Thursday, November 08, 2007

Shelfari spam: "basically social networking rapists"

LibraryThing's success—we recently hit three-hundred thousand members and twenty million books—has spawned competitors, more than forty at last count. We respect them. Some of the best include BookJetty (gorgeous), Anobii (simple and big in China), Socialogue (does CDs) and GoodReads (friendly and not small; they just hit 5 million books). We think we do it better—for example taking from more than 75 soures other than Amazon--but we also know we aren't perfect. To stay on top we have to work hard, and to be true to ourselves—loving books and being more open and collaborative than anyone else.

We respect our competitors with one exception: the site "" We have always spoken our mind, so here's a piece of it: Shelfari has gained traction by engaging in unethical practices, including astroturfing (posting on blogs pretending to be users, not employees*) and putting out press releases about how they invented the idea. But the worst has been their spamming campaign.

These are strong accusations, but provable. This post lays out fifty-one posts that show they are, in the words of the well-known blog Gawker, "basically social networking rapists."

Yesterday the popular Gadgetopia went on the attack, after Shelfari sent out thousands of invites in one author's name. After getting the usual cut-and-paste non-apology, he pressed the point. I'd had my fill too, so I posted a comment with some of the evidence. Things built from there. And to my delight, Otis, the Goodreads guy, joined me, adding:
"I have two points in writing this: number one is to encourage people to keep blogging about Shelfari’s trickyness as long as they keep doing it. So far, people are having no problems doing that. However the saying 'all press is good press' is mostly true, so my second point is to encourage people to also mention that there are a number of other sites for book lovers that are well designed: notably, Goodreads and LibraryThing."
The Spamming Campaign

Jesse Wegman of the New York Observer wrote the best accounts so far. Shelfari spammed "every single person with whom I have exchanged an e-mail in the past three years, in addition to every single person who has ever been on the same cc list as I have, regardless of whether we have ever met, in addition to every single listserv I have ever joined and every single Web site from which I have ever ordered anything."

The method is simple. When you sign up for Shelfari you are dumped into a screen that offers to send out check-out-my-books invitations to friends. The user interface is confusing and deceptive, and what seems like an attempt to continue into the site really sends out hundreds or thousands of letters to everyone you've ever known by email. Reminder-letters follow. Skipping this step requires clicking out-of-the-way, gray non-underlined text.

Bloggers want to hide under their desks, ponder "moving to Tahiti" and beg God to "make [me] a bird so I may fly far far away." They spit anger and frustration. The blog posts started months ago, and Shelfari has done nothing because a small percentage of recipients end up signing up, and this has driven their growth. They know perfectly well what they're doing.

Below are 51 posts of bloggers and journalists livid or shame-faced at what Shelfari did to them.

Silly Shelfari Spam Shit

Startling Banals: Shelfari - horrible!!! Stay away from it!

Tess Harrison: An Apology...Please Don't Hate Me!

Apologizing to my network for Shelfari Spam

Gadgetopia: Shelfari Has Pissed Me Off

Mohtashims IT Tazee: Avoid #@$#! Shelfari like the plague!
"I dont like to use any service that breaches my trust in the first 5 minutes…"
nm_eviled: Freaking Shelfari
"I don’t know about the rest of you out there, but I’m about ready to commission a voodoo doll directed at the people who run Shelfari"
Shelfari SUCKS, the evil spamming bastiches
"If you get an invitation to Shelfari, from me or anyone, DELETE IT immediately. ... It’s a big, huge, scam. Torches and pitchforks, anyone?"
The Journey: Got your invitation?
"After Shelfari sent out another round of emails, which I specifically asked them not to, and failed to respond to the email I sent them, I have deleted my account. I refuse to deal with a company that has no regard for its users."
Insights into Air and shadow: PSA and Apologies....
"It is evil, evil, evil. It should die, die die!"
InsideView of Shelfari
"One hour after I pressed the button, Shelfari invited two dead people, one prisoner (he should probably read books but his warden is reading his mail), the CNN news desk, four European editors--and potentially a boatload of others who I hope I never meet."
ShelfSpam! A Story of Books, Trickery & Embarrassment

Prateek Dayal: Why sucks so much!

[rough draft]: O, fie upon thee, Shelfari

Scarlet Letters from the Literary Underworld: I am spam!

Sending Me Spam Makes Us Friends, Right?

