12 years ago, when my startup had only a handful of users, I spent an hour every day doing hard core guerrilla (that should have been gorilla) marketing. I had no budget, no experience, in fact very little time as I was trying to hold down a paid job and had a new born baby, whilst developing 5 different internet startups of my own.
Hands up time. I was a bit naughty. I used to search websites of missing persons and other message boards where people were looking for old school friends. I sent them emails, individually I admit, from me, suggesting they try out our service FriendsReunited to see if it could help. This appalling activity managed to get us from zero registrations at launch in July 2000 to about 70 a day by December 2000. I was very happy with our 7,000+ registered users by the end of 2000 - especially as it was a few of these that started the viral word of mouth that happened in 2001.
But the question is was I am spammer. I say yes.
The definition if Spam (from Wikipedia) is "Spam is the use of electronic messaging systems to send unsolicited bulk messages, especially advertising,"
Yes - it was unsolicited. Bulk - not really as I did it one by one but I suppose I did a lot over the months. Advertising - of course it was.
But..... in my defence I was sending a targeted email to people who were looking for help trying to find someone - and I tried to help. And in many many cases, even at that early stage, it did help. Lots of people emailed me back thanking me.
OK - I still agree it was spamming so lets move on.
A few years later, a number of social networks started to spring up with some incredible growth. I won't mention names but it was pretty well known how they did it. In fact I was the seed investor of one that drifted along for a couple of years until they used this same technique. From launching it, their site exploded in user growth to being a very well known and successful business that they are now. For the record I was not happy with the technique at the time and never have been. But it works.
The technique in simple terms - when a person registers on your site, they cleverly ask a question to invite your friends (opt in by default) and unbeknown to you (most of the time), the site harvests all the email addresses from your hotmail, gmail, yahoo etc and sends an email to each of your contacts looking like it has come from you, telling them about a great new site you've found.
The effect of this you can imagine. One person registers leaves this checked. It sends out say 200 emails to your friends. Say 1% of them then register then thats 2 more people who register and send out the emails to their friends. Then 4. Then 8, 16, 32 etc etc. By day 21 that number is over 1 million. Of course by this time they have had to tone it down but you see how it can work.
This was used by many of the sites we all love and use today.
And still it seems to be used today. But even worse.
Last week a friend, who I am helping on their startup, emailed me asking to look at a couple of articles about Badoo. He wondered if I knew anyone or anything about it. I'd heard of it but didn't know anything about it. I read the articles - it's a geo location social network that has 140m members apparently and growing very fast. I didn't even go to the site because it didn't interest me, as it because basically its a hook up site.
Strangely though, within an hour I received a spam email from Badoo, in Polish from someone I don't know.
Then 3 hours later I get another email from them, welcoming me to Badoo with my email address and a generated password on the email. Plus telling 2,429 are in my area waiting to contact me. How does it know where I am when I haven't been to the site???
I contacted my friend and asked if he registered and he did indeed register after our initial email as a test. It seems some sort of email harvesting happened. But rather than than try and pretend to send me an email from him they have gone straight for the jugular with all types of welcome emails.
Since then I am getting 2-3 emails a day
- 9 people are waiting to contact me (all girls)
- 2 people are wanting to see my photo (as if)
- 2 people want to chat
- why not upgrade to premium account
- these girls can't send messages to you yet
- about time you changed your password
- 5 more girls want to meet you
Up to this point I have never been to the site. So finally I click on one of the links - whilst writing this I want to find out what details they have about me.
It logs me in automatically. The only personal details it has for me are my name is Steve, dob 4th May 1962 - wrong date, wrong year so no idea where that came from, location is London, and obviously email address is correct. And there are 6 messages waiting for me from supposed other members.
So either someone has done this for me, or more likely its been harvested from my friends registration and done automatically.
I wonder if they are including me and others like me in their numbers. Am I down as one of their millions of registered users. Because if so no one should believe the numbers of this so called successful site. It seems, doing just a small bit of research that there are a lot of people with the same problem and have experienced the same. They are known as a spamming site and I hear even worse stories from inside the tech scene.
A nasty nasty site.
So, I've deleted my profile. It took me through many screens to try and persuade me to stay - but finally I did enjoy being asked for a reason and they got -
BECAUSE I NEVER FUCKING JOINED IN THE FIRST PLACE YOU FUCKING SPAMMERS
[Quick update - they couldn't resist one last spam, asking whether I wanted to restore the profile I just deleted!!!]