(Editor’s note: Greg Collier is the founder and CEO of Geebo.com. He submitted this story to VentureBeat.)
Some of the most widely used sites on the Internet are attracting negative attention these days for neglecting to attend to the user experience. But for many, that’s not their biggest problem.
Ten years ago, web site owners simply needed to attend to safety issues like secure servers and shopping carts. That changed with the advent of social media. Today, people are not simply interacting with the web sites; they are just as often interacting with other users through comments, sharing functions, online chat and even games.
This means that user safety and privacy have become everyone’s business. Yet too many site owners protest that they can’t protect their users from the ever growing assortment of online scams and crime.
This is, of course, nonsense. Everything from site architecture to the way accounts receivable works can be set up to protect users and customers. Here’s my advice for creating a safe user experience:
Start with a solid system - The best time to think about security and safety is before your site goes live. You need to know, at least in broad strokes, who your users will be and the kinds of protections they will need. Just a few of the many needs to consider are: secure financial transactions, payment verification, your own site vulnerabilities, user-to-user crime, scams, hate speech, and the security of user-controlled components – including off-site activities that originate from, link to, or refer back to your site.
For particularly vulnerable content areas, you may want to consider setting up paid accounts. Generally, situations in which you are paid are likely to provide you with a way to track the source of that content on your site.
Don’t depend on user monitoring - A flagging system, which depends on users to police a site’s pages after the fact, often opens up almost as many problems as it attempts to resolve. In theory, it works. In practice, perfectly good ads get flagged while scams, hate speech, and criminal activity can go unflagged.
Some large bidding sites use buyer and seller ratings, but this is also a difficult way to separate the creeps from the honest sellers. Unscrupulous sellers have posed as the competitors’ buyers in order to leave poor ratings and nasty feedback. The end result is a loss in total traffic volume. The upshot is clear: you – the site owner – need to take responsibility for monitoring your content. Make it easy on yourself by using a queue system.
Shore up weak points. Make sure someone in a position of responsibility is auditing your pages frequently to see what’s happening there. A scam I came across many years ago involved the posting of innocuous photos that were later modified to include illegal content. It wasn’t difficult to end this practice. We simply made it impossible to modify photos after the content goes live.
Keep connected to visitors and users. Many site operators are tempted to put their whole enterprise on auto-pilot. For most businesses, this is a huge mistake. It means missing out on a wealth of opportunities to improve both safety and other aspects of the user experience. It’s also likely to affect your bottom line. Provide live customer service if possible – and always solicit feedback from your users.