Spam does not mean unsolicited marketing. Door-to-door sales, direct mail, telemarketing, billboards - even the guy who in every tourist trap in the world who begs you to come eat at his restaurant - are all unsolicited marketing, but not spam. Spam refers to bulk-generated, unsolicited marketing over electronic mediums.
The distinction is important, because in non-electronic mediums, the conversion threshold for unsolicited marketing is high enough that the market more or less self-regulates. Email, or electronic mediums broadly, became a new territory because the CPM of unsolicited messages effectively went to zero, meaning all but the lowest conversion rates would generate positive ROI.
As such, sending strangers unsolicited messages about new services over email, twitter, etc is legit, as long as you are doing so manually and are not deceiving them. I have no idea what the AirBNB folks did, but I suspect that it was manual.
It's a very fair point, and I think it's good to always err on the side of "not being shady".
Just to play devil's advocate, many companies would never have broken through the clutter if they didn't break a few rules to be seen at first. This includes great companies many of use use every day (like AirBnB). Reddit was forced to create fake accounts and pose fake conversations to get started. Google certainly was breaking some rules when they began scraping/indexing the entire web (i realize this is an oversimplification).
The ones that are truly garbage disappear when they start breaking rules. They piss people off. The ones who do it right, and offer something valuable, rise up.
Again that is just playing devil's advocate. I don't think it's black and white, and I think it's a really interesting conversation
So is it just matznerd.com and natmobi.com who's domains I need to add to my blacklist?
Because those sorts of words are exactly what _every_ spammer uses to justify their behaviour. (including, hilariously, such beautiful grammar constructs as "… trying to help wanting people connect with a …")
It's spam, no question about it. If I get it from you I'll probably just ignore it, but if I'm in a bad mood or looking for timewasting activities, I'll report it to gmail/rbl/mailchimp/campaignmonitor/your isp - mostly for the lulz, but partly because I feel I owe some of my time to occasionally trying to slow the inevitable slide down the tragedy of the commons that the internet has been on since the eternal September…
The harm is you are you and you are not them. They are them and no matter how much we think we can make their lives better, they are busy and don't want to hear it.
The problem is when they are kinda dumb (most of the time?) and the targed spam or leadgen job postings actually work.
"Job in your area paying $175k/year for your exact experience!" -- but when you inquire, it never exists. Conveniently they happen to have similar jobs with compensation structures consisting of wobbly jello.
I think as long as you are providing valuable and relevant information to the user, that it is fine. In this case, AirBnB connected people who were looking for renters, to an excellent service that furthered their goal.