Mixing Spam and Invitation Perceptions Together

It's an invitation to test out a new website. You feel special. Then you delve closer... and realize it's just spam.

Overloaded With Spam

This post was written as part of Peeve Week 2: Internet. The discussion has been moved to the author’s website.

It is so hard to define ethics in the offline world, no wonder it is even harder to define such a thing in the online world. The topic of misunderstanding things online is a very sensitive one, since many of us do it repeatedly every few minutes. What someone may consider good for them may be harmful to someone else. What someone may consider good for others may actually only be good for their own self.

I would like to talk about a simple example, which I will dissect for you to show the complex Internet peeve that lies within, thus enabling me to give you some headache.

An example – Tommy from MyBiggestComplaint.com contacting me

Take yesterday, for example. I was talking on the phone, around 8:10 pm, when my phone made a small beep. I had received a text message. Hmmmm, could it be someone or something important? After the phone call was over, I checked the text message. It read:

From: …@mybiggestcomplaint.com
Subject: your blog – quick heads up
Date: 6/12/2007 8:10 PM

Body:

I just sent you an email about your peeve at peeve week. We’d love to have
you as a beta user.

Thanks in advance,

Tommy Smith
http://mybiggestcomplaint.com

Hmm, that was weird. Tommy, in the above text, was referring to Ronald’s Peeve Week 2 series, the very series this very post (which you are reading) is part of.

That made me wonder about Tommy’s text message. Is it spam? Is it an ad? Is it an ad spam, or a spammy ad? It sounded interesting; someone thinks that I am, individually, important enough to be considered a beta user. I am thankful to anyone who sends me any e-mail or phone message that is useful to me. Keeping that thought in mind, I decided to check my other email account, the one Tommy referred to in the above text. The e-mail Tommy sent me, in addition to the above text message, said:


Tommy Smith wrote:
I noticed your recent peeve post at Ronalfy.com. I’m part of the beta user team at MyBiggestComplaint.com and we think you’d be great at … well, complaining!

We’re making complaining fun and productive. We would love to have you as a user. Complaining is a great way to feel better and gain exposure for your
blog.

Thanks for a second of your time. We look forward to hearing you complain. (How many times has anyone said that to you?)

Website: http://mybiggestcomplaint.com
IP: xx.xxx.xx.xxx

Ok, so Mr. Tommy is either really interested in what I write, or Mr. Tommy is spamming me on my e-mail account and my cell phone. If Tommy e-mailed only me, it is an invitation, and I would be honored.

If Tommy e-mailed everyone who participated and is participating on Ronald’s site, then Tommy may be spamming.

If Tommy e-mailed everyone except Ronald, then it is probably not only spamming, but also taking away Ronald’s loyal readers away secretly by e-mailing them directly. Ronald had the idea before Tommy, because Ronald started the first Peeve Week in January and has been executing it successfully for his audience, whereas MyBiggestComplaint.com was registered on April 21st of this year.

Is it good business? Is it spam? Is it back stabbing? Is Tommy and his team focusing only on getting more people to complain so that their own site can grow bigger or make money through ads? Am I myself taking it out of context, and is it simply a unique invitation sent only to me without copy & pasting any e-mail template, since the MyBiggestComplaint team thinks that I can be of value to their site.

So what do I find out? That MyBiggestComplaint.com is sending the same e-mail and messages to everyone, copy pasted word for word. Inspiration Bit also got the exact same e-mail, since Vivien from Inspiration Bit is also participating in the current Peeve Week 2 series.

That is spam. The site can be famous in the future, but this is spam. The site can make money in the future, but this is spam. Such a tactic is frowned upon when done by someone like Microsoft, but in the case of a new website where people complain, many or most people do not notice.

Tommy and My Biggest Complaint Team Misunderstanding and Assuming what I want

One of the many things that Tommy assumes is that making complaining fun and productive is going to work for me. Tommy’s site does not tell anywhere how complaining is going to be productive. Also, Tommy assumes that I want to complain. Tommy also assumes that I want to feel better by complaining. Tommy also assumes that I want to gain exposure for my site.

I do not want exposure for my site through the peeve week; that is why I have not posted any of my Peeve Week 2 articles on my site. The reason I am participating on Peeve Week is because I want to share an annoying trend in the society and the online world that is probably not noticed. Sharing such a thing makes me feel better because people realize such a thing; sharing such a thing does not make me feel better because I am complaining. If I want to complain and feel better, I probably have an offline life where I can easily do that any second of the day.

