Dear Tiny Post, please stop the shady practices.
I signed up for Tiny Post about 10 months ago. I created three posts and then haven’t gone back to the app. Just never found the use for it.
Then on August 31 TinyPost starts sending me emails. The first one is an announcement, “Brace Yourself: Filters and Fonts are here” and the second one on Sept 7, “Best Tiny Posts of the Week.” That’s alright. I’m not interested, so I just delete them.
Then on Sept 8, TinyPost sends me an email, “Nick Thomas liked your TinyPost”. Are you serious? Like the one I posted several months ago? So, I just ignore it.
Then on Sept 9, TinyPost send an email, “Amanda Good is following you on Tiny Post”. Strange, I think. Part of me is flattered but part of me wonders if it’s a bot.
On Sept 18, Tinypost sends an email (remember I haven’t posted anything in 10 months), “Tony Veralrud liked your Tiny Post.” I’m thinking, “Man, these guys are creating fake accounts and suck.” But I let it go.
Today, “Kate Bernstein liked your Tiny Post.” I’m thinking this is getting out of hand… Tiny Post, why are you playing with me with fake accounts?
Again today, “Luke Smith liked your [your post]” and “Tony Veralud started following you”. This is getting out of hand. So, I start to investigate who all these people are that are “liking” my post from 10 months ago and even following me.
So here are the profiles of the 5 people liking my posts. These are definitely fake accounts set up by Tiny Post and is a flat out shady practice. They’re tricking users into thinking these are real people, and that real people are liking and following them. Not cool. I even gave them the benefit of the doubt thinking maybe these 5 people are the founders, but they’re no where to be found on their team page.
Notice all these fake accounts have around the same number of posts, likes and following. It’s obvious Tiny Post is running these fake accounts as bots in order to fool their users. (see update below)
I understand it’s difficult to get off the ground as a social site. It’s the classic chicken and egg problem. Without activity, users don’t find value. But without users, you get no activity. I even understand Reddit’s approach of creating fake accounts when getting started. But I’m more understanding of Reddit because there’s an anonymity that’s promoted on Reddit. People are allowed fake/anonymous/throwaway accounts. That’s Reddit. But Tiny Post is clearly different. They’re going for your real identity with your first name and last name. And that’s where it becomes uncool.
Tiny Post, please stop the shady practices. It’s not cool. And I’ve lost my respect for your team until you publish a public apology to your users.
Update: There’s a lively discussion on Hacker News regarding this post. A couple users pointed out that I shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that Tiny Post is orchestrating this themselves. It could be a third party who’s set up a bot to follow users so they can gain more followers. I think this is a valid point and something worth considering. However, it’s difficult to believe that 3rd parties would be that interested in Tiny Post to set up bots. But maybe I’m wrong. I would love to hear directly from the Tiny Post team on this. If I hear from them, I’ll update this blog post with their response.
Update2: Ingrid Lunden wrote a story about this on TechCrunch and got a reply from one of the founders basically saying that they’re sorry, they’ll stop, and that they were doing it to “test” user engagement. I’m glad they’re stopping it but I’m not totally sure I buy the just “testing user engagement” narrative. You create 20 fake users and have them like 3000 posts each (total 60,000 posts) and have them follow 7000 users each (total 140,000 users)… and only stop when caught? First, when would they have stopped, if they didn’t get caught? I’d like to know what their actual plans were (of course, they don’t have to share this but I’m curious). Second, do you really need to follow 140,000 users to do a “test”? I imagine using a couple of the founders accounts and following a bunch of people (ie., a few thousand each) and seeing the response is fine for testing. But following 140,000 users… sounds more plausible that they’re trying to gain traction vs testing. But again, I could be wrong. I’ve tweeted @tinypostapp and will update this post if/when I hear from them.
Update 3: Just got an email from Dick Brouwer (founder, Tiny Post) and he says that they did two 1-week tests to measure re-engagement based on different types of actions and users. He said they’ve removed the test users and halted the tests. I emailed him back expressing my concern about them misleading and manipulating their users with fake user accounts of models with changed names (ie., finding attractive models online, cropping their pics, making fake user accounts with those pics, changing the models’ names, creating a script for these fake users to follow a bunch of users, then sending email notifications to all those users notifying them that this attractive/hot user is now following them). This brings up a bigger issue about growth hacking ethics and what’s the line where it goes too far.
(Read some of my other Thoughts on Startups)