StephenKingman wrote:Another issue i want to clarify with you is that there have been quite a few new members joining recently who just go straight into the whole promotion of themselves as a new author, publisher etc and try to get their website across as much as possible, I know from experience that these people do not want to contribute to the community or discuss other books: they just flood as many forums out there as possible with their name so I am instantly deleting or banning these people because if its allowed then others will follow and the forum will be flooded with rubbish, let me know if you want to discuss this further and the moderation log is a useful indicator to the type of posts being wiped.
I have been working on a few more automatic less labor-intensive ways for us to deal with this. One thing you may have noticed is that some posts are held for moderation before being displayed at all. I have a check that is run for users who make under a certain number of posts (for obvious reasons I do not intend to specify publicly what the number of posts is). The check uses a regex I am fully able to easily edit. If it finds any matches, it holds the post. For instance, if someone with less than X number of posts writes "money back guarantee," "google my website" or "email me" in one of their posts, it will be automatically held for moderation, as these are usually strong indications of a promotion. Those are just a few examples out of countless possible triggers. Also, if someone posts a link/URL in their first post after reaching the threshold for being allowed to post links/URLs, the post will be held.
As for the the post count issue, another option to lifting the block on post counts incrementing from the introductions section would be that I could limit to only the new members. In other words, once a member gets more than the required number of posts to no longer be considered new (5 right now, but I may change it back to 10) then their posts in the off-topic section will start counting again, since they have not much to gain by inflating their post count. Tell me what you think about this. So basically we have three options for each of the off-topic forums: (1)post counts increment for everyone, (2) post counts do not increment for anyone, or (3) post counts are (temporarily) blocked from incrementing for members still considered new by post count.
Fran wrote:I agree Mike the proliferation of 'would be' writers using the forums to flog their blog/website is annoying.
In their own interest I think they should established some credibility on the forums first by posting their views on their reading interests or joining in the discussions already running.
Yes, exactly. I think this is how we all feel. I am particularly sensitive to someone promoting another website, as that is more common of a hit-and-run spammer.
I am trying to figure out a solution for the independent authors or publishers who join the forums and in one of their first few posts mention their book. Of course I would delete the post outright if the person tries to be dishonest, such as by pretending that it is not their book when it is obvious it is (e.g. "I just heard about this great new author nobody knows about who's book is only available on Kindle") or by trying to posting a URL around the filters. (However, I have greatly improved the filters for that. For instance, writing out the word dot with parenthesis in place of the . in URLs will still be detected as a URL and blocked.) But sometimes they are honest that it is their book, give a description of it and seem to genuinely be interested in comments and feedback. Yes, this would be much less an issue if they had made some posts first and become part of the community. But I want to come up with a better solution than either shunning and deleting the posts of these more honest, less spammy new members OR letting these self-promotions go on as is. A few possible changes I am considering working on are this:
I will provide more information in the filter notifications. For instance, when a link is blocked instead of just telling the user the link is blocked, I can provide them with a summary of our policies in this regard and encourage them not simply to make a self-promotion sans the link but to become a contributing member of the community before bringing up their own book.
I also now have a system in place for easily blocking any links or URLs to any specific website from ever being posting, i.e. a blacklist. I also have required all links to Amazon and BookCloseOuts to go through the BBCode, which I have coded myself using internal links that redirect, which means I can easily block any book or product from ever being linked to using the ISBN, ASIN or such, i.e. blacklisting a book. More than preventing repeat spam of the same website, the presence of these blacklists can give would-be spammers the incentive to play nice. But I do have to find a good way to make sure they are notified that if they spam or inappropriately self-promote that it will be counterproductive because not only will there promotional post be deleted but their entire site will be blacklisting meaning nobody even others can post links to it.
Most of all, I want to come up with some specific, clear standards or requirements for someone to post about their own book. I am especially concerned with feedback from you two, Mike and Fran, but anyone can provide their feedback. To what degree do you think being a 'new member' means one cannot talk about their own book? That part of it aside, here are the standards I am currently considering finding a way to enforce for someone wanting to create a new post about their own book, but these are far from set in stone:
1: The person must include a sufficient summary of the book in the post. I'm thinking one full paragraph.
