Dale Carnegie's book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, is one of the best-selling self-help books ever published.
One might suspect that Justin.tv, an online video startup based in California, is writing its own book, How to Lose Respect and Redirect Users, after it was discovered that the company is redirecting its users to porn sites when they search for certain keywords.
Justin.tv, which started out as a single man's online lifestreaming experiment, has become a sort of YouTube for live video streaming. It's no stranger to questionable content but there is one thing it doesn't allow: adult video.
So what to do? The company could simply remove inappropriate videos and leave it at that but it has chosen to take another approach: redirect users to the very content it doesn't want on its own service.
If you perform a search on Justin.tv for naughty keywords, there's a good chance you'll find yourself greeted with the following message:
We noticed you were searching for content we don't allow on Justin.tv. Please be patient while we send you to a site where you can find what you're looking for.
Five seconds later you'll be redirected to a website offering services that definitely aren't safe for work. An affiliate code that certainly belongs to Justin.tv is included in the URL.
Obviously, this has upset some people and while a moral debate about adult content isn't something I want to touch (no pun intended), I think Justin.tv's strategy serves as a good example of how important it is to maintain the integrity of your policies.
In my opinion, Justin.tv's decision to redirect its users to an adult website is a very poor one for a couple of reasons.
First, Justin.tv says it doesn't like adult content. The company's CEO responded to TechCrunch with the following message:
Justin.tv uses a variety of common tools to effectively reduce the amount of inappropriate content on the site including: community-based reporting, community admins, chat moderation and redirecting sex-related search queries.
There's a problem with the last technique: if the company truly believes adult content is 'inappropriate', redirecting users to a naughty site where it's sold hardly seems like a consistent approach. You can't credibly call adult content 'inappropriate' in one breath and then promote it for financial gain in the next.
Second, redirecting users automatically to adult websites is not cool. It's that simple. While users searching for the keywords Justin.tv redirects probably aren't looking for wholesome videos in the first place, giving them 5 seconds to change their minds before sending them off a NSFW website is a bad practice, especially when you run a website that has a lot of underage users. At the very least, Justin.tv could give users the option to click through on their own. But that wouldn't be so good for affiliate revenue.
Which is obviously what this is really about. We know that many services relying on user-generated content are struggling with ad revenue and that's probably true of Justin.tv, which doesn't appear to have direct advertisers and seems to be relying on remnant-type ads. Redirecting adult-related searches to an adult affiliate program is therefore low-hanging fruit for Justin.tv.
Yet it comes at the cost of conveying a consistent message about content policies and most importantly, treating users with respect. That's just bad, short-term-oriented decision making that has nothing to do with adult content.