Stoop to Congoo?

Is business networking site Congoo resorting to spam to build its user base? I suspect it is.

Congoo is on one hand a good idea — a place to gather and monitor content on your industry, including content that is usually subscription only (like, who publish my weekly Loose Wire column.) But it’s also a networking tool — indeed, its blurb emphasizes that over the content:


But I don’t like being spammed, and I think Congoo may be doing that. Of course, they’re not alone in being accused of spamming — the likes of Plaxo, Zorpia and other networking services make it overly easy for a new recruit to send an email blast to everyone in their address book without them realizing it. To me that’s spam. Even Facebook isn’t entirely blameless: Add any application to your profile and you’re usually within a whisker of spamming all your friends unless you’re alert and scout around for the “skip” button.

But Congoo seems to be taking a different, and in a way more openly spammy, approach. It’s emailing non-subscribers — apparently at random — inviting them to join the network — with no apparent invitation from an existing user, or even a personalized email to indicate the recipient is being chosen for a specific reason. Here’s part of what I got this morning, from someone called Rebecca Simpson, identified as “Manager Network Development”:

We would like to formally invite you to add your professional profile on Congoo. You may recognize many of the professionals already featured:  Media & Advertising  Healthcare  Internet Finance Technology  Politics  & Law

Rebecca’s Congoo profile says she has “specialized in working with press and media outlets to distribute information. I have also organized and executed guerilla marketing campaigns as well as developed proprietary systems and methods for measuring ROI on Web buzz.”

That may be so, but frankly I’m not impressed at this particular pitch. No attempt is being made to categorize me, as I’ve shown only an amateur’s interest in healthcare, and my grasp of law goes no further than thinking ‘tort’ must be in some way related to the word ‘retort’. And I’ve had no prior dealings with Congoo that I can recall aside from several pitches from their (somewhat, er, insistent) PR company, whose own contact database could do with some consolidating.

It appears I’m not alone in thinking this might be a bit too spammy to be decent business practice. The net-abuse mailing list last week collected four examples of an identical message from one Heather Faulkner, who also happens to carry the title of “Manager Network Development” (how many managers of one department are you allowed? I’m not really up to date on that kind of thing), while the spam manager at AKBK Home captured more than 50 in a few hours.

And then there’s Congoo’s own policy on spam, of which this seems itself to be a transgression:

Congoo is concerned about controlling unsolicited commercial e-mail, or “spam.” Congoo has a strict policy prohibiting the use of all Congoo mail accounts to send spam.

I’ve asked Congoo for more information on this, and on their policy about emailing people. At best, I’ve got it all wrong and it’s all a big mistake. At worst, it’s a pretty poor display of a networking site trying to build its base through tactics that make it little different to those of a Viagra salesman. Times may be tough amidst the runaway success of something like Facebook, and the critical mass of LinkedIn, but stoop low and there’s no way back to standing straight.

Media Coverage As Sparklines

Here’s another effort to use sparklines to try to illustrate some of the trends I wrote about in today’s Asian Wall Street Journal/ column (subscription only; apologies). I’ve used another excellent tool called SparkMaker, a Word plugin by Bissantz to try to show how the mainstream print media has covered some technology issues since the early 1980s (these charts cover 1984–2004 because the numbers prior to then are too small to be useful.) I’d be grateful for any thoughts you may have, on either the sparklines or what the data may say to you. Of course, it might say nothing at all….

Here’s the first one: media mentions of certain terms in order of the year the term was most often used (they’re done as screenshots, apologies for the low quality):

Spark year

‘Information superhighway’ as a term reached a peak in its first big year of usage, and then fell off rapidly. Electronic mail wasn’t ever as popular and is still in use (who still says that rather than e-mail?) Cyberspace had its heyday in 2000, as did MP3, surprisingly. Notice how SMS never really got that much coverage, I guess perhaps because Factiva is so slanted towards North America. Spam is a big topic, as is VoIP. The bars are too small to show it but Blogging has been covered since the early 1990s, albeit in small numbers. Wi-Fi and RFID, too, are now major topics. Bluetooth has never quite captured the same attention.

Here’s another way of looking at the same data, sorted by the largest total coverage in a single year:

Spark popular

Allowing for distortions caused by the growth of media outlets, VoIP has in one year outdone all others. Wi-Fi too, seems to be catching attention.

More On Damage Estimates And The Myth-Making Urge

It was bound to happen, and it always pays to be first: Who’s going to estimate how much damage MyDoom did?

Rob Rosenberger, editor of Vmyths, predicted it right: The winner is British security consultant mi2g, which reckons the damage will cost us all $38.5 billion. That’s a lot of cash. Vmyths is not impressed, dismissing it as ‘completely absurd’, and pointing to its previous reports on the company’s statements. Mi2g, it should be pointed out, has threatened to sue Vmyths in the past, so perhaps we’ll see a robust rebuttal.

I’m not able to explore how mi2g got their figure, since the full text of the report must be bought — for £29.38 including taxes — unless you’re a member of their Inner Sanctum (which costs £352.50 per quarter). Would buying that report be included in the estimated overall cost of MyDoom? (I did request a review copy, but my email to the form-based contact page bounced, ominously).

Reporters, Vmyths say, have already picked up the figure: It points to a report in The Web Host Industry Review, and adds it believes “major media outlets will fall like dominoes — mi2g’s declaration is simply too large for them to ignore”. Rob may be right, again: TechWeb have also picked it up, but so far nothing from the major agencies.

I have to agree with Rob that these kind of estimates are a bit too headline-grabbing to be useful. Anything with a figure in tends to be too much for a reporter to ignore. Mi2g, for its part, has been assiduously estimating the cost since it first appeared: $400 million on January 27, doubling later the same day, $3 billion the next day, before leaping to $19 billion the day after that.

Talking of which, I never got any further to establishing whether a figure of $55 billion attributed to a Trend Micro spokesman for the cost of viruses last year was real or an error (and if so, an error by the reporter or by Trend Micro). Funny how the PR people go to earth when they’re grappling with tricky questions.