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I'm surprised more people aren't speaking against what you did... I guess people aren't too bothered about spam until it gets above a certain threshold, and I guess it's only Twitters money that people like you are wasting by abusing their services and breaking their T&C's

Hi Mike,

HN is the best response I've received compared to any of the other sites that this link was submitted to, to include Reddit and Digg. Two thoughts come to mind:

1. HN is where we just saw a thread where users posted about the most unethical things they've done to get a startup off the ground.

2. I think that many HNers could relate to me. I was a broke, down-and-out geek/hacker-type that came up with an idea and took it on for the technical challenge. And, hey, I made a few dollars off of it, too.

Cool. So it's ok for me to abuse any services you launch in future, costing you money for my own personal financial gain? Sweet.

How is a twitter bot costing Twitter money?

I wouldn't like to guess how many man hours it has taken them to develop the software and processes required to deal with spam on twitter? Then there are the ongoing costs of dealing with new spamming methods, and the increased hardware costs of having to deal with the extra load caused by the spam. And then there is the less obvious negative impact it has on their brand and image when their users are sent unsolicited spam.

But does it add to Twitter's costs in spam management? It's not nearly in the same league as untargetted, extremely high volume spam which follows a million people and sends out essentially the same ad over and over again.

To answer your original question, yes, I think Twitter isn't bothered by spam until it gets past a certain threshold. They're in it to make money, not to wage religious war.

"But does it add to Twitter's costs in spam management?" Yes, it all adds up. If nobody did what he was doing then Twitter wouldn't have had to spent as much money on the problem.

You're assuming spam is like trash: it accumulates from everyone sending small quantities. But spam is never a side effect. 99% of spam comes from a very few operators operating at extremely high scales.

So even if nobody spammed book recommendations with affiliate links, Twitter would still have to deal with the large-scale operators.

It's a lot easier to deal with 10 spammers sending a million spams each than it is to deal with a million spammers sending 10 spams each.

1. Are you claiming there are millions of spammers sending 10 each? If so, your definition is different from Twitter's. If it's just a future worry I'm going to cross that bridge when we get to it.

2. I don't know if it's easier, but it's certainly not easy. Otherwise gmail and twitter wouldn't have spam anymore. It's easy for spammers to pretend to be somebody else. Get a new username, a new IP address, forge headers.

Even if it's only 10 spammers, Twitter can't see that. What they see are a million different spammers. So they already have to deal with the problem you claim is harder.

1. No. Read what I said.

It's all about patterns. A single spammer uses a small set of patterns. It's not just down to IP address.

You're pretty much taking the evolution of email spam and going backwards, unless you can point to a specific reason twitter is different from the general evolution of spam on every network up till now I cant see how thats right.

Given a million people sending out 10 spams each theres bound to be a very similar way they carry it out. However 10 spammers dedicated churning out the maximum capacity they can achieve will put up a fight no matter how you try to stop them.

Email spam originated with people like hood, generally not doing much damage and very easy to block and shut down. It eventually led to the current situation where vast majority of spam originates from a handful of spammers. So did comment spamming, and early social network spamming, they all pretty much followed this pattern.

In my view you're letting yourself get wrapped up in the minutiae of the argument. What hood did was wrong and no amount of justification will change the fact that he externalized the cost of commercial advertising. However none of us can look back at our lives and say we didn't have such morally questionable moments. We generally react like hopefully hood has done and don't make it a career; assholes keep going even when they only make $1 for every $100 they externalize.

"Externalized the cost of commercial advertising." That's a very succinct way to put it, thanks.

But I'm not sure how you conclude that that was happening. People who clicked on the affiliate links only paid him off if they made a purchase. If no purchase was made, no money changed hands between any players. Right? An affiliate link is not like an ad.

In fact, even if an affiliate link was like an ad, there's no data on whether the users clicking on the link are poorly targeted, or that the CTR will significantly suffer.

He used twitters resources against their T&C's, costing them money, to make himself money.

"Externalized the cost of commercial advertising" is a perfect way to describe what happened.

Isn't that most users?

What if it's only in response to people asking for book suggestions? Like this one: http://twitter.com/GEOFFUSELESS/status/21014481706

Then it would be solicited, and thus move from the black area into the grey area.

The only mention of spam I see in Twitter's ToS: "You may not interfere with the access of any user, including sending a virus, overloading, flooding, spamming, mail-bombing the Services, or by scripting the creation of Content in such a manner as to interfere with or create an undue burden on the Services." http://twitter.com/tos

No mention of "unsolicited replies". Heck, for most early users, all @replies on twitter are unsolicited. Most of the time I have an exchange with someone before I follow them. Twitter's just designed to be more promiscuous than email. Anybody can see your tweets, so you're encouraging strangers with insight to jump in.

