210
107 Comments

Started Requiring Invite Codes

I just configured Indie Hackers to require an invite code for signup.

My primary motivation is to fight spam. Hundreds of companies and individuals create dozens of accounts every day for the express purpose of posting spam. Playing whack-a-mole is annoying and feels un-winnable, but an invite system should stop new spammers from joining instantaneously (or allow us to track down the spammers who are inviting them).

There are secondary benefits, too. I'm only granting invite codes to product owners who are actively making useful posts to the community. Chances are, the people they'll invite to Indie Hackers will be more helpful than average.

(Note that earning invite codes is an automatic process that happens daily.)

I admit that it'll also be cool to see people asking for and sharing invite codes on other websites, like Twitter.

The downsides: Making IH more exclusive when I've always erred on the side of radical inclusivity, and of course, decreasing signup rates.

I'm not so worried about the signup rate. Growth is a function of both signups and retention, and I suspect this change may do more to boost retention (by improving site quality) in the long run than it does to hamper new signups.

As for timelines, I plan to keep things invite-only for at least a couple of weeks to see how things shake out and to give us time to discourage spammers. If it's a disaster, I can easily reopen signups. And if it's great, I can always keep the new system as long as I want, or even indefinitely.

Please let me know your thoughts below!

  1. 67

    Love the move.

    Quality > Quantity

  2. 20

    I think this is maybe too restrictive.

    You should really get inspiration from what Stackoverflow does with reputation points : the more a user contributes positively to the community, the more they gain privileges.

    https://stackoverflow.com/help/whats-reputation
    https://stackoverflow.com/help/privileges

    Maybe allow everyone to signup, but new users can only reply to comments. Once they get some upvotes, they gain more reputation points and can start new threads, etc...
    Similarly you could reward users with reputation points when they help you moderate.

    1. 4

      I think the idea is good, but at the same time, there are other social sites like Reddit that has this concept of karma points and still, it does not seem to stop spammers. An hybrid approach would be what they've done on Wallstreetbets channel, they let you in but won't let you write until your karma reaches a set score. Don't know how it could apply here though 🤪

    2. 1

      That causes "karma grinding". People who needs karma will start to look for easier ways. We will see even more "i will give feedback/money/tips for your product" type of post that has no real value to the community.

    3. 1

      I think this will take longer than what can be configured right now.

      1. 1

        Yeah, but is worth it in the long run. Otherwise this restrictive sign up process is just going to stunt community growth.

    4. 1

      This seems a good approach.

  3. 20

    One thing I may add: It might be nice to create a list or contact form for "I don't know anybody in this space, can I get an invite 'grant' because I do X and Y".

    Personally, I know I've found IndieHackers before knowing anyone in the space. It actually led me to sign up for Twitter and following a bunch of people that I call friends today. I already made a couple bucks online at that point and loved the help.

    Continuously I see folks on totally unrelated places (Facebook of all things, mostly) find out about IndieHackers without being in our 'space'.

    Worst case, you'll not get any signal out of it, but some emails at least. Best case, you're gonna learn more about the folks that want to join & maybe even some content.

    1. 6

      Spam prevention is great and it always helps increase the quality of community discussions, but I can relate to @dqmonn's story. Usually it's hard to find a way into the startup world, especially if you don't know people in the space. When I joined, IH felt like one of the most welcoming places for makers, so please don't lose that in the process!

      An alternative contact form or something similar, for people with no invite codes would definitely be a good way to keep it inclusive whilst preventing spam.

      1. 2

        Same here I don't know anybody and I don't think I would feel a bit excluded with an invite only. but in the mean time courtland said in twitter you can always ask him for an invite in dm and if you read enough about the community and follow IHs I'm pretty sure you can always ask around.

    2. 2

      @ItsKev's comment didn't render for me, great minds think alike 😅

      1. 1

        Totally hahaha! I was confused at first when you mentioned "render" but I got it after reading it a few times. When I read "render" the first thing I think is video related, that's why I was confused 😅

    3. 1

      I agree. I got into IH a month ago and almost panicked until I remembered I (thankfully) had made an account already. Otherwise, I would have known nobody and would have had to shoot my shot on Twitter.

  4. 14

    Pretty good move imo.

