The logical outcome of Spock

This week, like many, I have gotten a bunch of invites to join people’s trust networks on the people-search/social networking site called “Spock.” Now normally I have started to mostly ignore new invites from social networking services. There are far too many, and I can’t possibly maintain accounts on them all, so a new site will have to get very, very, very compelling before I will join it.

I’m waiting for the social networking sites to figure out how how to interoperate in a meaningful way, so that I can join just one, and befriend people on others, and use apps that work over both. The new Google offering is a step in that direction but is mostly about making apps portable over networks.

However, the volume of mail from Spock was much higher than a typical new network. One blogger identified the reason, suggesting the site was designed by the evil spock from Mirror, Mirror (Star Trek). The trick is the site has already spidered other social networking sites and web sites to build profiles on people, and thus declares that almost everybody in your addressbook “already has a profile” according to Benson. This is convincing friends to authorize the semi-spam. And Wired News has discovered something even nastier about this spidering.

However, I see a deeper problem, even without these flaws in Spock’s system. We have to consider just how much we want to allow applications to “mail everybody in your address book.” This started with Plaxo and Goodcontacts, which wanted to be address book managers, and now has moved into social networking tools.

The problem is I have 1,000 or more people in my address book. If the average person engages in “mail everybody in my address book” once a year, I will get on average 3 such mails a day, and so will most others.

Facebook actually clued into that and forbids applications from mailing solicitations to everybody in your facebook profile. You are limited to a modest number per day. Even with this, it didn’t stop Zombie invitations from getting pretty annoying to people.

E-mail viruses, of course, also spread by mailing everybody in your address book, to the extent that email programs had to move to make that a more guarded operation, and antivirus programs had to detect it.

Now mailing most of your address book isn’t spam (even with commercial) because you know the people. Many of us mail a subset of it to announce parties or major events in our lives, or to send end of year letters. But we do need to generate a different ethic over mail to your whole list that is triggered by a 3rd party web site or application. With so many apps wanting to “market like a virus” this just doesn’t scale, and our boxes will become full of this spam-from-friends. (A bit like the way pyramid schemes also encourage friend spam.) It needs to be clear that this is not something apps should do, and not something our friends should let apps do without a lot of consideration.

Note: If you are on Spock, and you agree they went too far, you should delete your profile. Only be seeing people flee will they figure out they did wrong. Or, at the very least, change your profile to a stub that says you find Spock’s privacy practices unacceptable and you ask people not to network with you on it.

Quitting Spock

I've asked them to give my account the vulcan death grip. Let's see what happens.

I don't think they went too far...

I'm going to ask a tough question here:
You say the invitations are "semi-spam" and that everyone should walk away from Spock because of them. Are you advocating that everyone walk away from all Social Networks that ask this? Plaxo makes the same assertion and emails everyone as well. Are you advocating walking away from that network as well as Spock?

If I sound cynical, it is because I feel that you have decided that because you feel one thing done during the beta phase of the site allows you to recommend that everyone walk away from a site that I think isn't as bad as you seem to believe.

Let's think here. You don't have to invite everyone in your address book to Spock. Yes, they have made that the easy way to do it, but you have a choice. Instead of deciding that an option some find useful is a bad thing, why not try the other options instead? The main option you have is to only invite those who you want to connect with to connect with you and join your trust network - and you can do this directly from Spock or via the FaceBook app written by a member of the FaceBook community.

You want your social networks to interoperate. Yet, when one comes along that allows you to see all of the information on people in one place, you don't like it either.

Time for another hard question: If you want the networks to interoperate, how do you want them to do it? Would you prefer that only the search algorithim make the decisions? One of the best parts of Spock is that you as a member of the community can vote up or down any piece of information on a person's profile. You as a member of the community can even flag any piece of information for review and deletion. That gives you the power and the ability to make sure the information scraped from other sites is real and applies to you.

As for Wired, they must have decided that Spock was worth investigating. They named it one of the top 10 startups for 2007…

Just my two cents.
Kathy Jacobs, Spock Evangelist

Lots of ways to do it

The spock team just didn't think this one through. You have to ask youself, "So what if everybody does this?" If the answer is you will flood people with mail it's a bad business decision because you will get blowback.

Punish them forever? No. As long as they do a proper "Shit, sorry, we made a stupid mistake, we won't do it again" rather than a "We made no mistake, really" then I think people will forgive Spock and be interested again.

Just look at my math. I think most people have address books with 1,000 or so people. It just doesn't scale for any app to mail them all.

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