WordPressDirect: Blogging Tool or Spam Engine?

Filed as Features, News, Podcasts on November 24, 2008 11:10 am

A recent post on Mashable regarding a tool called WordPress Direct elicited a great deal of passion on both sides. One commenter, for example, called the service a “one stop shop spam blog engine” while another, who claims to have used the service, said it was “a simple solution to adding new posts to a blog in between longer, hand written posts”.

But what is clear is that tools like WordPress Direct are becoming more and more common. Part of the double-edged nature of open source development is that, while most will use the license to extend the product in healthy ways, a few will do so in ways that can be used for unethical purpose. Though this is not an argument against open source, more and more tools like WordPress Direct have sprung up, often charging high monthly fees for “maintenance free” blogging.

But what does WordPress Direct do and is it a spam tool? The answer is complicated and made more so by the fact that the nature of spam and even the definition of spam is a moving target. However, it is clear that WordPress Direct, along with similar products, have a lot of potentially dangerous uses and, if its marketing is any indication, those uses are very much by design.

Multiple Uses, Multiple Faces

First and foremost, WordPress Direct is a WordPress installer, making it easy to set up WordPress installations on either your own server or theirs. There is no need to setup databases, install the core files or even fix permalinks and add a theme. The system does that for you.

However, applications that install WordPress are already extremely common. Though most don’t help optimize the installation, most hosts have some variation of the WordPress “One Click” install, often using Fantastico. Furthermore, such installs are usually more up to date, with WordPress Direct saying that they still use the 2.5.x branch of WordPress.

But what has drawn the most controversy is not the installation, but rather, the tools that come with it. WordPress Direct also installs a series of tools that let you import content directly into your feed, including from Yahoo! Answers, YouTube and even other RSS feeds.

Though the WordPress Direct team is quick to tout that the owner of the created blogs is the editor, the truth is that all of the tools can be set to publish automatically, meaning that content is scraped from various sources and republished without any editing or manipulation. Combined with the easy insertion of Adsense advertisements into the blog itself, it is easy to see how one could create dozens of spam blogs very quickly with this tool.

That, in turn, is what has many bloggers very worried.

WordPressDirect Responds

In a comment to the original Mashable article, Marty Rozmanith, a representative for the company said that:

“Those that do (repost content) realize all content requires proper attribution, and our service facilitates that. It also facilitates reviewing content before posting so that spam videos and such do not end up on your blog.

We do not host the bulk of our user’s blogs – they do. If they get themselves in trouble with spamming their own blog, we frown upon it and it usually results to their detriment anyway.”

He goes on to say that:

“For all the content creators reading this — unless you post your content to a ‘user-generated’ content site like YouTube or an ezine article service, our service will never find it. We do not scrape random sites to find content. We use APIs provided to republish content the way those sites intend us to. We automate the embedding that they provide and that bloggers do manually every day.”

However, during my very brief testing of the software, I noticed that much of this appears to be at least somewhat inaccurate.

First, the test “blog” I created pulled content from Yahoo Answers but there was no indication that the content came from there nor was a link back to the source provided. Furthermore, the original question was posted as the blog entry with the replies posted as comments, furthering the confusion. I could not find a way to turn on attribution. (Note: I have already deleted this blog as I did not wish it to be indexed by the search engines.)

Second, though they claim to only pull content from “user generated” sites, their marketing material provides information about how to pull from RSS feeds and, in my testing, it is very easy to do. Any blog, regardless of how it was licensed, can be reused by these sites should the operator decide to pull from it.

Finally, though it is possible to see how one could use this to automatically locate videos and related articles, there are other services that provide this functionality already. Furthermore, to use this tool for such a legitimate purpose would require a great deal of editing and crafting (EX: Pull quotes from articles, add links, etc.) and the automation would save little time.

All in all, most of those that wanted to use this service for non-spamming aims would likely find other tools better suited to what they want to do.

The Good News

The good news is that this is also likely a very poor spam tool. The highest level of membership, which costs nearly $150 per month, only allows users to create 100 sites. That number is fairly tame in terms of spam blog network size and, by requiring each spam blog return over $1 per month in profit, it is debatable how much revenue could be generated. Other tools allow the creation of many times this number of sites at much lower costs.

All in all, compared to other, better-known tools, I don’t think bloggers have much to fear from this service. In addition to the limited network size, adding RSS feeds is a manual process and is very time consuming compared to the other input methods.

Though WordPress Direct’s best uses are spam-related, it is hardly the hardcore spamming tool that bloggers have been taught to fear.

Conclusions

I always find the marketing of products like WordPress Direct to be very interesting. On its front page, the site promises you that it “scours the internet for topic-specific video, audio and article content and automatically combines it on your site to create a truly unique visitor experience,” and that all you have to do is “Simply click a few buttons and WordPress Direct will update your site as often or as rarely as you’d like.”

Most bloggers would instantly recognize this as too good to be true but it is how many spam blog applications, both admitted and not, advertise their wares.

The question is whether WordPress Direct is a legitimate tool that has significant questionable use or a questionable tool that has some limited legitimate use. Though it is always difficult to tell, the marketing clearly seems to bill it as the latter.

However, in his comment, Rozmanith said that “It’s true the sales material tries to make everything look ‘effortless.’ We should update it – it is not a true reflection apparently.” Perhaps this is an indication that he understands the message his marketing is getting and why others, including myself, feel as they do about the product.

But even without the marketing, the tool itself still has a bevy of questionable uses and controversial decisions. Whether this is by design or a mistake is a question only the creators can answer.

