Monday, December 17, 2007

Prosper Scrubbing References To

I was going to let the moderation of blog comments go by without additional note. There was no reason to expect anything different over the new forum policies. I was even going to let the Wikipedia bruhaha go without much of a stink. Every company's marketing department tries this. Most quit when they realize that they'll get caught. No harm, no foul.

However, Prosper has now cracked down on all the member profiles that reference off-site Prosper resources. A large number of Prosper users have received a message traced to John Witchel, Prosper CTO, similar to this:

This email is in response to a confirmed policy violation on your member page.

Content published purely for advertising or promotional purposes will be promptly removed, and your account will be suspended. Repeated occurrences may result in termination of your registration with Prosper. This content has been removed.

Continued violation of Prosper's policies will result in suspension or termination of your Prosper account. Please abide by Prosper's policies.

What was the violation, you ask? Many of the users had "" listed in their profiles because they post under the same username there and found it worthwhile to note it. Even worse, a few daring souls only had ".org" in their profiles, the most blatant promotional reference to a large fraction of the internet that I've ever seen. The whole process seems inexplicable.

Yet this is just the latest salvo in a protracted information war between Prosper and it's 580k members. Prosper members (especially lenders) want direct and open communication between each other, unfiltered by Prosper. And at each step, Prosper has applied increasing layers of censorship to curb the communication. In some cases, like limiting borrower personal information, it was justified. In situations like the most recent, the rational is opaque to those affected.

In every step of this cat and mouse game, it has been 580k Prosper members again 50 Prosper employees. You moderated the old forum and members moved to Members were using off-Prosper links in posts on the old forum to get around the moderation and you changed to the new forum. Members reply by putting up Google Ads for the forums. With every move you make, the community intensifies its efforts and the restrictions you apply move the message further out of your reach.

Any success in censorship you do have appears to be a Pyhrric victory. Prosper stopped discussion about on your forum and in your profiles, but you have alienated your customers and pushed the front further out. Are you going to battle via Google Ads and all the random blogs and newspapers too? How will your 50 employees be able to control what 580k members talk about when, as John Gilmore observed, the internet treats censorship as damage and routes around it? In such a battle, the best you can hope for is a stalemate, with the increasingly sterile and barren community as the primary victim for censorship.

Both sides seem weary, and the only way out is to increase understanding. Anything less, and both sides lose. You read our blogs, our forums posts, and our customer feedback e-mails so you know what the crowds are thinking. So I ask (dare I say beg?) you Prosper, please help us understand your thinking. You're not acting like the threat to the power elite that you claim, but instead acting like the old guard. You look to be adopting techniques used by the power elites and are building a large cathedral in the process. Please, explain what you're thinking to us as partners instead of bank customers, for we are all tired of banking customer service. There is a community out here waiting to understand why you found the increasingly harsh censorship necessary and hoping that there's a way out of the protracted stand-off.


Anonymous said...

Good grief! Another day, another Prosper forum drama-bomb.

If these lenders took just half the time they spend bellyaching about the forums, and spent it figuring out how to make better loans, maybe they wouldn't have so much to complain about.

Less forum bellyaching ... more talking moneymaking.

Mike said...

Yeah, yeah.

I'll be getting back to the financial analysis starting tomorrow.

zcommodore said...

Anonymous, why don't you stand up and say who you really are instead of hiding behind "anonymous".

Mike, thanks for your post. Every time I think things are going to start looking up for Prosper, they do something else that is just stupid.

Anonymous said...

I'm not anybody you know. I don't post on the forums, and I don't have a blog.

I'm just a relatively new (6 months) Prosper lender looking for ideas on better lending.

Some of the Prosper blogs are occasionally good for that, but the Prosper forums are just for people moaning about how much they are losing on their D, E, and HR loans, and how it's everyone's fault but their own. That and complaining about the forums themselves.

zcommodore said...

The funny thing is, I think I've come up with a system of lending where I could make a decent return without too much effort. Unfortunately, I am seriously questioning Prosper's ability to stay in business long enough for me to see the results of that so I stopped lending. If Prosper would spend time actually improving the site instead of driving away customers, I might have more faith in their site.

Good luck with your lending, anonymous.