Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Shelfari astroturfing: The evidence

UPDATE: CEO Josh Hug left a omment on a piece by Seattle bookseller Michael Lieberman (also in the Post-Intelligencer):
"As for the astroturfing, that was an unintended work of an unexperienced but well-meaning intern who failed to make himself known as he commented on blogs. That was not our intent and we were unaware that was going on. It has stopped."
The "rogue intern" theory is plausible, and would provide some cover. But I'd like some explanation of the post where the rogue intern's comment is seconded by Shelfari's Marketing VP, without an implication that the intern's comment was anything but a user's. Who did the intern report to if not marketing?

Here's the evidence that Shelfari engaged in a massive campaign of astroturfing—having employees post comments to blogs pretending to be happy users. As with the spamming charge, I've come up with over 50 examples.

The offender I found has the ID "schaufferwaffer." The ID is the give-away. It's really easy to Google something like that, and turn up this same evidence.

The posts below make it clear this was no slip of the keyboard. Deceiving people was the whole point. It's icky to don't go on and on about how much you "love" Shelfari without mentioning you're paid by them, and worse to call yourself a "user" and wax rhapsodic about how you're going to win a site contest for which employees are ineligible. But the low point is surely the blog post with the woman who just found out her mother-in-law had brain and lung cancer. On the plus side, Danny wished her well. On the down side, he still took the opportunity to lie about who he was and shill for his employer.

Again, I want to make myself clear. We have lots of honorable competitors (listed here and here). Shelfari is a bad actor. Considering that they're the only well-funded site, with a reported $1 million from Amazon, their spamming and astroturfing is particularly despicable.

In fairness, "Danny" now comments mentioning that he works for Shelfari. Meanwhile the ID has been deleted. Nobody at Shelfari has ever mentioned or apologized for this. I triple-dog dare you to post about it on the site and see what they say.

"I have been on Shelfari for a couple of months now and absolutely love it.
Any good books you could recommend to me?

P.S. Check out the blog widget :) Its pretty cool"


"Shelfari is such a great site. I joined a couple of months ago and I have been hooked on it ever since. All readers are welcome and everyones opinion is listened to.
Add me as a friend :)


"Thats the funniest thing I have read all day. I am adding you as a friend right now on Shelfari. I am still trying to convince all my friends to join. Any tips?"


"friend me
I dont know if i can compete with 300 books…but hey its all about rediscovering right?"


"Its my favorite website! Add me as well.


"Cool blog. Another Shelfari user! Great to see you joined the site. Any books you could recommend me? My username is schaufferwaffer"


"I am also a huge Shelfari fan! I am looking for a new good read. Can you recommend me a book?


"Cool widget! I have been on Shelfari for a couple months now and LOVE IT! I like the books on your shelf. Which ones could you recommend me?
-schaufferwaffer (username on Shelfari)"


"I am a big Shelfari user. What are you waiting for? Sign up and add me as a friend (schaufferwaffer). Recommend a good book to me!"


"Ohhh also on Shelfari. Also a big fan. I love the mystery genre! Recommend me some good books….schaufferwaffer is my id."


"Shelfari is a great site. I have discovered so many new books there! Have you read my new favorite “A Thousand Splendid Suns”.
Add me as a friend. My username is schaufferwaffer."


"Hey, I just stumbled upon your blog. I am also a Shelfari member and I am totally hooked. Could you recommend me any good mystery books?



"I like Shelfari because of the social interaction. I met a lot of new "friends" who have recommended some great books. Add me "schaufferwaffer". Also, check out the new Harry Potter contest http://www.shelfari.com/harrypotter/"


"Hey, I just came across your blog. I am also a Shelfari member, and i must say...I am completely obsessed! Do you know of any good fiction novels you could recommend me?
Add me as a friend! My username is schaufferwaffer :)



"Hey, I just stumbled upon your blog. I am also hooked on Shelfari. I just added “How I Live Now” to my reading list!
Add me as a friend. My username is schaufferwaffer. It looks like you have some great books you could recommend me."


