I thought I’d update folks on the progress of Neighborhood Watch and the state of spam on 43 Things. A little history is likely in order.
Neighborhood Watch was born when we realized that the vibrant internet community of 43 Things users working on goals and communing with one another in a non-commerical, non-spammy way was in jeopardy. Todd and I were spending our weekends closing hundreds of spam and commercial accounts. It started as a few per day and ended up being over a hundred a day and was on an ever increasing growth pattern. This became an unmanageable task and threatened to erode the spirit and community of the site. We even found a search engine optimization company (aimed at gaming internet search results) selling reports on how to spam 43 Things. This clearly had to stop.
In attacking a problem of this scale, we knew we’d have to turn to our community of users and a few automated tools. Enter Neighborhood Watch and automated spam-catching scripts such as Robotcop and Robotscout. Since Neighborhood Watch debuted, we’ve defeated more than 3,000 spam accounts set up to prey on 43 Things. We’ve also nuked a few dozen creeps and miscreants. Along the way, we’ve had just 2 errors – which happened to the same account. This problem was a result of another user misusing the tools, not a problem with the system itself. Since then, we’ve added additional controls to avoid user abuse of the tool.
Yesterday we ran into another error in the Robotcop and Robotscout spam-catching scripts. This error mistakenly flagged lots of good, long standing users. We fixed the bug this morning (although we do expect false positives to continue). But that error seems to have raised a number of questions, so here are some more details about Neighborhood Watch:
- When a user is flagged in Neighborhood Watch, it is not a guilty sentence. Instead, Neighborhood Watch is designed to let the community vote on these things. So while upsetting that this bug flagged good users, the system worked in that not a single good account was suspended. Go team!
- The system is not a simple thumbs up or down vote. It uses a voting algorithm coupled with voter reputation to determine whether or not to suspend accounts. Again, we’ve now suspended over 3,000 accounts with a very low error rate (1 account, wrongly suspended by another user).
- The Neighborhood Watch tool allows a mistakenly suspended account to be quickly revived.
Hopefully this background frames how we arrived here and the overall benefit of Neighborhood Watch. Rolling out any new feature has some bumps and in this case we realize that these bumps were felt by many established users of the site. Sorry about that folks! I’d also like to thank everyone for helping make 43 Things a great place to improve your life and thanks for keeping the spam and creeps away from the site. We appreciate all your feedback.