UTest Tests Its Testers in Payday Snafu

5/25/10Follow @wroush

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exactly what happened and what we would like them to do,” says Johnston.

Returning the overpayments turned out to involve a tricky six-step process, and Johnston says he wasn’t sure how many testers would go to the trouble. “I have a great deal of trust and respect for our community, but this took it out of the theoretical realm,” he says. “I knew we were going to find out really quickly, when it comes to communities and crowdsourcing, whether this bucket holds water or not.”

But Johnston was surprised to find that testers pursued the refund process as zealously as if they’d discovered a bug in their own software. Within 24 hours of sending out an e-mail notice to the affected testers, Johnston says, uTest had gotten back two-thirds of its money. Within three days, 90 percent of the money had filtered back. And as of my conversation with Johnston Monday morning, only 0.5 percent of the funds remained to be recovered. “We don’t even look at that and say that the last half a percent are the dishonest ones,” he says. “They’re probably just less engaged and haven’t opened their e-mail yet.”

Of course, uTest’s testers weren’t acting out of pure altruism. It wasn’t hard to reason that if they tried to keep the overpayments—more than $2,000, in some cases—uTest would know it, and that there would eventually be repercussions.

“I’m not saying that we’ve found the last 25,000 honest people on the planet,” says Johnston. “But all too often, you hear about online community members bullying each other or committing fraud. This was a prime opportunity to do one of those things, since the mistake had already been made on our part. But many of them made a financial choice that staying in good graces with uTest was more financially rewarding in the long run than a quick buck.”

In the end, Johnston says, the payment problem turned out to be a brilliant, if unplanned, test of the company’s efforts to build a coherent community around its testing platform. “We like to talk internally about the difference between communities versus crowds versus mobs, and we like to think we’re building a community here,” he says. “That’s all great as a bumper sticker—but this put it to the test in an unintended way.”

And maybe, in the end, nice guys don’t finish last. Johnston says plans are in the works to reward the testers who jumped on the problem fastest. “The specifics are to be determined, but I would like to be able to do something for the community at large, and specifically for the people who first pointed the problem out to us or refunded the money most promptly,” he says. “There will be some form of thanks.”

Wade Roush is Xconomy's chief correspondent and editor of Xconomy San Francisco. You can subscribe to his Google Group or e-mail him at wroush@xconomy.com. Follow @wroush

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