By now you might have heard about the unpleasant surprise people had over the last few days when they checked out Quechup, a new social networking site which looks like it brings nothing new to the table - the same basic features as every other site, warmed over with a dating-oriented sauce applied. Yawn. But it turns out that there is something new: if you do the typical networking site action of letting it scan your address book to see if people you know are using it, it also - without asking - sends a "personal invitation" to join the site to all of them, in your name.
Without asking. Hope your mom is interested in social networking!
Here's a weekend warning about it from Dwight Silverman at the Houston Chronicle.
But I can't help but think that while what Quechup is doing is sleazy and inappropriate - period - it's a form of sleazy and inappropriate that relies on bad judgment by users to work. Moreover, it's a kind of bad judgment that speaks directly to an issue with online social networking in general.
(First, though... why would you let a site you've known for minutes look at your address book? Isn't that highly personal and personally valuable information? Sorry, no web site gets to scan that in my world. What are people thinking?)
My address book (and, I suspect, yours) contains an awful lot of people, and most of them are people I'd never look for or invite to a social networking site. My insurance agent? The guy who scoops dog poop off the lawn for me? My cleaning lady? My parents? Somebody I worked with five years ago and haven't exchanged more than two emails with since? I don't think so.
We've all gotten the spamvitations - from people we know (maybe) but people we would never think would approach us to say, "Hey, John, I think you'd really find this site useful." We know what they're doing; they've uploaded an address book to LinkedIn or some other networking site and said, "Invite everybody!" Because it sure is nice to look at the screen and see that you have 1.567 connections. Even if only 15 of them are people you'd really ask for anything.
When I get one of those obviously canned invitations, I don't think, "Well, if Frank thinks this is good, I should check it out." I think, "Whatever," and delete it.
Now, if Frank sent me a real email and said, "Hey John, long time no talk, but I thought of you when I found this online service because..." I'd stop and read it, I might check out the site, and I also might re-connect with Frank.
That called networking. Sending everyone in your address book an invitation is not.
So yes, Quechup did a very bad thing, but it required users to do something not terribly useful in order to work.
Trust is the big issue in these networks. All of your connections are not equal, and some are barely connections. And if you want people to trust you, you need to use your ability to recommend and communicate wisey - so when people hear from you, it's worth something.
Otherwise you'll have thousands of "friends" and "contacts," but you won't actually have a network.