    Also, I think that an alternative experiment could be a "request to join" sort of thing, which then takes maybe 12-24hs or something to accept and confirm. That way it will slow down the type of people that quicly create and accoun to post and dip.

    1. 4

      This will not stop them preparing aged accounts.

      1. 2

        Probably.

        Although I would be prone to think that they are not manually creating them. Maybe using a bot or something.

        Maybe If the database sees a bunch of requests of different accounts from the same ip they probably could set up something to shadowban it. (I am not a developer so I am not exactly sure of how complicated that would be)

        1. 2

          Unfortunately spammers have access to far more IP addresses than the average person (by hiring botnets). Meanwhile on the other side, single IP addresses are often shared across multiple people by the design of the network of their organization or internet provider.

          So while IP-based limits feel like the obvious solution, they're unfortunately not. That's what led to the rise of CAPTCHAs, but those have their own problems and are easily bypassed by spammers (it slows them down and/or costs them more money, but they can easily continue registering spam accounts at an unacceptable rate).

  5. 5

    I've been a lurker for about 2 months, and I'm posting for the first time on IH. I'm glad I got in before the invite-only phase, as I didn't know anyone here. :P

    A tiered system like what exists in StackOverflow seems a bit of an overkill, IMO. But having to put up some kind of gating seems inevitable.

    Question out of curiosity to long-time members: Do you have a sense if the proportion of spam grew as the community became larger? (I understand that a large volume of spam is objectively annoying, even if the proportion did not grow...)

  6. 5

    I like the idea overall. Recently the spam has been quite bad. At one point I checked the new posts feed and almost half were spam - obviously I reported them. But there's still only so much you can do.

    Hopefully invite only isn't too much of a deterrent for new people who don't know anyone in the space. @ItsKev's and @dqmonn's idea for requesting to join might be a good way to alleviate that.

    1. 1

      I agree, that was my first thought too, "how would they join if they don't know anyone?" But maybe we can do an "IH academy" , where the right candidates are accepted 😅(jk, that last part is just a dumb idea haha)

  7. 4

    Bold move Courtland.

    Did you consider enforcing a tiered approach?

    Like -
    Account Creation allows you just do upvotes
    After 50 upvotes over 10 days, you can post comments.
    After 10 comments over 5 days, you can create new posts.

    Right now there are similar rules on including links in the description.

    Such rules will deter spammers.

    Of course, people would find ways to go around them as well.

    Balancing inclusivity with fighting spam is hard, and gets harder as the community gets bigger.

    Kudos to you for the decision.

  8. 4

    Seems like a good call, only time will tell but it's great that you're doing something about it.

  9. 3

    I dislike it solely because I don’t do this whole invite thing. I send people here all the time. I literally just used you guys as an example of awesome while discussing how to make an amazing Community because you are such an open yet inclusive space allowing both builders but also customers/lurkers to visit and engage as well. You are very literally doing away with the latter and making it exclusive and only chosen ones can invite others.

    As a Community builder, I’m sad and disappointed you are taking this route. As someone who rarely engages but lurks endlessly, I just don’t get it. Alas, I wish you luck with the changes.

    1. 1

      Hey, Stan, I hear you, this is a real change. It’s great that you send people here all the time. Question: what’s to stop you sending people here all the time via an invite?

      1. 3

        @markjeffery I won’t have any invites to give according to the post.

        “ I'm only granting invite codes to product owners who are actively making useful posts to the community.”

        1. 2

          Yes, thanks Stan, I see that now! I’d read that line but I had no idea it was going to be so crazily restrictive. I own several products and have been pretty active on IH, even featured on Milestone Road https://www.indiehackers.com/post/mark-jeffery-bests-a-self-destructing-robot-delivers-a-physical-product-for-the-first-and-last-time-c1635b59fc yet I have zero invites to give?

          If IH is not to be strangled by this, I think these restrictions need to be dramatically loosened.

  10. 2

    Are there any updates on how this has been doing?

