Skout Borks Its Code, Spams Its Users, Cops To The Error And Apologizes

Skout is a mobile app that wants to help you find fine folks around you. It’s raised $22 million from Andreessen Horowitz and is more than half a decade old. It also had a recent spate of spamming-the-hell-out-of-its-users that it has now publicly apologized for. It’s an episode worth digging into.

A friend of mine over for dinner complained that Skout had sent a message, using her name and such, to a friend of hers, who had asked about it. She hadn’t sent the note herself, making the situation odd. Was Skout sending out messages under the names of its users to drive engagement?

Ironically, her friend sent her the same note, also unwittingly. Something was afoot. My friend’s inbox had a problem that was now familiar: It contained dozens of the same message that she had “sent” her friend and that he had sent to her. The same note, again and again, from other users.

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This had the appearance of Skout essentially spamming its users using other user profiles to drive activity. We’ll get to intent and cause in a moment, but whatever the case, the situation did drive engagement. My friend logged back in, as did her compatriot, and here we are now writing about Skout. So, what happened?

According to Skout, this is an episode of the Honest Fuckup. Following a bit of email, Skout today blogged that it had noticed the episode via my comments, and had essentially just screwed up quite publicly:

What’s up with the What’s up messages? Turns out we had shipped the wrong code from our internal testing environment. This has now been corrected [..]

The message that actually got sent out was “What’s up!”. We understand this was confusing and have corrected the message today. It was never meant to say “What’s up!”, and is a total SNAFU on our end. We work hard and long hours to make Skout better, faster and more fun — for you guys. Sometimes moving fast introduces bugs, such as this one. And I’m glad we were able to correct it fast.

Harumph. Some of this feels off. A company with Skout’s scale certainly tracks its metrics. It must have noticed the spike in messages being sent. Surely it saw that they were all the same. It claims to have not noticed until I emailed them: “Big thanks to Alex Wilhelm who notified us about this!” Odd.

Whatever the case, Skout has copped to a large public mistake, which should be commended in a small sense, even if we perhaps lack the full story behind the incident.

Why does Skout matter? I haven’t used the product except in the context of this story, but Andreessen Horowitz is perhaps the smartest money in tech at the moment: Companies attached to it are frankly more interesting by association. Also, with $22 million from the crew at a16z, you would probably think that this sort of mistake would not occur.

Asleep at the wheel or mendacious, I can’t tell you, but if you do Skout, you probably won’t get any more spam of this ilk again.

Update: Skout provided TechCrunch with a follow-up statement that is worth reading:

At Skout, our community comes first. With millions of highly engaged users from Hong Kong to NYC, we take great pride in treating our members with the highest respect. The only way to build a long term sustainable network, like Skout — is to stay true and focused on the vision that connecting people with each other will create a better world, and provide a delightful experience in that process. Intentionally spamming our own users would not only go against our standards, but also be incredibly shortsighted. And that is something we would never do.

I’m moving my view of the situation into the “honest mistake” category following continued discussions with the firm. And, public points to Skout for taking the issue head on.

Top Image Credit: waferboard