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.