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I'm creating a small online service that may eventually have some form of community, but it's currently at its very first steps. It allows you to create an account, and then create projects with those accounts that will show up on the front page for anyone to view.

My problem is that the current system is very prone to abuse. Even if I set up a limit of 5 projects, for example, an advertiser or other malicious user can simply create many more accounts to continue posting spam or unwanted content. I don't yet have the resources or ability to somehow prevent people from creating many accounts.

Here are some of the ideas I've been able to think of:

  • No front page, and users have to share their project links on their own via social networking, a blog, or something of that sort. (Obviously the least ideal solution.)
  • Shut down the account creation system automatically for some amount of time if too many accounts are being created in quick succession. (This would be a temporary measure until the site grows enough that this would be keeping out too many valid users. Still a less than perfect idea.)
  • Require manual confirmation by me (or another person I trust) before an account can be created. (Terrible experience for normal users.)

So, how can I stop abuse on my site, while still maintaining the highest user experience for regular users?

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One option you haven't listed yet is invitations. These were used in the early days of LiveJournal and Gmail (among others) to control growth; they're also used (though easily bypassed) for Stack Exchange private betas. With invitations, you grant your trusted users (define "trusted" in a way that makes sense on your site) the ability to invite other users. With this scheme your site grows organically but it's hard for someone to come in from the outside (what if I don't know any of your users?), so it's probably best to couple this with another option.

Another option is a probation period; anybody can create an account (as now), but you restrict access to the front page until some criterion is met. I don't know what that is on your site -- some measure of positive participation, ideally. Users on probation can create projects and share them via links, but they don't get the prime space on your site until they've done something useful -- or at least resisted an initial temptation to spam.

Another option is to set up a review system for the front page -- anybody can create projects and they'll be considered for the front page, but they won't be published there until a trusted human reviews them. Depending on the rate of new submissions and the number of reviewers you have (your trusted users, for instance), this could allow a path to the front page with a small but acceptable delay, without making users jump through hoops (as they'll see it).

Another option is to have two types of account, a free one that can post projects and share links, and a "premium" type that has access to the front page for a small fee. (It doesn't have to be a lot; $5/year would probably stop most of your spammers and trolls.) Tiered accounts are not uncommon these days. Doing this has both technical and social challenges; you need to set up a payment scheme, and lots of people don't like paying any fee to use services on the Internet. So I would advise against this for a small, growing community unless all else fails, but it's an option. (As you get larger and need to pay for infrastructure, charging money makes more sense in the eyes of the public. Some people will still gripe, but "I have to pay for the servers" is a sound explanation.)

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One option that is commonly overlooked is cross reviewing. I managed a website that did something similar to this, and I managed the system with massive success like this.

User #1 needs to post a project.

User #1 writes the project, and then posts it.

For the post to submit, User #1 must verify that five other posts are not spam advertisements.

After reviewing, the project is submitted to the public.

User #2 now writes a different project.

She posts it and is asked to review five other projects.

She flags the spam, but doesn't flag actual projects like User #1's project.

After a project received a certain amount of spam flags, it would be taken down, and the author could send an appeal to get it put back up if needed.

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    How do you mitigate against robo-reviews? ("Yeah sure, whatever, I need to do five of these to get my stuff out there, right?") – Monica Cellio Sep 16 '14 at 20:03

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