Online Community Software Must Improve Upon the Word Censor
That’s one of the questions I asked Brian Pontarelli on this episode of Community Signal. He’s the CEO of Inversoft, a leader in filtering tech for online communities. Plus:
- Filtering systems that involve the user and don’t simply remove their post
- The benefits of unified user management
- Why Inversoft caters to smaller online communities
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“It does take quite a bit of engineering to implement a really good filter. As an example, we’ve been working on our algorithms for about six or seven years now, and we get bugs pretty regularly and turn them around as quickly as we can, but it’s just really hard because language is hard, and it’s hard to understand inflections, conjugations and then all the crazy ways people try to get around filters.” -@bpontarelli
“When a community gets larger, you really need a more sophisticated filtering tool, and I think that building those and really investing in them hasn’t been on the road map for a lot of the online community software vendors. And that could be also influenced by the fact that their customers don’t make enough noise about the lack of those features and the lack of sophistication in the tools.” -@bpontarelli
“Implementations for single sign-on, and large-scale unification of user management tools, can take 6, 9, 12 and 18 months. One of our customers, they implemented a really large-scale effort to unify all of their users’ accounts. It took 18 months, and it cost almost $4 million.” -@bpontarelli
“I am a firm believer in the fact that the biggest impact that any company can have in the community space is when they create something that has the potential to reach small and mid-sized communities, not just big dollar enterprise clients. Because that’s where 99.9% of online communities are.” -@patrickokeefe
About Brian Pontarelli
Brian Pontarelli is the founder and CEO of Inversoft, a company that offers industry-leading platform technologies for online communities. Its clients range from startups to Fortune 500 corporations across a wide range of industries including gaming, financial services, healthcare, education, entertainment and consumer goods.
Brian is a member of the organizing committee for Denver Startup Week, the largest free entrepreneur event in the US. Before starting Inversoft, he studied computer engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder. After graduating, he worked at a variety of companies including Orbitz, BEA, US Freightways, XOR and texturemedia. Brian is a regular conference speaker and has published numerous articles on technical projects and tools as well as identity and reputation management.
- CleanSpeak, Inversoft’s profanity filtering and moderation software
- Passport, Inversoft’s user management software
- Gather, Inversoft’s upcoming forum software
- CleanSpeak’s pricing
- Brian on LinkedIn
- Brian on Twitter
- Brian’s blog
00:03 Welcome to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals sponsored by Emoderation: smart social, globally. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe:
00:20 Patrick O’Keefe: Hello, and thank you for making Community Signal a part of your day. On this edition, we’re talking with Brian Pontarelli. Brian is the founder and CEO of Inversoft, a company that offers industry leading platform technologies for online communities. Its clients range from startups to Fortune 500 corporations across a wide range of industries, including gaming, financial services, healthcare, education, entertainment and consumer goods. Brian is a member of the Organizing Committee for Denver Startup Week, the largest free entrepreneur event in the US. Before starting Inversoft, he studied Computer Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder. After graduating he worked at a variety of companies including Orbitz, BEA, US Freightways, XOR and Texturemedia. Brian is a regular conference speaker and has published numerous articles on technical projects and tools as well as identity and reputation management. Brian, welcome to the program.
01:05 Brian Pontarelli: Yeah, great. Thanks for having me.
01:07 Patrick O’Keefe: Thanks for coming on. You’re a software engineer, so you create software that solves problems. Why did you choose to try and solve online community problems?
01:14 Brian Pontarelli: Yeah, that’s a great question. So one of the jobs that I had after I was working at Orbitz was a couple of people I worked with at Orbitz decided to do a startup and it was called Naymz and had this really horrible spelling. It was N-A-Y-M-Z. And what were doing was we were purchasing AdWords for people’s names and doing a lot of SEO to try and help them with their reputation, their online reputation.
01:39 Patrick O’Keefe: Okay.
