Monday, August 20, 2012

Indiegogo's Spam Problem

The crowdfunding site Indiegogo has been in the news a lot lately. They are being called the new alternative to Kickstarter for self funding. I noticed them because of the recent campaign to build a museum for Nikola Tesla.

I made a donation and checked out the comments for the campaign. There were posts saying things like: "Go Tesla!", "Great job" and "Awesome idea". I saw lots of positive feedback and it made me feel good about my decision to donate. It was great seeing that others felt the same way I did.

Then, I saw something that seemed out of place: a comment plugging someone else's fundraiser which had nothing to do with Tesla. The first thing that I thought of was Kayne West grabbing the mic from Taylor Swift during the Video Music Awards:

"Yo, Taylor, I'm really happy for you and I'mma let you finish....."

It was a very jarring interruption that brought the award ceremony to a screeching halt.  Kanye was basically saying: "I know this is about you but, I want it to be about me." At first I thought that the spam post in the comments of Indiegogo was just an anomaly. Then, I started to look around at other campaigns. What I found was quite surprising. Almost all of the big, successful campaigns on Indiegogo were littered with cross-posted spam messages from other campaigns.

Here's one example:

Indiego's Ready to Believe Campaign for the Aurora Shooting Victims

This campaign was started by the friends and family of Petra Anderson who was critically injured during the shooting at The Dark Knight Rises premiere in Aurora, CO. This campaign was a sincere and heartfelt initiative to cover the medical expenses of a young woman who was the victim of a terrible tragedy. The Internet responded in kind and donated over $264,000 to help her out.

Then came the spammers.....

A lot of these people may have justified their action by saying: "I have a legitimate cause too." But, when does spamming or cross-posting become a problem?

Imagine every time you go to the grocery store you have to run a gauntlet of bums begging for money. You don't have much money and you have to keep saying "No" and "I'm sorry" just to get inside the store. Eventually, you'd feel intimidated (or guilty) and would probably stop going there to avoid the beggars.

But, how do you handle this problem without offending? If you have cancer, or your friend is dying, do you have the right to spam? Would bloggers overlook it out of pity? If someone calls out an off-topic post is he a jerk? Does it make the moderator a heartless witch if she removes it?

As sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo grow they are going to have to deal with these questions and find a way to control cross-posting and pleas for attention. Ideally, there would be plenty of money and everyone would get their campaigns funded. But, that's not reality. People who contribute to crowd funding sites are pursuing a specific interest. (Like going to the grocery store). They heard about the campaign from a friend or read about it somewhere and they stopped by to donate to a specific cause.

A few people may have extra time (and money) and be willing to browse the site and donate to other causes. But, money is tight.

If visitors start feeling put off by spam or unsolicited pleas for help they might stop coming. Sure, you can ignore it but, the problem isn't going away. If anything, it's getting worse. Eventually the noise will be louder than the signal and the original message will be buried beneath hundreds of "me too" requests.

I wrote to the CEO of Indiegogo (Slava Rubin) and suggested that they add a button that people can use to report spam and off-topic messages. After 3 clicks maybe the spam post should automatically disappear from the site and be flagged for moderator attention? People who continue to cross-post and spam other people's comments should be removed from the site permanently.

Let's hope that crowd funding sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter can get their spam problem under control. Crowdfunding is a win-win for everyone. It would be a shame to see the idea die before it has a chance to really take off. Don't let the spammers ruin it.