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Professional Forum Spammers

1:14 pm on Mar 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

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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?

6:31 am on Mar 25, 2002 (gmt 0)

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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.

12:48 pm on Mar 25, 2002 (gmt 0)

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Greektomi, but did you do your bit?

Drop a sticky to the Mod? thats what i have done a few times now :-

Dear Mod - Just a quick note could look at this theard somthing not quite right.

and cc to Brett (sorry brett as if you didn't have enough to do ;))

in the end if you let the spammers get away with it even for a day, they will consider it as a small victory and keep coming back.



1:44 pm on Mar 25, 2002 (gmt 0)

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Hi Marcia:

Thanks for the thoughful reply, I have no problem with the way you run the forum, but always like to voice my opinions otherwise with no feedback it can be difficult to know how the members feel.

This is cerainly one of the better SEO forums on the web, especially in regard to the technical content.

hope that I can contribute in some small way.

10:10 pm on Mar 25, 2002 (gmt 0)

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Well at least webmasterworld doesn't seem to get spammed much, or are the moderators checking out every single post??

I had to change my forum on the site. Every entry is emailed to me and I decided wether it's going to be on the forum. I had a lot of problems with spam and discriminating messages.

10:13 pm on Mar 25, 2002 (gmt 0)

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>>are the moderators checking out every single post

exactly - we've got a killer team here. Most spam or unacceptable posts are pulled literally within minutes 24 hours a day. It's almost funny some days how many of us will post about an url drop within seconds of each other in the mods forums :)

10:22 pm on Mar 25, 2002 (gmt 0)

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> pulled literally within minutes

Seconds Oil - seconds ;)

Questionable post at 3:31pm today.
Post was live for about 60 seconds on server.
Post moved to holding pen for discussing 3:33pm
First mod alert post 3:38pm
Poster stickied and 5 mods replied by 3:49pm.
Poster replied by 3:50.

Total incident time - 19 mins.

What a crew. If there were a mod olympics, we'd be a dead lock for gold.

10:30 pm on Mar 25, 2002 (gmt 0)

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I myself was once approached on this issue, with the moderator mentioning that I was using a particular word or 2 excessively. In fact I wasn't but its a sign of the times.

I have not comprehensively read the whole thread but I really should. Anything on a website that allows the end user to write to a particular page is subject to spam.

The moderators here are excellent, for example, Ive posted accidentally in the wrong place and within minutes Ive been notified or the problem has been remedied. Excellent! :)


11:32 pm on Mar 25, 2002 (gmt 0)

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Greektomi, but did you do your bit?
Drop a sticky to the Mod? thats what i have done a few times now :-

In that particular situation it seemed pretty well taken care of by the other posters and I felt that for me to post would only add to the poison of a thread destined to die a horrible early death.

The thing about this particular forum I was discussing in my previous post is that it has lost a ton of loyal readers because the mod was zealously editing. It got to the point that the mod had to re-post a voluminous amount of threads just to try and appease his readership. I think that the reposting hurt his board even more.

I wasn't around this board for its glory days but every once in a while I see a post with the subject something along the lines of "Whatever happened to this place it used to be such a great board?"

Still I do occasionally pick out a few gems from there, though I only visit about once a week and rarely ever post.
The forum is internet marketing related so it is even more of a target, but since I am interested in internet marketing I have no choice but to wade through a sea of incredulous posting to find the useful content.

I would almost be willing to pay for private access to a related forum that was pure as crystal and chock-full of gems....almost ;)


10:07 am on Mar 26, 2002 (gmt 0)

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agreed greektomi

The other option I suppose is to Split the site up Free Side no url drops, no name drops, heavily mod

Paided Membership url drops, name drops, advise on mysite drops, NO SPIDERS and PASSWORD protected.


6:18 am on Aug 28, 2002 (gmt 0)

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I was happy to see this dicussion here and the amount of attention and effort going into it. This kind of spam has been annoying the heck out of me recently. Well, okay, all spam annoys the heck of out me, but this kind has evolved to a serious vexation. Even my guestbook on my personal website gets spammed on a regular basis now.
4:28 am on Sept 10, 2002 (gmt 0)

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Hi everyone,

I hope you all don't mind me posting a comment. I am relatively new here and this thread seems quite full of senior members but in reading through this thread (which is EXCELLENT food for thought by the way) I couldn't help but wonder...