01:40 Brian Pontarelli: And so, obviously, this was gonna be a social network and an online community of different professionals that were trying to manage their reputation. And so we really wanted to understand how these communities were built and we also wanted to understand the problems and the pitfalls. So one of the things we realized early is that, obviously, Google doesn’t like profanity and other types of language in their AdWords. So we immediately realized we needed to do something about that and as I started looking around, there really wasn’t any good tools out there at the time. This was back in say, 2005. And so I said, “Well, hey, do you guys mind if I kind of go home and build this in my spare time and then I’ll just give it to you guys for free?”. They were like, “Yeah, that’s fine. We don’t really wanna focus on that, we wanna focus on the community.” So that’s kind of where the idea for the profanity filtering piece of it came from and it also helped me sort of refine and think about how communities are built as well and so that was sort of the foundation of Inversoft.
02:37 Patrick O’Keefe: Okay. And CleanSpeak is Inversoft’s profanity filtering and moderation tool. For people who use CleanSpeak, what’s the workflow like for a piece of content that passes through it from start to finish? What sort of decisions are being made about it?
02:48 Brian Pontarelli: Yeah, absolutely. So as the content comes into CleanSpeak, the first thing that happens is that CleanSpeak analyzes it and applies a number of different filters. So, we have an email filter, a URL filter, obviously a blacklist filter, a whitelist filter. And so as CleanSpeak analyses these things, it makes decisions about the danger and offensiveness of the messages as well as it can look for URLs that might be gold harvesting or spamming URLs or phishing. And so as it flows through that workflow it comes out with a variety of different scores and based on those scores it can be configured to place that piece of content into an alert queue for a human to look at, a moderator, or it can simply just reject the message or it can replace pieces of the messages with asterisks or whatever you want to do.
03:41 Brian Pontarelli: So, the message comes back to the game or to the forum or to whatever system is using CleanSpeak and it’ll indicate how the message was handled. As the content flows in from one user, we start to build a user profile for that user and when moderators actually get in to work the queues and see what’s going on in the community, they can look at it from two different perspectives. They can look at it form the content perspective, individual messages, or they can look at it form the user perspective and really get a deep understanding of how the users are behaving, what type of content they’re generating and the conversations they’re having with other users. We also do some behavioral analysis and scoring to over time, try and really understand how these users are working within the community and whether or not disciplines need to be applied to them.
04:31 Patrick O’Keefe: And when you talk about phishing and those sorts of problems, I know that CleanSpeak, obviously, has its own algorithms and technologies in place that identify and separate profanity from legitimate speech, but do you also pull in from databases that are available for phishing and for those types of things? Like when I go to a site on Google, they’ll have a warning sometimes and they’ll say, “This site is phishing,” and they’re pulling it from something. Do you also participate in those types of databases?
04:55 Brian Pontarelli: Not currently, though we’ve looked at them, and a lot of times, the churn is so fast that it’s hard to keep up with. And so we find that when companies really wanna protect their community often they take anything that has a URL and they put it into a queue and they do approvals on it. So they make sure that each one is looked at and the other tool that they can use within CleanSpeak is they have a whitelist. So, most of our companies are kids focused or large brands so they simply wanna allow URLs and links within their own domain, say disney.com, but they wanna reject everything else. And so you can configure that within CleanSpeak using both our URL blacklist and URL whitelist and can really effectively manage spamming, harvesting, gold farming, all those things.
05:45 Patrick O’Keefe: And I see it becomes smarter as it learns based upon the moderation and maybe the user reputation score, so that when someone is more trustworthy, they can post links? That’s possible, right?
05:53 Brian Pontarelli: Yeah, you can do that based on the user’s score.
05:56 Patrick O’Keefe: Now speaking of involving users, in your filtering systems, have you experimented at all with any solutions that involve the community member in the process of their post being filtered as opposed to just passing the post over to the software or a human moderator to handle? For example, let’s say you have a user that has great reputation. Maybe they posted this long great thread, and it’s got this one word in it. Are there any solutions that you’ve tried that were given the opportunity to maybe edit that post and say, “Hey, here is this term, this one word in your 2000-word post that’s problematic. You might wanna edit it out and then submit it” and then it goes through. Have you done anything like that?
