Tag Archives: Community websites

Think Hard Before You Get Linked In

I’ve been trying to remove a contact on LinkedIn who proudly claims to be one of the best linked people on the planet. Why that’s a good thing I’m not sure, but I noticed I was getting LinkedIn spam—spam to my own email address, but coming via LinkedIn–from this person, so I tried to remove him

Turns out that it wasn’t enough. This morning I got an email from another guy claiming to be the best connected person on the planet (“(he is one of the most linked people in the world”) who said I had been referred to him by none other than the LinkedIn spammer guy I thought I’d removed eight months ago. He wrote:

If so, then please accept my connection request. Since I presently have over 8,900 first tier connections, I cannot send an invitation to you because I have exceeded my limit. Therefore, to connect with me and to benefit from the millions of total connections that I have, click here: [LINK DELETED] and enter my email address [EMAIL DELETED].

So what gives? How come someone I removed from my LinkedIn network is able to refer me to someone else who has somehow been able to get my email address despite not being my buddy, nor connected to a buddy of mine? I’m asking LinkedIn about this, but I also wanted to know what happened to the original spammer I’d deleted. Was he still in my system?

Turns out he is.

Removing a connection in LinkedIn is not, it turns out, the same as removing a contact. It seems to work like this (and I might be wrong, because the explanations on LinkedIn are contradictory.)

The FAQ says you remove a connection via the Remove Connections link:

image

which takes you to a separate list:

image

What you’ll notice about this list is that, unlike your Connections list, it’s not alphabetical. Well it is, in that you can jump straight to a letter (M, say) but within that list the contacts are not in sub-alphabetical order. A cynic would say this is an extra deterrent to connection-pruning, but I’m not a cynic so I won’t say that.

But you might notice this:

image

Huh? Good that the connection won’t be notified that they’ve fallen off your Christmas card list, but how come they’ll still be on my list of contacts? And  how does it square with this other note, on the same page, that says:

Note that once this action is completed this individual will not be able to be added back as a connection.

So the person you’ve gone to all this trouble to remove will still be in your contact list—no way that I can see of removing them from there—but you can’t change your mind and then re-add them back as connection. You can, however, re-invite them, and, indeed, they will remain in your contact list as a constant reminder.

(Just out of interest, how do you re-invite someone to be a connection who didn’t know you’d banished them before? How do you explain that, exactly? “Sorry, I hated you before, but now I don’t hate you anymore?” Could be a good lyric in there.)

Confused? So am I? But here’s the kicker: Does the fact that he’s still in my contacts, and that he’s out there, apparently, recommending me to other LinkedIn spammers, mean I’m still in the LinkedIn spammer’s list of connections?

I suspect it does, because he’s still in my list of connections (but not in my Remove Connections list, if you’re still with me) and he’s still listed as 1st in my list of connections—meaning we still have a connection.

In other words, unless this is a glitch, it is impossible to remove a connection from LinkedIn once you’ve established one.

I’m going to ask LinkedIn to shed light on this. But if it’s true, it should give you pause for thought before you accept a connection via the otherwise useful service. It’s one thing to build one’s network. It’s another to find you have no control over that network—and who in that network might use the information you put there—once it’s built.

Automating Your Relationships

image

It’s not for me, but there’s a certain unerring logic about SocialMinder: instead of leaving your social and business relationships to be tended by natural forces, why not automate them?

SocialMinder offers just that, by mining your LinkedIn and Gmail address books and notifying you when you last contacted that person. (This is called monitoring the health of your relationships.) It not only does that; it will dig out some news item related to the person in question—or from the organisation they work for, and prepare an email for you. Something like this:

image

which reads:

Hi Wicak;

I was thinking about  you the other day, and then I saw this and had to ask how/if this impacts you..

ACES Int'l Certification Programs: Certified Utility Locator …
Here is the link:
http://www.acesinternational.org/

Hope that you all are well…

Talk with you soon…

Needless to say, should I send this to Wicak he would be highly surprised as that’s not the way I talk to him (not enough insults and expletives), and the fact I’m pointing out his organisation’s own website to him might give him pause to wonder whether continuing our friendship is a good idea.

