Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

Want out? Click the small, gray, non-underlined text in the corner.

Here’s the denument of this affair, which I shall follow-up with my evidence that Shelfari also “astroturfed.”

Last week, one of our competitors, Shelfari, received a sound and very well-deserved drubbing for their deceptive invite-spamming. (Best title: Where’s my shelefant gun?)

Although a far more popular blog, Gagetopia, was the leader of the attack, we are proud to have supplied much of the ammo–more than fifty angry and embarrassed blog posts from people who learned that Shelfari had sent hundreds or thousands of emails in their name. The emails went out to anyone they had ever emailed, been emailed by or appeared alongside in a CC or on a listserv.

To repeat, we are NOT against competition, just against one site’s underhanded tactics. We often praise our competition, from BookJetty to GoodReads, Babelio to Reliwa (and some 40 others). Post about LibraryThing on some sites and you’ll find the message gone the next day. We don’t work like that. In fact, in one thread we even posted a long list of competitors (now outdated) and asked users to sign up for as many as they could, figure out what they liked, and come back with suggestions for improvements.

Anyway, after the drugging the site “relented,” and changed the sign-up process somewhat. The CEO explained that they never had any intention to deceive and that it was a side effect of growth.

I’m unmoved. As Gadgetopia put it, albeit before the final post:

“Just do us all a favor and admit it — admit that you were over-zealous and getting new members was more important to you than the personal pain of your current members. You trampled all over them to make your investors happy with your growth numbers.

“Come on, Josh, admit what you did. At least be that much of a man about it. Is there anything below the PR facade? Or are you unable to turn that off and just level with us?”

Then again, the newest post does say they “deeply apologize to all of our users who mistakenly emailed unwanted contacts.” It’s not everything, but it’s certainly something.

The new method is certainly a lot better, but it’s still icky in my book. It’s automatic on sign-up, and at every turn the invasive option is in the center of the screen, with a big blue-green “continue” button. The only way “out,” other than doing as the site demands, is to click the words “Skip making friends for now,” which is small, grey, out-of-the-way, and not underlined. It stands alongside other text of the same size, color and non-underlinedness, except that text isn’t a link. As one blogger put it:

“And voila, if … [you’d move] your mouse over each line, you’d find that one of these two pieces of text is actually a link! How sneaky is that!”

And they still pre-select every contact, something very few people want.

At LibraryThing our invites are unforced and voluntary. You don’t go through the page automatically. The interface is clear. And we not only don’t preselect all your contacts, we even removed the “select all” link. Want to send it to a thousand friends? Better warm up your clicking finger…

*I claim hundreds because I found 51 blog posts as of last week, many of which have comments by other non-bloggers. This week produced another dozen or so, and one can safely assume that most people do not have blogs.

Labels: shelfari, spam


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