downloading, testing, etc.)
For borderline cases, i.e., those threads that look reasonable, and are drawing a variety of replies, I'd say let 'em go... Even if someone wanted to plug their ad script, if their post is mixed in among a dozen replies from well-established members, the spam value will be low and the useful information content (for all WMW members) high.
I think there are some causes and effects getting mixed up. I believe that what various people are trying to say is this:
A quality post is a quality post, regardless of the posters post count or "born-on" date. However there is a noted tendency for spam drops to be made by nicks with a low count and/or a short time duration. Therefore, any drop by a relatively new member should be scrutinised, but if it passes scutiny, fine.
There is a difference between saying "most spam posts are by new members" and "most new members posts are spam drops", and I think they are trying to say the former.
digitalghost has argued, rightly, that quality and commitment are not measured by simple counts and timespans. However, I would add that they are a good place to start when a suspicious post crops up. Someone who has a long history of quality posts deserves to be cut a little slack; repeated offences should still lead to penalties though. Man is a social, hierarchical animal; we automatically assign more value to older, more recognised names
That doesn't mean that new members don't or can't contribute, just that we are less likely to value them initially
Similarly, I don't think that the members of this board are indifferent to or unskilled with XML etc; just that those who are using it don't come here for help, either cos they are really good with it, or they already have a place to go for help. One board can't be the fount of ALL knowledge (even if you want it to), it would be too unwieldy
How bout' this scenario... I was reading articles on one of my favorite marketing sites the other day. There is an article that refers to something in the Journal of Marketing Research (not available on the web - JMR that is) and talks about the effectiveness of advertising and the differences in new and old markets. The theory behind it could help to explain why search marketing is so effective and may indicate that later on down the road, advertising with more "emotional appeal" may rule the day.
Normally, I'd start out with a post like that above and link to the article. After skimminng this thread, I thought hey, this would be a great way for someone to boost the number of registrations on a site. In order to read more than just the teaser, one has to sign up and provide minimal (personal) information.
Would that be classified as forum spamming - since it could be a great way to drive up registration numbers, or a useful post that might touch off a lively discussion?
I agree with Talltroll one example which comes to mind is flash.
this post started off really well and I am sure if any member had asked "sticky me URL's" it would have happened (i,ve highlighted the the first bit of spam)
could it be possible ? to have a add me to the url list of this post.
so if a member asks "which is the best reporting tool" they can add themselves to the "receive URL lists" and any other member that wanted the urls could view that posts url list.
and say i thought That "DaveN WEBdogGold" report software was best i could add the url to the list with my comments.
I'm sure Brett can add this over the weekend;)
Can standard recco's/links be put in a profile?
Maybe something like:
Log analysis tools____
Other common spam team targets___
There seems to be an awful lot of redundant requests for this type of stuff and the profile might be one way to deal with it.
John then have one page with all the averages?
A page with averages would invite multiple ids.
Someone mentioned in another thread that information regarding favorites or what works best changes over time. So, all those posts on what is the best for ..... are valid for the timeframe they are posted. (And also for the specific situation described.)
This is a good forum because most of the spamming has been removed.
aveages for members who have posted in the last month.
I still think sticky is the best method to deal with the URL issue. If someone is interested enough, they will drop the poster a sticky and request the URL.
It also keeps us actively involved at the board. Now instead of hitting the recent posts link to get immediate refresh of topics, we'd also be looking for that little red number that appears when a sticky arrives. I kind of look forward to those!
Okay, Brett, you wanted ideas to improve the forum, here is one (I think ;) ). If this place goes that way, and people sticky mail alot to ask for a link, people may get tired of replying. How about an autoreply capability. If I want to see the URL I sticky mail the person with the post quoting the thread or post number. The person can chose to reply or can have an autoreply set-up to deliever the link for that given thread or post number.
The other reason this place is good is you can ask questions and get reasonable answers, even if your question is really basic.
Keep it up!
Can standard recco's/links be put in a profile?
Maybe something like:
Ooh... That's an interesting idea there...
I think that after reading this topic the only thing that a smart spammer will gain is valuable info on how to improve his technique to drop a url or a way to mention it.