    1. I think lurkers are sometimes undervalued evangelists for a community. I share a lot of what I learn on Indie Hackers with others (sharing how great IH is) even though I rarely post here
    2. This exclusiveness boosts my perceived value of the Indie Hackers community. It makes me want to participate more.
    1. 2

      yes, it's generally going great. i won't get into the nitty gritty numbers, but:

      • spam is pretty much gone, with occasional exceptions
      • new signups have fallen precipitously, as expected, yet…
      • traffic and engagement are slowly ticking up, particularly from registered users
  11. 2

    For me that is actually sad. I have online course for developers who want to become founders. In the course I ask them to join Indie Hackers (it's one of the homeworks).

    Now they can't :(

    1. 1

      Hey, Bogusz, couldn’t you just send invites to all the developers in your course? You’d be one of the most prolific inviters!

      1. 2

        Well I could, of course. But I don't have any! :(

        I'll talk with @csallen how to resolve that issue.

        1. 2

          Right, got it. Now that I look, I have none, too! Seems a bit crazy given that I have followers and points and 3 products with plenty of updates and 3 years on IH. Zero invites despite all that?

          @csallen could you maybe relax the requirements for allowing people to give invites? Most invite-only products and communities have no such requirements: if you’re in, you can get others in. You could still revoke invite privileges from anyone who starts inviting spammers.

  12. 2

    You never know a new initiative unless you try.

    I was confused yesterday why there was an "invite codes" section on my account.

  13. 2

    Great move!

    Crazy enough, I've been following IndieHackers for years... but never signed up till last week. I guess it was the universe sending me a message ;)

  14. 2

    I just made my account yesterday. Phew!

  15. 2

    For every successful community quality beats quantity and active involvement trumps growth rate.
    I think this is the way to go

  16. 2

    Would payment for membership make any sense? I know the hope and goal is to keep IH open to everyone and a revenue model isn't required, but even a modest one time subscription fee (similiar to how @levelsio did with his original slack group) might go a long way to limiting spammers. Paid members can contribute to posts, non-paid members can use site a sREAD ONLY? Maybe grandfather in current members? Just a thought if invite-only doesn't work.

  17. 2

    Maybe you should give some invites for the existing users (based on their previous comments,points, feedback etc).

  18. 2

    it's a pretty good thing but many creative people won't be able to use indie hackers because of it.

  19. 2

    @csallen, I just got 3 codes. Are these sent out manually by your or has the team coded a bot that distributes them?

  20. 1

    The biggest issue I have with this is the fact this recursive dependency - you cant create an account unless you already have an account - actively misdirects people. And if you have a disability and use a screen reader, your going to end up going in circles.

  21. 1

    Given it's been a month since this change, I'm curious to know what the impact has been on retention and acquisition?

    1. 3

      without getting into specifics: much higher retention and much lower acquisition!

      it probably won't come as a huge surprise but a large number of new accounts were being created for the express purpose of spamming our forum.

      1. 1

        Makes sense, thanks for the response.

  22. 1

    I need a code, my friend wants to register. How can I get one?

  23. 1

    Damn I didn't realise how restrictive this was. I was about to send someone here but can't because I don't have an invite code.

    @csallen Why not give a existing members 1 or 2 invites at least?

    If someone is petty enough to spam invites/creation than you can probably pick it up easy anyway.

  24. 1

    So many ways to do this but I personally love this simple approach. Let's test it out and see.

    I believe it is already making IH a better place.

  25. 1

    As well as us old-timers, how about periodically making a bunch of signup codes available to accelerators or startup groups on Discord or Slack?

    Suggest they can be expiring so only valid for a few days at most, and coded enough to identify if that group is a source of spam.

    That allows for the more inclusive spread, especially if through places like Pioneer.App or gsvbootcamp.com who target a lot of international founders.

    Sad to see you have to resort to this, even sadder than I'm unsurprised.

  26. 1

    This is brilliant - some private trackers do something similar:
    maintain good standing by contributing value and you keep basic permissions, abuse permissions and they go away.

    One thing that I've seen work really well is incentivizing "good" invites - if someone you invite contributes value then you get rewarded.

  27. 1

    Yayy! Super excited, partly because I too wanted to try this myself.

    It's interesting that the invites are limited. I thought of unlimited invites as the graph itself will make tracking down spammers fairly trivial. That would also require a report-spam functionality though.

    Can't wait to see how it goes!

  28. 1

    I don't know if that would stop spammers...