06:30 Brian Pontarelli: Yes. So most of the forums that we work with, either our forum or Vanilla or any of the others out there, the workflow that we often suggest is exactly that, where if CleanSpeak rejects it, you give the user the opportunity to edit it and fix the problem rather than just rejecting it and say, “Sorry, your post is now deleted”. Additionally, moderators can use CleanSpeak to edit a post. So if a post gets flagged by another user or generate some alert within CleanSpeak and a moderator gets in there and is looking through it, they can just click an Edit button, quickly edit the problem area, hit Save and it updates the forum in real time.
07:07 Patrick O’Keefe: That’s interesting because the idea of giving the user the opportunity to edit their post is something that I’ve kind of written about over the years and I’ve wanted platforms to integrate because it’s something that I came up with, I don’t know, maybe 10 years ago and had a custom hack written for the software that we use. And it really has had a dramatic impact on how we moderate profanity because it kind of removes us from the process. And it’s not plausible for many communities, especially based upon the scale of their audience. But for many online communities in that small to mid-sized area where it’s not such a major issue just to give those people the opportunity to edit the post, most people tend to do the right thing so, I always try to get people to innovate on the word censor in forum software and no one really cares.
07:50 Brian Pontarelli: Yeah. We have a couple of customers that fall into that sort of category where they’re not like a huge enterprise with 20 forums and a hundred moderators, and they use CleanSpeak to really manage that profanity interaction. Because often it’s just one word and people are happy to take it out because it doesn’t detract from the post.
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08:41 Patrick O’Keefe: Brian, what’s the peak of filtering technology for community management? For example, does it get so good that humans are simply eliminated from the process?
08:49 Brian Pontarelli: I don’t think it’s quite there yet. I think we’re quite a number of years off, maybe decades. So one of the problems is that, understanding intent, context and really understanding over time what people are saying is difficult. You can simply inflect your voice differently, change the tone of your voice when you’re speaking with somebody and you can have a very different meaning. And so similarly you can flip two words around and you can completely change the meaning of sentences. And I think that technology as it stands and a lot of the AI and machine-learning systems really are at a deficit if that’s all they do. Because the technology just hasn’t progressed enough where those things can completely replace humans. That’s why we tend to favor and most of our large customers tend to favor generating alerts, even if let’s say 50% of it is okay, they still wanna see everything.
09:44 Brian Pontarelli: And so we use more of a rules-based system where every single time somebody types the word, just use a nice word like “suck” or something like that. It will end up going into the queue, a human will look at it and most of the time that’s okay but they wanna catch those a couple of times where it’s not okay and somebody’s being bullied. And then they can really proactively take a discipline on that user and say, “Sorry you can’t behave like that”. And oftentimes users, after their disciplined and they’ve worked so long to build their account and they’re really proud of it. If their account gets locked, they tend to really change their attitude and they come back and they’re much more productive.
10:23 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, and it’s important to differentiate for people who might me listening to this because most community professionals don’t deal with a community targeted at children. And when you do that, it’s a very different experience where you do want to filter through everything and even terms that may seem harmless to a community of professionals or a community targeted at adults can in fact be harmful when you are dealing with a community of children.
10:46 Brian Pontarelli: Yeah, absolutely. And we do some of the similar type things for adults when things get progressively more offensive, we tend to say, “Well, you should probably involve a human.” Sure you can keep rejecting the posts and keep rejecting the messages but at some point, someone should look at this user and decide whether or not they need to lock their account.
11:04 Patrick O’Keefe: Have you ever had any clients who were like, “We’re just going to forget hiring someone to look over the content. We’ll just use your technology and set it to remove and ban based on a reputation score”. So then they go to sort of a completely automated moderation. I guess in some way, completely automated community management. Have you ever seen that?
11:21 Brian Pontarelli: Yeah. We have a number of customers that do that, and mostly it’s because of revenue and the ability to have a full-time employee that works on this stuff. And once they get larger they often realize that they wanna add a community manager or community moderator. But when they’re small it’s really hard and so we work with them to tune the systems and tune their workflow and processes so that they can be most effective when it’s fully automated.
