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Honestly.com – Not acting so honestly (philfreo.com)
395 points by philfreo on May 14, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 82 comments

I got an email from Honestly showing me a picture of my wife, saying she is on Honestly. She was sitting next to me when I got the email, so I turned to her and asked: are you using Honestly? "Never heard of it" was her answer.

Rarely has a company chosen a name so opposed to their values.

I'd be interested to know where did they obtain your wife's photo, and under what sort of terms/agreement are they using it?

Does Facebook allow third party sites to use images for any use (I'm assuming the pic was from Facebook)? How is this (using a pic of your wife and claiming she's a member) not outright deception?

I would guess it is just the gravatar image based on her email...

Same exact scenario happened, between my officemate and I.

We are witnessing the marriage of eastern spear-phishing techniques with western social media marketing.


Never forget: Although HN may look like reddit, HN is not reddit.

What he received by email was spam, plain and simple.

And the despicable way they handle signups speaks for itself. I would never have gotten as far as he did because I know that anyone who does that is scamming me. There's no other reason to do it. If people actually liked the service, they wouldn't need to twist your arm to get you to sign up.

Yep, 100% spam. Which also makes this business practice illegal in a large number of countries around the world.

So long as it had an optout link and the company's street address, it's probably fine by US law.

I identified it as spam immediately when I saw it; you have to have an eye for it.

I wonder how long before people get 'viral' exhaustion from this crap. I suppose it would not be inappropriate to extend the analogy to suggest people are going to become immune to 'viral' apps.

Is there anyone out there that has built an app that grows primarily through (ab)use of social network virality like Honestly? Are you seeing any interesting behavioural changes over time as the population gets tired (or conversely, accepting) of this model?

It apparently won't ever happen. I'm surprised the author of the article took it so seriously. I've gotten spam like this for years and it just goes directly into /dev/null when I see something like "so and so sent you a..." or "so and so left a comment about you at...". If I saw that Honestly spam, it would have only held my attention long enough to delete it.

That we're still putting so much attention into an email like that all these years later suggests that we're never really going to learn or become fatigued. We'll just accept it as "part of life".

I think Plaxo is probably the poster child for this strategy of growth through shameless spam.

How successful is Plaxo, really?


I think they had their greatest moment when Joseph Smarr negotiated the OpenID+OAuth hybrid protocol with Google. Google subsequently poached him. They don't seem to have any other aces up their sleeves to survive.

Didn't Plaxo already get bought by Comcast for +$100MM, or am I thinking of some other company?

There's 'make the world a better place' successful, there's 'make something people want' successful, but there's also 'make some cash for yourself and your investors' successful. Sometimes invite spam can get you that last type of successful, which is why we'll keep seeing it.

Plaxo is a software tool suite, not a media website, so Site Analytics does not say much interesting about their business.

To be fair, Plaxo's core value proposition is in address book management, so it is in each user's interest to convince their contacts to join. That said, I do have dim memories of Plaxo spam from around 2005, which postponed my Plaxo registration until 2007ish when I found they have the best (only?) Mac AddressBook integration, in the stone age before Google/Gmail took overrun the world.

IIRC Tagged got big that way and BranchOut seems to going down a similar path.

IMO BranchOut is even worse, their page now features a very clever and very evil "spam your friends" feature in disguise.

The worst thing is this kind of crap is very effective. Look at Zynga, they've built a billion dollar company out of it.

Yep. What's sad is that because of BranchOut's pedigree, they'll probably get the Zynga treatment. Make enough money for Silicon Valley VCs, through a few pennies at local charities and, like magic, your sins are erased and you've got the TechCrunch CEO of the year.

I'm becoming increasingly viral blind. In the same way banner blindness is decreasing the value of CPM and moving things towards clickthrough, I find myself not clicking on things because they seem viral in nature.

How long until viral blindess spreads to the people who play Farmville? Not long. It's a typical conditioned response; when there are enough false positives to tip your average joe off to the fact that broadcasting to your networks does not produce the desired result, then people will start ignoring hooks like these.

Question: What is the next thing most companies will use to market themselves? Banners, emails, and Likes are becomingly increasingly worthless, so where do companies with marketing budgets turn to get customers?

Sounds like a market where people could start making pickaxes now.

I'm not convinced people will start ignoring these kind of shenanigans. I think about how long Windows users have been falling victim to social engineering attacks and can't help but think that this is just a different flavor of them - if they haven't caught the hint yet, I'm not sure that they ever will...

This is a very interesting thought. Things will still go viral, but as users keep getting overloaded with new content, it will be tougher to stand out with the stream of noise.

This is a prime example of how not to attract new users.

On another note, wouldn't a site like this have a significant problem where the only people with enough motivation to make a post on a website like this would be someone who has a chip on their shoulder? The same problem exists with the doctor and teacher review websites.

