Thursday, November 8th, 2007

Shelfari spam: “basically social networking rapists”

LibraryThing’s success—we recently hit three-hundred thousand members and twenty million books—has spawned competitors, more than forty at last count. We respect them. Some of the best include BookJetty (gorgeous), Anobii (simple and big in China), Socialogue (does CDs) and GoodReads (friendly and not small; they just hit 5 million books). We think we do it better—for example taking from more than 75 soures other than Amazon–but we also know we aren’t perfect. To stay on top we have to work hard, and to be true to ourselves—loving books and being more open and collaborative than anyone else.

We respect our competitors with one exception: the site “” We have always spoken our mind, so here’s a piece of it: Shelfari has gained traction by engaging in unethical practices, including astroturfing (posting on blogs pretending to be users, not employees*) and putting out press releases about how they invented the idea. But the worst has been their spamming campaign.

These are strong accusations, but provable. This post lays out fifty-one posts that show they are, in the words of the well-known blog Gawker, “basically social networking rapists.”

Yesterday the popular Gadgetopia went on the attack, after Shelfari sent out thousands of invites in one author’s name. After getting the usual cut-and-paste non-apology, he pressed the point. I’d had my fill too, so I posted a comment with some of the evidence. Things built from there. And to my delight, Otis, the Goodreads guy, joined me, adding:

“I have two points in writing this: number one is to encourage people to keep blogging about Shelfari’s trickyness as long as they keep doing it. So far, people are having no problems doing that. However the saying ‘all press is good press’ is mostly true, so my second point is to encourage people to also mention that there are a number of other sites for book lovers that are well designed: notably, Goodreads and LibraryThing.”

The Spamming Campaign

Jesse Wegman of the New York Observer wrote the best accounts so far. Shelfari spammed “every single person with whom I have exchanged an e-mail in the past three years, in addition to every single person who has ever been on the same cc list as I have, regardless of whether we have ever met, in addition to every single listserv I have ever joined and every single Web site from which I have ever ordered anything.”

The method is simple. When you sign up for Shelfari you are dumped into a screen that offers to send out check-out-my-books invitations to friends. The user interface is confusing and deceptive, and what seems like an attempt to continue into the site really sends out hundreds or thousands of letters to everyone you’ve ever known by email. Reminder-letters follow. Skipping this step requires clicking out-of-the-way, gray non-underlined text.

Bloggers want to hide under their desks, ponder “moving to Tahiti” and beg God to “make [me] a bird so I may fly far far away.” They spit anger and frustration. The blog posts started months ago, and Shelfari has done nothing because a small percentage of recipients end up signing up, and this has driven their growth. They know perfectly well what they’re doing.

Below are 51 posts of bloggers and journalists livid or shame-faced at what Shelfari did to them.

Silly Shelfari Spam Shit

Startling Banals: Shelfari – horrible!!! Stay away from it!

Tess Harrison: An Apology…Please Don’t Hate Me!

Apologizing to my network for Shelfari Spam

Gadgetopia: Shelfari Has Pissed Me Off

Mohtashims IT Tazee: Avoid #@$#! Shelfari like the plague!

“I dont like to use any service that breaches my trust in the first 5 minutes…”

nm_eviled: Freaking Shelfari

“I don’t know about the rest of you out there, but I’m about ready to commission a voodoo doll directed at the people who run Shelfari”

Shelfari SUCKS, the evil spamming bastiches

“If you get an invitation to Shelfari, from me or anyone, DELETE IT immediately. … It’s a big, huge, scam. Torches and pitchforks, anyone?”

The Journey: Got your invitation?

“After Shelfari sent out another round of emails, which I specifically asked them not to, and failed to respond to the email I sent them, I have deleted my account. I refuse to deal with a company that has no regard for its users.”

Insights into Air and shadow: PSA and Apologies….

“It is evil, evil, evil. It should die, die die!”

InsideView of Shelfari

“One hour after I pressed the button, Shelfari invited two dead people, one prisoner (he should probably read books but his warden is reading his mail), the CNN news desk, four European editors–and potentially a boatload of others who I hope I never meet.”

ShelfSpam! A Story of Books, Trickery & Embarrassment

Prateek Dayal: Why sucks so much!

[rough draft]: O, fie upon thee, Shelfari

Scarlet Letters from the Literary Underworld: I am spam!

Sending Me Spam Makes Us Friends, Right?

What do Squid Read?

“After it sent out a second email today, I dove right back under the rock of humiliation, sank into the moat of despair and basically thought about changing my name and moving to Tahiti.”

In Rare Form: Myrt’s Blurts. Embarrassing Moments: The Catalog’s-blurts-embarrassing-moments-the-catalog/

“Shelfari sent a bloomin’ email to every person I have ever emailed. Ex-boyfriends, people I hoped would never contact me again, coworkers, my vice-president, my CFO, my old boss, potential employers, my bishop, the entire Sunday school and relief society. EVERYONE. All now invited by spam to join my on-line book club. “

Dogster/Catster: Auto-Spamming of Contacts Has to Stop

“[A] coworker had a ‘sitedown’ email contact which redirects to our pagers which made us think there was a site issue at midnight only to read some slimy Shelfari marketing blather”

Class 1 Spam Alert – Shelfari

“Have fun creating new passwords for your GMail, Yahoo and other accounts.”