I think that makes what he did a grey area. Depends on how good his recommendations are, basically.

Hi akkartik,

You make a good point, however Twitter's ToS was quite different back then. Their current TOS was updated: September 18, 2009 (this date can be found at the bottom of today's TOS)

That's around the same time my bot was suspended and Twitter's spam rates started to drop from ~10% to 1%

Hmm, so they made their ToS looser around the time they booted you? That doesn't make sense..

I'm not sure there's any disagreement here. I'm just saying: I think what you did would require human judgement to kick no matter how they write their ToS.

It's not just that they changed their TOS. They also started to take a stronger stance against spam. In addition to publicly announcing "we WILL actively suspend the accounts of spammers" they followed through and probably beefed up their anti-spam staff.

His posts were unsolicited, bulk advertising. How well they were targeted doesn't really matter.

You seem certain of your views and I won't try to convince you. I just want to explain why I and perhaps others aren't 'speaking out against it.' We're entrepreneurs here, and we're trying to learn from each other about what works, especially what's in the grey areas. When you're little you need every little advantage you can get.

Every major piece of social software got off the ground by "spamming a bunch of people." But it was different spam. And the gradations do matter because they're orders of magnitude better and orders of magnitude less load on the system.

>We're entrepreneurs here, and we're trying to learn from each other about what works, especially what's in the grey areas.

speak for yourself. I really have no wish to play in spamish "grey areas"

Being an Entrepreneur does not mean you need to abandon your sense of right and wrong, or your respect for your fellow man. I don't know about you, but this isn't the first company I've started, and it won't be the last. Damaging my own personal reputation in exchange for some more success at this one business is probably a bad idea, long term, especially when the business is one that only works as long as you stay 'under the radar' (meaning, it doesn't scale, because the facebook spam people would stop you.)

You recognise the difference between trying to build a start up, and spamming affiliate links about to make a quick buck though right?

There's spamming affiliate links, and then there's testing if the quality of my recommendations is good enough to create a steady long-term stream of revenue. It's the difference between a quick buck and a buck.

I'm honestly conflicted on this. On one hand, it's spam, as users are "receiving" messages they didn't solicit.

On the other hand, it's a kind of cool service, as an "enrichment" to twitter messages. If you could find some way of doing it for those who might find it useful without forcing it upon those who don't, I think this could be a great opportunity.

That's basically where I'm at now. Once my account was suspended I retired the spam bot. I even retired a similar project.

BookSuggest, in its web-app form, was the only way I could think of to use my existing technology in a way that wasn't, well... spammy. http://www.charleshooper.net/twitter/

The question I face now is: How do I take this application and deliver it to the user?

My initial idea, given the technology you have, would be to sell it to bloggers. So, let's say I've got a blog with a reasonable readership. I could go through and manually add affiliate links to relevant books, but that sounds like work to me. I enjoy writing; i don't enjoy jacking around with my templates to add affiliate links.

I'd suggest selling 'monetization made easy' movable type and wordpress plugins.

Just an idea; but it might make you money, and it wouldn't be spammy.

but that's the angle I would take. I mean, not only bloggers, but everyone who has content and users who wants an easy way to monetize.

hell, if you had an affiiate account with more than one bookseller, you could even choose the best deal (either the lowest price, or the highest commission, maybe chooseable by your blogger?) then take your cut before the blogger sees it...

Yeah... that's your freemium model. Give away a plugin that does it but with your affiliate id... give the blogger 50% or something. Then, for a higher fee, offer the plugin with the bloggers affiliate id, where they'd get the money direct from the affiliates, without you taking a cut.

That's an excellent idea, and one that I think xulescu was getting at with integrating the book recommendation engine into a bulletin board.

Part of the challenge is maintaining a large enough corpus/histogram to generate good results. Meaning, I'd probably have to host an accessible corpus interface (or make one downloadable) as part of this project. But maybe that's where the dollars come in?

yeah. if you do require a large corpus, that seems like an advantage to me... as if you do that, and maybe make more of the processing done server-side, it'll be harder to just reverse engineer your plugins, and even if people do, then they still have to come up with a good corpus, which presumably you already have.

The reason most people aren't speaking against it is that spam is just a class of information with a low utility rate, whereas useful information is information with a high utility rate. Sufficiently targeted spam is therefore not spam, but useful information.

I'm not that conflicted...Sorry

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