It seems like a hundred years ago when a client first asked me: “What’s Usenet and should we be seeding it?

I don’t know who they had been speaking to but whoever it was should be locked away in a room with angry toddlers.

Usenet is a collection of groups and forums, which harks back to the early days of the web. It was popular before many people had personal email accounts and in my early days at my first University we geek students would rush to the computer labs and check Usenet first.

In fact, the first controversial Google acquisition I recall was back in 2001 when the search engine bought Deja.com’s Usenet service.

Usenet was a place where people chatted about various topics; everything from hobbies through to work. Usenet seeding was a marketer’s attempt to join in the conversation and direct it to a website of choice. Most of the time it was clumsy spam and the rest of the time it was clumsy marketing.

The problem was that the marketer didn’t really join the conversation. He popped into the group, made his post – and hopefully tailored it to interest the subscribers – and vanished again.

The concept is the same today. Drop in a link or a mention of something and from this “seed” of awareness a healthy garden of interest will grow.

One of the many benefits of the current interest in social media marketing is that more and more marketers know that to participate in an online community, you need to be part of the conversations.

Hit and run techniques are neither wise nor effective. You can’t toss a seed into dust, walk away and except anything to happen (other than people getting annoyed at your littering). If you want a garden to grow you need to put more effort in than that.

Nevertheless, the term “seeding” gets bandied around by different people who use it to mean different things.

It’s not Usenet that gets targeted these days. Today we see marketers haunting forums ready to drop in a link to the latest naff social networking attempt.

Forum posts which begin; “Hey guys, I thought you might like…” are usually ‘seeds’. All too often the poster hasn’t made a comment on the forum before and will never comment again.

Now, of course, there are valid and perfectly ethical ways to join in the conversations that happen in the social space and equally effective and appropriate ways to alert communities to any new initiatives. Let’s not dismiss them as 1990 style ‘seeding’ though!