V. Raghunathan warns us about Shelfari’s shenanigans

“This is evil. Pure evil.”

knitgrrl: Mea culpa — actually, no: Shelfari culpa

Comment: “All my personal and business contacts (including a couple CEOs) just got the invite.”


“Please don’t sign up for Shelfari since they try to gain members through spam!”

Caught in Shelfari’s Sticky Web: No More Friends, Please! (Jesse Wegman, New York Observer)

“Rather than reply individually to the hundreds of e-mails I have received, and continue to receive, since I signed up—a process during which I accidentally failed to uncheck the approximately 1,500 names in my Gmail address book that Shelfari had helpfully pre-checked for me, thereby inviting to join Shelfari, under my name (and ostensibly from my e-mail account), every single person with whom I have exchanged an e-mail in the past three years, in addition to every single person who has ever been on the same cc list as I have, regardless of whether we have ever met, in addition to every single listserv I have ever joined and every single Web site from which I have ever ordered anything (Amazon, Circuit City, and Law Students Against the Death Penalty have all, sadly, declined my invitation)—I thought I would write to you all here instead.” Spam

Dear Author: Suffering Shelfari Spam? Opt Out

Brianna’s Mommy: Freaking Shelfari

This Is My Truth: Major Ranting

Galleycat: Do We Like The Same Books? Go Away! do_we_like_the_same_books_go_away_69683.asp?c=rss

Dogs Steal Yarn, Apparently: I am a spammer, apparently.

“And so then I got the bright idea to email an apology for the spam to my entire address book and Gmail decided that I’m a spammer and shut me down for 24 hours. But I only got to send that email to the first 500 people in my 837 contact address book. So I’m shut out of sending email AND I’ve now spammed people twice in a one-hour period.”

Beth’s Blog: Don’t Register for Shelfari: It Spams Your Address Book

“So, don’t install Shelfari or you will be apologizing to your friends.”

PerthNorg: Got Your Shelfari Invite Yet?

Will Porter: OOC – to anyone who got a Shelfari invitation from mun

“I wish I’d never even heard of Shelfari. I think I’m going to delete my entire fucking account.”

Autumn Crumbs

“At any rate, if you got one of these, and if you decide to join, please read that article before you start inviting folks to join you. A very poorly designed website.”

“In Spamalot: The Shelfari Chronicles” by Bethanne Patrick, Publisher’s Weekly

Gawker: The Internet Sucks

“Finally someone takes on the great evil of our time: SHELFARI, the stupid book-centered stupidly-named social networking site that auto-sends an invite to everyone in your address book when you’re dingbat enough to sign up. I hate them so much and I scream a little inside every time one of these damned “DO WE LIKE THE SAME BOOKS?” emails arrives. They are basically social networking rapists.”

Sniff What I’m Steppin’ In: help

“Dear God, make [me] a bird so I may fly far far away. I just accidentally sent a Shelfari invite to my entire Gmail address book, which includes business folks, like, oh, my HR rep at the 7,000-person organization for which I now work. Help.”

SENSE N NONSENSE: Shelfari spam

With great reply from Shelfari: “We have actually evaluated numerous designs for this process and have chosen one that we felt was extremely clear explaining the process and what is happening.”

Blog comment: “That email went out to ex-boyfriends from ten years ago, their parents, high profile business professionals that I sent my resume to five years ago”

Deb on the Web: So Sorry!!

jessie’s lament, and then some: shelfari fiasco

deponti to the world: What someone said about Shelfari

superstarksa: Shelfari – A PSA

James Galvin: Mass Invitation Spam Becoming the Default

“Anyone who is thinking “it’s your fault for not reading the whole page before clicking ‘continue’”, has probably never worked in IT. You don’t log in to a server as root for the same reason the fabled “big red button” has a plastic cover over it. When you’re dealing with large amounts of contact data, you are required to take extra precautions to maintain privacy.”

coniecto: About privacy, user options and spam

The Boar’s Head Tavern: Shelfari = spam?

The Credence Dot Com: and Are Spammers too !

PAgent’s Progress: Shelfari — A Poor Start

Snap Judgment: Shelfari Spam (Tamil?)

Mammaloves: Shelfari Is Not My Friend–Yet

Daring Young Mom: Shelfari is LIKE a Virus

Erotic Romance: Shelfari My Arse…

We rest our case.

*I’ll post the URLs for this if anyone is interested.

Labels: shelfari, spam


  1. meme says:

    I’ve never joined shelfari. A friend did years ago and even after following a link to get rid of their e-mails I keep receiving spam (not invites but stupid news from them). Will never join.

  2. John says:

    That’s all well and good. I signed up at LT the other day and started entering books. Imagine my surprise when I found I could only enter 200 books before I had to pay.
    I like LT and I think it’s worth the money but I had look long and deep throughout this site for ANYTHING about limitations on a free account. Kind of sneaky to let people fill in 200 books then say “Whoa, if you want to do more, it’s going to cost you.”
    That information should be right up front or in an FAQ.
    Before you call out other companies you might look at your own practices first.

  3. Tim says:

    Dear John,

    The pricing is listed on the home page. Quite prominently.

    Incidentally, when you got to pay, you’ll discover it’s pay-what-you won’t. But then, you probably won’t notice that either. 😉

  4. Tim says:

    Incidentally, what do you think Shelfari runs on—air? They’re selling something, just like we are. We’re selling a service to you. They’re selling you—selling you to advertisers. I prefer the honesty of making your a customer, not the product I sell to my real customers.