The cost of jerks in social apps

Trolls, spammers, and people gaming social software are a giant pain in the ass. At best, they are an everyday reminder that people are sometimes jerks. At worst, they can warp the direction of your product and soak up valuable time. Kellan Elliot-McCrea, formerly of Flickr and currently of Etsy, has written a great piece on the arithmetic of trying to deal with jerks, specifically Twitter spam:

They’re really expensive. They burn your most precious resources when running a startup: good will, and time. Your support staff has to address the issues (while people are yelling at them), your engineers are in the database mucking about with columns, until they finally break down about build an unbanning tool which inevitably doesn’t scale to really massive attacks, or new interesting attack vectors, which means you’re either back monkeying with the live databases or you’ve now got a team of engineers dedicated just to building tools to remediate false positives. And now you’re burning engineer cycles, engineering motivation (cleaning up mistakes sucks), staff satisfaction AND community good will. That’s the definition of expensive.

Unfortunately, there’s just no good answer. You can’t ignore jerks forever and you can’t try to outmaneuver them too early. The answer isn’t purely product design, community management, or tools. It’s not all about the monetary cost to your business, but it’s not all about the intangible cost.

Basically, it takes a really, really sharp product person to figure this out. I highly recommend them, if you have the means.