Yes. That was one of the reasons we were so successful at letslunch: the reviews can't be gamed. You can't ask your friends to review you, because we decide who gets to meet with you. Read some of the profiles like http://letslunch.com/public/316799/Luke_Stangel and judge for yourself, I believe those reviews are way more honest.

Of course, letslunch seems to game people as well: It's clear reading on other sites that letslunch is only active in some cities, but there is no way to find out this fact _anywhere_ on your site until after you've signed up.

Considering that for 90% of the life of the site, the home page said "for silicon valley" in bold, h1 headers, I wouldn't call that gaming. Now to take your valid criticism into consideration, I added a mention to the FAQ.

Minor nitpick - there's a misspelling in the newly posted FAQ: "althoug we'd love..."

Thanks - fixed. I think we got that thread off-topic enough for the day.

letslunch is a very cool concept, but how often do you get negative reviews? For example, if I lunched with Bill Gates, and even if he was an asshole who did not stop talking on his cell phone during most of the meal, what is my incentive to give him a bad review?

Someone needs to alert the FTC about this. Having an email saying "Someone created a profile about you!" only to come to the site and all of the sudden it says(after you're forced to market the company for them) "it looks like there aren't any reviews yet" is textbook deceptive marketing.

IANAL, but in all likelihood, the distinction between "created a profile for" and "posted a review of" would save them. This is a textbook example of how to trick people without actually claiming anything false.

An actual example that was in one of my textbooks: A car company claimed that its new model was three times quieter. The company's competitors objected, saying they didn't find it that superior to their offerings. The company clarified for the FTC that the car was three times quieter on the inside than the outside. The FTC agreed that this was accurate.

Sometimes the FTC makes mistakes that are worth corrective. Government officials are not the final arbiter of law, and certainly not of truth.

I see nothing deceptive at all about the quiet car claim, as you've worded it. I immediately assumed they meant quieter on the inside. Why would I care if my car is quieter from the outside? I'm inside it when I'm driving.

I interpreted it as being quieter than the previous model, and can't really see how "its new model was three times quieter" can be interpreted to refer to the inside being quieter than the outside. So I suppose that there's room for confusion.

As for why you should care about it being quieter from the outside: because noisy cars are extremely irritating to pedestrians and everyone else who isn't in a car (in the same way that people playing ridiculously loud music while driving in a car is irritating).

But when somebody says one particular car is "300% quieter", most people would assume they're comparing it to some other car, not saying that it's quieter inside the car than if you were standing in the middle of the freeway. Honestly, I think that's at least as reasonable an assumption as "Somebody made a profile for you" -> "Somebody has posted a comment about you."

It's even worse than that. They're saying, "somebody created a profile for you...us!"

I interpreted this as "quieter than <previous model/competitors' cars>". Also, I treat statements like "It's three times quieter." as completely worthless. "Quieter" is a relative term, and one has to be quieter than something for the statement to make sense.

This. That kind of wording is right up there with "Now 50% more effective!"

"...than what?" is always my first question.

Sounds like the folks from classmates.com have started a new website...

(FYI classmates used to send out emails exactly like this, except for the facebook integration. "Sandy has been looking for you on classmates.com". Except there was no Sandy in my graduating class. I think they quit a few years back.)

"Classmates.com has agreed to refund nearly $10 million to users who were told that long-lost school chums were looking at their profiles, only to find, once they’d ponied up a subscription fee, that no one they knew was looking for them at all."


They quit when Facebook killed them. Not deliberately, but indecently.

Added them to Dark Patterns: http://wiki.darkpatterns.org/Bait_and_Switch

If you were to be very lenient with them, it's all fine up to the LinkedIn connection. But then to ask for a facebook like?! That's how College kids play pranks on their mates, not how a community called "honestly" grows. Having said that, hopefully the team who created this reads HN and will respond to this and save some face.

Having said that, hopefully the team who created this reads HN and will respond to this and save some face.

I've worked at this company. Not honestly.com but I've worked at the type. The people at the company who read news.yc have no product decision power. The company is quite obviously run by the marketing division.

Also, while this practice is indeed deceptive it's also fairly benign and common. It is however just the gateway. When a company starts doing this they're just going to slide further and further downhill.

First comes the backlash like this blog post and then the effectiveness of the spam starts dropping because you've hit a good % of the population you'll be able to dupe. The rest will start reporting you as spam and your email delivery rate is going to plummet.

Next comes the desperation to keep up the growth numbers. Things are going to get much spammier and much more "marketing black hat" soon for honestly.com if their CEO doesn't have strong opinions against it and reigns in marketing. They'll likely end up like classmates.com and any other number of spammy social sites that didn't and won't ever go anywhere.

That use of Like has to be against Facebook ToS. Would be awesome if FB shut them down!

You are correct:


"You must not incentivize users to use (or gate content behind the use of) Facebook social channels, or imply that an incentive is directly tied to the use of our channels."

It would be nice if FB took action.