What do Squid Read?
"After it sent out a second email today, I dove right back under the rock of humiliation, sank into the moat of despair and basically thought about changing my name and moving to Tahiti."
In Rare Form: Myrt’s Blurts. Embarrassing Moments: The Catalog’s-blurts-embarrassing-moments-the-catalog/
"Shelfari sent a bloomin’ email to every person I have ever emailed. Ex-boyfriends, people I hoped would never contact me again, coworkers, my vice-president, my CFO, my old boss, potential employers, my bishop, the entire Sunday school and relief society. EVERYONE. All now invited by spam to join my on-line book club. "
Dogster/Catster: Auto-Spamming of Contacts Has to Stop
"[A] coworker had a 'sitedown' email contact which redirects to our pagers which made us think there was a site issue at midnight only to read some slimy Shelfari marketing blather"
Class 1 Spam Alert - Shelfari
"Have fun creating new passwords for your GMail, Yahoo and other accounts."
V. Raghunathan warns us about Shelfari's shenanigans
"This is evil. Pure evil."
knitgrrl: Mea culpa — actually, no: Shelfari culpa
Comment: "All my personal and business contacts (including a couple CEOs) just got the invite."
"Please don't sign up for Shelfari since they try to gain members through spam!"
Caught in Shelfari’s Sticky Web: No More Friends, Please! (Jesse Wegman, New York Observer)
"Rather than reply individually to the hundreds of e-mails I have received, and continue to receive, since I signed up—a process during which I accidentally failed to uncheck the approximately 1,500 names in my Gmail address book that Shelfari had helpfully pre-checked for me, thereby inviting to join Shelfari, under my name (and ostensibly from my e-mail account), every single person with whom I have exchanged an e-mail in the past three years, in addition to every single person who has ever been on the same cc list as I have, regardless of whether we have ever met, in addition to every single listserv I have ever joined and every single Web site from which I have ever ordered anything (Amazon, Circuit City, and Law Students Against the Death Penalty have all, sadly, declined my invitation)—I thought I would write to you all here instead." Spam

Dear Author: Suffering Shelfari Spam? Opt Out

Brianna's Mommy: Freaking Shelfari

This Is My Truth: Major Ranting

Galleycat: Do We Like The Same Books? Go Away! do_we_like_the_same_books_go_away_69683.asp?c=rss

Dogs Steal Yarn, Apparently: I am a spammer, apparently.
"And so then I got the bright idea to email an apology for the spam to my entire address book and Gmail decided that I'm a spammer and shut me down for 24 hours. But I only got to send that email to the first 500 people in my 837 contact address book. So I'm shut out of sending email AND I've now spammed people twice in a one-hour period."
Beth's Blog: Don't Register for Shelfari: It Spams Your Address Book
"So, don't install Shelfari or you will be apologizing to your friends."
PerthNorg: Got Your Shelfari Invite Yet?

Will Porter: OOC - to anyone who got a Shelfari invitation from mun
"I wish I'd never even heard of Shelfari. I think I'm going to delete my entire fucking account."
Autumn Crumbs
"At any rate, if you got one of these, and if you decide to join, please read that article before you start inviting folks to join you. A very poorly designed website."
"In Spamalot: The Shelfari Chronicles" by Bethanne Patrick, Publisher's Weekly

Gawker: The Internet Sucks
"Finally someone takes on the great evil of our time: SHELFARI, the stupid book-centered stupidly-named social networking site that auto-sends an invite to everyone in your address book when you're dingbat enough to sign up. I hate them so much and I scream a little inside every time one of these damned "DO WE LIKE THE SAME BOOKS?" emails arrives. They are basically social networking rapists."
Sniff What I’m Steppin’ In: help
"Dear God, make [me] a bird so I may fly far far away. I just accidentally sent a Shelfari invite to my entire Gmail address book, which includes business folks, like, oh, my HR rep at the 7,000-person organization for which I now work. Help."
SENSE N NONSENSE: Shelfari spam
With great reply from Shelfari: "We have actually evaluated numerous designs for this process and have chosen one that we felt was extremely clear explaining the process and what is happening."

Blog comment: "That email went out to ex-boyfriends from ten years ago, their parents, high profile business professionals that I sent my resume to five years ago"
Deb on the Web: So Sorry!!

jessie's lament, and then some: shelfari fiasco

deponti to the world: What someone said about Shelfari

superstarksa: Shelfari - A PSA

James Galvin: Mass Invitation Spam Becoming the Default
"Anyone who is thinking “it’s your fault for not reading the whole page before clicking ‘continue’”, has probably never worked in IT. You don’t log in to a server as root for the same reason the fabled “big red button” has a plastic cover over it. When you’re dealing with large amounts of contact data, you are required to take extra precautions to maintain privacy."
coniecto: About privacy, user options and spam

The Boar's Head Tavern: Shelfari = spam?

