Social networks trapped by spam traps

by Andy Oram

We've all suffered from lost time and lost connections because of false positives from necessary spam filters. Just this morning, board members of a non-profit I volunteer for were complaining to me that email to board members gets trapped as spam, and while working on this blog I nearly lost an email that was treated as a false positive.

But some businesses lose more than time. Open source advocate Ryan Bagueros, who does consulting around web developer and open source (his firms are northxsouth and Linefeed) told me lots of promising social networking companies are stymied because the emails they send members and prospective members get trapped by spam filters--especially at the major email hosting sites.

I find this ironic, because the social networking sites are structured networks that promise ultimately to be a replacement for email: richer with identifying information, more secure, and full of features to build relationships and communities. Yet to get off the ground, the sites depend on email, the only universal online medium, in all its primitiveness. And the sites suffer because of it.


8 Comments

Tim Trent
2007-04-30 01:34:14
You said "But someday, I'm sure, we'll all depend minimally on electronic mail and will instead by part of a network of social networks linked by standards and competing fiercely over features."


What do you have in mind? I've tried many social networks, rejected ones that seem to me to invade privacy and rely in "mechanical networking", settled on one, and wonder what on earth the benefit is to me.


Where do you perceive the true "next big thing" benefit?

Richi Jennings
2007-04-30 01:45:04
On the other hand, some social networks behave idiotically and totally deserve their mail to be eaten.


Case in point: tagged.com, which -- let's be charitable -- was less than transparent in its description of what happens when new users signup.


Actually, no. Let's not be charitable. Let's tell it how it is. Email from Tagged.com is spam. It asks new users when their Hotmail|Yahoo|AOL|Gmail password is. Then, without warning, it spams all the addresses in their address book.


I carefully went through the signup process, using a test account address book. This is not a case of clueless users blindly clicking OK.

Richi Jennings
2007-04-30 01:54:29
Oh, one more thing. A general point about email n00bs.


There's a pervasive naivety about what it takes to successfully send legitimate bulk email. It's not as simple as popping an install of Sendmail onto a DSL connection someplace and expecting the whole world to be overjoyed that you're sending them mail.


Often, people don't know they need help, blindly assuming it's their "right" to have their email delivered to anyone they choose, regardless of how poorly they send it.


Two examples; there are many more:


1. Get your FCrDNS right. Don't know what that is? Look it up in Wikipedia. Still don't understand? You probably need help.


2. Behave correctly when presented with a greylisting tempfail. Don't know what that is? Look up "greylisting" in Wikipedia. Still don't understand? You probably need help.

Andy Oram
2007-04-30 04:55:25
Good question from Tim Trent about what social networks could offer. I just know that the computing environment has changed a huge amount since email was invented, and the email model doesn't match what we want to do online very well. I wrote something off the cuff about this back in 2000. What I'd like to see includes:
  • Permanent IDs that aren't linked to particular hosting services, but can be easily linked to profiles, and with easy-to-use, built in digital signatures. (Pseudonymity or limited identity is also possible this way. Interestingly, I had a discussion with a researcher from CERT recently who cast doubt on the ability to achieve iron-clad anonymity, even when someone uses an anonymizing service such as Tor. But it's probably feasible to combine such services with other forms of identity/pseudonymity.)

  • Support for group dynamics, such as identifying oneself with a subgroup and voting.

  • Archiving with the rich tagging features available on sites such as Flickr and Facebook, and with the ability to add links later to other messages and external documents.

We could be engaging in much richer communication in general, with less hassle.
Mark Szpakowski
2007-05-05 06:38:58
OpenID/iNames pretty much solve this problem. You want to sign up for a site? Give it your OpenID. You authenticate with your identity provider, and ONLY with your identity provider (I gagged when Facebook asked me to provide it my gmail password when signing up!). If the site trusts your Identity Provider (just as it trusts Gmail, Yahoo, and those college email servers) then it lets you in. Look Mom, no e-mail!
matthew
2007-05-07 08:56:16
I find this ironic, because the social networking sites are structured networks that promise ultimately to be a replacement for email: richer with identifying information, more secure, and full of features to build relationships and communities.


Social networks are more secure than email? C'mon man...

Chris
2007-05-15 04:43:53
Use Brightmail. You don't have to waste time looking for false positives - there are none.



Paul Paradise
2008-06-14 15:45:28
I think the surge in social networks will reside given the fact that most depend on click through ads for funding. This will be a major issue for them as users are becoming more and more "blind" to PPC ads. The only way they can survive long term is to charge for their services. Or develop top-notch ad campaigns with major businesses as apposed to low-key click client ads.


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