Also it seems very impossible IMHO to wait several days/weeks just to drop a url.
Of course if it is worth it to mention it then he/she deserves it.
Hope BB moderators will improve their spam blocking policies.
Much a do about nothing..usually in the real worls everything is im/possible.
I think that the most effective solution is community based. If we all keep our eyes open and are determined to keep the integrity of WMW intact, we can have a large effect.
If you see somthing suspicious just politely ask the poster about it either thru stickymail or on the thread in question. If they are spamming they will soon find that it's not worth it because the real power of this site lies with it's majority.
If your not sure about a post, just send a link to it to the moderator of that section and ask them what they think :)
Let's throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Everything on the web is really buyer beware. If one is overzealous in keeping out the shills, unfortunately some very useful networking is lost. Every person has to evaluate it themself.
I come and spend time here because I want advice on this or that. If I know something, I will share it. Recently I mentioned a good shopping cart I was using. I thought other people would want to know. In fact, today I noticed a couple of threads where people were asking for exactly that info. It was edited out. I wasn't spamming; I was sharing a useful resource that others were asking for.
How about if science were conducted this way. Imagine a scientific paper or conference that was not allowed to mention the name of the product or measurement device they were using, because it might be a plant for the chemical or lab company. How could anyone reproduce the work? How would anyone find out about a neat new technique or device?
If information is filtered, there will always be something valuable that is filtered by mistake.
I have made a lot of decisions based off the recommendations I have received from this site. I found my current web host from a post here as well as a shopping cart program and I couldn't be happier with either one. The collective knowledgebase in this forum is unreal and their experiences and recommendations are invaluable.
I take every recommendation with a grain of salt though. I realize that the opinions of some may be a little biased. I realize that this can turn into a real problem which is why I have tried to search past posts for recommendations rather than post a new thread.
There's a point worth addressing because even though the spam issue is only a portion of moderating, how it's handled relates to a broader principle.
>before this takes an ugly turn
Discussions won't ever take an ugly turn if turning it to personal issues and personal references is avoided. They usually do turn ugly, at the very least distasteful to some, if that happens because people take it personally, get defensive, are forced to take sides, and then a brawl follows. I've seen this happen at other boards, but that has never, ever been the way things are done here at WebmasterWorld.
Here discussions always seem to stay focused on the subject matter. Addressing the merit or lack of merit of the concept presented when someone renders an opinion rather than the member holding that opinion makes for lively discussion with a free interchange of ideas possible.
This is a very important point relative to any discussions taking place, even this one right here, right now.
How does this relate to spammers? Every precept in the Terms of Service that Brett put together reflect his attitude of having and showing respect for individuals and taking care to maintain their sense of dignity. It's summed up in this clause:
|Always be respectful of other users, the system, and the moderators. We put the system online in good faith, please use it in good faith. |
Spammers are being disrespectful on all counts that Brett mentioned, and not acting in good faith at all. That's the challenge in moderating where spam is concerned; discerning what's in good faith or not, what's deliberate or accidental. There's always a possibility of error, but respect and good faith have to be maintained, even when dealing with spammers - which is the way it's done here at WebmasterWorld, as far as I know.
Each forum has a moderator, some more than one, If there's ever a question of whether or not to post something, the TOS covers it - a note can be sent to a moderator for clarification.
> smart spammer will gain is valuable info
Tis true. That's why we carefully avoided mentioning a couple of the tactics that work the best and stuck to the obvious ones.
> I think that the most effective solution is community based.
Thank you Hunter. That has never been more true. It's part of the reason we wanted to bring the topic up.
> I wasn't spamming; I was sharing a useful
> resource that others were asking for.
I know Russ. Software and commercial services discussions are a never ending delima. Did you know there are 8 people who sell, promote, or service shopping cart programs in the forums. (that's how many emails I got today asking if they could post links or reviews of their programs. eg: one drop or recommendation in the morning can turn into 8 threads of promotion by afternoon - and that is just on that micro targeted topic.