Some early thoughts:

This kind of thing occupies an odd space in the social/business networking pantheon. On the one hand, we all know there’s a lot of dodginess about networking. It’s all about back-scratching, and what-can-you-do-for-me about it all. But it still needs to be civil, and at least a pretence maintained that there’s more to it than naked mutual exploitation (actually, put like that it sounds quite fun.)

So how to monitor and nurture those relationships without putting in the effort that real relationships require? Hence SocialMinder (I suspect a better name would be SocialMiner without the ‘d’.) It’s pretty well executed, of course, and perhaps there are instances where this kind of approach might be useful.

But all SocialMinder really does is to remind you that relationships aren’t about quantity, they’re about quality. Even business ones.

Everyone on LinkedIn knows—I assume—that they’re on there because they want to make use of other people’s networks. These networks, actually, don’t really exist. They’re just a bunch of names, loosely tied, as Mr Weinberger might put it. It’s not that LinkedIn is not useful, but it’s not because we’re constantly sending our LInkedIn buddies emails about their company’s activities. It’s because we can use those loose connections to hear about jobs, or put out requests, knowing that it’s going to people who accept such emails as part of the networking process. Call it a kind of ‘business spam opting in’.

So, sadly, I don’t think SocialMinder will catch on. Indeed, you might argue it marks the apogee of the social networking trend. If we need to rely on software to direct our relationships then, I suspect, we’ve either entered another dimension from which there’s no turning back, or we’ll realise the limits of the medium and start to focus on the people behind the nodes.

Why Social Network Sites May Fail

Look at a social networking site lie Yaari and you can see where the social networking phenomenon may fail, simply by abusing the trust of its users.

Sites like LinkedIn, Plaxo etc rely on expanding quickly by offering a useful service: trawling your address book to find friends and contacts who use the same service. We’ve gotten used to this, and it’s a great way to build a network quickly if you sign up for a new service.

But any service that uses this needs to stress privacy, and put control in the hands of users. Plaxo learned this a few years back. Spam a user’s contact list without them realising and you invite a firestorm of opprobrium on your head.

But surprisingly some services still do it. And in so doing they risk alienating users from what makes Web 2.0 tick: the easy meshing of networks—your address book, your Facebook buddies, your LinkedIn network—to make online useful.

Take Yaari, a network built by two Stanford grads which has for the past two years abused the basic tenets of privacy in an effort to build scale.

What happens is this.

You’ll receive an email from a contact:

 image

It’s an invitation from a “friend” which

  • gives you no way to check out the site without signing up. The only two links (apart from an abuse reporting email address at the bottom) take you to the signup page.
  • neither link allows you to check out your “friend”  and his details before you sign up.

If you do go to the sign up page you’ll be asked to give your name and email address:

image

Below the email address is the reassuring message:

Your email is private and will stay that way.

But scroll down to below the create my account button and you’ll see this:

By registering for Yaari and agreeing to the Terms of Use, you authorize Yaari to send an email notification to all the contacts listed in the address book of the email address you provide during registration. The email will notify your friends that you have registered for Yaari and will encourage them to register for the site. Yaari will never store your email password or login to your email account without your consent. If you do not want Yaari to send an email notification to your email contacts, do not register for Yaari.

In short, by signing up for Yaari you’ve committed yourself, and all the people in your address book, to receiving spam from Yaari that appears to come from your email address. (Here’s the bit from the terms: “Invitation emails will be sent on member’s behalf, with the ‘from’ address set as member’s email address.”)

You should also expect to receive further spam from Yaari, according to the terms:

MEMBERS CONSENT TO RECEIVE COMMERCIAL E-MAIL MESSAGES FROM YAARI, AND ACKNOWLEDGE AND AGREE THAT THEIR EMAIL ADDRESSES AND OTHER PERSONAL INFORMATION MAY BE USED BY YAARI FOR THE PURPOSE OF INITIATING COMMERCIAL E-MAIL MESSAGES.

In other words, anyone signing up for Yaari is commiting both themselves and everyone else in their address book to receiving at least one item of spam from the company. Users complain that Yaari doesn’t stop at one email; it bombards address books with follow-up emails continually.

Needless to say, all this is pretty appalling. But what’s more surprising is that Yaari has been doing this for a while. I’ve trawled complaints from as far back as 2006. This despite the company being U.S.-based. I’m surprised the FTC hasn’t taken an interest.

