Tag Archives: One of the founders

Google Suggest: Your Company + Scam

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I find that the auto suggestions feature from Google Suggest in the Firefox search box very useful. But perhaps not in the way it was intended.

Google Suggest works via algorithms that “use a wide range of information to predict the queries users are most likely to want to see. For example, Google Suggest uses data about the overall popularity of various searches to help rank the refinements it offers.” In other words,  type one word and Google will tell you the next word most likely to be typed after it. Type “dimitar” and the most likely second word will be “berbatov” (this may not been a lot to non-soccer fans, but trust me, the two words go together like rock and roll for the rest of us):

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This can be useful, or at least revealing.

For example, I received one of those awful pieces of spam from Tagged.com that give the whole social networking thing a bad name:

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Click on the “Click here to block all emails from Tagged Inc., 110 Pacific Mall Box #117, San Francisco, CA. 94111” and you’re taken to a page where you’re asked to sign in or sign up. A sure sign of a scam if ever there was one; what happened to opting out a la CANSPAM?

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So I figured I should Google these clowns and see what’s being said about them. Type their name into the Firefox search box, and then hit the space bar, and this was what Google offered me as the most popular search terms:

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Having your product name coupled with “spam” and “scam” in its top three searches can’t be good.

Needless to say, tagged.com is a scam, at least in the way it tries to hoodwink users into signing up and signing up their friends. Here’s how the excellent and resourceful Amit Agarwal recommends you get rid of it from your inbox. It’s a shame that so many apparently good names are involved in something so blatantly anti-social and spammy. At what point do these people feel they’ve lost the game and allow corners to be cut? One of the founders even spoke at last year’s Authentication and Online Trust Summit for crying out loud.

The bigger issue is how to stop these sites from damaging social networking further. But that’s for another day. For now, using Google Suggest is a good quick way to know whether you’re on a hiding to nothing if you even click on a link in one of these emails. Take another scam networking site I’ve written about recently, Yaari. Its Google Suggest juice comes out looking similarly dodgy:

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Compare that with something a bit more bona fide, like LinkedIn:

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While this is a useful tool for us, I’m guessing that the companies involved are going to be hiring some drones to try to massage these results so they don’t look quite so  bad.

Not Stopping Traffic? Blame Wikipedia

I’m not one to court fame, although it is flattering, I must confess, to be recognised in the street. First there’s the odd sideways look as they approach you. Then the diffident approach:
“Excuse me, are you Jeremy Wagstaff?”
“Why, yes, I am!”
“You don’t remember me, do you?
“Er, no.”
“I’m your wife.”
“Oh, yes. So you are. Sorry.”

Actually, that almost never happens. In fact, it’s unlikely to for the simple reason that no one has thought to create a page about me on Wikipedia. Of course, why should I be so presumptuous as to think I deserve one? And would I not be obsessively checking it were such a page to exist? And do I want people to know what I did that night in Bangkok in 1990 when I was chased by a woman in a car reversing at speed through heavy traffic on Sukhumwit? Probably not although I’ll tell you if you really want.

Still, there’s definitely a cultism about Wikipedia biographical entries. The organisers have had to gamekeep against congressional aides, PR companies and even the entries’ own subjects to prevent them whitewashing their past. Even one of the founders has been alleged to have indulged in a bit of airbrushing of his own past.

But my beef is this. Why, should the mood take me to search Wikipedia for my humble name, do these matches appear?

Results 1-13 of 13

I am not a rugby league footballer. I never went to the RCA, although I once won a Lego competition. I am not, as far as I know, fictitious although my lack of an entry on Wikipedia may suggest I am; my mother was born in Yorkshire but I, alas, was not, and while I suppose the Nonjuring Schism is a part of my heritage, I never went to Charterhouse and therefore cannot claim to be an Old Carthusian, let alone a notable one.

Still, given the amount of airbrushing out, and bland self-hagiographic rubbish one does find among biographies on Wikipedia, it’s probably as accurate as any other entry on a living person in the otherwise excellent online tome. In any case, it kind of captures the kind of person I sometimes wish I was: an artistic scrum half Yorkshireman playing notably in the Charterhouse First XV , not averse to a Schism or two so long as it’s Nonjuring and doesn’t leave any stretch marks. Now that kind of entry I would like.

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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.