We have to appreciate that we are mostly a forum of site promotion and marketing webmasters. We have thousands upon thousands of products we promote (that's just me and the admins - wait till you get into the member base where some guys work promotion on 500-1k domains - yow!). It's hard to chain back up us dogs of promotion once we've been unleashed.
I think that the other reason this forum works is the subject is usually how to do something in an environment which is rapidly changing. So, people are constently drawn to find out how to do SEO effectively, what rules have changed, which engine is going down, ..... the issue under discusion is really about when the "how to" requires a tool or service. Then it becomes which tool or service.
If there was a put your card here bulletin board it would become a headache for Brett & crew to manage. The other option is no tool or service names/links except by sticky. More work but better forum, it stays focused on the how and allows the dedicated to get the tool/service name when required.
Tis true. That's why we carefully avoided mentioning a couple of the tactics that work the best and stuck to the obvious ones.
If anyone really wanted to make a sales call with potential, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to use the information available in a very useful way that is almost impossible to block ..... we can discuss the issue here all we want and not stop the crafty ones :)
From a business perspective,
The above reminds me of current laws about mouse droppings in foods... a small amount is allowed and legal. Perfectionism is an unhappy place to be.
I like the idea mentioned earlier about allowing more info in our personal profiles.
Perhaps too a regular survey of moderators and SOME selected others (about what tools and choices they make for shopping cart, host etc) would also reveal possible new choices for those like myself who are definitely not on the cutting edge or inclined to spend our whole lives at this work.
This thread caught the attention of a pretty good news/blog site.
I can't get over how much email and feedback this thread has generated. (thank you)
Wow. Took a good half hour to digest all the posts.
I think if you look back to Brett's Example with SeniorMember1 - 5, is where the solution rests.
Wouldn't you expect the SeniorMembers to just eat the "ProFoSpammer" (I like that) alive? I am talking good old fashioned blow torching.
Flaming I believe in this case would be the self policing mechanism. Someone reading the post seeing the link AND the flames might think about the product/service twice.
a very interesting discussion, and I am sure a never ending problem.
A couple of obsevations - IMO while either the number of posts or the joined on date may be statistically justifiable when considering whether to wield the scissors or not, take my case:
I have posted very few times here, but as a moderator at other forums I have posted thousands of times - how do you judge the intent and worth of my postings?
I have grown weary of posting the same information over and over again to those in truly need of it (yes I know that site search will find most answers, but the fact is it is more time consuming and many newbies just don't seem to either like/know how to use it), and so have set up some fifty pages of answers on my site which could be answered simply with a link to one of these pages. Is this blatent self promotion? Does it harm the forum. Does it help the needy?
I am the first to admit that I don't have the detailed answers to these questions, but have observed that in almost any field, the more you try to curtail things with rules, the more time you spend writing new rules and enforcing them as opposed to doing the job youstarted out to do, inthis case providing the help this forum is known for.
>Spammers are the barbarians hammering at the gates
They do keep hammering, and it's not only the task of keeping them from eroding, but the fact that they exist and are a problem all over the web can prevent certain steps from taking place toward positive growth that could benefit people. They literally steal from people without it ever showing because of things they make it practically impossible to implement.
How many times have people asked for site review. In spite of the fact that it would be demanding time-wise, there are probably a half dozen ways that it could be workably done down the road. But it can't be, because spammers would make it an administrative nightmare and erode it.
Expanded profiles with bookmarks would be wonderful; I love to look at the ODP editors' bookmarks. But they'd be an opportunity for profile spamming; much harder to deal with than board spam.
URLs and email/stickymail can also have potential for abuse by the wrong people. I've hosted boards where URLs were not allowed anywhere at all. There had to be at least a half dozen spam posts a day, mostly affiliate and MLM. When it was noticed that they got removed within the day, the usual ploy was for someone to ask a question and someone to relate that they had a great opportunity that was making them a bundle working at home. After enough noise by board hosts management had to be change policy to control it. "Email me" spam.
They're not all bad people. Some want to work from home and are employed by companies that make it sound like a very legitimate means of internet marketing. Yet, they're still thieves in the final analysis. They steal valuable time away from the people who have to do damage control instead of them having the time available to put to use doing the things that make a positive contribution to actually building and nourishing online communities.
