Creative Commons License photo credit: StewBl@ck

I work very hard to not make a mistake when it comes to managing my communities. Attention to detail is extremely important to me and I lead by example. Because of that effort, and that care, I limit mistakes a great deal. But, I do make them.

Today, I want to share a noteworthy mistake that I made on one of my communities and what I did to rectify it.

Setting the Scene

Back in June of 2008, I launched an aggressive, exciting competition on that we called Idol. I put together an impressive set of prize packages, both valued at over $1,200, including a large quantity of books, a conference pass and one huge prize (the winner’s choice of an Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, ASUS Eee PC, Archos 605, iPod Touch or Amazon Kindle).

phpBB hack and style authors would submit new works to our database – works that hadn’t previously been listed – and then those works (with some limitations) would compete against one another in an NCAA-style bracket competition based on Support Forums member votes.

There were a lot of moving parts to this competition, including all of the announcements and web copy, graphics, promotion to authors and members, working with sponsors, tabulating the votes and ensuring their legitimacy and more and I was responsible for all of it.

The Mistake

After the submissions had been made and the brackets were set, we opened for voting. I was excited to get going. But, about 19 hours after voting had opened, a member posted asking if it was normal to be able to vote several times on the same poll. I didn’t see the reply for another 5 hours, but when I did, my heart sank.

I immediately investigated the matter and I found that, yes, people were able to vote multiple times. How did this happen? Well, we had instituted a measure to prevent abuse and instead of preventing abuse, it actually created a vulnerability that allowed abuse to occur. Wonderful!

I could see who had voted multiple times and on what polls. But, due to the way the phpBB database structure is set up, I could not see who they voted for. And I could not delete an individual vote and have the vote total update. So, it was impossible for me to delete just the duplicate votes and correct the totals.

The Correction

You Can't See Me
Creative Commons License photo credit: Eric Kilby

No one has access to the administration area but me and no one has access to the database but me. No one would know for sure that this had happened, except me. I could have just hid it, I could have just said the issue was fixed and moved on. But, that was not a choice. That would have been unethical and dishonest and it would have bothered me.

What I decided to do was the only real option: despite the fact that a great many of your votes for these sort of things (even a majority) come during the first day or two, I had to clear all votes we had received, reset the polls and ask people to vote again.

I could have skirted the details so it would be a little less embarrassing or blamed it on a database error or some such nonsense. But, again, that was not an option. Honesty is the key. So, I posted an announcement immediately after going into great detail about what happened and my own feelings on the matter. I also updated the original voting thread with a response.

The End Result

From a general perspective, people were understanding and though it was about 2 years ago, I believe that pretty much everyone who had voted before the totals had to be cleared, came back and voted again.

Because of the step that I took, the vote totals had the utmost integrity and the winners were the true winners. That meant a lot to me.

Nearly two months after the initial announcement, our winners were selected. It was a great, happy occasion with two deserving winners and members of our community taking home the prizes and being congratulated. From the mistake forward, it couldn’t have gone better.

I don’t like that phrase “people make mistakes” because it’s too often used to excuse sloppy behavior by people who don’t care enough. But, technically, it is true. People do make mistakes. Strive not to, but when you do, correct it as soon as you can, explain to the affected parties what happened and put your best foot forward. If you aim for a clear conscience and a good relationship with your community, it is the only way to go.