Does Spam Irritate You?

March 20th, 2008 22 Comments

spambacn.jpgMix is reaching more people now, especially through groups. This is great because we always thought groups would be the best way to draw people into the network and conversation. Implied levels of trust within a group make it easier to engage and provide value to people who ordinarily have no use for social networks like LinkedIn or Faceboook.

For example, say you belong to a special interest group related to Oracle, and you join Mix because it’s the new place for your group to coalesce. Suddenly, you have access to product development, other people who use the same products you use with similar interests, people you’ve met at conferences, etc. The network effects kick in, and you’re networking without even knowing it.

One negative is that people need to be invited to join groups, which means email that may be seen as unsolicited. I’ve heard that called spam.

Any social network involves a minimum amount of spam in order to get people to join. We’ve tried to keep it minimal, but it’s a necessary evil.

Due to anti-spamming and privacy concerns, we send all the invites from Mix using an alias rather than anyone’s real address. All four of us receive replies to these mails, which are usually: 1) auto replies and 2) bounces.

Add another category because yesterday I got a nasty gram about spamming penalties. There’s a problem here because I can’t unsubscribe people from a non-existent list, and I don’t control who networks with whom or who invites which people to join a group.

At the same time, I don’t want Mix to seem like a spam machine. Plus, this is the second time this year I’ve been accused of spamming.

Obviously, we need to work this out somehow, but I’m curious to know how annoying people find spam? I have a very irritation level for spam, junk mail, telemarketing, etc. I have no problem ignoring them, since it costs me very little effort to delete spam, shred junk mail, screen my calls, etc.

But, as I’ve seen numerous times, other people have much lower tolerances. What do you think?


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22 Responses to “Does Spam Irritate You?”

  1. Gary Says:

    “There’s a problem here because I can’t unsubscribe people from a non-existent list”
    The obvious solution to that is build a list of people (and domains) who have requested not to receive Mix email, and validate against that before sending out any email.
    And you’d need to record who’s requesting invites for people to make sure no-one is using it to repeatedly target individuals.
    To be honest, all this should have been thought out and controls put in place before the ‘invite’ facility was added.

  2. Gary Says:

    “There’s a problem here because I can’t unsubscribe people from a non-existent list”
    The obvious solution to that is build a list of people (and domains) who have requested not to receive Mix email, and validate against that before sending out any email.
    And you’d need to record who’s requesting invites for people to make sure no-one is using it to repeatedly target individuals.
    To be honest, all this should have been thought out and controls put in place before the ‘invite’ facility was added.

  3. Jake Says:

    @Gary: We are building opt-out capabilities into Mix soon, which will address your obvious solution. The problem that has arisen is around people who have not joined Mix.

    On the one hand, it’s required that we support inviting them, but on the other, we’re not able to control whom people invite and how many times.

    I see value in tracking the number of invites, maybe adding a “you’ve already invited this person” message, but that only traps network and single group invites. What about invites to other groups? How long should we wait until sending another invite? There are valid reasons to reinvite people and invite them to multiple groups.

    What do you think? How would you address these corner cases?

    The invite process follows the rule of thumb we’ve observed on other networks. So, it was thought out, and we followed the conventions set forth in other networks.

  4. Jake Says:

    @Gary: We are building opt-out capabilities into Mix soon, which will address your obvious solution. The problem that has arisen is around people who have not joined Mix.

    On the one hand, it’s required that we support inviting them, but on the other, we’re not able to control whom people invite and how many times.

    I see value in tracking the number of invites, maybe adding a “you’ve already invited this person” message, but that only traps network and single group invites. What about invites to other groups? How long should we wait until sending another invite? There are valid reasons to reinvite people and invite them to multiple groups.

    What do you think? How would you address these corner cases?

    The invite process follows the rule of thumb we’ve observed on other networks. So, it was thought out, and we followed the conventions set forth in other networks.