2: The person must provide access to a completely free, no-strings-attached sample of the book. I don't see the point in allowing this posts at all otherwise because I do not see how they even expect any of us to consider their unknown book without at least a free sample.
3: The person must not be encouraging users to go to a certain website or store to buy the book or read a review, as that is advertising a website rather than genuinely starting a topic about their own book. (However, using the Amazon BBCode to link to the book once is okay to me personally, per se, but I will yield to you two other moderators if you feel differently about this.)
4: The person must demonstrate a genuine desire for feedback, including constructive criticism. This helps prove that they are not a hit-and-run spammer, but it is also conducive to making the topic an actual discussion topic about the book with author involvement as opposed to simply a single-post advertisement by the author of the book. For instance, we could require that the post contain a certain number of discussion-starting questions (e.g. "Do you think this is an interesting premise for a novel?" or "If the sample did not interest you enough to keep reading, I greatly will appreciate some constructive criticism on my writing?")
'New members' (i.e. those below the decided post count, currently 5) cannot post in the buy, sell, trade section. Traditionally, I do not care much if people advertise that their book is for sale in there. The buy, sell, trade section is the only forum in which topics are pruned. I think the settings are that posts that have not had a new reply in the last 30 days in that section are automatically removed. Also, that section is blocked from being even viewed by guests and search engines, greatly taking away the incentive to use it for quick spam since only logged in members can even see the posts in it. I suppose we could make it rule that all posts by an author about their own book to be in the buy, sell, trade section and consider them advertisements. The main benefit would be that they would than have the same rules as links in that they would automatically be blocked from making such a post until they have 5 posts. However, this would sort of be instead of what I was getting with the numbered list above, in which I was thinking up standards for making sure posts by the author of a book are conducive to discussion as opposed to hit-and-run self-promotion.
In any case, I think it would be good to agree on a specific policy for posts about a book by the author of the book
. Then I will find a way to communicate this policy to new members and to as much as possible automate the enforcement of that policy. Anything I have suggested in this post is not at all set in stone but is still in the drawing stages; I await feedback.
-- 18 Nov 2011 07:37 pm --
I'm also trying to think up ways to work with these new members who are so set on promoting their book while still stopping spam. One thing I am considering is trying to set up a 'reviewers group' on the forum, hopefully of a handful of long-time members or top posters. Then I could offer people who come to the forum to promote their book an alternative to attempting to sneak an essentially
spam post by. The alternative would be that they offer to give us a review copy of their book, presumably in ebook format but if they wish they could mail a physical copy of the book at their expense. Then one of the team of volunteer reviewers would get the free copy of the book, read it and review it. If the book gets a good review, this would help promote the book--far more than some quasi-spam post by the author of the book. If the reviewer doesn't like the book and perhaps doesn't even wish to finish reading the free copy, the reviewer can then the reviewer can hopefully provide constructive criticism in place of the review. It seems to me to be a win-win. The review team would get regular offers of free books, albeit mostly independent, unheard-of books. The author would get the chance of having their book promoted for free. And the offer of this alternative would help the forum overall by helping eliminate the quasi-spam posts by author. The reviews themselves in addition to potentially helping the author get the word out about their book would actually be a service to the readers of the reviews. Indeed, I think we all appreciate honest reviews by an objective third-party, but we don't like our reviews section to be filled with posts by authors of books telling us their books are good. What do you think? Perhaps such a system would be complimented by a stricter policy on author's creating topics about their own books? Perhaps we can tell independent authors that as a strict rule they cannot create a topic about their book, but we can offer them this review service.
If you are wondering if authors would go for it, I can promise you many will. I have never asked for review copies of books but as the owner of this website I get offered review copies frequently. But I would need a team of reviewers trusted by the other members of the forum to provide well-written honest reviews. Mainly we need a whole team because most books would probably not interest most reviewers even though they are free. Reading a free book is still a big time investment, especially since all of us presumably already have long, constantly growing to-be-read lists. The incentive is the opportunity to get free copies of books. But reviewers might need to have an ereader or not mind reading on their computer/smart-phone for it to be practical, as most authors would rather send a simple digital copy of their book as a free review copy as opposed to having to spend their own money printing and shipping a physical copy of the book. Tell me what you think. Is worth trying to work this out?