Quechup with a Side of Spam

Depending on which social networks you’re already on, you might have seen this email a few times over the weekend: “So-and-so has invited you as a friend on Quechup… the social networking platform sweeping the globe.” I got half a dozen of them, and I’m not all that well linked in. As people quickly discovered, Quechup was sweeping the globe because of its behavior of sending invitations to your entire address book when you run through the sign-up process. Many folks found this behavior rude or worse; a Google search on Quechup returns pages of people complaining.

But the story is a bit more complex than that. If you actually run through the Quechup sign-up yourself (not that I can recommend that to anyone) and read the fine print in step 2, you’ll see “Congratulations! Welcome to Quechup. Find out which of your friends are already members. Choose the address book with the most contacts and we’ll search for matches so you can add them to your friends network and invite non Quechup members to join you. By inviting contacts you confirm you have consent from them to send an invitation.” The lack of commas makes the parsing a bit ambiguous, but Quechup really is telling people you they’re about to do: send mail on your behalf to your entire address book.

There are some lessons to be learned here about the design of social networks and our interactions with them:

Mess with expectations at your peril. People clearly feel that they own their own address book data. One reason Quechup is getting a bad reputation is that they are violating this expectation by using address book data without explicit permission for each address they send an e-mail to.

People don’t read. They especially don’t read fine print, and they especially don’t read on the web. I expect that most people who ended up spamming their friends with Quechup invites didn’t bother to try to figure out the meaning of that paragraph of text. Of course, the Quechup designers went out of their way to be misleading by putting a big headline at the top reading “Who do you know on Quechup?”

Cheating on virality doesn’t pay. It seems likely that someone at Quechup was focused on the problem of “how do we build up a buzz quickly?” They got a buzz, certainly: lots of blog entries and an increasing number of mailing list posts saying, basically, “under no circumstances should you sign up to Quechup.” So this little bit of cleverness ended up being a way to shoot themselves in the foot.

You can lose your reputation more than once. I used to think that it was important to be very careful about your online reputation, because it’s something that you can only lose once. Quechup is making me re-evaluate this. Looking at reports online, although there was a lot of fuss over the Labor Day weekend, they’ve apparently been indulging in this behavior for several months now. To my mind, this is the most troubling thing about the whole Quechup mess. It means that either a cost-benefit analysis tells them that the increased signup rate is worth the negative publicity, or else they’re so completely clueless that they don’t even know what people are saying about them. Either way, they’re not a site that I would care to do business with. In general, if you are running a site that makes a mistake and causes your potential users to rise up in disgust, I’d urge you to admit the mistake and fix it – even though that is clearly not the Quechup way.

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