  5. Assaf Says:

    Let’s say someone who knows me decides I will be interested in joining a group and sends me a private e-mail about it. The two of us have a relationship, so up to a certain threshold these unsolicited invites are not spam.

    The people I know won’t cross that threshold. They take responsibility for their private communications and respect my time. If they cross it, I can talk back and ask them to dial it down a notch.

    The result is that my private communication with others is spam free, even though I do get more e-mails than I can attend do.

    You took that responsibility away from people. Instead of having them communicate with me directly, Mix becomes the mediator that does their bidding.

    The reason social networks go that route is precisely because putting a tool in the middle make it easier to send mass unsolicited e-mails to people. Remove the barrier and you encourage the behavior, and right there is your spam problem.

    If you want to see less spam, make people responsible for sending their own invites.

  6. Assaf Says:

    Let’s say someone who knows me decides I will be interested in joining a group and sends me a private e-mail about it. The two of us have a relationship, so up to a certain threshold these unsolicited invites are not spam.

    The people I know won’t cross that threshold. They take responsibility for their private communications and respect my time. If they cross it, I can talk back and ask them to dial it down a notch.

    The result is that my private communication with others is spam free, even though I do get more e-mails than I can attend do.

    You took that responsibility away from people. Instead of having them communicate with me directly, Mix becomes the mediator that does their bidding.

    The reason social networks go that route is precisely because putting a tool in the middle make it easier to send mass unsolicited e-mails to people. Remove the barrier and you encourage the behavior, and right there is your spam problem.

    If you want to see less spam, make people responsible for sending their own invites.

  7. Jake Says:

    @Assaf: Yesterday, we changed the email we generate for invites to be from the inviter’s email and not the generic Mix account. This should address your point.

    Have you joined Mix? I’m not seeing you listed.

  8. Jake Says:

    @Assaf: Yesterday, we changed the email we generate for invites to be from the inviter’s email and not the generic Mix account. This should address your point.

    Have you joined Mix? I’m not seeing you listed.

  9. Assaf Says:

    @Jake, not yet, I don’t have time to pay attention to it right now.

  10. Assaf Says:

    @Jake, not yet, I don’t have time to pay attention to it right now.

  11. Venkataramanan S Says:

    Taking it further from the above comments, spams are of two types. The Real Spam and the Friendly Spam. The Real Spams are the regular ones which we are all aware of. More often than not anti spam engines do a fairly good job at handling these spams. The other spam is the Friendly Spam. These spams are the emails that we classify as junk usually sent by friends or people we know. The anti spam engine for such spams is our brain.

    Say, one of my friend regularly sends me email that I am not interested in. Soon or later I will add him/her to the junk senders list in my head. Any future email that I receive from him/her will be automatically classified as junk and deleted without reading. However, there are also these set of responsible people who I admire or respect. As mentioned by Assaf, such people are carefully when sending any kind of email. Email from such people usually are read carefully. Most of us fight friendly spam in this manner. This also results in genuine mails being treated as spam. For example, I received several invites to join facebook from people I classified as junk senders. Ended up deleting all these invites. Finally joined facebook when I received an invite from someone whose opinion I respect.

    What I am trying to explain is that if you want to market mix or any product for that matter through email, the best way is to ensure that you find the right people to send these emails. Emails send by responsible people are usually never treated as friendly spam. Yes, doing this is probably difficult or maybe impossible.

  12. Venkataramanan S Says:

    Taking it further from the above comments, spams are of two types. The Real Spam and the Friendly Spam. The Real Spams are the regular ones which we are all aware of. More often than not anti spam engines do a fairly good job at handling these spams. The other spam is the Friendly Spam. These spams are the emails that we classify as junk usually sent by friends or people we know. The anti spam engine for such spams is our brain.