11:46 Patrick O’Keefe: That’s interesting. A lot of community professionals would say that’s kind of a backwards approach where if you go all-automated your community is going to struggle to grow or at least not grow as much as it could if you had someone who is responsible for it and then when it gets bigger you hire someone but maybe it doesn’t get there, I don’t know. It’s kind of a backward thing but I guess it’s a decision made when dollars are at stake and maybe people don’t recognize, I don’t know, maybe the true impact of community.
12:09 Brian Pontarelli: Yeah, I agree with you. Building a community takes a lot of work and so having a full-time community moderator and community manager that helps grow it, engage, and really make the community successful is important but it’s also expensive.
12:23 Patrick O’Keefe: Right.
12:23 Brian Pontarelli: So you have to balance it out. I really like the fractional people, so if there’s a lot of community managers that are stay-at-home moms and they work 10 hours a week, and I really think that those people can be super effective in those 10 hours a week and really help grow the community as well as moderate it when it’s small and then as it grows, you can add a full-time person. So we tend to try to get our customers to really think in those terms if they can.
12:50 Patrick O’Keefe: That make sense. And this is a show for a community of professionals, but it’s worth noting what you just mentioned is that a lot of communities started as a hobby or really, as a part time or as some sort of outsource solution where they hire a community manager for a certain number of hours a week and those people, even though they’re not maybe full-time community professionals, they still can manage these very large communities. And a lot of the biggest, best communities online were started by a hobbyist. So that group of people needs these types of solutions as well, just as much as an enterprise level company would.
13:20 Brian Pontarelli: Yeah, definitely.
13:21 Patrick O’Keefe: As I mentioned, one area of forum software that I like to talk about is the word censor feature because people tend to ignore it. There’s a lot of different players entering the forum software space and no one really seems to talk about it. But because good filtering has the potential to truly move the needle for communities, big and small, do you ever think we’ll get to a point where better filtering technology is simply a more standard feature of the most popular community platforms, not just at the enterprise level but even at the lower cost or open source level?
13:49 Brian Pontarelli: I’ve always wondered that. We seem to just be one of the only players that’s really trying to take those two aspects of it, which is profanity filtering moderation, as well as the forum in the online community software and try to meld them together. Again, I’m not really sure why this happens but it seems like everyone else just says, “Put in something that looks for the obvious words as long as they have either a space on the other side, so there’s just a very distinct word, we’ll find it and then we can just have a fairly simple tool that says, ‘Reject that post’ or ‘Allow the user to edit it.'” And so, they don’t really get into the more advanced and sophisticated features that CleanSpeak and other tools have. And I’m not really sure why they do that. It could be that they just don’t hear it much from their customers or their customers might use CleanSpeak or another system and that’s sufficient. But I do think that online community software systems should really start looking at these things, as well as unified user management and unified user profiles and single sig… On. And I think there’s a lot of aspects that are still lacking in the space that are gonna help these community professionals really manage, even at a very large enterprise level.
15:03 Patrick O’Keefe: Obviously, Inversoft is a company that is built around filtering technology and you just recently launched a second product and we’ll get into that in a second, but you’re a company that does that one thing. Is it such a complex problem that maybe software vendors are just too focused on creating, I don’t know, admin functionality in the frontend of the software, that it’s just too difficult? I don’t know. What’s the path of that? Obviously, it starts at the top end where the enterprise software companies have more resources and more money because they’re paid so much more than the lower end players, but is it investing the resources? Is it buying someone? Is it making a licensing deal where you’re paid for a software? How do you get to that point where it is more of a standard feature?
15:40 Brian Pontarelli: Yeah, I think it does take quite a bit of engineering to actually implement a really good filter. As an example, we’ve been working on our algorithms for about six or seven years now and we get bugs pretty regularly and turn them around as quickly as we can, but it’s just really hard because language is hard, and it’s hard to understand inflections, conjugations and then all the crazy ways people try to get around filters like leet speak in spaces and periods and dollar signs for S’s. And so, when you take a look at the naive approach, it’s really easy to get it up and running quickly. But when the community gets larger, you really need a more sophisticated tool and I think that building those and really investing in them hasn’t been on the road map for a lot of the online community software vendors. And that could be also influenced by the fact that their customers don’t make enough noise about the lack of those features and the lack of sophistication in the tools. And so, the more people ask for it, the more the software vendors are gonna realize, like, “Oh, geez, this is a core feature. I really need to implement this,” or “I need to partner with somebody that already has the tools and get them tightly integrated.”