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  1. By Jeffro2pt0 posted on November 24, 2008 at 6:49 pm
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    Great write up Jonathon. I think for starters, they really need to rethink using WordPress in the domain name ala Trademark issues. Also, I think the marketing behind the product as well as the design and layout of the sites front page sure does look and sound like a marketing gimmick. I agree with you in that, the service is marketed to make it look like an average Joe can create an account and then set the blog up to publish other content automatically. While not exactly ripping off content because the automation actually publishes an excerpt, I still think it is a lazy mans way of operating a blog.

    Will you be mentioning the site or service on the next episode of the WordPress Podcast?

    Reply

  2. By Jonathan Bailey posted on November 24, 2008 at 9:15 pm
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    On the trademark issue I agree strongly. They need to get away from that as Automattic is notoriously and reasonably protective of their mark. They are treading in dangerous water using the name and for such an overtly non-WP promoting fashion.

    One of the problems I had during my testing was that the content was not excerpted that I could see. I tested several input methods and it always seemed to republish the full content from wherever it pulled. Though that is understandable with Ezine articles, it is more worrisome when Yahoo! answers is being pulled in.

    As far as a mention on the WP podcast, no idea, I’m going to propose it but I can’t make any promises.

    Nice to hear from you again!

    Reply

  3. By Shanti K posted on December 2, 2008 at 3:53 pm
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    I will add one more thing. The videos for the 30 day challenge..although I
    am sure are filled with useful knowledge..are almost unbearable in their
    ramblings and length. Instead of utilizing the time into 15 minutes of
    information they drag on and on with mind numbing commentary..not useful and
    a waste of time which last 45 or more minutes to glean 15 minutes of
    information if in fact you do not lose interest. I would revamp those first
    rather then claim all this about the reason for taking away free account
    usefulness is this Mashup thread…my two cents for what it’s worth. But I
    will say I am not the only one who is thinking or looking at this as a
    ruse/red herring.

    You had a good idea…keep to it and stop this ‘ruse’ is my suggestion. All
    I ses being accomplished is a sense of distrust and disbelief (literally)
    from these decisions.

    And as for Jonathan Bailey? Please Jonathan…certainly your “blog” serves a better purpose then this? Duplicate content is not plagerism per se…and anyone so using it is also penalized by the SERPS. So find a real monster to slay. I hardly see the rational in your arguments other then a smugness that somehow you fought spam which never existed. Give yourself a nice lolipop. I am certain your ‘delete’ button will apply to this post…as any real “news’ worthy site would allow…so will see the extent of your values of others commentary.

    SK

    Reply

  4. By Shanti K posted on December 2, 2008 at 3:57 pm
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    Marty Rozmanith, I disagree with your decision to bow down to this people with no life except blogging and especially the ‘why’. Who the hell
    cares about some ass clown(s) in mashup? I see much more in this then is
    claimed. How does one forum effect someone’s business model? Either gross
    insecurity or something else entirely. Was the “model” not panning out?
    Having someone overly “Spam” content is not really a concern except for
    their own poor results..no? Good grief. Also it would not be hard to
    ‘throttle” the ability (number) to do so.

    So as much as I like the service I think it has more to do with
    revenue/sustainability/profit then anything to do with some ridiculous
    Mashup thread. Gads…too be honest I find it hard to believe that this is
    being ‘used’ as it is. Sad. That said most if not all of what you provide on
    the site is available for free elsewhere with a bit of a different
    format/execution.

    I do not, honestly, believe any of this mashup (who the hell and how are
    their users so important?) business as being the real reason for all this.
    If I am right…then it truly makes an impact on my views going forward.

    I will add one more thing. The videos for the 30 day challenge..although I
    am sure are filled with useful knowledge..are almost unbearable in their
    ramblings and length. Instead of utilizing the time into 15 minutes of
    information they drag on and on with mind numbing commentary..not useful and
    a waste of time which last 45 or more minutes to glean 15 minutes of
    information if in fact you do not lose interest. I would revamp those first
    rather then claim all this about the reason for taking away free account
    usefulness is this Mashup thread…my two cents for what it’s worth. But I
    will say I am not the only one who is thinking or looking at this as a
    ruse/red herring.

    You had a good idea…keep to it and stop this ‘ruse’ is my suggestion. All
    I se being accomplished is a sense of distrust and disbelief (literally)
    from these decisions

    SK

    Reply

  5. By Compare Themes posted on December 2, 2008 at 10:32 pm
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    We had a recent heated discussion on the Digital Point Forums where they used the same techniques to try to disguise what they really sell. I posted a link to this post and another post from BloggingTips.com

    On the trademark issue, I have sent a couple of emails to some top people at WP and they have agreed to look into it. Most likely they will have to surrender the domain name when they lose UDRP ruling.

    Reply

  6. By Ben Holmes posted on April 27, 2009 at 5:19 am
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    I’m not particularly worried about the proliferation of automated blogs – people will gravitate toward real blogs that offer unique content – so while some will have temporary success with splogs – others will continue to slowly plod along, developing unique and good content – and the race will once again be won by the turtle…

    Reply

  7. By neil posted on July 18, 2009 at 8:10 pm
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    I’m not a professional blogger nor a good one but I do maintain 2 blogs…I’ve noticed that blogs that tops the chart under “Personal” are echoing news..I don’t know if it defeats the purpose of blogging…and if there’s an automated way to do that..as in the service offered by WP Direct..tsk tsk tsk..

    Reply

  8. By Sport Bike Cam posted on August 15, 2009 at 6:03 pm
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    Don’t know what to think of it. I am not using this myself though! I rather create real posts

    Reply

  9. By free352 posted on October 25, 2009 at 4:17 pm
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    Nice post I just get this domain name (http://citypges.com/) with page rank 5, check this site after one month and you will see what pr it’s gonna be.

    Reply

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