    And, another think: the point is not to have people creating everyday, but creating good stuff. (Just in case you decide to reward content creation.)

    You can try it, anyway :)

  29. 1

    This doesn't surprise me, but it is interesting in a way that some (annoying spammer types) have found a way to commoditize what is free from someone else and you've become a part of someone else's bottom line. You can get that too even if you offer a free version of a 'heavy' app.

    Anyway - good idea to make the change.

  30. 1

    This is a bad idea. There has to be a better way, like maybe requiring X points to make new threads, or other factors qualifying how high our submissions rise.

    How do legit new members get in? People are already begging for invite codes on Reddit. What if you dont have any friends that are in?

    I've been a lurker for 10 months with only 7 points, although im a serial entrepreneur and I have zero invite codes so I won't be able to invite a friend if they ask me.

  31. 1

    I agree, even if it's restrictive, with more quality comments and topics and a more engaged community.

  32. 1

    I’m not so sure I like the idea. I understand the motivation behind it, however being an Indie Hacker is about building something that you love, something that hopefully provides you with freedom from your 9-to-5 job, and that should be open to everyone. Those who are new to Indie Hacking might not know people in the community so many have no way to get an invite code, now they’re excluded from the community.

    Spam is always an issue with any platform but removing that freedom to those that are new and those that just want to participate is not the best move in my opinion.

  33. 1

    Wow, radical move. Well done Courtland. Part of the reason I’ve been less active on IH is having to trawl through the spam to find the community. I hope this works!

  34. 1

    Good stuff! You got to do what you got to do to maintain quality. I am a solo founder and have found the content on this platform pure gold. People are lucky to have something like this.

    Thanks for the hard work to make this into a REAL community :)

  35. 1

    Does anyone still receive the community digest? (Asking because I haven't since 18 July.)

    1. 2

      I think it went away because of the spam issue. It felt like the highlighted posts in the community digest were often spam accounts

  36. 1

    Possible Solution - Have a Request to Join Section using which people can show their interest in Joining the community with a brief intro about themselves with some social media profile links and let Active/Old Members Approve/moderate their request.

    People with Invitation Code can Skip the Q and Join immediately. Everyone gets a shot.

    1. 1

      I like this idea.
      I wouldn't have been able to join on this new system but would happily have drafted a paragraph on why I'd like to join which could have been approved by the community.

  37. 1

    Great idea.

    I made a post just a few days ago about the growing volume of spam/fake posts on the discussion boards. Glad to see these changes. IH is a great community, and I expect only greater things in the future!

  38. 1

    I didn’t realize there was so much spam - thanks for implementing this. Will be interesting to see if there is a noticeable difference across IH.

  39. 1

    Nice initiative but I think a request to join option would be great. Users can join and read, to start, post, or vote they need to contribute quality content, or visit a website every day for 7 days, etc.

    I'm really grateful for having access to a site like Indie Hacker and I wish it was available for people who don't have great connections yet.

  40. 1

    Love that you're iterating and testing with us - it feels like at the very least this will give you some good data, and it's a great tactic to see if the spam slows down and overall content quality improves :)

  41. 1

    Would a nominal fee pay wall help?

  42. 1

    This is a good move. Though a malicious user who gets access to an account would just invite other spam accounts if sufficiently motivated, right?

  43. 1

    I think this is a positive step in the right direction 👍

  44. 1

    There are two very BAD moves a community can do:

    1. hide behind a paywall (Medium, I'm looking at you);
    2. become invite-only.
      Congrats on your choice!

    I've never liked this approach, you're actually dumping to your users the responsibility for your lack of moderation - quality might increase (spoiler: it will only to a tiny degree) but at the expense of your community becoming a self-referencing closed circle of people praising each other's content.

    A site as big as StackOverflow, with a stellar quality content, became what it is by encouraging people to partecipate freely, not by requiring their being on secret lists or part of enclosed circles.

    Remember that a community grows by opening its arms, not by closing it to a selected few. Anyway, I'll stand true to my beliefs and leave.
    Good luck to every indiehacker out there

  45. 1

    All for it man! Great move.

  46. 1

    Thanks for this Courtland! I've mostly been a (non-registered) lurker for the past couple of years and have learnt heaps from you and the IH community - both online and from the podcasts. Will definitely try to find the time to post and be more active/helpful going forwards. Two thumbs up for making this move and keeping up the quality of this site + posts. Keep IH awesome!