Misunderstanding Tommy’s and My Biggest Complaint’s approach?

Another thing about the internet is misunderstanding people’s approaches. Maybe Tommy is actually considering the welfare of others and not only MyBiggestComplaint.com. Maybe Tommy did approach everything thinking that everyone including Ronald can benefit from the invitation; however, Ronald never got any invitation from Tommy, but other Peeve Week 2 writers did, so I am guessing Ronald was left out of the loop on purpose.

I am going to check out and test MyBiggestComplaint.com . Sometimes people may actually be contacting people individually, actually caring about their involvement. Other times, people may be caring only for themselves and may be sending template-filled e-mails to anyone they can.

Bes Zain spends his time cruising the streets of Berkeley for squirrels and reason. He currently writes for The Reasoner and the Reader Appreciation Project.

The discussion has been moved to the author’s website.

12 thoughts on “Mixing Spam and Invitation Perceptions Together”

  1. Woah, I got sent the exact email from Tommy-boy too! Lol. But I want to write good, lengthy posts for someone/a place deserving of it. Such as here. I had read mybiggestcomplaints a week ago, when I saw someone advertising it here… and a lot of it is really simple rants.
    "I hate it when _____ and so and so happens". No longer than a 100 word complaint. Well, that's not what I want to do. I don't generally write these 'articles', and if I do… I want to because I respect the person who's website it will be on and who will read it. If I want to complain… well I have my own personal blog, where I can complain and rant and vent about the real things in my life that are frustrating me.

    I would have thought Ronald would also be included in these invitations. I must admit, at first I felt sort of "wow, I can't believe he took the time to email me and invite me to be a user" etc… as I thought only I received that email. As soon as I read this topic and realised it was on the same thing, the next time I open my email I will be deleting that 'invitation'.

    I definitely agree with you about the way "Tommy" approached this… I don't feel as if it's very personal. And maybe just a bit of a rip-off. Most of all, I feel bad that "Tommy" has invited many other writers to this thing, but not the host himself.

  2. Let me get this straight, you put email addresses or contact pages on your sites so people can contact you. Apparently you even have another feature where someone can give you the heads up by an additional email to your phone (never heard of that before). They contact you. You don't like what they contact you about. You turn around and post the contact you received from a visitor on another site, not your own.

    This would seem to violate any privacy policy . . . oh, but wait a minute, you don't have a privacy policy on your site, so I guess it's fair game.

    Why do you provide a method for people to contact you in the first place? Answer: so they can contact you.

    It sounds like a few of the other authors for peeve week got the same emails too. Big deal. Maybe Ron didn't get one because his peeves were some of the least visited (as indicated by the posted visitor count).

    I think your post could have a chilling effect on people interacting or contacting you.

  3. well… I felt flattered only for a moment. Then I quickly suspected that the email is copy&paste and started wondering who else got this email, and asked Ronald and then others about it.

    I realize that it's hard to get a new project going, we all need to promote our sites. But some of us go to extremes, and that's already called spamming.

    I was actively participating in a local forum, and there was this one guy who started blogging a month after I did. But then his every other post to the forum was an open ad to visit his blog and read his article and opinion about this and that. After a few of such ads, forum participants and moderators got fed up and shushed him down with a new anti-spam policy of the forum.
    I must say that his marketing tactics are working, he now has more subscribers than I do, but not so many inbound links, and the Technorati authority is lower.

    Some people can do it and get away with everything, others can't.

  4. Perhaps I was invited somewhat indirectly (or directly?) with a comment he left on another post. Either way, I don't really appreciate him contacting the authors. I also didn't see a way on his site that authors of the complaints get links back to their sites. Perhaps I am missing something.

    I like the idea of complaining, but I just couldn't do it on an continuous basis, which is why the Peeves only last a week and that's it. Complaining gets old after a while. Listen to somebody do it enough and you'll understand.

  5. george (if that's even your real name),

    I had to dig your comment out of spam, but I wanted to give Bes an opportunity to respond to it (which he surely doesn't have to since you decided to post anonymously with no URL back to your own site and a obviously fake email address).

    I'm not here to defend Bes and his choice to post contact information on my site (which I did disguise the IP address and e-mail address BTW). What I don't appreciate is the personal attack regarding page views. You assume that since a post is visiting a lot that should open up an author to an invitation? I think not. There are many great peeve posts this week, and I think the views are irrelevant. Of course an author wants to know their post has been well received, but my views stats don't reflect front-page reads, or posts that were read in a feed reader.