So who’s behind the site? This article lists two U.S.-born Indians, Prerna Gupta and Parag Chordia, and quotes Gupta as saying, back in 2006, that to preserve the integrity of the network access is restricted to the right kind of Indian youth. I’m not young, I’m not Indian, and I’m probably not the right kind, so clearly that goal has been abandoned.

Here are some more details of the two founders.

Gupta, who is 26, is an economics major who graduated in 2005, was working for a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley called Summit Partners until 2005. Her facebook profile is here; her LinkedIn profile is here. According to this website she once won the Ms Asia Oklahoma pageant (her hometown is listed as Shawnee in Oklahoma, although she lives in Atlanta.

Chordia, chief technology officer at Yaari, has a PhD in computer music, and is currently assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, according to his LinkedIn profile. His facebook profile is here.

There’s a video of them here. An interview with Gupta last year indicates that they’re going hell for leather for size:

We are focused on growing our user base and becoming India’s largest social networking site within the next two years. Our goal for the next year is to become one of India’s Top 10 Internet destinations.

What’s interesting is that nearly every site that mentions Yaari and allows comments contains sometimes angry complaints from users. In that sense Web 2.0 is very effective in getting the word out. Unfortunately if Yaari and its founders continue to commit such egregious abuses of privacy, we can’t be sure many people will trust such websites long enough for the power of networking sites to be properly realised.

(I’ve sought comment from Gupta, which I’ll include in this post when received.)

Getting on the Social Trail

More reports of social annotation tools — services that allow you to not just bookmark sites but share those bookmarks, and other bits and pieces with them. This one from the highly readable Read/Write Web, just down the road from me in NZ:

There are a plethora of bookmarking sites out there and only a few of them have become very successful – del.icio.us and Stumbleupon are two that spring to mind. Trailfire is a bit different from your average bookmarking site, because they don’t just allow you to share bookmarks – they make it easy for you to share ‘trails’, which are “annotated navigation paths”.

I haven’t had a chance to try out trailfire, and I’m not quite sure how well it works, mainly because it won’t load (it’s been telling me to stand by for nearly 15 minutes now, which is as Bob Geldof would say, a quarter of an hour too long. It has, however, been added to my directory of such tools, which is looking quite big now.

The Unsocial Web

A piece by Donna Bogatin on why many more people read web sites liked digg.com rather than contribute to it has in itself spawned enough responses to become something of a summary of why the social web, citizen journalism, user-created content etc may not be quite the revolution it appears. Here’s how I see the responses:

  • I just want to watch. The more stuff is out there, ironically enough the less incentive there is to contribute. There’s probably a graph for this somewhere. People will contribute if they think their contribution is worth it. That means a) other people like it, b) it doesn’t take up too much time c) the stuff isn’t there already, or likely to be and d) that contributing to a site comes after browsing a site. (see Not On My Own Time, Thanks, below.) The logical conclusion of this is that while contributions may rise exponentially, gradually the number of contributors dwindles until a hardcore of contributors remains (see The Weirdo Factor below).
  • The Weirdo Factor. We newspaper journos have known this for a while. The kind of people who contribute, or contribute most, don’t represent a good cross section of ordinary readers/users. Readers’ letters are always great to receive, and they may contain useful and interesting stuff, but they tend to come from the same people, or group or kind of people. And that means an editor would be a fool to treat his mailbag as a cross section of his readership. Same is basically true of the Net.
  • Not On My Own Time, Thanks. Digesting Time isn’t the same as Creating Time. Most people probably browse sites like YouTube.com and Flickr.com at work. This means that the more content there is on these sites at work, a) the less productive workers will be, and b) the less likely they’ll actually upload their stuff — since that will probably have to be done at home, in a separate session. If you’ve already spent a couple of hours on YouTube.com at work, why would you spend more time on it at home?
  • People Don’t Like Hanging Out With Weirdoes Taking the above a step further, many users are going to be discouraged by the general tenor of discussions at places like Digg. Flaming and generally being rude may seem like a life to some people, but most people don’t like it very much, and are not going to expose themselves to ridicule by posting to such sites. (They are also not going to want to expose themself to being ignored: what happens if you Digg something and nobody comes?)
  • Freedloading off a freeloader Then there’s the reality that the social web is largely a Commenting Web, not a Creating Web. Not all of it, of course: Flickr.com is a very creative place. But photos are always of things, requiring only that someone have a camera and be there, and take a good picture. Writing is different. Writing is not just about commenting on what other people are writing. (Well, OK, this post is.) Writing is also about reporting  – about actually going out and finding information, digesting it, writing it up and then distributing it. Blogs, the foundation of Web 2.0, were built on the idea of commentary. But commentary always has to follow content, since without it there can be nothing to comment on. We shouldn’t confuse sites like Digg.com as content sites, since they simply aggregate links and comment. In the end, this freeloading element will have to be added to by something more substantial for it to grow. Netscape’s new site understands this, although I’m not convinced making a couple of calls to add to a wire story constitutes news gathering (but then again, a lot of journalists have done that for years, so who am I to quibble?)

