Shelfarious Behavior

Published 10 years, 11 months ago

Two months ago, we had someone essentially spam css-discuss by sending a social networking invitation to the list.  Now, I’m all for making connections, but inviting close to 8,400 people all over the world to join your favorite new social graph seems a bit, well, anti-social.  Further, there was a statement right in the invitation that sending it to someone not personally known was an abuse of the service.  Regardless, it was a violation of list policies, so we booted the offender from the list.  I followed the “never send invitations to this address again” opt-out link and reported the offender via the abuse reporting address.

I very quickly got back a reponse from the team, expressing regret over what had happened and promising to take care of it.  I suggested they domain-block css-discuss.org and webdesign-l.com (you’re welcome, Steve), thanked them for being so responsive, and that was the end of it.  Until a few days later, when I got personally spammed from the same user account.  I reported them again, this time with a bit of snark, and opted myself out.  I didn’t hear a word from anyone.

Of course, as you’ve guessed from the title, the site in question was Shelfari.  And thanks to what I’m now finding out about their practices, it’s quite possible—even probable—that the offender was Shelfari itself.

What we have here is a clear case of bad design causing negative ripple effects far beyond the badly designed site.  In the case of css-discuss, over eight thousand people got spammed through a members-only list they’d joined on the promise of high signal and low noise.  I expelled a member of that community as a result of what a site did for them thanks to bad UI.  I feel bad about that.  Had I known, I might have put the account on moderation until they could be reasonably sure things were cleared up with Shelfari instead of just booting them.  So I’ve tracked down their address and apologized, which seems the only honorable thing to do.

It may also be the case that bad ethics are as much to blame here as bad design.  This is much harder to assess, of course, but the fact that the opt-out action was completely ignored makes me much less likely to chalk it all up to a series of misunderstandings.  Even if the Shelfari team was trying to be good actors and bungling the job, it’s little wonder they’re being hung with the spammer tag (the “Scarlet S”?).  Automatically using people’s address books to spread your payload is a classic worm-spammer technique, after all.

Given all this hindsight, I’m definitely intrigued by the following passage from the mail they sent me on 14 September:

We make it super easy to invite, but some people just send to all, which isn’t really what we want.

In other words, the very thing they’re apologizing for now, the thing that has caused such a recent uproar, was known to them no later than two months ago.  So yeah, no surprise that a whole bunch of folks are not cutting Shelfari even one tiny iota of slack.

Anyway, the bottom line is this: if you’re signing up for a social networking site and they offer to contact people you know or import your address book or things of that nature, be very cautious.  And be doubly cautious if you’re signing up for Shelfari.


  1. “We make it super easy to invite, but some people just send to all, which isn”t really what we want.

    This just illustrates the mendacity of Shelfari and why they cannot be trusted.

    If it’s not really what they want, why do they continue to auto-check ALL email addresses in their latest “fix” to the user interface, and declined to change it when asked to? (Clearly it’s what they want — spam drives their membership figures because it fools people into thinking that the spam recommendation is authentic.)

    People are not cutting them slack because of repeated instances of bad faith Shelfari has shown while supposedly dealing with the problem. They have a history of saying one thing and doing another – or worse, ignoring you altogether.

  2. The legal doctrine of “attractive nuisance” as it applies to minors and Social Networks is being expanded in practice by site owners and developers beyond age limitations. The ‘spam’ issue that you presented is a good example. Web 2.0 could very well end up being casually defined, in a few years, as having been nothing more than just an attractive nuisance.

  3. I had a similar problem with a different social network a while ago. They made it confusing as to what they were doing, and before I knew it, everyone in my contact list (including several mailing lists) were getting invitations to join the latest and greatest “myspace killer”.

    I thought I was okay, and I apologized to the people that were offended at me spamming them, but a few days later it happened again. I searched all over the site looking for ways to turn it off, nothing very obvious. I tried sending them a support email, no response. Finally, almost by accident, I found the way to stop this service from spamming everyone every 3 days. I fixed it, and then promptly canceled my account.

  4. People need to think before they leap into social networking sites. Maybe we need to update an old saying that instead of “fools and money soon part” its now “fools and security soon part.” Way too many people sign up for SNS’s and give away valuable information about themselves and others. The average person would not hand over a cell phone filled with their entire contact list to a door to door salesman. Yet for some reason they will hand over that much information and more to an online service?

    That being said i’d rather not blame the victum any more.

    Shame to Shelfari for their current actions.

  5. […] incident is the lack of attention here in the social media world. Outside of O’Reilly Radar, meyerweb, and select industry specific blogs, nobody’s talking about this astroturfing turkey! And […]

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