This is a follow-up on this post. Tim Spalding (founder of Library Thing, one of whose competitors is Shelfari) has aggregated complaints -- over fifty of them! -- about Shelfari's shady tactics for growing its customer base. In a follow-up post, he presents further evidence of the other icky tactic by Shelfari folks: spam comments on blogs!
Some people have suggested (see this comment, for example) that Shelfari's users always had the option of not giving the company their e-mail id and password. This is not a fair defence of what Shelfari has done. In saying this, I'm not even talking about the design of its web page with its misleading features (pointed out by Proses Anonymitus and Tim Spalding).
I'm talking really about the nastiest thing in Shelfari's spam strategy: it sends invites to almost everyone in the users' addressbooks -- indiscriminately and repeatedly.
If you use GMail, your contacts list has pretty much everyone that you ever mailed to (and everyone who sent you mail or cc-ed you on a mail meant for someone else). Clearly, it has people of all kinds -- not just friends and family, but distant relatives, one-off acquaintances, competitors, and adversaries. In other words, there are people on your addressbook that you just would not want to interact with outside of the e-mail setting. Shelfari has no business sending invites to them, without your clearly expressed permission!
In a previous example of indiscriminate spam invites, Jennifer Golbeck was extremely upset that Gazzag (a social networking site) sent invites to "a couple of [her] exes"! Invites also went to "my boss and colleagues who are in much higher positions than me." Golbeck adds, "Those are people whom I think carefully about emailing, and I would never send them an invitation to a general social network."
In short, this sort of indiscriminate spamming can be professionally very damaging indeed.
A website -- especially one that's into social networking -- should be doing everything it can to protect its users' personal and professional integrity and reputation. This means that the website's default choices for a new user must be on the defensive side, with more aggressive settings to be activated by him/her.
Shelfaris of this wide webby world don't just ignore this basic rule, but choose to go in the opposite direction: they seem to be waiting to exploit their users' vulnerabilities -- their impatience, their lack of attention to detail, their inability to discern the intricacies in the intentionally misleading web pages, and yes, in some cases, their utter cluelessness too!
This is why Shelfari is not just shady; it's evil.