Heads up, this content is 16 years old. Please keep its age in mind while reading.

There’s a yucky yucky trend going on in social media right now: Asking for Address Books. This is evil. Do you hear me? EVIL!

BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD!

KNOCK IT OFF! PLEASE! JUST QUIT IT!

Okay — step back. What am I talking about. I’m talking about when you go to LinkedIn or Facebook or MySpace (or pretty much ANY of them now), and the website smiles all cutesy at you and says, “Oh, hey, I’m really glad you like our website. You know, there are probably people on here that you’ve never thought to search for, and it’s a real shame that they’re not in your network yet. But if you just give us the username and password to your Gmail account, we can check all of your friends’ email addresses against our database and find all of them for you. It’s quick, it’s easy, and your friends will thank you!

Sounds harmless enough, right?

Don’t give it to them!

I don’t care how much you like them, or how safe they tell you they’ll keep it for you, or how much convenience they’re offering you. Your address book is your address book and it does NOT belong in the hands of a social networking website.

Why? Here’s why:

  • Spam. We know it, we hate it, we’re sick of it. When you give out your address book, you give out a list of email addresses that are connected to legitimate people who use the Internet regularly, and this is very valuable to email marketers. Your social networking site will promise you that your email addresses are “safe,” but sometimes “safe” means, “We promise we’ll ONLY share it with our partner companies — you know, our hundred closest friends. And by the way, when a larger company buys us out, those rules will probably change.
  • Impersonal Invites. I’ve received invitations to social networking websites from people I’ve barely ever spoken to — people I would need to reintroduce myself to if I ran into them at a party. Why did this happen? Because those people gave up their address book to a website, and that website went ahead and invited every email address that wasn’t already in the system. If you let this happen, it can make people feel uncomfortable, and it can make you look disrespectful. The worst part is that you might not even be aware that it’s happening.
  • Trust. You don’t give your friends’ phone numbers out to strangers. Please don’t give their email addresses out to a centralized database. That information is theirs to share; not yours.
  • Identity Fraud. They’re asking you to give out full access to your email account when they ask for your address book. Your email account is a critical link to your internet identity. Access to it is supposed to be a SECRET!

This plays into another yucky technique (which is as old as dirt, but far more powerful with the emergence of social media): Data Mining of Personal Information.

There’s a service called Rapleaf. It allows you to plug in your email address and find out what your reputation looks like on the web. The same people run a service called UpScoop, which lets you plug in all your address book data and social networking site information to scan the profiles of everyone you know — public and private — so you can “keep up with your friends.” The same people run a service called TrustFuse, which lets email marketing campaigns check boatloads of email addresses against the Rapleaf and Upscoop database to find out lots and lots of information about the people they’re trying to get money out of. (Edit: Here’s a good analysis of the RapLeaf/UpScoop/TrustFuse drama if you want more. )

Evil, I tell you. Evil.

Do you read the Privacy Policy and Terms of Service of every website you give a username and password to? I don’t either. We like to function on trust. And if someone I respect invites me to use a service, I will often take their word for it that it’s a good service. But now I can’t do that anymore, because I don’t know for sure if they’re actually inviting me, or if some robot monster manipulated them into giving them my email address before they even had a chance to create a profile.

Social networking is a good thing — it’s doing phenomenal things for communities at an international level, and it’s important that we represent and express ourselves on the web. But please pay attention to what people are asking you for out there.

And don’t underestimate the value of your friends’ information.

Heads up, this content is 16 years old. Please keep its age in mind while reading.

Once upon a time, there was a social networking website called Friendster.

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Friendster had a good thing going for awhile, being the only decent social networking website on the Internet and all. But then Friendster made a few mistakes, and people stopped using it. Even though Friendster is still out there today, most people consider it dead.

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Then another social networking website came along called Facebook.

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Facebook had a good thing going for awhile, too. Since Friendster had already paved the way for social networking, there was already a broad user base to draw from, and LOTS of people joined Facebook. (Facebook made some pretty big mistakes, too, but we’re not going to get into that right now.)

Facebook and Friendster had a lot in common. They both let people post information about themselves. One of those information pieces was “relationship status.” You know, like single, in a relationship, married, etc. Friendster went a step further than the standard categories and added a category called “it’s complicated.”

Facebook decided this was a good idea, and they did the same thing. After all, many relationships are complicated, and it’s important to let people express themselves in a way that fits.

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Then Dead-Friendster yelled out, No! No! We said that first! It’s ours! And they added a trademark symbol to it, to claim their territory.

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And then the Internet laughed and ignored Dead-Friendster, because even though Dead-Friendster wanted to be important again, you just can’t trademark a complication.

And because the Internet is a cruel, cruel place, the Internet decided to give the trademark (in spirit) to Facebook. Just to spit in Dead-Friendster’s eye.

And they all lived complicatedly ever after.

The End!

Heads up, this content is 16 years old. Please keep its age in mind while reading.

So, you’re in a conversation with someone who’s clearly not noticing the confused look on your face. This person has gone off on a long-road tangent and is using words and acronyms that you’ve never heard before. What do you do?

Here are my suggestions (besides, you know, the obvious blank stare or “could you explain that?” responses):

1) The Brush-Off

Variations:

  • “Nah, I’m not really a Star Wars geek.”
  • “Sorry, I don’t speak Swedish.”

2) The Signal
spock2.jpgSome friends and I have been trying to introduce the convention of throwing “star trek fingers” as a non-verbal signal that you need a definition. It’s less interruptive and more respectful. It just happens to be lacking a bit in widespread adoption, but I figure we can get past that… Try it sometime!