    Say, one of my friend regularly sends me email that I am not interested in. Soon or later I will add him/her to the junk senders list in my head. Any future email that I receive from him/her will be automatically classified as junk and deleted without reading. However, there are also these set of responsible people who I admire or respect. As mentioned by Assaf, such people are carefully when sending any kind of email. Email from such people usually are read carefully. Most of us fight friendly spam in this manner. This also results in genuine mails being treated as spam. For example, I received several invites to join facebook from people I classified as junk senders. Ended up deleting all these invites. Finally joined facebook when I received an invite from someone whose opinion I respect.

    What I am trying to explain is that if you want to market mix or any product for that matter through email, the best way is to ensure that you find the right people to send these emails. Emails send by responsible people are usually never treated as friendly spam. Yes, doing this is probably difficult or maybe impossible.

  13. Jake Says:

    @Venkataramanan S: I’m not trying to market Mix at all, through email or otherwise. As a social network, Mix generates some spam, i.e. in order to grow a network, people must solicit other people to join.

    We initially protected the sender’s (inviter’s) email, addressing the invite mail from the Oracle Mix distribution list. However, this filled up my inbox with auto-replies and bounces that are more appropriate for the inviter, not for me.

    Incidentally, it also meant that people who thought we were spamming them sent nastygrams to our distribution list. So, in order to make it more functional and more obvious who was inviting, we changed the invitation mail to come from the inviter.

    The point of this post was to judge people’s level of annoyance with any type of spam, regardless of who sent it. I personally find spam to be a minor annoyance that is easily ignored, and I’m surprised that other people find it to be such a major disturbance.

  14. Jake Says:

    @Venkataramanan S: I’m not trying to market Mix at all, through email or otherwise. As a social network, Mix generates some spam, i.e. in order to grow a network, people must solicit other people to join.

    We initially protected the sender’s (inviter’s) email, addressing the invite mail from the Oracle Mix distribution list. However, this filled up my inbox with auto-replies and bounces that are more appropriate for the inviter, not for me.

    Incidentally, it also meant that people who thought we were spamming them sent nastygrams to our distribution list. So, in order to make it more functional and more obvious who was inviting, we changed the invitation mail to come from the inviter.

    The point of this post was to judge people’s level of annoyance with any type of spam, regardless of who sent it. I personally find spam to be a minor annoyance that is easily ignored, and I’m surprised that other people find it to be such a major disturbance.

  15. Bruce Bergman Says:

    I might offer a few opinions, as someone who runs a site that generates a lot of messages. My site is home to dozens of Oracle-focused discussion mailing lists. We send out over 3M messages per year that are ALL solicited, and include easy ways to get removed on every message. Despite that, many consider it spam. There are zillions of bounces every day, and in amongst that, my anti-spam appliance reports that we receive about 14M spam messages per year.

    That being said, the best way to handle these situations is to create comprehensive tools for dealing with the bounces. Have all messages originate from a mailbox (not a human) that can eat and process bounce messages. Offer a human-reachable address as well, for those that have issues the bots can’t address. And give copious ways for subscribers to opt-out.

    In the messages, you’ll have to be crystal clear that this is on behalf of another person (ala Linked-In, in some ways) so that the recipient doesn’t blame you. They still will, though, so be prepared for it. And the suggestion about keeping an opted-out list was good – always verify against those folks, lest they be disturbed again.

    The worst case comes when someone is just in a bad mood and they don’t want to deal with it (or us/you) and they report you as a spammer. Once you get on a blacklist, you’ll feel the pain. That’s why you have to put forth heroic efforts to show that you AREN’T a spammer.

    And actually, although I don’t do this myself, one way to prepare for this is to get a block of IP’s for outgoing traffic, and use them round-robin. Thus if any one gets blacklisted, the others will work for a while (at least long enough to work on getting un-blacklisted).

    Just some random thoughts…

    thanks,
    bruce

  16. Bruce Bergman Says:

    I might offer a few opinions, as someone who runs a site that generates a lot of messages. My site is home to dozens of Oracle-focused discussion mailing lists. We send out over 3M messages per year that are ALL solicited, and include easy ways to get removed on every message. Despite that, many consider it spam. There are zillions of bounces every day, and in amongst that, my anti-spam appliance reports that we receive about 14M spam messages per year.