It seems to me that the focus here is so much on keeping bad posters out or under control that the opportunity for new members like me to feel free to interact with others in a spirit of openess and honesty is rather limited. I can't just post a URL for the benefit of all. I can't mention a resource I found without going through contorted efforts to describe the resource and give clues hoping that others find out what it is - wihout a URL, I can't speak freely without wondering how my post is going to come accross to those who might question every word I say or see an underlying bad motive behind my post.

Perhaps my view is a bit contorted by the fact that a URL I "dropped" in a perfectly innocent way and which had absolutely nothing to do with my site was edited out. In my second post. While the URL I just as innocently "dropped" in my first post was still there last I looked (though I contacted a moderator about taking it out since I couldn't figure out how to do it myself - the edit button seems to have disappeared).

As a side note I am not interested in traffic from this forum since I doubt I could teach anything at all to most of the members who hang out here. So I don't "drop" URL's to get traffic from this forum. When I drop them it's because they are useful resources or make it easier to explain.

I like what I have seen in this forum but I have also found several other forums less restrictive where the input is just as good. And where I feel much more freedom to express myself. I personally will settle for a bit more "spam" in order to post in an atmosphere that is a bit less restrictive.

Why did I as a new member go off looking elswhere? Because I found myself feeling like I was in a straight jacket. As to what I could and could not discuss here.

I imagine that there are quite a few new members who might feel the same way. As they say in politics one letter represents the unspoken feelings of about 3000 constituents. Perhaps my spoken comments likewise reflect the views of a greater number of new members than just me.

Please don't get me wrong. I am all for keeping bad posters out. But let's not do so at the expense of providing a place where new members feel freedom to discuss things openly. Surely there is some way provide a freer atmosphere while limiting spammers.

I mean should the U.S. cease to be a democracy and become a totalitarian state in order to save us all from terrorists?

I'll return here from time to time because I do find that the discussions give me food for thought but if I want lots of input in a freer atmosphere I will go to one of the other forums I have found.

You know I hear a lot here about how other forums have been lessened by signature files. Yet I have not seen it in the forums I have frequented - and I have frequested quite a few. They may be going downhill sometimes for other reasons but I have never seen a one that is going down hill because signature files are allowed. Just as an example.

The spammers I have seen in other forums don't bother with signature files as a whole. They just come out and spam post period. In big bold posts. I suppose you could rightly say that I am not experienced regarding professional spammers.

I wonder at what is wrong with a professional spammer who ends up truly contributing to a thread in such a way that the only one's who can tell they are a professional spammer are those who are professionally aware of the underlying techniques they use.

At what point does a professional spammer cease to be a spammer? Where do you draw the line?

I doubt that the owner of this forum started it purely without any consideration for how it would promote his own interests. Aren't we likewise "guilty" of self promotion at some point.

I think most new members don't really care who gives them input. All they are interested in is getting competent answers and being led to worthwhile resources of information.

I personally could care less if a senior member, junior member, or other member gives me input. I value the input for it's own sake. If it's good it's good. If it's not it's not. Whether it comes from the President of a country or a pauper on the street.

Whether a person is using a post to promote themselves in some way or not.

Just some food for thought from a new member.


7:57 am on Sept 10, 2002 (gmt 0)

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Hi Carlos,

First, the US is a republic, not a democracy, meaning that it is governed by a proportionately small body in which the citizens have given their trust. And in the US we have many laws that restrict some personal freedoms to allow for greater freedoms for everyone.

In the case of URL dropping, I see this as allowing more freedom. The moderators can simply look at a message and make a quick fix but still retain the point of the message. I would much rather have that than have moderators forced to make a judgement call based on what your message could be intended to do. Just as in your case, this rule allows a moderator to make the change without having to accuse the person of anything sinister. And everyone wins because it's an easy way to help keep the thread productive.

I don't see how this rule should even make a difference to how a person posts if their intent is only to be an active and responsible member of the forum.


3:21 pm on Sept 10, 2002 (gmt 0)

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I've commented on the url issue in the past. My point of view is signature lines should be allowed. I like to know who I am taking to. My reasoning is the same as yours, spammers spam with their whole post not by their sig lines.

Most urls start with www and end with .com. So it is easy to just mention the middle part. One can say CNN or MSN etc. So urls can be gotten across in this fashion. This works great for US sites but not for most non-US sites that don't end with .com.

3:54 pm on Sept 10, 2002 (gmt 0)

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Hi DGBrown,

I believe you are right about it being a republic, last I looked, so I stand corrected on that one :). Though I do not believe it is anything near the republic it's founding fathers meant (but that's another topic :)).....