"I am a huge Shelfari fan! Add me as a friend. My username is schaufferwaffer. Any good book recommendations?"


"Hey, I am on Shelfari, but have not heard about RIT. I do enjoy reading, but don't know if I have enough time with the school year starting up to join a book challenge.
Any books you could recommend me? My username is schaufferwaffer.

P.S. Cool Widget"


"Hey, I just stumbled across your blog. I found it pretty interesting b/c I love Shelfari and the Great Gatsby is one of my favorite books. I was required to read it through high school and was blown away. Any books you could recommend me?
Add me as a friend on Shelfari. My username is schaufferwaffer."


"Shelfari is definitely my favorite book social networking site. I think its easy to use and has a nice looking interface.
Add me as a friend! My username is schaufferwaffer"


"Add me as a friend! schaufferwaffer
Any good reads to recommend?"


"Add me as a friend! schaufferwaffer
Any good reads to recommend?"

http://commavictim.blogspot.com/2007/07/shelfari.html (yes, same text)

"The best part of Shelfari is the new facebook application. It links with Shelfari.com and now i can access my books on facebook. Recommend a good read to me at schaufferwaffer"


"Add me as a friend! schaufferwaffer
Any good books i should read?"


"Your book sounds really interesting. I'll check it out! I am also on Shelfari. Add me - schaufferwaffer"


"Wow what a turnaround! Add me as a friend. My username is schaufferwaffer.
Any good books you can recommend me?"


"I like your bookshelf. I'm also on Shelfari. Friend me "schaufferwaffer".
Any good books you recommend?"


"I like the blog :) I also like Shelfari! Add me as a friend. My username is schaufferwaffer. Any good books you can recommend me???? To respond to the comment above me, the best part of Shelfari is that its FREE"


"Checkout my shelf...www.shelfari.com/schaufferwaffer I am looking for a good mystery book to read. Any suggestions?"


"Thanks for mentioning Shelfari in your post. I am also a pretty big fan of fiction, specifically historical fiction. My [sic] Schaufferwaffer, maybe you can recommend me some good books.
All the best,


"I love Shelfari!
Add me as a friend "schaufferwaffer""


"I am also familiar with Shelfari. Add me as a friend! Do you know of any good books you an recommend me?



"Great Blog! Good luck with the job.
I am also on Shelfari. Add me as a friend. My username is schaufferwaffer.
Have you seen the blog widget? Are you going to add it to your blog?"

This is followed by a post from Dave, and is proof the company knew what Danny was doing. He pretends that the Danny's comment was from a real user.

"Thanks for mentioning Shelfari :) It looks like I was already beaten to the punchline….but the blog widget mentioned 2 comments above has just been completely redesigned with some cool new features. I’d love to hear your opinion on it. Give it a try and tell me what you think.
Happy Reading,


"I hope your mom is alright. I found this blog through google blogs. I am also a user of Shelfari and love it. Checkout my shelf at schaufferwaffer.
DO u have a facebook account? They now have an APP on facebook and its pretty cool!"


"I think Shelfari is also great! Checkout my bookshelf, my name is schaufferwaffer.
Also, did u know that there is also a facebook App that links to your shelfari account? Its pretty cool!"


"I like the blog! I am also a Shelfari member. What do u think of the new contest http://www.shelfari.com/harrypotter/
I think i can win it! [No, he can't. People who work or the company are not eligible.]
Add me as a friend "schaufferwaffer"


"Shelfari is my obsession. I spend way too much time on there, which is not a bad thing i guess
Add me as a friend!


"Shelfari is a great site. I have been hooked on it since the beginning of the summer. Have you see the blog widget yet?
Add me as a friend. My username is schaufferwaffer. Do you know of any good books you could recommend me?"


"I joined Shelfari a couple months ago. What a great site! Add me as a friend!



