As Lobsters grows it has been getting an unwelcome and increasing amount of attention from content marketers. This is a tricky thing to define, so, for the purposes of this discussion I’m using it to refer to topical stories written for the primary purpose of building an audience to later sell things to. These articles are usually SEO bait how-tos on features of popular frameworks, mediocre pablum related to whatever problem their product addresses, inflammatory hot takes on news, or outright flamebait/trolling.
I need to tell the story of the worst of these we’ve yet seen, but the changes I describe below are designed for the broader issues of marketing and acculturating new users.
On Friday I had to deal with a content marketer who crossed over into outright spam and abuse. Yuval Halevi (@UV) works for two marketing firms, StartupStash and GuerrillaBuzz. He and Ido Cohen (@idoco) spammed us with links to Cohen’s company LoadMill. They created ten alt accounts to try to disguise this, and avoided being apparent in the invite tree by showing up to the chat room. In this log, the spammers are both @Devit and @unlit_spark; they faked a conversation with themselves to look legit.
--> Devit (~firstname.lastname@example.org) has joined #lobsters --> UnlitSpark (email@example.com) has joined #lobsters UnlitSpark how's your day? :) Devit My day sux. My mac is just keep doing problems... Devit It's so freaking hot... almost feel like lava UnlitSpark have you seen the new browser, flow? Devit which one Devit Anyone here use Macbook pro and have heat problems with the computer? UnlitSpark it's called flow. only for linux, mac and adroid at the moment [user1] I did see it UnlitSpark UnlitSpark i just read. it's an interesting project, but I think they don't stand many chances given how fragmented the market is UnlitSpark what do you think [user1]? [user1] I don't understand why people seem to think that it not being open source hurts its chances short/medium-term ... UnlitSpark if I want to join the community do I send my proof here or how it's done, exactly? [user2] You ask for an invite and hope someone sends you one [user2] a lot of corporate shills have taken an interest in the site as of late UnlitSpark that's a sign of good work. means the site is doing a good job UnlitSpark but also that's how shit hits the fan and ruins everything... ... UnlitSpark Hey. I've been around earlier but there was nobody that could help with an invite so I can become a lobster. Is there anyone now that can, please? [user3] hi UnlitSpark :D [user3] are you an evil corporate content writer or a spam robot? UnlitSpark hey :) UnlitSpark as Heisenberg told: "you got me" :)) [user3] i knew it! [user4] is this where a trunk opens up and a machine gun kills us all now? UnlitSpark first, let me leave a few million dollars for my family UnlitSpark and then i'll get the machine gun UnlitSpark :)) [user4] hey it's me, your family member! UnlitSpark noted you in my will [user4] do you have an example of what kind of content you'd post or comments you'd write? [user4] people here are definitely hesitant to give out invites to people who seem to just be promoting their work's paid products UnlitSpark I'll DM you :)
Ha ha, what a warm smug glow he must felt in his cold, dead heart to make a topical pop culture reference about how he’s morally equivalent to a drug-dealing murderer as he lied to the friendly users welcoming him. They did this ten times.
They have Medium, HackerNoon, and ProductHunt as media partners. These are big, popular sites, and I guess if this is the startup “hustle” they reward, we’re going to see continued abuse from similar companies.
None of the users who extended invites to these abusers have been reprimanded or been banned from sending invites. It would be a failure if our community closed itself off from the good users we welcome each day because of the potential for this kind of abuse, and I hope we continue to err in favor of inviting interesting contributors.
OK, exciting drama over. Let’s talk about dealing with the bigger trend this exemplifies.
We now consistently average over 20k visitors per weekday. Programming is an enormous, growing, lucrative, powerful industry and thus a very expensive demographic to advertise to. A link on our homepage sends traffic that would otherwise cost $15-30k on Twitter, AdWords, or LinkedIn.
When this is sending attention to celebrate someone advancing the state of our understanding or sharing what they’ve created, it’s the internet at its best as gift economy. Unfortunately, some people see the site as a handful of rubes naively standing around a money fountain, so why not try to take a taste?
I’ve made some changes to make Lobsters less viable to content marketers. Not only to outright spammers, but to people who submit the thin, self-promotional crap that makes Lobsters look like an attractive target.
It’s now possible to ban domains, adding an option for mitigating abuse and raising the risks of spamming the site. (example)
After four links, a domain can’t have a majority of its stories submitted from a single user. I’ve put the current list of domains in a comment below for easy folding. Overall I feel good about slowing submissions from these sites, but there’s some false positives in there that are mostly due to how prolific a submitter @calvin is (which I don’t mean to discourage). The likely fix will be to skip this check if the domain is consistently highly upvoted and doesn’t attract a lot of flagging in its threads (eg flamebait); kibitzing about particulars or other approaches welcome. I’d like to patch it this week; in the meantime bumping up against this limit posts a note to moderators so if it goes wrong we’ll see problems.
While investigating the extent of the spam ring, I noticed we got a batch of users from a professional CTO forum this month. I was on a roll after banning the spammers, but @alynpost prudently suggested I wait until they actually do something wrong. So that brings us to encouraging acculturation.
New users have green usernames and cannot suggest story edits or flag anything. I’ve added more restrictions to them:
Hopefully these changes help things, but there is no “perfect” with social systems, so we’ll doubtless make future changes as needed. So let me close with a reminder that you can write queries to help the Lobsters community learn more about itself or draw clear boundaries around behavior we want to encourage or discourage.
All the best,