Forums are great. Forums can develop into great communities. They can generate a lot of traffic from search engines. Traffic can equal money. This is not a secret.

What this means, though, is that people will try to take advantage of “forums” in order to generate poor quality websites that they hope will rank well in search engines, which will lead to traffic and, yes, money. And so, we have Auto Forum Poster (no follow).

Recently, I received an e-mail from someone, introducing this product to me as a means of automatically generating content on a phpBB forum. They were interested in buying advertising from me on and also mentioned that they had an affiliate program offering 50% commissions for each sale. The basic product costs $47, while there is an “up-sell” that could take that up to $97 and, he said, 33% of people take the up-sell.

I opened the website and looked around. What I saw was… well, do you have 15 minutes? If so, I’d highly recommend that you watch the video on their website (no follow). I wanted to embed it below, but I couldn’t do so without it playing automatically. Give it a watch and then come back. If you run an online community or have in the past, there is a chance that it will anger, frighten and amuse you. It can tell the story much better than I can.

The Marketing Video to End All Marketing Videos

If you made it through it all, congratulations. If you didn’t, please try. In summary, Auto Forum Poster is a product that takes content from Yahoo! Answers, allegedly using Yahoo!’s API, and posts it as threads on your forums. From what I have read, it appears that this is alright with Yahoo! as long as you include “Powered by Yahoo!” or “Powered by Yahoo! Answers” somewhere on the page.

However, does Yahoo! allow you to misappropriate attribution to the individuals who post the content? In the clip, you’ll see that the script has you generate a list of false names to attribute the content to. The content posted on Yahoo! Answers, that is posted on your community, is not properly attributed. Perhaps this is allowed under the Yahoo! terms of service – but perhaps not.

Did you happen to catch the part of the video where the user is afforded the opportunity to tick a box that “would make the content unique before posting”? Here’s what unique means: the content is spun. Content spinning is, more or less, the substitution of words in a passage with synonyms for those words. Most of the time, it creates ugly, harder to read content. What is unclear is if Yahoo! Answers’ permits this sort of alteration to their content.

This is Nothing New

However, let’s not act like this service is unique. Similar services exist and they aren’t just targeted at phpBB, but at other popular pieces of software. I’ve known about them for a while. What makes this one worth mentioning, and quite funny, in my opinion, is some of the phrases that are used in the video.

“I knew I could make internet a full time profession” has meme written all over it (no, that is not a typo on my part). In fact, let me take a crack at this:

Not bad! Here’s another gem: “The users generate content and other users visit those websites to see that content. If I am able to get users, it would be pretty much automated from there and I would be a true internet millionaire, too.”

Just as funny is the narrator’s description of YouTube’s “model.” Here is the quote on full (emphasis is mine):

“Let’s look at the model of YouTube for a minute, just to understand it better. The founders of YouTube made a platform on which users come and upload videos, which serve as the content that other people want and come for and when they go to YouTube, they see ads which makes money for Google, which owns YouTube. So, YouTube does not do anything at all. All they did was make a platform for people to use. It’s the same with a majority of other big websites out there.”

Mind. Blown. Everyone go start their own YouTube! All they did was make a platform for people to use! Piece of cake.

When you watched the video on the Auto Forum Poster website, you likely noticed a series of warnings and dialog boxes appearing on the page, mostly in the bottom right corner, which service as the final touch on one of the most pressure packed sales pages ever. You’ll see things like:

“System Message: Limited downloads left, this offer is about to expire. Act now!”

“27 copies left”

from just downloaded a copy of Auto Forum Poster at

from just downloaded a copy of Auto Forum Poster at

“WARNING: left before this offer terminates.”

Type fast! 439 seconds remaining! We wouldn’t want Sofia and Ahmed to be the only ones getting the goods.

The Priceless Pricing Explanation and the Danger of the 12 Year Old Kids

Toward the end of the clip, Mr. Narrator sets out to explain to us why the product is priced as it is. I took the time to type this out as you really have to read it in full to appreciate the complexity of it. Once again, the emphasis is mine.

As mentioned before, we are not trying to make money off you by selling this software to you. We’re just looking for testers who would take this software and run it through the ringer and give us their suggestions and feedback, so that we can make this software even better. We are not interested in your money since our software makes that for us already just fine, thank you very much.

