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The pitfalls of User Generated Content.

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I've been playing around with more User Generated content in some of my casual web games recently. My sites are fairly small (thousands to low tens of thousands of daily users), so this advice probably will not hold for huge websites. In general I've found giving the users a little more freedom to create is a lot of fun. It's interesting to see what people will do with the tools you provide.

Beware of Spammers

Way back in the mid 2000's when I did Epoch Star, I had been really turned off to UGC by the spammers that had to be constantly fought off of my phpbb bulletin board. It eventually became a multiple hour a day job, at which point I just shut the whole thing down. Strange as it may sound, the fact that projects like phpbb are used by so many people can be a problem when it comes to spammers. Any protection from spammers provided by a system can always be circumvented. A system with a huge user base can make a tempting target, so it provides the incentive for spam innovation. The community of developers can plug the holes quickly, but unless you keep your software up to date (and I was never good at this) you're always going to be behind the curve.

User Generated Content take 2.

So about a year ago I decide to give this UGC thing a try again. This time I was going to create my own system with my own filters for removing spam before it got out of control. I started out with my Word Search website. The idea is that I can get some good data from words users are submitting and try and find patterns of spam.

If you're like me, and you make a living from online ads, it can be rather difficult to work in User Generated content for a few reasons. Any page you display ads on has to comply with the Terms of Service of your ad provider. This can be pretty challenging because your users aren't going to know (or care) what deal you've worked out with your vendors.

After threatening emails I realized I had to build my system so it wouldn't display ads on any pages that violate my terms of service. For the moment I'm doing this through some auto filtering and an approval system where I have to approve a page before it can run ads on it. I'm not sure this is a great long term solution. It seems to be working fine when I get about 100 submissions a day, but I'm not sure it will scale to 1,000, and certainly not 10,000.

UGC fits some games better than others.

Allowing the users to create their own content seems to work better with some games than others. I generally operate in the casual space, so I'm not even sure how I would work it into some of my games. My Word Search site seemed to be the most successful, getting around 100 puzzle submissions / day with about 4 our of 5 puzzles getting approved for submission into my directory and serving of ads. Mahjongg seemed to also work out fairly well, but only about half the puzzles submitted are worth putting into my directory. I've had less success with Pyramid Solitaire and my Typing Game, although my Typing Game has been having a few issues since I put out my last update.

A few features I've found helpful

1.) Bulk delete by IP address - some guy will figure out a way to spam you and you will want to bulk delete his stuff.
2.) Editable filters - You will want to have filters to reject content automatically, and you'll want to be able to easily add to these
3.) Filter on N0n-@lpha char@cters - to get around your other filters, a lot of spammers have a lot of non-alpha characters in their text.
4.) Filter on URLs - most spammers are looking to promote their web site.
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If you have some more indepth tips I would enjoy reading them.

I am about to launch a new forum for people to suggest additions to my game and was drawn to this journal entity.

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I actually have that on my web sites.  Check out my Solitaire site for an example.  One thing I noticed was that it was helpful to use JavaScript to post the message to the site, but not to actually post the message til I approve it.  This gives the illusion that your message is on the site right away, but prevents spam posts until you have a chance to review them.  


Once again, I'm not sure how well this stuff works on really large sites.  Most of my sites have a few thousand visitors / day, so I'm not sure how I'd scale my tactics.


One other thing... I haven't really decided the best place to put the user messages.  I've tried them on several different places on the site.  You want users to add content, but if you have your own instructions or content you don't necessarily want user content to choke out your own on any page.


Anyway, I'm still experimenting, and I'd appreciate any feedback anyone has to offer.


Thanks, :-)


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