The bottom line may be, just may be, that after huge bursts of participatory interest, that may even last a few years, the kinds of people who keep Slashdot going are going to be the people who keep Digg.com and every other user-driven, Web 2.0 site going. I’m not saying this is a bad thing — I love Slashdot, and there are some extraordinarily intelligent people on there (as well as some who could spend some time in the open air) — but it’s not a group that’s, er, broadly representative of the citizenry at large. They’re hugely dedicated, very focused, very knowledgeable about their sphere and have opinions coming out of their ears. A bit like folk who wrote letters to newspapers, come to think of it.

Netscape Diggs In and Elbows Out the Competition

AOL/Netscape has launched a beta of its new homepage that looks uncannily like Digg, a hugely popular site for techies to publish stuff and have their stories sorted by popularity. Actually it not only looks like Digg, two of the top three stories are Digg’s. AOL’s been smart tho: visit the source page and you can only do so within a big black sidebar that keeps you wedged inside the Netscape site. (You can’t resize it, but you can turn it off, but obviously by default. Meaning it will open with every external link you click on. Oh, and it’s really slow to load.)

Perhaps by coincidence, or by the efforts of a few Diggers, those two Digg stories are less than complimentary about AOL: The first, AOL Copies Digg (“Check out what this is based on”) and the second  Trying to cancel AOL (“Here’s a recording I did of a conversation between myself and AOL while trying to cancel an account I no longer needed. It was old, and I hadn’t used it in a REALLY long time, I just never got around to cancelling it. Enjoy!”)

A piece by Reuters says that this new site has “editors, which Netscape calls anchors,” who “can choose to highlight what they consider important stories.” This might be the top portion of the page, but I assume the anchors are not highlighting the two stories mentioned above. Or maybe they are, in some wild new form of self-flagellating transparency?

I won’t get into the journalistic implications of all this here. But there’s a telling comment by Netscape.com’s new general manager, dot-com news entrepreneur Jason Calacanis, to the Reuters reporter: “We don’t have to do a level of journalism that you guys do,” he said, referring to traditional news organizations. “You guys take it 90 yards, we take it the next 10.”

The reporter didn’t pick up on this. But when sites like this basically suck content from other sites, from NYT to Digg to Reuters, to form the basis of their homepage, and then link to that content within a sidebar that squeezes the original website partly out of view and off the screen plaster, that 10 yards looks mighty cheap for the yardage you get. Whose content is it now? Who’s making money off whom? And who is the smartest person in the room?

technorati tags:, , , ,

Plaxo Drops the “Hi, I’m updating my address book” Email

Plaxo is dropping the “Hi, I’m updating my address book. Please take a moment to update your latest contact information…” email which has, over the past three years, raised more than a few hackles. (What is a hackle? And can they ever be in any other state than raised?) Anyway, people (including myself) have objected to the rather cavalier way that Plaxo software would send these update requests out to people. Writes Tom, one of the founders, on the Plaxo blog:

Obviously, a lot of people loved this feature, but some people did not. Journalists, A-list bloggers, and anyone else who is known by more people than they know were inundated with requests. We quickly responded by adding opt-out and throttling features, but we’ve always known that the update requests were a means to an end — our goal has always been to get as many members as possible so that these e-mails were unnecessary. And it looks like we’re finally getting to that end.

