Keep out the bad apples: How to moderate a marketplace

With great power comes great responsibility. Some of my tips and tricks to make your marketplace a safer place.

There’s no way around having a few bad apples on your site if you build a people-centric business. In a marketplace, you are putting together thousands of people, often times anonymous and also often times let them talk to each other. Sounds like a horrible idea to me!

At MentorCruise, we’ve had bad apples like this from the start. I started with a few manual ways to track and catch them, like having report buttons and an open ear on the support email, but at some point, I had to deploy automated measures. These are my tricks!

Form validation is your friend

For any form of formal communication – be it an inquiry, review form, booking instructions or a formal report, you want to get the most information out of the person as possible. If you are running a service marketplace and the instructions for the vendor are “thanks“, the chance for things to go south are pretty high.

Where applicable, you can make use of minimum lengths to get people to write a little more. Even though not universally applicable, we’ve found that the average word count on mentorship applications went up by 24%, once we added this.

Detecting gibberish & dangerous contents

The downside? With higher required word counts, you’ll undoubtedly also get a higher amount of spam. The “hey”, “test“ and “thanks“ quickly turned into “kjflkdfjkljkfsklfl“ and “ mcnvnmc,mv,nm,xcnmsdlo“. Not a very nice experience.

I ended up deploying a range of other form validators:

  • a gibberish detector, that predicts whether a text or sentence is natural language or not.

  • Putting words against a profanity list

  • Disallowing links (except a small list of exceptions) in messages before the user becomes a paying customer

This has decreased reports from spam comment a lot, and has made the experience for suppliers (mentors) a lot better.

How to collect reports

Whatever you do, the key is to know about bad things when they happen. One thing I am going to focus on more soon is to make it possible to collect and send reports in a lot more positions!

Reports should happen on-topic and, again, be as complete as possible. That means that messages should be able to be reported, bookings should be able to be reported, users should be able to be reported and in each of those cases, user should be able to put context to the report in form of a free text field.

As a bonus, it’s always great for these users to know that their reports are taken seriously, be sure to follow up!

Policies to have in place

What’s acceptable and what’s not? As a marketplace, one of the first things you should put in place is a Code of Conduct. Even if generic, it should make sure that users know: this is off-limits and may get you kicked from the platform!

While this may be obvious, the code of conduct from a dating site can be entirely different from a tutoring service. Also, the same service in north america might have a different code of conduct from one that operates globally.

The “banhammer”

Finally, what happens if you still catch a bad apple that got around all your reports, validations and filters? The banhammer.

Now, a funny story, when I first built my website, I was already anxious about all the bad things that would happen once I got my first users, and decided to implement the banhammer for my first version of the website.

The banhammer is an internal page with a single form field. If I type in a mentor username, the following happens:

  • The person’s profile gets deactivated

  • We remove or anonymize all their user data

  • They get a notifications that they are no longer part of the program

  • All their connections are getting closed

  • Their connections are getting notified about the ban

It took me over 1.5 years until I had to swing the banhammer myself, and while a bittersweet moment, it worked perfectly and settled all claims!