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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Great Example of Blogging Changes to Your Product

Comments (7)

I’m a small investor in Shelfari.  I read a ton and thought it would be fun to play along with them at home and both a user and an investor.  About a month ago I started noticing increasing chatter about Shelfari spam during the invite process in my RSS search feeds on "Shelfari."  I regularly passed them on to Josh Hug, the CEO of Shelfari.

I hate spam.  I’ve been an investor in two companies that are aimed at making email safer for humanity – Postini and Return Path.  While I’m a small investor in Shelfari, the increasing noise level around Shelfari invite spam bothered me, and I told Josh.

Josh listened, paid attention to the problem in his spare time (37 seconds a day), responded regularly to my emails, and a few weeks ago (within a few days of me increasing my "hey – this is getting worse" messages) promised a fix.

The fix is here and Josh wrote an extensive post titled Invitation design that describes the root causes of the problem and walks through their changes. I just tried it with my Gmail address book and I think the changes likely fix 100% of the issues. Josh’s explanation – both of the UI problem as well as the reasons it wasn’t obvious to Shelfari that it was an issue – is an excellent example of using blogging to communicate what you are doing as a company.

Shelfari wasn’t intentionally spamming (as they were starting to be accused of) – they were just intensely busy and weren’t focused on a problem that emerged as their user base grew geometrically.  By addressing it out in the open, they should earn extra karma credibility points.

  • Brian Hart

    The default, though, is still to place checkmarks next to all of your contacts, which I feel is the wrong approach. Their own research showed that in the beginning only about 1% of people with large address books were sending messages to all of their contacts, and approx. 10% now. To me, checking the boxes isn't a sensible default.

  • http://shelfari.typepad.com/ Josh

    In our blog post, we published a screen by screen example of what Facebook does for their invitation process. While I am not going to walk off a cliff because someone else is doing it — I must point at them as a clear standard of what is “acceptable” vs. spam inducing. Most other quickly growing and highly ethical social networks have a similar standard.

  • Kimm Viebrock

    And, as the comments here and back at the original Shelfari post make clear (and more to the point of THIS post), blogging about these kinds of decisions and the background for them also opens up a whole new dialog with your users. Having access to consumer feedback this way is an important part of being successful in business.

  • Oscar

    “By addressing it out in the open, they should earn extra karma credibility points”

    I read this post on Gadgetopia and offers a different perspective: http://gadgetopia.com/post/6157

    “They are not changing this because they give a crap about you in any way. They are changing now because the disadvantages of their under-handedness suddenly outweigh the advantages. They acted like jerks for as long as it benefited them, and as soon as that plan was no longer viable, they crassly switched gears and tried to pretend it was because they cared about their users.”

    • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

      Oscar, unfortunately I've been in these situations before. While it's easy for someone on the outside to crucify a startup for whatever it does, there are often sincere and good minded people running the startup that are overextended to the point that they (a) don't catch key problems or (b) hire the wrong people or don't supervise the junior ones. Remind me to tell you about the time one of the junior guys at FeedBurner (a widely loved company) spammed the top 100 bloggers asking them to sign up, including about 25 that are personal friends and another 25 that were already FeedBurner users. Simple fuckup – huge backlash – apology – and appropriate user response (e.g forgiveness.)

      When a shitstorm occurs, you find the problem, admit it, fix it, and do your best going forward. When I pointed out what I saw as a building problem to Josh (Shelfari's CEO), he acknowledged it, put it on “the list” and planned to get to it. They got to it (a few weeks later) and are now tuned in to the mistake(s) they've made, have fixed them, and are paying attention to doing a better job going forward.

      It's easy to be nasty about it, especially when a few people are fueling the fire. In this case, I think Josh and team are sincere in their intent, recognized and acknowledge that they had a bigger problem that they thought, and that they didn't react quickly enough. They have now – and I think they've learned a lot from the pain of the experience. it's time to move on.

      • Steve Bergstein

        Brad: You asked in another post for feedback on the comment functionality. I don't know how your response ot Oscar appears to you, but for me. it's displayed as white text on a light grey background. It's rather difficult to read.

        • http://isaackeyet.com/blog Isaac Keyet

          Brad, Steve, anyone else reading this: The issue has been taken care of. Thanks Steve for pointing it out.

          Our latest release turned out to be pretty rough, unfortunately. Thank you all for your patience with Intense Debate!

  • Josh

    In our blog post, we published a screen by screen example of what Facebook does for their invitation process. While I am not going to walk off a cliff because someone else is doing it — I must point at them as a clear standard of what is "acceptable" vs. spam inducing. Most other quickly growing and highly ethical social networks have a similar standard.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/brian_hart1973 brian_hart1973

    The default, though, is still to place checkmarks next to all of your contacts, which I feel is the wrong approach. Their own research showed that in the beginning only about 1% of people with large address books were sending messages to all of their contacts, and approx. 10% now. To me, checking the boxes isn't a sensible default.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/kimm_viebro1980 kimm_viebro1980

    And, as the comments here and back at the original Shelfari post make clear (and more to the point of THIS post), blogging about these kinds of decisions and the background for them also opens up a whole new dialog with your users. Having access to consumer feedback this way is an important part of being successful in business.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    Oscar, unfortunately I've been in these situations before. While it's easy for someone on the outside to crucify a startup for whatever it does, there are often sincere and good minded people running the startup that are overextended to the point that they (a) don't catch key problems or (b) hire the wrong people or don't supervise the junior ones. Remind me to tell you about the time one of the junior guys at FeedBurner (a widely loved company) spammed the top 100 bloggers asking them to sign up, including about 25 that are personal friends and another 25 that were already FeedBurner users. Simple fuckup – huge backlash – apology – and appropriate user response (e.g forgiveness.)

    When a shitstorm occurs, you find the problem, admit it, fix it, and do your best going forward. When I pointed out what I saw as a building problem to Josh (Shelfari's CEO), he acknowledged it, put it on "the list" and planned to get to it. They got to it (a few weeks later) and are now tuned in to the mistake(s) they've made, have fixed them, and are paying attention to doing a better job going forward.

    It's easy to be nasty about it, especially when a few people are fueling the fire. In this case, I think Josh and team are sincere in their intent, recognized and acknowledge that they had a bigger problem that they thought, and that they didn't react quickly enough. They have now – and I think they've learned a lot from the pain of the experience. it's time to move on.

  • Oscar

    "By addressing it out in the open, they should earn extra karma credibility points"

    I read this post on Gadgetopia and offers a different perspective: http://gadgetopia.com/post/6157

    "They are not changing this because they give a crap about you in any way. They are changing now because the disadvantages of their under-handedness suddenly outweigh the advantages. They acted like jerks for as long as it benefited them, and as soon as that plan was no longer viable, they crassly switched gears and tried to pretend it was because they cared about their users."

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/steve_bergs2126 steve_bergs2126

    Brad: You asked in another post for feedback on the comment functionality. I don't know how your response ot Oscar appears to you, but for me. it's displayed as white text on a light grey background. It's rather difficult to read.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/isaac_keyet isaac_keyet

    Brad, Steve, anyone else reading this: The issue has been taken care of. Thanks Steve for pointing it out.

    Our latest release turned out to be pretty rough, unfortunately. Thank you all for your patience with Intense Debate!

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