"I'm liking the blog. I am also a huge fan of Shelfari. Add me as a friend! My username is schaufferwaffer.
Any good books you could recommend me?

Also, have you seen the blog widget?"


"Cool Blog Widget! I have been on Shelfari for a couple of months now and just absolutley love it.
Do you know of any good books you can recommend me? How about "Life on the Run". I have heard some good things.
Add me as a friend!


"Shelfari is a great site! I am completely addicted right now. Could you recommend me any good books? Add me as a friend! My username is schaufferwaffer."


"I am also a Shelfari member and was wondering if you are participating in the Harry Potter contest? http://www.shelfari.com/harrypotter/
Grand Prize looks really tempting. Add me as a friend "schaufferwaffer". Any good book recommendations?"


"Thanks for mentioning Shelfari. I work there, add me as a friend "schaufferwaffer". Do you
have any good book recommendations?
Have you seen our Harry Potter contest? http://www.shelfari.com/harrypotter/


"I like your list of books. I am also working on a list of books to read, however i am still compiling it. It can be seen on my account at Shelfari.com……My username is schaufferwaffer
Apparently Shelfari is coming out with a new blog widget that is supposed to be released in the next couple weeks. [Apparently indeed—You work for the company!]"


"I am a Shelfarian! Add me "schaufferwaffer"

You should add the blog widget. Its a pretty cool way to show off your books"


I really like the widget in your blog! I have read Jane Eyre and really liked it. Any books you can recommend to me? My username on Shelfari is schaufferwaffer...Send me a note!


"I like your shelf! Add me on Shelfari



"Hey, I just stumbled upon your blog. Whats happening in San Paulo is really fascinating. I have a few friends down there and I have to ask them what life is like without advertisements everywhere. Also, I am on Shelfari too. Add me as a friend! Recommend me a book :)



"Sounds like you are a true bookworm
I am also on Shelfari. Add me as a friend! My username is schaufferwaffer
Any good books you can recommend to me?"


"Shelfari is a great site. I discovered it a at the beginning of the summer. It's pretty easy to use and the widget looks great on blogs.

Add me as a friend! Any good books you can recommend me?



"I just stumbled across your blog and I really like it! I signed up on Shelfari a few months ago and love it .
Add me as a friend, my username is schaufferwaffer.
Any good books you can recommend me?"


"Jusy Saw “Knocked up”. I couldn’t stop laughing. [Nice touch.]
Also a huge Shelfari fan! Add me as a member. schaufferwaffer"


The prosecution rests.

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Blogger Miki said...

And of course, the shelfari page for the "schaufferwaffer" user seems to have miraculously disappeared, from what I can see without actually joining the site.

11/13/2007 4:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I triple-dog dare you to post about it on the site and see what they say."

I submitted feedback on their site, asking pointedly whether they engage in astroturfing (without using the term itself). If I get an e-mail response, I'll share it with Tim.

11/13/2007 5:56 AM  
Anonymous not an astroturfer said...

Shelfari now claims that "schaufferwaffer" was a well-meaning intern doing the astro-turfing without their knowledge. LOL.

And the Shelfari honcho Josh is now leaving comments on blogs to counteract the negative publicity - after driving growth for months with spammed sign-ups.

Unethical, and untrustworthy. If I were Amazon, the last thing I want would be to associate my brand with deception and deceit.

I've only ever had good experiences with Amazon, so I'm disappointed that they picked the worst possible horse to back in the social book-working stakes.

11/13/2007 7:43 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

Hey, where are you seeing the bit about them cliaming he was a rogue intern. While I'm not inclined to believe them automatically it is at least a defense, so if they're saying that I should point to it.

11/13/2007 8:30 AM  
Anonymous not an astroturfer said...

Hi Tim, see http://www.bookpatrol.net/2007/11/shelfari-stumbles.html

11/13/2007 9:11 AM  
Blogger JLH said...

Nefarious, nasty, and damnably despicable. Thanks for exposing this. and you're right, Tim, you're very friendly about other decent sites.