    I want you to come clean. Tell us who you are, how we can contact you, and who you are affiliated with. Until then, I will not take your comments seriously and will encourage others to do the same.

  6. 'George' – are you standing up for the fact that Tommy sent us those emails, or that we complained about being contacted?

    I don't mean to undermine you, but I for one, am not complaining about being contacted. It's nice to get emails, questions, feedback. But once I realised that that particular email was copied and pasted word for word, and sent to different people… it began to feel very impersonal. There's a much nicer feeling attached to an email that someone sat down and wrote to you, about your skills and what they feel. The email we received is a 'broad' email that applies to every author here and the name simply changed. That's all.

  7. I like the use of "chilling", which happens to be the latest buzzword for free speech. Heh, if posting a spam-ish email on a site (content only, I might add) "chills" people from sending me such emails, I'm all for it. 🙂

    I haven't received an email from Tommy, but mine hasn't posted yet this week.

    I agree, personal email is nice, but spam masquerading as email is about as personal as that nice gent from Nigeria who needs my help moving large amounts of money between countries. 🙂

    cetroyer

  8. Hi George, sorry for not being able to respond yesterday; I met 3 of my site visitors, which I have never met before. 2 of them contacted me via my site contact form, and 1 via the phone. Yes, my site does has a chilling effect on all my readers; they feel super cool after they contact me! 😀

    It seems I have said something in the post which you may not like. My post is directed at Tommy, so you have nothing to worry about or get offended about, George. Also, my entire post revolved around questions: did Tommy spam me? Did Tommy actually do a nice thing? Did I misunderstand everything? I doubted my own self in the very post I wrote, and that is a huge thing anyone can do in order to give someone else a fair chance of looking good. Such a tactic by me allows myself to look bad if I did take Tommy’s communication method and tactic out of context. That makes Tommy look like a nice guy if I am mistaken. Isn’t that nice? I wish everyone else could do the same for me.

    This is going to be a long reply, as I want you, George, to be completely satisfied with the answer, even though you posted anonymously. This is Peeve Week, and you basically posted a peeve about Bes’s peeve about Tommy’s approach to mass e-mailing a lot of people.The above text in my post from Tommy posted has been sent to a few other people, word by word, copy pasted, by Tommy him/herself, so there is no violation of any policy, since any bulk mail advertising a product publicly and inviting anyone can be discussed online. Wow, if the above e-mail that Tommy sent to me was only sent to me and not mass e-mailed as a private, non-disclosed beta, I am willing to back up and take back what I say by apologizing right away. George, do you know if Tommy sent that message only to me, or that he/she didn’t spam me? Also, do you know if Tommy is willing to apologize to me for e-mailing me and then not responding to my inquiring e-mails at all? I have e-mailed him 2 times from my phone, once the same night and once the next day, and still no response.

    Thanks Ronald for digging the comment out of the spam, and thank you Ronald, Vivien, Jess and Cetroyer for your comments. I think Cetroyer, Ronald’s and Vivien’s posts are awesome, and I think Jess is posting marvelously about things, and in a style that I myself want to start experimenting too. 🙂

    I’m not sure why you [George] are getting so defensive since this post is directed at Tommy and his/her team. Are you on Tommy’s team? Or are you offended by the fact that I am informing others about someone spamming people? Either way, this line that you probably missed in the post describes it all:

    I am thankful to anyone who sends me any e-mail or phone message that is useful to me.

    It’s right after the first copy quote of Tommy’s message above. I love hearing from people, and I do; that is how I just met some people last night. However, I do not like to be spammed, and I do not like a message sent to multiple e-mails of mine, at the same time, when they are part of a bulk mail, under an illusion that I am special enough to be the only one receiving an e-mail. Please let me know if I am over-analyzing.

    The above sentence defines everything. I do not have to list in my contact page “Do not send me naked pictures of people taking showers” on my site, nor do I have to list “Do not send me bulk emails pretending I am the only one to receive such an offer” since there is a lot of common sense in people. That is why people do not spam me, or usually do not, and contact me for various reasons. For example, one of the authors on this Peeve Post 2 right here sends me a text message every few hours asking things like “Wassup” and “What are you upto?” I respond back right away, answering and carrying on a conversation, since I appreciate and value that friendship.

    I hope that clarifies everything, since I do not like being spammed. As I mentioned in my post, I felt honored and happy that Tommy contacted me on multiple channels, but when the same exact message is sent to more than one people, copy pasted, it becomes bulk e-mail. What do we call bulk e-mail? Spam. Please tell me if I am mistaken, since I may be over excited right now because of having my visitors start to meet me more and stuff.