What I was trying to say is that a country or a forum can get so out of whack in terms of keeping bad people out that they end up shifting into a let's keep the bad guys out mentality. Which diminishes that country or forum.

I can appreciate the fact that you don't see how the URL dropping rule can hinder new members from feeling freedom to express themselves and post but it doesn't change the fact that I feel it does.

Or that many other new members might feel likewise too (though I'll grant you I don't now what percentage of new members might feel this way).

I realize that you may not understand how it could affect new members and their desire to be active and responsible members of this forum (I emphasize active) but it might be worthwhile to put yourself in my shoes and then re-read my previous post - nothing personal.

You might not understand how it could from - your - standpoint but I would hope you could at least understand why I might feel it a hindrance.

At the very least the policies regarding the dropping of URL's should be revised to be more clear. When I re-read them for the umpteenth time I felt freedom to post a worthwhile URL (and believe me it had nothing to do with me or my site), because the policies said no self-promoting URL's. Well...mine wasn't so I posted it.

Someone decided it "might" be self promoting so they took it out.

No one told me about the sujective criteria in use regarding whether a URL is - really - suspect or not. The underlying criteria such as length of being a member, whether one has any credibility on the forum, etc.. None of that is in the Policies!

In fact little of what was subsequently explained to me as to why my URL was dropped is in the policies. It was a subjective decision based on factors that just aren't spelled out.

The policies themselves are not even uniformly applied. Some moderators are much more lenient in leaving URL's in. The first URL I "dropped" (which was not out of a desire to promote myself but rather to clarify what I was talking about) wasn't even taken out of my post (as far as I know it still hasn't been). Yet it was far more suspect in terms of possibly being self-promoting than the last one I "dropped" (again innocently - based on a reading of the Policies).

There are URL's all over the place in this forum. Why are some left in and some not? Precisely because the explicit rules on URL dropping are not consistently applied to everyone in the same way. Based on subjective criteria which aren't even spelled out clearly.

I just posted a new message yesterday and made up a dummy URL to help clarify what I was talking about. I carefully checked that the URL did not exist. And then I crossed my fingers and wondered this morning is someone was going to take it out because it might be subjectively thought of as suspect.

At least it wasn't taken out (wiping sweat from my forehead :)). Which was nice but what I am trying to describe is the affect that it has on new members when their otherwise innocent URL's are edited out for what turns out to be mainly subjective and an inconsistently applied URL policy. Despite what they read in black and white in the written policies.

I wouldn't dream at this point of asking sincere questions about why a specific page ranks so highly in this forum or to discuss it here. It would be a waste of my time since I could not evem direct people to the page in question.

Well....perhaps there is a way. Someone mentioned that I could say something like "look up this or that phrase and then look down the page to the third hightest ranked one"! But why bother when I can go to another forum and "drop" the URL and have a meaningful discussion without going through contortions in order to just post a URL?

Perhaps even that approach would be suspect though. Because although I would not be dropping a URL explicity I would still be pointing to a URL somewhere. Who knows?

Are you beginning to see the affect on what a new member like me posts and whether they are willing to go through the extra steps neccessary to maybe, just maybe get by with a reference to some web page somewhere?

Sorry for another lengthy reply but I am trying to get people to understand and it seems like some older members have lost sight of what it is like to be a new member. They are used to things the way they are. They are comfortable with things the way they are. And it just may be that in the span of the years they have lost their sight in terms of how new members are affected.

Nothing personal. That's natural in any profession. But it helps to have new blood reminding the old blood once in a while of how it was or presently is for - some - new members :).


4:35 pm on Sept 10, 2002 (gmt 0)

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Maybe it would be a good idea to get some more to watch the forum on a free basis and they would maybe get some kind of gift later for it.

DMOZ also have people working for them for free, so why not here, with time you see who is often on this forum, to help other or come with some topic them self, those could maybe be your new buddys to this forum.


5:07 am on Sept 11, 2002 (gmt 0)

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I wouldn't dream at this point of asking sincere questions about why a specific page ranks so highly in this forum or to discuss it here. It would be a waste of my time since I could not evem direct people to the page in question.

If the question is worded correctly a url isn't needed. Instead of pointing at a specific page and saying 'why does this do well' the question could be more general. Describe the page and what is on it (in seo terms, ie title, keywords etc rather than exactly ie blue heading). Give the reasons why it shouldn't be at the top. Mention factors which may increase it's ranking. Spell things out instead of just pointing to a page and expecting everyone to see.