16:57 Patrick O’Keefe: That’s a great point. It’s funny because moderation features, admin features maybe don’t always get talked about but for those of us who manage online communities, that’s kind of the whole thing. It is our experience. It’s what we live everyday.
17:09 Brian Pontarelli: Yeah, absolutely. And a lot of times, community moderators, they live across products and they end up logging into the vBulletin backend to do some moderation feature and then they log in to a different backend to lock a user’s account and then yet another system to discipline the user in another way. So, we found the more and more customers that we work with that have multiple applications unifying all those controls, so that they can log in to one place, see all the users’ activity across multiple forms, multiple games, multiple websites, and then being able to lock a user’s account across their entire enterprise in one click. Those are huge benefits for the efficiency of the moderation team.
17:51 Patrick O’Keefe: So, you’ve talked about unified user management a little bit here so let’s talk about that. In the pre-show questionnaire when I asked you to name a community-related topic you were passionate about right now, you mentioned unified user management. Inversoft recently launched a product called Passport which can power registration, log in, single sign-on, and user management. A company might have forums, apps, websites, support desks and other areas that require a login, and this allows them to unify all of them into a single sign-on which is more easily tracked and can be used to block a user from all services at once. Now, unified login systems are typically an in-house endeavor when they’re attempted. Inversoft is known for filtering and you don’t really have a lot of products. In fact, you only have two currently in the market. With the launch of Passport, obviously, this is something you believe in. What’s the pitch here? Why is this something that organizations should add to their budget?
18:38 Brian Pontarelli: The big pitch for us is we’re trying to reduce development time and costs to get this unified system where they can track users across all of their applications. We’ve seen that implementations for single sign-on and large-scale unification of user management tools, these things can take six, nine, 12 and 18 months. One of our customers, they implemented a really large-scale effort to unify all of their users’ accounts, and it took 18 months and it cost almost $4 million. And we figure, okay, that’s fine and they got it done and it works, but what if we could build a system that could do all of those things and unify all their users’ accounts, but we do it in days or weeks instead of months? We’re saving them a massive amount of money, but then it automatically hooks up to the CleanSpeak tool that they’re already using and so then they can filter usernames and they can discipline between tools, and they can see all the content that the user’s generating across all of their systems.
19:42 Brian Pontarelli: As we think about these things in the enterprise scale, it just seemed natural and we had so many customers that were asking, “What forum software are you using? What single sign-on can we use? Do you guys integrate with this? Do you guys integrate with that?” And that sort of helped us plan our roadmap. The vision is, if we can stitch together and have five or six products that all interact with the user, whether or not it’s a support system, analytics, obviously single sign-on and registration, moderation and filtering, the more that we build out that platform, the easier it is for us to go to one of our customers and say, “Look, we know that you’re building out single sign-on and we know that you’re looking at adding new forums, and you’re also using CleanSpeak for moderation. We can help you with all of these and we can dramatically reduce your costs and your development time to get them up and running.”
20:34 Patrick O’Keefe: It sounds like a big part of it is, there’s all these solutions out there, there’s all these tools, there’s all these different ways you can interact with your community. You can choose this forum software, you can choose this support desk, you can build an app, but they don’t really talk to one another. They don’t really bring you under a single dashboard that you can use to look at the users and how they’re using these different services. This is a tool that allows all of those different services you use, the software you use, the app, the website, the support desk, whatever to communicate with one another.
21:02 Brian Pontarelli: Exactly. Kind of stitches everything together. We also noticed that there was sort of a lack of localization, amazingly enough. We’re a global world, so everything is multilingual now and most of our customers are working in multiple languages. We just kept getting these requests like, “Hey, do you guys know of an emailing system that we can use to communicate with users in their native language?” Or “Hey, can you guys hook up CleanSpeak so that it can handle all these different languages? Because we have 14 forums, one for each of the languages that we support.” So, we’ve been adding that as another really big benefit to our tools is rather than having to build all of these localization features yourself, or wait for 12 vendors to implement them for you, we are going to provide a comprehensive platform of tools that is localized already and it can handle all the languages that you need, and it really allows you to engage your users and engage your customers in their native language.
