Chris Bohn (known as “CB” here at Etsy) works deep below the surface of Etsy on our databases, but is also the lead engineer on a project called SCRAM. Ian Malpass is the lead engineer on the Atlas project. These two projects are an important part of “Marketplace Integrity” — our plan to improve how we police the marketplace and identify and deal with members who break Etsy’s rules.
Hi, I’m CB, and I’m responsible for “Systems for Catching Resellers and Abusers of the Marketplace” (or “SCRAM,” for short).
The SCRAM initiative is charged with making the Etsy marketplace a safe and trusted locus of independent commerce. Etsy has created the most vibrant online marketplace for handmade, vintage and supplies, sold directly by our micro-entrepreneurs. The sheer mass of the Etsy marketplace creates its own gravitational field, pulling in sellers and shoppers alike.
Unfortunately, those same gravitational forces also pull in others whose interests are not aligned with Etsy’s purpose or policies. If you’re a regular in Etsy’s community Forums, you may be familiar with the term “reseller” for a shop that doesn’t abide by the spirit of Etsy. Simply put, the classic reseller is someone who attempts to pass off mass-produced, mass-market goods as handmade items. However, spotting a bonafide reseller is not always a matter of black and white. Etsy policy allows a legitimate range of business models under the “handmade by you” ethos, from sole-proprietors to collectives to makers who utilize limited production assistance. So this can be a grey area when it comes to community flagging. Detecting, discerning and dispatching actual resellers is an important and sizable task.
To that end, enter SCRAM, which is essentially an internal Etsy “bot” that prowls the many halls of shops and listings, looking for probable resellers and other troublemakers. Since SCRAM was introduced recently, it has identified several hundred potential resellers, each of which our Support Team is reviewing for appropriate action, ranging from gentle reminders to outright banishment. Furthermore, SCRAM pays particular attention to catching those reseller shops that seem to pop up overnight, stuffed with mass-produced products.
We can’t go into detail on how SCRAM works, other than to assure you that it is a sophisticated system based on clever algorithms and heuristics. Most members in the Etsy community will never even realize that SCRAM is at work, because it operates hidden from view. Be assured, though, that resellers and other marketplace abusers are feeling its sting. SCRAM also does other things, such as preventing malicious shop buyouts and bagging those using Etsy as a forum for pitching various unrelated products, causes and plights.
Moving forward, we will continue to develop SCRAM, always asking “is there something that SCRAM can do to make the Etsy marketplace even better?”
I’m Ian, and it’s my job to make sure that the staff here at Etsy have the tools they need to do their jobs effectively. The Atlas project covers all the tools we use to manage the content of the site.
One of projects that we’ve prioritized is to rebuild the flag-processing tools we have. While CB’s SCRAM tools work really, really well, there’s a limit to what automated tools can spot. That’s where flagging comes in: Etsy members can report listings that break Etsy’s rules. These flags then come into a system within Atlas that allows our Content Team to review the flagged items and take appropriate action — anything from an email explaining the problem and requesting an edit to a listing to outright termination of the account for the most egregious violations. You can read more about what the Content Team does here.
Etsy’s members do an outstanding job of flagging content (thank you), but the internal tools we have to handle those flags were written when Etsy was a lot smaller, with fewer sellers and listings — and so fewer instances of problematic content.
The most pressing problem is how we handle resellers that the SCRAM system has detected, but which are easily spotted by people. To that end, we’ve added the option to flag an entire shop as “Items are not handmade, vintage, or crafting supplies.” Members can use that to quickly flag a seller, and we can fast-track those alerts to the right people for verification and banishment.
Beyond that, we’ll be overhauling how we view the flags coming into Atlas so that we can properly prioritize the worst-offending sellers and content. We’ll also be improving how we manage our interactions with flagged sellers. Fortunately, the vast majority of flagged sellers are simply making honest mistakes, like not tagging commercial supplies properly. We want to make sure that we can clearly explain the problems and guide them on the right path, but also have ways to really focus on the persistent rule-breakers and remove them from the site. It’s a big task, and we won’t get there immediately, but it’s a really important project for the health of Etsy and one I’m really excited to be involved in.
So do, please, keep flagging, and we’ll keep working to make best use of your eagle eyes.
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