Then the discussion becomes about what really is and isn't a good page and gives the oppertunity to learn about and discuss the situation of an apparently bad page doing well. The answersd can be applied to many things rather than just teh page in question. It takes a small amount of extra thought at the start but I've seen it done here many times. There are times when a specific example makes things easier, generally when discussing a visual aspect of a page, but it's not always necessary.

The underlying criteria such as length of being a member, whether one has any credibility on the forum, etc..

I don't think that the mods here are really more likley to remove a url just because the person dropping it is new or less well known. I think what actually happens is that the people who have been here longer have a better feel for what is acceptable and are therefore less likely to post something that needs removal. Experience makes a difference.

One thing I find very refreshing about this forum is the lack of signatures. I hate them. They are (often) slow loading, (always) distracting and don't add anything to the matter under discussion. If I'm interested in another member I can look at their profile but I don't need that information as I read the posts. I have stopped reading a couple of other forums purly because I had trouble picking out the posting from the stuff under each post.

I hadn't even dreamed of many of the spam techniques mentioned in this thread but now I'm aware of them, I see them around the place. When I see one here I get a big smile and sit back for a minute waiting for the Mods to move in. I've never been disappointed :) I think one of the best ways of keeping this kind of spam as low as possible is to make it known that it's not tolerated, and quickly removing anything suspect is the best way to do this. While there is a somewhat hardline attitude here to url drops and site promotion, I think it works and is worthwhile.


4:50 pm on Sept 11, 2002 (gmt 0)

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Hi ShelleyCat (:)),

I understand where you are coming from and I guess we will just have to agree to disagree.

Just this morning I was looking at an old post of mine to a newsgroup that allows URL drops and I could not imagine having written that post with generic URL descriptions instead of an actual dropping of the URL's within it.

The post had to do with why certain URL's at my site where not working and why others were. Based on ErrorDocument Apache directives directing a page request at my site to a Perl script.

Being able to "drop" several URL's to illustrate my problem where some were working and some were not - at my site - was absolutely invaluable to getting quick and meaningful answers. I would be happy to "drop" the URL to the post in question but I am sure it would be snipped since it has my domain all over the place.

Although this forum has some more technically oriented places to discuss things (as in Perl and PHP something or other) it would be beyond reason to expect that I or any member facing a similar problem at their web site (as I did when I posted that old thread) would have to go through and try and describe their technical and specific problem in a generic sense.

It could be done mind you but it would be very difficult to do since trying to repeat a problem in a generic sense would be far less effective at getting answers that work - without a bunch of re-explanation back and forth - than "dropping" URL's to describe the problem.

It would be like my trying to describe a problem with an obscure computer to a technician at a computer store. Without being able to point that technicican to a web site URL that tells all about my computer (which the technician does not know about) and which would help them greatly to solve the problem. Where I would have to tell that technician - "if you could please go to Google and look up the name of my computer and then on about the 5th page of results you will find a page describing my computer - it's the one that says - untitled - in the title of the link - but I forgot there are several that are untitled - I think it's the 6th one down on the page....".

The scenario is so ridiculous as to defy the imagination and reason. The technician would rightly ask "Sir do you have an actual URL you could give me?" would they not?

Yet that is precisely the kind of straight jacket that I am forced to walk around in when coming to this forum.

I may indeed have a problem. I may indeed be sincere and honest in wanting to replicate the problem at my site so that others can give me input. I may indeed not be trying to promote myself or my site to this forum of professionals - the kind of people I am not even targetting with my site. I may indeed have no ulterior motives to my post other than getting valuable input.

Yet despite all this I have to contort my description of the problem into a generic post because URL drops are frowned upon. And why?

Because some others are liable to misuse the URL dropping or have done so in the past.

Which gets back to my point. Surely there is some way to accomodate those like me (as I have described myself and my previous post) without throwing out the baby with the bath water in an effort to keep the bathtub clean!

Doing so will allow you to have a clean bathroom but you will also miss out on the rich interaction that occurs when you allow for a little dirt once in a while (I hope my allegory does not escape the reader).

I will continue to frequent this forum since it is indeed a valuable resource and I would not diminish it's value to me and others but when discussing very specific problems at my site I will most definitely go elsewhere for discussion and input.

Thank goodness the Internet offers us the flexibility to do that in other forums and other places.

Just my two cents again :).


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