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Forum Moderators: rogerd
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'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.
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?
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.
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
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?
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;)
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.
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.
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!
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!
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 :)
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 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.
>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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)