Plaxo now say that’s not going to happen anymore, because there’s no need:

As of last week, we’ve past 10 million members. We are now growing at over 50,000 users a day. Due to this great growth, the depth of our network, plus our heartfelt desire to be good net citizens, we have started phasing out update requests.

This feature will probably always exist in some form, but we are no longer aggressively pushing new users to send out e-mails and are adding restrictions to prevent existing users from sending out large batches. Within the next six months (allowing for releases and upgrades to our base), you should see these messages drop to a trickle.

This is good news. I wonder, though, about the 10 million members thing. After resuming my Plaxo account the other day I got the distinct impression that a) there were quite a few new members from among my contacts on Plaxo but not a massive amount and that b) a lot of those members were not actively updating their contacts. Indeed, it’s not clear to me how one can tell whether an account is dormant, and if so, whether the information that is being updated to your contact list is current or not. (I guess in some ways this may actually reduce the effectiveness of Plaxo, in that your updated contact details for a person may be overwritten by those in a long dormant Plaxo account.) (I just asked Stacy Martin, Plaxo’s longsuffering and patient privacy officer, and he suggests users who no longer update their Plaxo account delete by going here. )

Anymore, I don’t want to be churlish. It’s good news that Plaxo is phasing out those emails. I can understand their predicament; the product’s usefulness grows the larger the more people use it, so the emails were an important part of spreading the word. Trouble was, some folk found it irritating. Hackle-raising irritating.

PR Newswire Gets Delicious

It’ll be interesting to see how Yahoo, new owner of social bookmarking and tagging pioneer del.icio.us, tries to bring the whole tagging shebang to the wider marketplace. Here’s an early example of how it might work. PR Newswire, a news release service, has announced a partnership with del.icio.us, to allow visitors to PR Newswire’s public website to tag individual news releases issued by PR Newswire members and post them into their personal profiles on del.icio.us.

The feature appears as a button alongside existing RSS, email and print button above each press release:

Prnew

Click on the link and it takes you to your del.icio.us account (if you have one) and prepares a new entry. Nothing that revolutionary here, you may say, but I’d suggest that this is one of the first examples of del.icio.us breaking out of the usual blogosphere world. PR Newswire is, after all, for journalists, who are not known for their passion for things nerdy.

Of course, it’s a great way for PR Newswire to spread their news releases around, as the press release itself admits:

Once posted in a personal Del.icio.us profile, the news release is accessible to the thousands of users who search Del.icio.us for information regularly.

Indeed, this is one of the great strengths and weaknesses of del.icio.us. On the one hand it’s great to see what other people are tagging, and to get access to a live list of the latest exciting websites. On the other hand, how soon is this list going to be polluted — if it’s not already — by people promoting their own stuff or just by people tagging stuff that’s not very interesting? The irony of del.icio.us, in my view, is that it was wonderful while it was being used by people in the know, but it becomes less useful the more popular it gets and everyone starts tagging American Idol and Britney Spears websites.

That said, the popular feed of del.icio.us remains as nerdy as ever.

Outlook Gets Del.icio.us

Attensa, an RSS reader for Microsoft Outlook, has added del.icio.us tags:

You can add tags to articles and access them using a pull down list using the Attensa Toolbar for Internet Explorer. When you tag articles with Attensa your bookmark list on Del.icio.us is updated and synchronized automatically. With the addition of tagging, Attensa gives you a set of tools for organizing your feeds and articles. Categories let you create a hierarchal [sic] structure using folders to keep feeds organized. Tags give you a more free form tool for keeping articles organized and they connect you with the del.icio.us social network.

Sadly Attensa only works with Outlook and IE. But it is free.

The Firefox Del.icio.us Toolbar

The guys at del.icio.us have launched a “very preliminary del.icio.us firefox toolbar at http://del.icio.us/toolbar/ :

The button icons are placeholders and a product of Joshua’s creative fury. If you bring up the ‘customize’ toolbar palette in firefox, you can rearrange, remove or place the buttons on on any other customizable firefox toolbar.

The icons are very basic, but somewhat charming. There’s not an awful lot going on, but the ‘about’ button is a useful addition, listing all the other people who have tagged the page you’re viewing.