  47. 1

    Just adding a point that's been touched on already in other forms..

    I bet a good many indie devs won't know any others before they come here. Invite-only is fine but there needs to be an alternative path in.

  48. 1

    I think it's a great move to see if it helps curb the issues! And like you said, if it doesn't work you can change it back :)

  49. 1

    Great move! I started visiting the front page less and less after the introduction of third party links. I hope this will help with the quality of posts.

  50. 1

    Well done!it makes sense

  51. 1

    Good move. We don’t want IH to become Quora.

  52. 1

    Hmm, will be interesting to see how this shakes out.

  53. 1

    Good news and bad news for you I guess. Good news is you're a popular site that people will try to spam, bad news is you're a popular site that people are willing to spam.

    I've seen other invite only places and since I don't know anyone at all so I just read and can't participate. It's annoying but what can you do.

    You do what you think is right to make this site better. It's your site. Good luck anyways.

  54. 1

    Awesome! This will definitely make community better.

  55. 1

    Content moderation is hard, and low quality posts will kill a community. If invites are what it takes to stop that, then I'm on board.

  56. 1

    I'm glad I got it when I did! Thank you for creating this platform. I'm just diving in myself, but finding it useful.

  57. 1

    Love that move and the courage behind it

  58. 1

    I think it’s a good move for now because it solves the immediate problem. You always have the option of doing something incremental later if you find you’re missing valuable signups.

  59. 1

    I always wondered how many people use Indie Hackers. It feel like being part of a small community even with signups open, and lots of links elsewhere to posts here.

  60. 1

    I think this is a step in the right direction! What do you think of like a paid membership offer as well? For insiders who are super serious about giving back/posting, etc. Doesn't have to be much.

  61. 1

    Nice move! Quality over Quantity!

  62. 1

    Thank you.

    More transparent moderation would be nice, like "removed spam posts" or "moderation actions taken" in a weekly report. Reporting a malware site that has been up for 12 hours+ with zero feedback is a tad disheartening.

    Maybe this change will remove the need for the above entirely,
    Either way, thank you for working towards making this community great!

  63. 1

    This is good decision I feel

  64. 1

    Makes sense. I like that better than a "request to join" because I always forget I signed up and then when something comes back, I'm either too busy to follow up or have forgotten what I want to say, then I lose the email in the email rain. Having an immediate action plan just works better for my case. There are a lot of communities out there which want a maker's attention.

  65. 1

    That sounds like a great move. I joined literally a few days ago and the amount of spam was quite off-putting.

  66. 1

    I'm down with that. I love the IH community but as you say, it's starting to get spammy. This move should help.

    Or you could maybe try the Reddit style karma-based permissions.

  67. 1

    Glad to hear!! I noticed that lately sorting by new, is just a giant list of spam links. Glad to see this won't be a problem anymore.

  68. 1

    Well there goes my million-dollar "private indie hackers without the spammers" product idea.

    (jk, love this!)

  69. 1

    It seems a great idea to prevent spam. Go for it!

  70. 1

    Meanwhile me to myself [who join IH previous month]

    "Thanks god I'm already in"

  71. 1

    Thank you! Great decision.

  72. 1

    Amazing idea. We needed this for a while now and the team shipped it.

    Thanks!

  73. 1

    Agree with the idea, a more usefull and quality site is what all of us want.

    To share experiences and help each other and for that the people present need to be here with the same goal.

  74. 1

    Good move! +1 from me

  75. 1

    Great step moving forward, I think it's really unfortunate, that spammers always take-over cool spaces, but hey, that's how the internet works.

  76. 1

    This comment was deleted 3 months ago.

Trending on Indie Hackers
I watch how IH is turning into a marketing sink, and I feel sad :( 40 comments Bootstrapped my productivity app to 700 paying customers! AMA. 24 comments Bootstrapped my SaaS to $20,000 MRR. AMA! 19 comments How we got our SEO clicks from 1 to 1200 a day 14 comments Small pivot. Big redesign. Tell us what you think. 4 comments How to bootstrapp a dev agency to $1M ARR 1 comment