22:01 Patrick O’Keefe: That’s interesting. Inversoft is working on a third product, Gather, a forum and community platform which is in beta. Now, I believe in forums. I wrote a book about forums, and I’ve done a lot of work with them. Over the last few years, several companies have popped up launching in that space, which is great. Their pitches are all relatively similar. Other software is antiquated, we’re modern. Some of them have a sort of arrogance, even I would say a Messiah complex where they are here to save forums because all the old stuff is garbage. I’m glad you haven’t gone that route in your marketing so far, at least how you’re describing Gather. But why are you getting involved in community software especially when you have a filtering product that you presumably want software vendors to work with and even recommend to their customers rather than viewing you as competition? What’s driving you to enter the community software market?
22:49 Brian Pontarelli: That’s a great question. We tend to build software when we hear enough customers complaining. Over the last three years, we’ve been involved with a number of fairly large forum migration or community building projects, and then each one, we heard sort of the same thing. They’d come to us and they’d say, “Hey, which forum platforms does CleanSpeak integrate with? ‘Cause we’ve already selected CleanSpeak and we’re using it for these five different games and our website and all these other properties, and now we’re gonna add a forum but we wanna minimize our dev time and we really wanna find something that can hook up to everything else easily.” That’s both hooking up to CleanSpeak but also hooking up to their single sign-on or whatever else it might be. We did a number of pretty thorough evaluations of a number of different products, and each one, they really were lacking both profanity filtering and moderation tools. They weren’t already hooked up to CleanSpeak because it was another vendor, and a lot of times it just required a lot of development to get these tools to work the way that our customers wanted them.
23:53 Brian Pontarelli: So we sort of asked the customer, “Hey, if we had a tool that was a forum but it also could do maybe some Q&A like Quora or Stack Overflow, and you could really tweak it and customize it, plus it had an API where you could pull foreign posts into the game, make them searchable so people could look up posts and try and figure out maybe how to get past a level. Would that be interesting to you? And we heard the exact same thing each time, they were like, “If you had that right now, I would buy it right now, but we need it right now so we’re going to have to build it ourselves.”
24:26 Brian Pontarelli: And so, after we heard that a number of times, we jut decided well, it seems like a natural progression. We take the profanity filter and moderation tool we already have, we add forums to it, and then we add single sign-on and now we have this really cool platform that we’re already getting requests to build. And unfortunately, it does make it challenging to integrate with other forum vendors, but if a customer asks for it, that other forum vendor is probably going to integrate with CleanSpeak because that’s what the customer needs. And so we’ve already been in that situation a couple of times even after we launched Gather into beta. So, we think that it’s going to work out okay and we’re hoping to gain some more of that market, where we can really help these companies build engaging interactive online communities.
25:14 Patrick O’Keefe: So, it sounds like it’s community platform with kind of moderation built in first as a core component because that’s where your, really, your knowledge and your experience lies.
25:24 Brian Pontarelli: Yeah, that was sort of one of the fundamentals. We wanted to make sure it was a really safe online community.
25:31 Patrick O’Keefe: Is your plan for it to be a strong standalone product where let’s say someone doesn’t use CleanSpeak, right? Let’s say they wanna tie into that API and use someone else. Is that something that will be possible and work well?
25:43 Brian Pontarelli: Eventually. So, we built it so that the filtering and moderation currently only hooks up to CleanSpeak, but we’re also implementing a plug-in system so that way, if in the future someone wanted to use an in-house tool that they’ve already built for filtering and moderation, they could do so via a plug-in.
26:00 Patrick O’Keefe: When it comes to pricing Gather, are you going after the higher end Lithiums of the world or is it something that, I don’t know, someone who might be interested in a vBulletin or a XenForo would be able to attain?