The Credence Dot Com: and Are Spammers too !

PAgent’s Progress: Shelfari — A Poor Start

Snap Judgment: Shelfari Spam (Tamil?)

Mammaloves: Shelfari Is Not My Friend--Yet

Daring Young Mom: Shelfari is LIKE a Virus

Erotic Romance: Shelfari My Arse...

We rest our case.

*I'll post the URLs for this if anyone is interested.

Labels: ,


Blogger Rodney Olsen said...

Great to see that others are getting the word out about Shelfari.

Thanks for including the link to my Shelfari rant.

You might like to know that once I dumped Shelfari I signed up to LibraryThing. Much better. :)

11/08/2007 6:06 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

What really got me about the whole Shelfari thing was the email they do send:

"It is against Shelfari's policies to invite people who you don't know directly. ... If you believe you do not know this person, you may view his/her Shelfari page or report him/her in our feedback section."

A very slick attempt to pre-emptively make the unfortunate user look like the spammer, the one who made the choice to email you...

11/08/2007 6:12 AM  
Anonymous shelfari must die said...

I hate them with a passion.

Phony, fraudulent, evil.

They KNOW what they're doing and they persist in doing it, while feigning innocence with dishonest "who, me?" comments in the blogs that do complain.

Vile, vile dishonesty.

11/08/2007 6:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am also delighted to see so many people speaking out against Shelfari. They are evil. And I hope that as the word continues to get out, people will become educated about their dishonest practices and stay away from that site. Thank you for collecting all of these testimonials in one place.

11/08/2007 10:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never had any problems with Shelfari. However, after reading the posts, I went immediately and canceled my account. LibraryThing is MUCH better anyhow! Thanks for keeping them honest!

11/08/2007 12:13 PM  
Anonymous leo said...

Also deleted my Shelfari account after reading this.

11/08/2007 12:19 PM  
Anonymous Akiyama said...

Shelfari have also deleted comments on their blog from users complaining about this.

11/08/2007 2:45 PM  
Anonymous gemmation said...

So since spamming is illegal in the EU, this would presumably make Shelfari an accessory to the crime when users in the EU spam their entire address book?

[Setting aside the fact that the users seem to be being tricked into it.]

11/08/2007 3:17 PM  
Anonymous Lilithcat said...

What can you expect from a site that would send out something like this: all the email address [sic] of friends from your address book who from which you are given the opportunity to invite.

"who from which"??

11/08/2007 3:22 PM  
Blogger Amarie said...

That is sad. I am glad I never got around to joining. I noticed that Facebook kind of tried the same thing (offering to import my webmail address book). I declined, though it was at least possible to do so.

11/08/2007 5:24 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

amarie: Facebook, unusually, take the addresses and only use them to find existing users - they don't send out "invitation" emails. It's the prevalence of services like this that make people assume that ones like Shelfari will do the same and not unexpectedly spam people...

11/08/2007 7:35 PM  
Blogger Nancy White said...

I am happy you had the courage to say something. The credibility of all similar sites comes under examination when one abuses the trust of it's users/customers. Thanks

11/08/2007 8:01 PM  
Anonymous SqueakyChu said...

Thank you for sharing this information. I promptly canceled my Shelfari account.

11/08/2007 10:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I agree that Shelfari should not be using people's address books for spamming purposes, I think there is a point here that is not being addressed.
For me the link to skip the step was, if not completely obvious, at least there and useable and I used it. If I want to invite somebody to look at something, I ALWAYS do it manually. Why give a for profit enterprise access to all your friends and business associates in the first place?
At least some of the responsibility for this has to rest in all you people who allowed them access to it in the first place. They would not have the information if you had not given it to them. The link isn't all THAT hard to find to opt out. I did it.

11/09/2007 1:09 PM  
Blogger Shaping Youth said...

Make that 52 bloggers, as I'll be posting on the ethical issues surrounding Shelfari on Shaping Youth...

As you know, we profiled Library Thing and Readergirlz and interviewed YALSA's President for Teen Read week and such, so I'm going back into all those posts to make sure NO references are made whatsoever to them in an 'other sites' context...Rest assured, if any mention exists, they'll be OUTTA there.

And Tim, just so you know you're not alone on this...The ethics and accountability are sorely lacking in this sphere for sure, as Shaping Youth is being mined by a similar 'knock-off' attempt to dilute our brand, piggyback on our credibility and create market confusion.

