I like to think that the blogosphere in general has a certain amount of power. One blog out of milions may not, but when something happens that runs counter to expectations and a good chunk of bloggers complain publicly, the results seem to be pretty dramatic.
Case in point: social networking site Quechup created a splash in the last few days by asking users to enter their email addresses and passwords so that the system could check to see if any of their friends were already members. (Personally, I don’t see why anyone would do this in the first place. While I guess there’s some email from my closest friends and family in my inbox somewhere, I don’t really use email to communicate with the people I see on, say, Facebook, or in Second Life or on IRC. Email is too formal for that, and I’d rather search for my friends some other way. I’d rather look up one and see who they have friended already, etc. I found a lot of people I know on Facebook through the groups. Anyway.) So the system does what one would expect; it looks up the email addresses in your contacts lists and checks to see if those people have accounts yet. Then it shows you the ones it found. Do you want to add these people are friends? Sure! Who wouldn’t push that button? Why not. Add them. What Quechup does next: it emails out an invitation, from you, to everyone you’ve ever corresponded with, personally inviting them to join this rockin’ new site you found. Without warning you that it was going to do it.
This is really not what email is for, and it’s a real abuse to use it that way.
In what universe is this okay? In what universe, seriously, is it okay for a system to prompt you to send out mass email to people who have not signed up for it? It’s one thing to send a message to people in a facebook group; they’re there on purpose. People in your contacts in email? Didn’t sign up for squat.
It’s a trust issue, certainly. You see an invite from someone you know (heck, there are a handful of people whose mere name in email would get me to click a button somewhere, sure!), follow through, and suddenly…you’re in the same boat! You’ve just spammed every living soul you know! So Quechup was certainly taking advantage of that trust, but is in return eroding people’s trust not only in social networking systems, but also in us. (Will people think twice when you ask them to have a look at something? Sure they will.)
So now if you run a google search on “quetchup” (like this one) you see a zillion posts by angry bloggers who are incredibly sorry to those they accidentally emailed, and incredibly angry at Quetchup. I’d love to see what happens. Will that mistake, and the widespread reaction to it, destroy Quetchup? Or is any publicity good publicity, and will this be the making of them?
Moral of the story: don’t give anyone or any website your email password. Ever!