> I have posted very few times here, but as a moderator at other forums I have posted thousands of times - how do you judge the intent and worth of my postings?
A valuable and worthwhile post, even a first post, makes people take notice. We have a very active moderators forum where such things are pointed out, and very happily to other mods. And if a new member makes 5 or 10 good contributions, their stock goes way up.
Obviously we LOVE good input, and I doubt that any good deed goes unnoticed. And even a short history of good membership carries much weight in future interactions.
> the more you try to curtail things with rules, the more time you spend writing new rules and enforcing them as opposed to doing the job you started out to do
An excellent point. And if you look around here, you'll notice that there is very little knee-jerk, mechanical enforcement of rules. I've always felt that as one of our most positive factors. Because judging what is spam is always a present time, present case job, and no rules can ever cover it all. And Brett gives individual mods a lot of leeway in how they handle their own forums.
One of the best anti-spam weapons is community self-policing, rather than expecting the mods and admins of a board to be "in loco parentis". If you value what you are involved in, you will protect it.
Well, I also bought some SuperHey and My cows jumping has not improved at all. As a matter of fact, after giving 10 of my cows SuperHay, 9 got sick and 1 died!
Through that in the tread.
I saw exactly the kind of 2 man whisper job described here while I was at another forum yesterday.
whisper one: Well I submitted my site to the SE's but what can I do whilst I wait for the traffic to roll in? Help me!!!
innocent poster one: have you tried pay-per-click SE's
2nd whisperer: forget pay per click. When I want mega-traffic fast I go to blahexchange.com not only can you get FREE traffic but you can buy 100000 hits for $100.
innocent poster two: yeah blahexchange.com works wonders just ask all the porn sites that use it.
Even though this blatant spam was appropriately ridiculed. I still checked out blahexchange.com just for a lark. Not only was it one of the most uninformative sites I've ever visited they had completely ripped off google.com for their site design.
Moral of the story: Was it spam? Yes, and blatantly horrible spam at that. Did I check out the site, yes I did.
The thing that bothers me so much is the fact that though me and a couple other posters realized what was going on, 5-10 other posters who responded seem to think nothing suspicious of it and god knows how many lurkers checked it out.
This site is rather large and has a glorious reputation (though the msg board is not the highlight).
It has slowly begun to dawn on me the amount of work the mods here must have to deal with regarding this topic.
With a board as large as this one with such a high readership you can't help but be an obvious target.
I got a great idea - we have black lists of mail servers and mail addresses...
How about a black list of ProFoSpamming firms?
To preface, I am by far a rookie to both this forum and to webmastering in general, although I am of Greektomi's ilk of lurking and reading a ton until recently. That leads me to asking a lot of "why"'s, and not going along with conventions just because they are the standard. I also have never hosted or moderated a forum yet, so I may have a limited viewpoint (user seeking info).
Going all the way back to one of Brett's first posts in this tread, he gave us the example of the flying cows. He did this to illustrate spam, but what if this spam actually helps a poster? Say I want a free ASP bulletin board / dynamic website package, and tag-team spammers fill out the thread and show me a link. I go there, and get exactly what I want.
If I go to this spam and don't see what I want, I hit my back button, disregard what the tag team says in the future, and go on merrily throughout the forum.
If a link is on-topic, it should be allowed. It only adds value. There have been a couple of instances (e.g. right hand nav) where I wanted to mock up a page and post a link, but feared the mod response. If a spammer posts to a bad product, people will not read their posts after they realize their advice is bad.
|Many (if not all) of the members here have used these techniques elsewhere. If we let WebmasterWorld become a free for all for use of the techniques the place would not have the reputation that it does. |
So it's like a Thieves' Code of Honor? How ridiculous. What about the reputations of the forums you're ruining elsewhere? They don't count because it's not this one? Just because that webmaster doesn't know advanced spam blocking techniques (maybe they're a painter who loves to discuss so they started a forum), we should drop our ads, but woe to the link dropper who comes to this forum!
|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. |
Worked for Progressive Auto Insurance (get the rates of ours and three competitors). Besides, this forum isn't a business (that I know of). There's no advertising, and no products...
|...and both of those topics have also been addressed before with links to the appropriate technical standards sites. |
Who wants to read through the geek-speak of standards sites when you can go to a site with practical tutorials, questions, and info explained in plain english?
|For all I know, Toadhall owns the company - I really don't think so, but who cares? I got a solution very quickly that was right on the money. I avoided hours of searching, downloading, testing, etc |
Exactly what I have been thinking reading throught this whole thread (it's hard to keep your focus when you come in on the third page!)