If you see any media/youth sites using "Shaping Youth" (our USPTO trademarked name) please keep me apprised, as our nonprofit's legal team is livid and been battling this for months trying to keep a site from "going live" VERY SOON that's using our name to leverage their brand.

Ugh. Scoundrels.

I'll use your wisdom and transparency as to how you've handled Library Thing as a benchmark for myself, and try to maintain the high road lifting the conversation to another level.

That's all we can do when ruthlessly unethical companies do nasty stuff like this...Bleh.

11/09/2007 2:38 PM  
Anonymous Guybrarian said...

Sleezy, Cheezy - I threw an account up there recently, but will be closing it down now.

11/09/2007 8:19 PM  
Anonymous Morphidae said...

> The link isn't all THAT hard to find to opt out.

I'll bet anyone $5 this anonymous post is from someone who works for Shelfari. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Can Shelfari be reported like other email spammers to the government for this?

11/10/2007 8:22 AM  
Blogger Zmrzlina said...

When I followed a link posted by someone I admire, and signed onto Shelfari, I got so excited at the prospect of actually chatting about books rather than the usual shit-chat on other book-related sites, that I never really paid much attention to the spam potential.

I never gave access to my address book, so none of my friends got spammed, but I work at a PBS affiliate and one of my responsibilities is responding to the many generic emails that come in every day from various addresses posted on the station website. I get at least 5 a day that are invitations to Shelfari. That started to make me suspicious of the site, and then I read the LibraryThing post here, and now I am sure I need to delete my Shelfari page.

I'm in the process of moving all my reviews over to LibraryThing, which I am just rediscovering.

11/10/2007 3:57 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Shelfari's response:

- BP

11/11/2007 4:36 PM  
Anonymous Elizabeth said...

Thanks for linking to my post "Shelfari SUCKS, the evil spamming bastiches". I thought you'd like to read the comment I got on that post from Dave at Shelfari:

Hi Elizabeth,

Dave from Shelfari here.

I see that our customer support person already responded to your email, but I saw your blog this morning and wanted to respond. I can see that this has caused you quite a bit of trouble, which is not a very good beginning to Shelfari. As MommaLoves and J-L Picard have testified, Shelfari is a really wonderful gathering place for readers.

We went through several rounds in our design to make the process as clear as possible, including creating the two sections (friends already on Shelfari, and those who are not) each with a clear button to easily deselect the contacts or choose who to invite. We let you decide what to say to those you invite and let you know that we will send one follow-up invitation a few days later. For the handful of people who email us letting us know of mistaken invitations, we cancel that follow-up invitation. Your follow-up invitations were canceled with your account cancellation.

As MommaLoves noted, we are looking at a redesign of our registration and invitations as we speak. Shelfari is a 5-person company, and we are working hard to improve the site each day. Look for updates soon.

If you would like to give Shelfari a second chance, please send me an email, and I’ll gladly reactivate your account (invitations will, of course, remain canceled).

Again, this is a really rocky start to Shelfari, but I do hope you’ll still give the service a chance. Surrounding one’s self with this community of readers is simply a delight.

Happy reading!


It's simply a delight? Um, no. I never went to the site again.

11/13/2007 9:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To hell with Shelfari! Go to the top ... has anyone sent this tapestry of indignation to Amazon, who funds this sleazy operation?

I'm sure that they would not appreciate their reputation dragged through the mud.

Does anyone have any idea of which Amazon person would be the most effective to contact?


"In the end, only kindness matters."
(but maybe not for this kind of bullshit)

11/13/2007 11:23 AM  
Blogger tudorpot said...

thanks for posting this- it's good to know that the person in whose name the spam was sent -wasn't spamming me- just some stupid people who should have known better.

11/13/2007 12:06 PM  
Anonymous apokalypsis said...

Too bad all you "techy" bloggers couldn't follow a simple interface. I have never had the problems with shelfari that you mention. You probably spammed all your e-mail contacts if you ever signed up for facebook, too, apparently.

If people would just read what they're clicking on before saying "yes", these problems would be averted. Shelfari has a great site, and a pretty good user community. I'm happy with them.

11/17/2007 11:40 AM  
Blogger K.G. Schneider said...

I got Shelfari-spammed by someone I know and feel bad for her. I just ignored it, but she's a smart person (not a librarian... not a blogger... just a real-life person) who would never knowingly do that to her contacts. (I bet she had no idea...)

Software shouldn't be a "gotcha" environment. Snurfling up users with skeezy tactics is just wrong.