    It is like this: you find my post to be a bit offending, and you post your comment in public, even though it was not directed at you. I found the illusion of being the only one, that Tommy found interesting, not appreciative, and thus I talked about it in public and also made sure everyone knows that I may be wrong. Isn’t that why you are disputing with me, as I described everything, including my own doubts about me doubting Tommy’s motives? That was the point of the whole post; how perceptions and doubts can have mixed results, and how my own perception of this may be wrong. So far, however, it seems to be right since Jess and Vivien [InspirationBIt] above also got the same exact e-mail, word for word.

    Anyone can contact me, but I do not want bulk e-mails. Anyone can call me in the middle of the night, but I do not want bulk e-mails. You want someone to call or e-mail me George? Let me know. You would be surprised by how many people can easily contact me, and how many people online already do contact me through different channels. I do have a privacy policy: common sense. That is why you will never find any e-mail or private information about the thousands of people who have contacted and interacted with me [business & personal]. I considered supposed spam a completely different thing until your comment.

    I am still going to visit Tommy’s site as I said in the last part of my above post, since I may be misunderstanding things because of Tommy not responding to me, so your comment is a good one, letting me know that I have to explain more why I consider something spam [which I hope is more clearer to you now]. I definitely do want people to contact me, and people and companies do contact me, but, to sound like a hyper, repetitive robot: I do not like spam. You are mis-assuming or mis-communicating that Tommy contacted me and I did not treat his contact well. On the contrary, Tommy has not treated me well, by emailing me, raising my hopes, and then me finding out that I am not special enough for Tommy to be transparent to. How do I feel? I feel used and abused, heh. How? I visited Tommy’s site, adding to his view count, adding to his traffic. Traffic on many sites is used for everything; making money, showing off popularity, etc. He just lured me in, without responding to my e-mails, and then he does the same with everyone else. My entire post is about the way he approached everyone else and made it look like as if every individual person, including myself, were special enough to be the only ones contacted. That is why I said in the beginning of the post that I was feeling interested and inspired, until I found out I was a nobody for Tommy. Like I said at the end of my post, maybe I was taking the entire thing out of context. Long comment, isn’t it? I’ll make it a bit longer.

    The most important part of this post: “mixing” views of spam and invitation. Doesn’t that show you that it is a peeve feeling of mine, where it is hard to realize where one thing is spam and one thing is simply a good invitation? I added doubt to my own feelings in order to give Tommy a 100% defense mechanism too, since I say Tommy spammed me, and then I say I may be wrong since Tommy may not have intended to spam me and I looked at things wrongly, that I may be over-analyzing things and Tommy and the site must have good and sincere intentions. Please let me know how much more balanced I need to be in my post, since I was under the impression I was being as much balanced as possible; who else doubts themselves 100% like that?. Also, because of your comment, I feel that I should avoid posting contents of e-mails I consider to be mass e-mails and public e-mails sent to almost everyone, since it may offend or upset or do something similar to innocent, unrelated [unless you’re related somehow to Tommy] visitors like you on the internet. I never post private e-mails unless a person knows about it and has given me permission, and bulk e-mail, I always contact people first [my site is open for inspection, :)]. What would you recommend I do in the future, if I want to discuss such a thing? Please let me know, and if it sounds possible and better for me, I will start acting on it right away.

    I do want everyone to contact me. For example, I am checking my phone right now, and I have an e-mail from a local newspaper company, inviting me to call them or to give them my phone number so that they could talk about how bloggers focusing too much on blogs are wasting their offline life. Isn’t that amazing? I am not getting offended by someone wanting to write a newspaper article, read by over 5 thousand readers everyday, criticizing Bes for wasting “offline” life while focusing on websites too much, but I do get surprised when I find out that my excitement, based on the assumption that Tommy really liked only my way of “whining” and “complaining”, turns out to be based on an assumption that wasn’t true. Why? Because the newspaper message said that I am one of the several local bloggers to receive that automated message. I like such transparency.

    I love your comment Goerge, as it allows people to rethink whether or not they are right when they complain or talk about some negative impression they “may” have about something. I love the comment by Ronald, Jess, Vivien and Cetroyer also, as it shows that people can question the things they do not find logical, and may ask for more explanation to ensure that someone is not just running around accusing or saying things without logic and reason.