They don't care about this. I have reported probably 20 pages that won't show you content unless you "like" them, and they are still up and I have never heard anything in response to my reports.

There is actually a porn spam exploit going around Facebook right now based upon this.

> But then to ask for a facebook like?!

The entire world of Facebook/iPhone apps is basically this these days. Be sure to rate this app with 5 stars/Like/etc. for your freeeeee in-game coinage!

It's technically impossible to know if a user has left a review on the App Store.

Can you name an iPhone app that asks the user to rate it for a reward like this?

> It's technically impossible to know if a user has left a review on the App Store.

You know they've clicked through to your entry in the store. Users don't know they'll still get their coinage if they then don't rate the thing after clicking.

To delete your account, send an email to support@honestly.com requesting deletion (presumably from the email address they have for you). Info from http://www.honestly.com/static/privacy

I signed up when it was Unvarnished and just starting out, and have never gotten one bit of value from it.

The privacy policy also states: "that some information may remain in our records after deletion of your account."

Not the best asterisk I've ever seen, given the complete lack of trust I have with this company.

Saying that "some information may remain in our records after deletion of your account" is, of course, corporate bullshit weasel-speak for: "all of the information gathered on you will remain in our records indefinitely".

Honestly.com is disgusting.

Deletion at most places is just a flipped bit.

Wow. Not only are they attempting to create a virtual blacklist/battleground and fuck with peoples' employment, but they want to tie it to people's real identities via facebook.

I feel like if someone pulls this off, it'll be a society changing event. I hope defamation laws would stop it before then, though.

Doesn't seem much different than that Rip Off Report guy. Except, unlike him, they don't seem to be trying to extort money out of people to change the comments about them.

Honestly SUCKS.

And I'm not saying that to be a troll. They are so dishonest and spam-y, and from what I gather, offer very little redeeming value. I don't trust Honestly at all.

Maybe I'm a luddite, but I would never give something access to my facebook profile or contact list without ever actually using the service.

What is Joshua Schachter's affiliation with Honestly? Has he made any comments regarding this mess?

I'm a minor investor. I sent a note to the founders to discuss.

There is no way he endorses this type of behavior. He may be an investor, one of the many (http://techcrunch.com/2010/10/19/unvarnished-honestly-kazanj...), but there is not a chance in hell that he is cool with spam like this. He's been adamant against spam in the past, and has a track record of very ethical behavior.

Unless we see a sudden and swift cleanup, Aproximately $100k investment and a yea vote at a board meeting appears to be a sufficient endorsemment.

If he has a board seat, then yes, he should have some say here. But it's really unlikely that he has a board seat.

An early stage investor has very little authority over what a startup does. At best, they may have some advisory influence with the founders, if the founders care about having a good relationship with the investor. But usually, that's about it.

Joshua is one of about a dozen angel investors in a round the company raised back in October, along with First Round Capital and Charles River Ventures. The real VCs took a board seat.

I really don't understand how models like this keep popping up and how so many companies can get away with it. At least (according to nod) you can delete your account with Honestly (although not through the site, but a request). I had an experience with a genealogy site that refused to EVER remove my account or posts from years ago... even though they lead to me being (kind of) stalked by a relative.

Anyway, thank you to tmz for pointing out http://wiki.darkpatterns.org/Bait_and_Switch - I think more people should be aware of what types of apps and websites are just trying to get access to their contacts and info. Even savvy users can occasionally get duped.

The email trick is bad enough... What I'm starting to really dislike is companies asking for email contacts, facebook access, and so on.

Like when Hacker News instructs you to give Clickpass your entire addressbook when you try to log in with Open ID.

It seems there are a lot of sites like this, where there is absolutely no information about what value they provide, just a demand that you sign up for their spam list, sign in via Facebook, or some other privacy-deprecation scheme.

No info? No demonstrated value? 86d.

Love what you did there. Instead of bashing them to the ground you started off by rationally dissecting their process and pointing out how they should improve. Honestly, I think they should have paid you for this post! :)

I don't understand - at which point did the blog author hand over his email address? You can't get it from Facebook unless you specify a separate permission that isn't shown in the accompanying screenshot.

I gave them my email in the sign up process, but that's not what you should be asking about. The issue is them emailing me before I signed up. I don't know exactly how they got it, but I am guessing it's that one of my friends imported their email contacts which included my info and "made me a profile"

When you click on the link and then permit them to see your Facebook profile, and add your email contacts, you can bet their scripts get busy right away creating 'profiles' for all your friends and sending them spam as well...

really shitty of them to do this.

I honestly can't imagine feeling good about that kind of work.

"With great power comes great responsibility." - Uncle Ben

Decoding business language 101: Whenever someone uses the the word "honestly" they are lying.

Hmm, actually a pretty good idea, but their execution destroys the brand they are creating.

Wow a lead gen.. Did they ask for a telephone #?

Like Bait

I think this is definitely "suable" behavior.

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