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Comment spam becoming conversational

Wednesday, 12 December 2007 — by

Spam of all forms is a fact of life on the internet, with email and comment spam being the top two. Like some kind of internet arms race, as fast as the systems evolve to filter spam out of our in boxes, the spam changes subtly — now comment spam is becoming a conversation…

Over the last week, I’ve been getting comments dropping into my ‘blog listed as pending moderation. Unlike most other comment spam, some of those comments needed to be read through for me to be sure they were actually spam and not a legitimate comment.

I’m not about to quote any of those comments here, since I’m not in the habit of inviting the wrath of the search engines and forcing them into a false positive on this article. So instead, I’ll mimic what I’ve been seeing:

“My brother Tom’s been working real hard all year, but he’s struggling to make ends meet. How do you think he could improve his credit rating?”

And then a link to some website at the end, which I really don’t feel compelled to look at.

The comments have typically been well written, grammatically correct, spelled right and rather deceptive in their conversational style.

Much has been said about the value of Conversational Marketing, which I think David Maister sums up perfectly:

“If you want to win my business, give me the chance to talk to you, person-to-person, about my needs, wishes, and wants. Make it easy and comfortable for me to share my secrets. In short, if you really want my business, let’s talk; let’s have a conversation.”

Even though the comment is largely out of context, because the filtering process your brain employs is struck by the conversation being made in the comment, you read through, or at least I have been doing.

I’m pretty sure the guys churning out comment spam aren’t trying to strike up a conversation with me per se, instead, I think they’re playing on the deepening personal debt crisis in the USA, hoping to draw me into some credit agreement.

For the likes of esteemed science writer and ‘blogger David Bradley, who’s making the most of comment spam, this will add to his work load — trying to quickly figure out what’s spam and what isn’t, among thousands of comments per week.

Giving an insight into the kinds of tricks & tactics spammers are employing, some time ago, there was the threat of comment spam being out-sourced to India, which as far as I’m aware hasn’t yet materialized.

The thing is, if this new breed of conversational comment spam is slipping through the clutches of Akismet, what other routes, prosaic or Byzantine, will they take to evade the attention of our Bayesian filtering? What a conversation that would be…

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David Bradley → Wednesday, 12 December 2007 @ 10:12 BDT

Wayne, you obviously recognize, as I do, the value of actually using the topic of spam itself as well as the content of one’s spam folder as a way to come up with post ideas. Discussing spam issues is bound to appeal to almost every fellow blogger and any new insights any of us have on how to dram the crapflood is bound to get attention. I kind of took that to the extreme in inviting people to send me spam. Funnily, enough while that post got lots of readers the flow of spam did not suddenly increase ;-)

db

Jay → Thursday, 13 December 2007 @ 6:50 BDT

I also hate the fact when you post your contact info like emails, they take their damn time to go to your site to email you spam too! That’s happened to me soooo many times already!

Jay
DatMoney.com
DatCurious.com

David Bradley → Thursday, 13 December 2007 @ 10:38 BDT

I just received two auto followups via your system from this post. One of them appears here (Jay’s comment) and another that was obviously spam you must have manually deleted.

db

Wayne Smallman → Thursday, 13 December 2007 @ 10:47 BDT

Yes, the problem was that Jay’s comment went into the spam filter and I grabbed his and one other (by accident), to de-spam.

How sadly ironic…

Heidi Cool → Thursday, 13 December 2007 @ 22:42 BDT

I’ve been getting that sort of spam as well. A recent one said

“My husband likes photography so much. He will surely like your post because this will really help him more understand about positioning of photos. Thanks for the great post.”

The site link was to an autoparts store, but the comment was vaguely relevant to the post on using CSS to position photos, so I kept it.

I wrote an entry about spam comments last spring in which I tried to come up with a checklist I could use to determine which to keep and which to pitch. It was a good starting point but still not sufficient. There are some comments I still muddle over. But if they don’t make sense, or do make sense but have nothing whatsoever to do with the topic then I’ll pitch them.

David’s right that this is great fodder for blogging, but when I wrote my comments entry I found that it became an instant spam magnet itself!

David Bradley → Thursday, 13 December 2007 @ 22:58 BDT

Heidi, there’s another blog post in the fact that that particular post became a spammy magnet.

db

Heidi Cool → Thursday, 13 December 2007 @ 23:41 BDT

Indeed,
I’ve thought about writing such a post then wondered how much more spam that would get!

Wayne Smallman → Friday, 14 December 2007 @ 0:24 BDT

Hi guys, that’s the reason I didn’t want to repeat verbatim any of the spam comments I received, just in case I incurred the “wrath of the search engines” which really wouldn’t be good at all…

David Bradley → Monday, 17 December 2007 @ 17:57 BDT

Another thought on conversational spam. If it was pertinent, interesting and had actually been written to add to the post conversation, then there’d actually be nothing wrong with editing the comment to remove their spam link (perhaps replace it with one to your own affiliate network if you’re involved in such things), and then approve it. That way, not only does your blog get busier but you might actually make a couple of bucks out of it too.

db

Elie Bursztein → Monday, 17 December 2007 @ 19:40 BDT

Well a few days back I had a spam mail like this. The guy was supposed to come from russsia. However the true origin was nederland… I fine such spam as a collateral effect : people won’t give any more to online fundation because they will no be able to know if it is a true fundation or an other scam.
I also wrote an entry about trackback spam as Heidi Cool. It seems that it became an hot topic these days

Wayne Smallman → Monday, 17 December 2007 @ 21:11 BDT

Hi David! That’s something I’ve thought of before myself — what if the spammers actually tried to make their comments at least vaguely relevant?

The value in the comment is the value of the comment.

It’s not like the spammers are going to earn themselves huge ranging status from piddling spam comments which go straight into the yawning jaws of Akismet.

What extra effort they’d invest would probably save them from the same fate as all those other spam comments that befall the traps of most other well-guarded ‘blogs.

Elie, thanks for the comment and the back-link!

I actually found your article while scanning my web statistics. So I commented on your article before my own!

I think the rest of the guys should read Elie’s article. It seems to be very thorough…

David Bradley → Monday, 17 December 2007 @ 21:50 BDT

Personally, I cannot see what benefit any of these spammers hope to gain comment spamming anyway, even if a 1000 comments to one particular site slipped through, no one’s gonna click and Google’s certainly not gonna rank it. I’ll definitely check out Elie’s article…

db

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