    That being said, the best way to handle these situations is to create comprehensive tools for dealing with the bounces. Have all messages originate from a mailbox (not a human) that can eat and process bounce messages. Offer a human-reachable address as well, for those that have issues the bots can’t address. And give copious ways for subscribers to opt-out.

    In the messages, you’ll have to be crystal clear that this is on behalf of another person (ala Linked-In, in some ways) so that the recipient doesn’t blame you. They still will, though, so be prepared for it. And the suggestion about keeping an opted-out list was good – always verify against those folks, lest they be disturbed again.

    The worst case comes when someone is just in a bad mood and they don’t want to deal with it (or us/you) and they report you as a spammer. Once you get on a blacklist, you’ll feel the pain. That’s why you have to put forth heroic efforts to show that you AREN’T a spammer.

    And actually, although I don’t do this myself, one way to prepare for this is to get a block of IP’s for outgoing traffic, and use them round-robin. Thus if any one gets blacklisted, the others will work for a while (at least long enough to work on getting un-blacklisted).

    Just some random thoughts…

    thanks,
    bruce

  17. Jake Says:

    @Bruce: Good advice all around; we need to make some changes to how Mix handles email soon, and these are good tips. Thanks.

  18. Jake Says:

    @Bruce: Good advice all around; we need to make some changes to how Mix handles email soon, and these are good tips. Thanks.

  19. Gary Says:

    Having the invite appear to originate from the inviter’s email address is a good start. Some filters may pick up on the fact that it originated from a different location and mark it as junk though.
    I’d still see a minimum requirement where, if someone tells you they don’t want to receive email generated by Mix, then you can ensure that Mix will never send them another email.
    I’d feel Mix is in a different category to a purely social network. Firstly, its target is as much professional rather than social (remember, you initially required email addresses to be in proper domains) and has a ‘common ground’ of products offered by a software company (most of them requiring payment). Secondly, Mix groups could be established to support commercial activity. Even user groups that charge membership may be considered commercial. Also, this isn’t a ‘no-money’ startup, but an international company with large assets.
    I suspect Mix invites would be considered ‘commercial email’ in many jurisdictions and, as such, have legal requirements for opt-outs.

    Personally I don’t get enough spam to find it annoying. However when I’ve told an organization that I don’t want to hear from them again, I’d see no problem in holding them to account if they ignore that request.

  20. Gary Says:

    Having the invite appear to originate from the inviter’s email address is a good start. Some filters may pick up on the fact that it originated from a different location and mark it as junk though.
    I’d still see a minimum requirement where, if someone tells you they don’t want to receive email generated by Mix, then you can ensure that Mix will never send them another email.
    I’d feel Mix is in a different category to a purely social network. Firstly, its target is as much professional rather than social (remember, you initially required email addresses to be in proper domains) and has a ‘common ground’ of products offered by a software company (most of them requiring payment). Secondly, Mix groups could be established to support commercial activity. Even user groups that charge membership may be considered commercial. Also, this isn’t a ‘no-money’ startup, but an international company with large assets.
    I suspect Mix invites would be considered ‘commercial email’ in many jurisdictions and, as such, have legal requirements for opt-outs.

    Personally I don’t get enough spam to find it annoying. However when I’ve told an organization that I don’t want to hear from them again, I’d see no problem in holding them to account if they ignore that request.

  21. Jake Says:

    @Gary: Good points, Mix will soon have more rigorous controls for email sending. It’s actually much better to get this out and discussed before Mix is heavily promoted and used by the community.

    Of course, the downside to that is early adopters like you have to suffer through some bad old days.

  22. Jake Says:

    @Gary: Good points, Mix will soon have more rigorous controls for email sending. It’s actually much better to get this out and discussed before Mix is heavily promoted and used by the community.

    Of course, the downside to that is early adopters like you have to suffer through some bad old days.

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