    Does that make sense? Please let me know. Now, let’s all hope for one thing: death to spam! I must end the comment here, as I have a lot of people to text back [in other countries], and a lot of contact form e-mails to reply to. I also feel really hungry, so it’s time for me to stop posting long comments and start having long meals. 🙂

    You know what? Here’s what I’ll do….done! I am now registered on MyBiggestComplaint.Com and have filed my first complaint [see snapshot if you wish]. This is what it says:

    Title/Subject: Tommy from MyBiggestComplaint.com Bulk E-mailing Me

    Text of my complaint:

    Wow, what a nice concept! My Biggest Complaint . com allows people to complain. Interesting concept, bad way to promote it by bulk e-mailing and spamming people, I think.

    However, bulk e-mailing people is not an interesting concept. I was given the impression that I am the only one being invited to MyBiggestComplaint, and in fact, I was simply one of the people who were bulk e-mailed the same exact e-mail. I thought we had moved beyond such tactics already?

    I do not like being e-mailed on multiple channels with an email that tells me that I have been selected, directly, as a beta tester for this site, when many other people are sent the same exact email message in bulk, I do not like copy pastes.

    If one cannot take the time enough to address me directly or know about me, why would one email me multiple times to help them? You aren’t helping me at all, and instead are giving me a false illusion that you are addressing me directly. Later, I find out that you are mass e-mailing the same thing to everyone.

    Tsk tsk. Either I am being spammed, or I am over-analyzing things. I hope this complaint does not get deleted, since it talks about the very site that is being used to complain in this very complaint.

    Nice concept, but probably really bad execution to get ahead the fast way! 🙂

    That way, more people can try to spank me and teach me a lesson for over-analyzing things, if I am over-analyzing things. Isn’t that nice? I keep doubting myself in smaller and bigger forms, again and again. I hate to brag about myself, but I think that is a form of disagreement where I am defending the other person as much as possible without negating my other argument illogically. Ok, it was published: My Complaint on MyBiggestComplaint.com about MyBiggestComplaint bulk e-mailing me. That is really cool; I like people and places that allow people to complain about them without any punishment. 🙂

    Ok, off to eating I go! Thanks again George, and I hope this clears up things more.

  9. I've read this entire page and it seems at best 2 people got the email that you considered to be so offensive.

    What proof do you have that more than 2 people were emailed? It seems you're making allegations about "bulk email" and are using 2 recipients as proof?

    Please don't berate me like you did George (ron should be completely embarrassed by the way he treated a visitor). I'm only asking a question.

    Please don't patronize me either by giving me a response that says something like "if an email went to 2 people we can ASSUME it went to more". Again, I'm only asking a question.

    For the record, I read your complaint over at mybiggestcomplaint and I also read the comments on it and it really seems that you jumped to conclusions intially. It also seems like you tried to call them out by taking a screenshot of your post. Someone would only do that if they thought the post might be censored.

    It seems like they handled things very well and frankly, I think you might have blown this out of proportion.

  10. not george,

    I have no reason to be embarrassed. It is against my comments policy to engage in personal attacks (see Trolls). I apologize if my comment seemed "berating", but I don't appreciate personal attacks by anonymous commentators.

    I allowed Bes to post this post for Peeve Week simply because it was within the topic and all private information was hidden (IPs and e-mail addresses). I respect your and george's right to disagree, which is why I dug the comment out of spam. What I do not appreciate, nor have any tolerance for, is personal attacks. That alone would have justified me deleting george's comment in the first place, but I wanted to give Bes and others a chance to respond.

  11. OK, first of all, this was Peeve Week, which means anyone is free to spill out their frustrations about anything and anyone in a peeve post. So it was okay for Bes to complain about a bulk email he and others received that was disguised as being very personal and flattering.

    Secondly, even if only three out of 11 peeve week contributors received the same email, and adding the fact that two of the contributor's didn't have their names linked, it means that 33% (3 out of 9) of contributors got spammed.

    Nowadays there is often a fine line between what can be considered as spam and what is marketing. Was it crossed this time? Perhaps it's something to argue about and something that everyone has a subjective opinion about.

    I personally think that Tommy has sent those emails out at the wrong time, and perhaps to the wrong people. The best promotion for the biggestcomplaint website would've been to contact Ronald at the time the Peeve Week started and contribute your own Peeve post here. Where you could've complained about smth and promoted your own site the way every contributor was free to do here.

    That would've worked much better. Instead of emailing people who are already very busy contributing their peeve posts to Ronald's group project, plus running their own blogs.

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