26:13 Brian Pontarelli: So interestingly, you nailed sort of the two main markets right now. It’s either free and open source, sort of that low end XenForo, vBulletin, or the very high end, with the Jive and the Lithiums. And there’s nobody really in the middle. And so, what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to capture sort of that middle market and we’re trying to help companies that have budget for it and they really want to invest in their community, less of the hobbyist approach, but they don’t want to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year on it. So, that’s kind of where we’re looking at our pricing for Gather.
26:49 Patrick O’Keefe: Interesting, and you mentioned a moment ago kind of the difficulty in integrating with different forum software and different community software platforms when it comes to CleanSpeak integration or CleanSpeak add-ons with different platforms. Where does the responsibility for that lie? Do you program integrations for the most popular platforms? Do you expect those communities to do it or the company who is working with CleanSpeak and using CleanSpeak to have their own internal dev resources create those integrations or where does that fall?
27:14 Brian Pontarelli: So to date, it’s always fallen on the companies that buy CleanSpeak to do the integration. Most of them have in-house devs or they have outsource dev shop. And even though we’ve offered to write it for them or to maintain it for them, most of the time they want to use their resources that they already have, so that they keep that expertise in-house. But we’re seeing more and more that customers want us to build those integrations and build those plug-ins. And so this year, that’s one of our focuses is to try and build some more of the common integrations, so that way, CleanSpeak comes a little more turnkey.
27:48 Patrick O’Keefe: I am a firm believer in the fact that the biggest impact that any company can have in the community space is when they create something that has the potential to reach small and mid-size communities, not just big dollar enterprise clients. Because that’s where 99.9% of online communities are. And to that end, I was happy to see that CleanSpeak has pricing that can make sense for communities of all sizes. You have Disney, Activision and other well known brands as customers and they presumably pay you a lot of money. It would be very easy for you to simply focus on that. Why do you even entertain the $10, $50, $75 a month customer?
28:22 Brian Pontarelli: I think, it’s important for us to provide tools even for the small startups, or the hobbyists, that they can use to keep that community thriving and really keep it engaged and clean. And if we only went for the big guys, well sure you know we could focus on that solely and make our only revenue there, but then the small companies, they’re left with sort of the pre-built tools that come with their forum which again their just not very good and they really have no way to protect their community effectively. And they just have to invest a lot more dev time or a lot more hours. And so, it’s almost like we feel it’s our duty to make sure that we can help those small guys cause eventually some of those small guys get bigger and they’ll need more. And so that it obviously helps them and it also helps us, but if we can help them while they’re small and get them in the mindset of filtering and moderation to begin with, then they really can build a better community and I think that’s really important.
29:25 Patrick O’Keefe: And because you’re one of the few, the only, I’m not sure, filtering company that has those lower priced plans, you’re really building a strong customer loyalty with those people. So, I just said that when they grow, they’re probably more likely to stay with you then to go with someone else.
29:40 Brian Pontarelli: Exactly, we’ve seen year over year customers that start small with us and grow and get bigger and bigger and eventually they continue to need more and more support and more and more software and that just helps both companies.
29:55 Patrick O’Keefe: Right, thank you for being a guest on Community Signal. It’s been great to chat about filtering technology with you. Where can people find you online?
30:02 Brian Pontarelli: So the best way to find me is either go to inversoft.com. You can check out my LinkedIn profile. Of course, as you mentioned earlier, I’m a developer and I have been coding for 30 years now. So my handle’s voidmain. I’m kind of geeky.
30:18 Patrick O’Keefe: Okay.
30:19 Brian Pontarelli: You can find me under that on LinkedIn and you can also find me on Twitter under bpontarelli, or my personal blog which brian.pontarelli.com, where I talk about different technical issues I have and how to solve them.
30:33 Patrick O’Keefe: It’s great that you had a last name where you can get the dot.com.
30:35 Brian Pontarelli: Exactly. And interestingly enough, I just registered that back in 1997.
30:40 Patrick O’Keefe: Wow.
30:40 Brian Pontarelli: And I’ve had it ever since.
30:42 Patrick O’Keefe: Great job. [chuckle] This has been Community Signal. Visit our website at communitysignal.com for subscription options and more. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad and I’m Patrick O’Keefe:. We’ll see you next week.
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