As I was writing up yesterday's article on The Times, I realized that there's a wide range of opinions from social media founders about undisclosed mass promotion on their communities. (Mahalo's Jason Calacanis doesn't mind, while Matt Haughey drops the banhammer on any Metafilter user who tries it.)
I contacted several founders affected by Sitelynx's activity to see their official (and personal) stance on this questionable practice.
Wherever there are ways to direct people's attention, people will seek to misdirect them. So on delicious, a bookmark tends to mean "I liked ..." or similar, and to other people that's a suggestion. A link from someone promoting something, instead, means "Please go look at ..." and while they take the same form, they are very directly subverting the meaning of the system. Even though the normal bookmarks are a sort of promotion, it's not for things people are affiliated with directly.
Publishers of content tend to be mis-incentivized as to where they would like their content to be categorized, and what parts of it they think are good. Both of these cause misdirected use of delicious, either through bookmarking things that some person doesn't actually like (but wants traffic to) as well as over-tagging (to make a wider audience than is appropriate see the item).
Ideally, people would identify "their" sites, and those bookmarks would be marked (and be filterable) as such.
Generally, how do you guys feel about undisclosed mass self-promotion?
It's bad form to talk about yourself all the time -- it's obnoxious. But our position is go ahead and promote it if it's relevant and we'll do the work to determine whether it's good or not. If it's high quality, submit every bit of content you produce. If you're Engadget or the New York Times and you want to submit every article you write, we'd be okay with that.
We might not accept every link, though. We're designed to look at every incoming link. We want people to do that, so we can create a trust score on them. And if it's undisclosed, it doesn't really matter too much because we're going to figure that out.
Is it in great form? It's debatable. I submit Mahalo links to services all the time, but it's under my name and it says Mahalo. I think people should disclose where they're coming from.
How do you typically handle cases like Sitelynx?
In this case, it was interesting because he submitted a bunch of timesonline.co.uk links and eight of them were accepted. He added one low-quality link to his gems site and it was denied. So the system works.
If people continue to abuse the system, they put themselves on their blacklist. We can ban the link or the domain name and their trust score goes down.
MetaFilter has no editorial review before posts go up, so we have a rule (one of the only hard and fast rules on the site) that you don't use the site to self-promote. Since there's no editors to vet whether something's good enough before going up, we trust that people can judge themselves and post the best stuff.
The problem of undisclosed promotion is that it's almost always not good enough by the normal filters of something being "good" because the people behind it just want to get it in front of everyone. And then when people are found out as self-promoting, the community is angered because the goodwill of a bunch of people sharing stuff they truly thought was good was hijacked by one selfish jackass that was just trying to goose their search rankings.
We operate on a reverse NIPSA sort of system. Only whitelisted members appear in public search areas. We do flag blatant self-promotion as spam, but it doesn't really do anything other than block their access to some functionality.
I hate hate hate spamming. It costs us real money in time and resources. But this is the best way we've found to absorb it without accidentally causing harm to a mistakenly identified legitimate user.
We suspected this dude was actually using Times articles to make his account look legit. That's how we got fooled by him.
(Ed. Note: Don't miss Larry's great article about dealing with spammers on Magnolia.)
You were aware of him beforehand?
He had been whitelisted. Of course, I've gone back and blacklisted him.
Any form of mass self-promotion is frowned upon. We encourage everyone that is submitting their own content to also take the time to participate in the community. If a member complains about another site member flooding a channel with submissions, we investigate on a per member basis. If the content is good despite the member's behavior we'll usually warn them and give them advice on how to participate. If the content is spammy we usually end up removing both the user and the content from the site.
Thanks, everyone. I'm still waiting for responses from Digg and StumbleUpon's founder, and will update if they come in.