We are looking for some fast movers who would help us in making this software even better. Thus, we decided to pick a number of people that would help us find the appropriate number of suggestions required to make the software even better and not so much that our income from this software drops. We decided to make only 199 copies available, so that we get enough people testing the software out and sending us their feedback, so that it makes the software better for everybody.

Now, as you know how powerful this software is, and keeping that in mind, I believe it would be clear we could have easily charged you $5,000 for this software. But, we’re not here to charge you $5,000. We’re not even here to charge you $1,000, even though you can make that much in the first week of using the software. For that matter, we’re not even here to charge you even $500. We just want a couple of fast movers that would help us in making the software better.

So, we thought we would price it at $297. But, then, not everybody would be able to spend that much, so we reduced the price to $197. At that point, one of my partners told me, why don’t we reduce it further, so that we don’t have to worry about getting beta testers and we can concentrate on making money from the software rather than looking for beta testers to test the software. So, we dropped it to $97.

Seeing that, one of my other partners said we just take it to the final frontier and just give it free, so we concentrate on what is important and this led to a lot of discussion on our end. And so, after a lot of discussion, we finalized we would give it to the couple of fast movers willing to help us for just $4.95. We are charging you the $4.95 just to verify that you are not some 12 year old kid who is not really serious about making money on the internet and is just going around downloading everything and taking up the spots of serious people with real needs.

Why is Auto Forum Poster Bad?

Jokes aside, why is Auto Forum Poster a bad idea? Let’s break the reasons down into four categories.

Legal: As mentioned above, it is unclear to me if Yahoo! allows content from Yahoo! Answers to be spun – to be altered with substituted synonyms – and to be attributed to people who did not actually post the content in the first place. If they don’t, this is a legal problem.

Ethical: Let’s put aside the legal issues. The attribution point raises serious ethical concerns as does the changing of content that you did not create, for the explicit purpose of duping search engines into thinking it is original content.

If you are passing these posts off as real users, how does it feel to fool people who happen across your site, who think that this is a real person that they can engage with? Do you think they’ll stick around if they figure out the truth?

Technical: Without the spinning functionality, you just have a lot of duplicate content. It may get you some traffic from search engines, but it’s not like you’ll be competing with the originals. You’ll always be playing second (or fifty-second) fiddle.

When you turn the spinning on, that might help, but how much? Search engines are always getting smarter and looking for a way to combat that sort of thing. They identify patterns and conquer. So, it’s just a matter of time.

Practical: If you actually want to generate traffic to your community long term, the value of content like this is extremely questionable. There is room for appropriately obtained, previously released content, but that room is somewhat narrow and this isn’t it.

A lot of people who are interested in a product are the fly by nights. People who don’t necessarily care about what they are creating or their reputation. They are here to get a quick buck, don’t care what value it offers and then they’ll move on to the next thing when it dries up.

I remember this guy who ripped off – scraped our content and put up a similar website. One problem: the site was a mess, didn’t work and didn’t offer people what they were expecting. Did he care? No. He slapped ads on it, sucked in the search engine traffic he could and made a few bucks. He was a slimeball. (Not to say that people interested in this are all like him, please don’t take it that way).

In the e-mail I received, there was a link to a thread at Warrior Forum (no follow) as the sender thought this would prove it was a valid product. You’ll see a lot of replies – most likely a mix of the type of people I described in the last paragraph and people who just don’t know better. But, what I found interesting was how the person promoting the product was billing it. And I quote:

[WoW] AutoBlogs Are DEAD! AUTOFORUMS Are here!! Get yours today before everybody else does!

If auto(matically posted) blogs are dead, why would that be? Then, yes, auto forums will face the same fate, if they don’t already. There is a certain irony is trying to get people to buy your “auto forums” product by saying that “auto blogs” are dead. As an aside, I feel for the poor auto(mobile) blogs and auto(mobile) forums, having to compete with this stuff.

Am I Promoting Auto Forum Poster?

Sometimes, by writing about something, you bring more attention to it. All press is good press. That’s not always true. My audience is not the target audience for this product, or the people who will really buy it. But, I wanted to write about it as it is a worthwhile topic to discuss and, also, if I can impact a few people that would have fallen for this type of thing and help them to find a better way to build their community, all the better.

Plus, creating the images above was fun.