Hi Mel, good to see you here.
>set up some fifty pages of answers on my site which could be answered simply with a link to one of these pages.
First, there are enough articles at our sister site, Search Engine World [searchengineworld.com], to get someone started, and we often provide links to pertinent articles and tutorials there. Second, we have hundreds of members with good information on their sites. It could easily end up with every question being answered with a link. However, when a thread is started, after posting it says "New discussion started."
There's a critical difference between a site with static content and a forum site, which is interactive by nature. There's a dynamic of communication operating in a site that's an online community. An online community can't be static; it's characterized by activity and growth, and at a certain point in time starts to take on a life of its own. That life almost becomes member generated and essentially, the direction starts to become member-directed. It takes staying alert with an ear to the ground to hear the sound of the hoofbeats to know where it's headed and what the member needs and interests are. If that's done it will grow.
>grown weary of posting the same information over and over
At one time I hosted a beginners website board in a large community with over 100K member websites. They'd continually ask why their pages wouldn't load. You had to scroll 3 screens sideways to see them; they were wallhangings not photos. :) I did up an entry level illustrated tutorial using Irfanview, a little free program. I only posted a link to it one time. From then on, the members themselves would link to it; it was impossible to illustrate without graphical examples. Then they'd come back for more help with their sites. There's definitely a place for it; but that was a "member site."
It was a board to support member sites, so it's purpose was totally different from what we have here. But what's interesting is that once people did their first page, a good number came back and started helping others along on a continuing basis. It was interactive and dynamic and it grew. It reached the point where there was little to do in hosting except to oversee it and seldom even a need to post, except that a certain amount of activity was required of CLs by regulation.
At a point, members themselves begin to carry it and and activity is almost self-generated through their participation. That's why another term used for moderating is "online facilitation." In time it becomes a task of facilitating the activity that's already taking place on an ongoing basis, with little more than oversight, giving direction occasionally and smoothing the occasional trouble spot. The more successful a community is the more transparent the moderating becomes; it begins to run so smoothly that what's actually being done is barely perceptible.
Here, we've been primarily a community of experienced webmasters and SEOs. But there's now been an influx of new people with varying levels of skill-sets. This is such a good thing to happen, I personally couldn't be happier to see it. New people not only are capable of explaining things and communicating at a level that their peers in terms of experience can easily understand, but they bring with them their enthusiasm and willingness to share and infuse a community with newfound freshness and vigor, so essential to its continued growth.
Static content has its place, but it lacks the element of dynamism that characterizes a genuine community. We also have a commitment here to maintain the integrity of the information. It would be a monumental task to monitor the veracity and accuracy of a great number of links out. IMHO our efforts are best directed toward continuing to try to provide the type of climate that's conducive to growth by retaining focus and continuing to meet member needs within the environment that's been established.
The spam problem that's all over the net takes valuable time away from tending to the things that are really important. If it's not controlled everyone loses; it has to be kept in check, while at the same time focusing on the positives that bring benefit to people.
>Who wants to read through the geek-speak of standards sites when you can go to a site with practical tutorials, questions, and info explained in plain english?
AlbinoRhino, for those who want tutorials on static sites, the ODP has an abundance of listings to those sites. A directory serves one purpose and a forum site serves another - it's for just that: discussions.
As far as what our members do or have done at other sites, we don't ask about anyone's background when they arrive here. Everyone's welcome. All people need to do when they join up is agree to the very simple Terms of Service. We have no responsibility for what people do anyplace else; our responsibility is to continue to support the rules of play so it remains comfortable for everyone. Generally, the benefit that people derive is relative to the degree that they contribute and participate; that's up to them entirely.
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