11/13/2007 11:32 AM  
Anonymous Heather19 said...

I looked at Shelfari once, I think it was before I even came to LT, but I never signed up there 'cause I didn't really care too much for it.... Now I'm REALLY glad I didn't. I can't explain my frustration with them without ranting, so I'm just going to say THANK YOU Tim, for pointing this out to everyone who doesn't already know, and for adding your proof and comments.

11/13/2007 11:41 AM  
Blogger FJ said...

It's becoming harder to get away with this nonsense. Is it really worth it for them? Hard to believe. There's no recovery now.

11/13/2007 5:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "rogue intern" theory is possible, but not plausible.

11/14/2007 5:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I came to this post because I learned you linked to my old blog about Shelfari.

I had no idea that this guy who called himself "schaufferwaffer" was actually spamming the comment section!

At any rate, while I did sign up, I have not been impressed with them because for one thing, when you put up a Shalfari bookcase on your site, when readers buy a book, Shelfari gets a commission, not the website owner. Why should they get a commission when someone like me is an Amazon Associate? I could easily put up a bookcase of my own, directly with Amazon!

Bottom line? While I'm still a "member" of Shelfari, I am not too impressed with them.

11/14/2007 8:03 AM  
Anonymous laytonwoman3rd said...

Reading several of those "schaufferwaffer" posts in a bunch, it is so obvious what was going on. They sound generic, almost as if they were automatically generated, and not written by a "real" person at all. That over-eager intern story sounds just as bogus. Is it possible that this technique actually worked?

11/14/2007 9:44 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

That's a good point about their widget. On LT you can put your own code in. I agree that if something appears on your blog, it makes sense to give you the money. After all, it's still helping the site with promotion.

As for it working, it works very well. Nobody noticed this until we did, and many of the comments were met with thanks.

To be perfectly clear, we leave comments on blogs, particularly me. It's always clear who I am, however--I generally say I'm the LibraryThing guy or the LibraryThing founder or whatever. Sometimes we'll say "we" or respond to a specific question, etc. And about half my comments are on library blogs where I often know the people involved. I think commenting on blogs is a good thing, and perfectly okay. Once or twice I stepped over the line—both times I can recall on LiveJournal, where although the stuff is public like other blogs, a different understanding of readership is understood, and outside comments are generally unwelcome.

11/14/2007 2:29 PM  
Blogger Jenny A. said...

'The "rogue intern" theory is plausible...'

Tim, if it works for them, feel free to make me a patsy at some point down the road!

;c) "Rogue"

11/14/2007 11:57 PM  
Anonymous Lyza said...

Holy crap. I blogged recently about LibraryThing vs. Shelfari in early October. You can see the post here.


The only comment I got on the post? I'll be damned:

1. Dschauffer Says:
October 3rd, 2007 at 3:04 pm

I use both Shelfari and Librarything. I like Shelfari a little more. They just updated their widget today. It’s pretty cool, check it out!

I knew it sounded fishy when I first saw it, but dang.

11/15/2007 10:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Tyson said...

Explains why they never answer questions, too busy doing dodgy site pimping.


11/18/2007 12:16 PM  
Blogger Historia said...

I have been on Shelfari for about 12 months now, and I have NEVER seen anyone post to my blog or to ask me to have them as a friend with the name of schaufferwaffer.

One of the reasons I have not had a problem is because I never INVITED any of my contacts to join Shelfari. I hate doing that because it is spamming. And if anyone does it to me, I just delete the email.

Shelfari says they have now redesigned the invitations program so that people cannot invite their entire address book. I hope that fixes the problems. (see blog November 12 2007)

11/19/2007 12:40 PM  
Anonymous Akiyama said...

I just e-mailed Amazon, suggesting that they ask for their money back.

11/23/2007 1:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We get it; Shelfari is eeeeevil! Now, to return to your regularly scheduled Thingology content??? Please??

12/02/2007 10:49 AM  

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