Shelfari is now deep into damage control, acting as if this was some temporary inadvertent error, not a design decision. Humph.

11/18/2007 8:19 AM  
Anonymous Richard said...

Regardless of the judgement call on Shelfari's tactics, the rest of the book sites (including LT) better get on it and start building a better mouse trap, or the arguments will be moot. Shelfari has a feature set and a graphic flow that seem to appeal more to the average web surfer, they've got better funding, just hired more folks, and look like they are here to stay.

If LT doesn't begin to evolve its strategy and appearance, I'm afraid it will continue to fall down the rankings in site traffic, market share, etc. I appreciate the hands on 'speaking my mind' approach from LT leadership, but I sure hope someone's coming up with some new ideas back there. Trying to attract new users with the tag line 'Shelfari's Business Practices Suck' isn't going to go very far, especially considering Shelfari has fixed the issue. Now the tag line is 'Shelfari's Business Practices Used To Suck'.

Here's to LT staying in the game, it's good competition for Shelfari, but time to stop bitching and start coding... When do we see new features??

11/18/2007 6:08 PM  
Blogger K.G. Schneider said...

Hmmm, I feel fake plastic grass under my feet. Hurry up and start coding??? For what? Shelfari is way ahead? They got caught and (without acknowledging they knew what they were doing) stopped one practice, so now they are o.k.? Gotta have new features? But you don't say what they are?

11/19/2007 7:24 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

KGS: I have to disagree with that. We have a couple features that people have been waiting for for a while. One, much better MARC parsing and Z39.50 access, is almost out the gate, but you know the last-5% rule. That one is going to get us a lot of library, because Casey is going to release it for libraries to use.

11/19/2007 10:50 AM  
Blogger K.G. Schneider said...

It's not that LT doesn't have places it needs to go... it's that "Richard"'s open-ended criticism was pointless.

11/19/2007 11:22 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

K.G. - Just because someone happens to post something that doesn't jump on board the pitchfork and torch bandwagon means that they MUST be an astroturfer? 'Richard's' post asked a clear question - what is LT going to do to succeed in a competitive market.

Tim, great to hear there are new features coming. Looking forward to seeing them!

11/19/2007 1:42 PM  
Blogger Yaniv said...

After, now is also doing the same. I keep on getting emails even from myself which I never intended to send.

11/27/2007 12:53 AM  
Blogger artydash said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11/27/2007 11:22 AM  
Blogger ashi.kacheria said...

spamming is surely a threat to cyber space. most of the spammers are also hackers and they break into your pc as soon as you click on their email links. in order to fight the spam threat we need a strong spam filters for our emails which secures us from most of the spam mails. i have heard that is one of the good e-mail service provider who gives maximum protection from most of the spam mails, now that is what we internet lovers require.

1/11/2008 3:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm looking for a ton of SPAM to go my way. Please feel free to SPAM the following accounts:

1/27/2008 3:30 PM  
Anonymous Jacob said...

I just signed up today and, after reading this post, somewhat anxiously started to ask some my contacts if the above had happened. I was very pleased to find out it hadn't.

2/11/2008 3:02 PM  
Blogger Slvrdlphn said...

I signed up with Librarything, Goodreads, and Shelfari on the same day and had the foresight not to invite anyone. After fiddling with all three I have found Librarything to be the one that suited me the best. I like the fact that Librarything has more than as a source since I have books that were not printed in the U.S. and books that are so old they only have LOC numbers.

Since then I have been using Librarything account almost exclusively. I still have Goodreads and Shelfari accounts, I just don't update them. When I do I just import books that I added to Librarything.

I discovered that Shelfari spams when my sister sent me an invitation to join it 5 times ... and this is after we were already contacts in Shelfari. Dirty, dirty script if they cannot even track who are already connected and who aren't.

In any case, since then I have been telling people like me who are into books to sign up in Librarything instead. Thankfully, most of them have.

4/03/2008 10:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I encounter plenty of ranting on the blogs I read, I really don't feel the angst so many seemed to express. I agree with the much earlier comment that to some extent the responsibility lies with the user. I may not be the most tech savvy guy in the world, but I read before I click OK. Additionally, I would like to comment that I like the Shelfari visual interface more than that of LibraryThing. As Pink's A Whole New Mind suggests, the Conceptual Age will be built upon an asthetic foundation. Good luck.

4/04/2008 5:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just got another selfari spam. I am sending it to the FTC... Here is the address to forward crap like this.

4/16/2008 9:58 PM  
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