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As we all know building a community is hard especially when it's new. I've heard and been told by other website/community mods that Astro Turfing is commonly done by many to help build and encourage people to join in.

For anyone that hasn't heard the term before it's when mods make their site look like it's being used, either by posting on the forums or contributing to the site in some other way as other users. In essence building a fake Grass Roots "Astro turfed" movement. New communities commonly face this problem because potential members don't want to be the first to post and don't want to post in a community with nothing in it.

Is it ethical to Astro Truf your site? Have you ever used this method? What can I do to gain legitimate users who don't mind being the first to post?

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The big problem with Astro-Turfing is that the questions may well be of questionable quality or not even real questions at all. This is because you are sitting there thinking of theoretical issues rather than posting about real issues you are facing.

When Stack Overflow started they used this approach and if you can find the first questions, while they may have lots of up-votes, they aren't that good.

When Area 51 came along there is effectively a "pre-seeding" of questions. People suggest questions that they'd like to ask on the site and they get voted in much the same way as on the real site. Then when the site launches there is a set of potential questions of known quality that can be asked.

The other benefit of the Area 51 approach is that there are a set of users ready and waiting for the site to launch so they can ask their questions.

So, what can you do if you're not part of Stack Exchange?

Well you could seed your site, but be prepared to cull the posts once the site has taken off so that they don't spoil your site if it heads off in a slightly different direction to what you were expecting.

Another alternative is to build up a potential user base before the site launches so you have a number of users ready and willing to post.

This may be enough to give your site the initial boost it needs.

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