I am part of the Silicon Valley Java User Groups meetup. I got this e-mail from one of their employee in early March:
Hey fellow Dev's,
I'm a ux designer who just joined the community and I wanted to share info about a great service that seems super relevant for this crew - FounderDating (no, it's not romantic). FounderDating (FD) is an invite-only, online network for entrepreneurs to connect with cofounders. Why FD?
High Quality - members are carefully screened for quality and readiness (no recruiters, etc.) Applications and members’ identities are confidential, but a few of the folks who are part of the network are former founders or early employees from: stackmob, Salesforce, Zynga, Loggly and Gilt just to name a few.
Balanced - 50% engineering & 50% non-engineering
Reach- FD’s online network allows you to connect with people in your city and beyond to share ideas and begin building something you’re passionate about.
No Idea Necessary - FD is about the people, so you don’t need to have an idea, just be ready to work on a serious side project
The deadline is April 8th, so apply now. http://members.founder[redacted].com/application
Cheers and feel free to reach out to me off-list with questions,
BTW, this is "Abby's" meetup page: http://www.meetup.com/sv-jug/members/8035133/. Not sure if she also goes by another name (Gail) or what. Let's give her the benefit of doubt.
Who joins a new meetup and right away sends plugs for their own project? At least, I don't think that's the norm.
Oh, if you're worried that you missed the April 8th deadline, don't worry: the last email I got from them was on the 11th.
This ought to be a case study on how to make a not-terrible concept into a really unsavory mess.
It's not surprising that you got this email; they basically sent us a few dozen stock emails and directed us to send them out to other groups in the area. I was happy to have them, as they cut down my work, but I changed some of the wording because I would never really talk that way. My guess would be this was part of the outreach effort of some newly recruited "managing director" who was trying to figure out how to contact user groups.
So while whether or not this is "spammy" is debatable, I wouldn't be so fast as to assume it is one person assuming different personas.
On various meetup pages, Abby also describes herself as a designer.
I am sorry now I signed up to unlock my city.
This is as misleading as the stunt they pulled with spamming that poor guy's LinkedIn contacts. Where there is smoke, there is fire.
Also, this gives me a very vivid sense of deja vu; I swear I read this exact article at some point last year... strange.
Sadly people don't have to be stupid or evil to think this stuff is acceptable. Bob sees other people do it, and Bob knows it's bad when those people do it, but when Bob does it it's different somehow. There's a reason somewhere that means what other people do is bad spam, but what Bob does is not. When Ann looks at what Bob is doing she thinks it's pretty clearly dodgy.
These kinds of cognitive biases are tricky to spot in ourselves.
I don't think "cognitive bias" doesn't make you not-a-dick.
My wife hates when people talk on their phone while driving, to the point of screaming obscenities at them. Yet, if her phone rings while she's driving, she often answers it. If I point out the discrepancy, she dismisses it, as her call is "important" or "short" or she's "still watching the road".
I suspect I do the same thing, although (like my wife and her phone) I don't realize that I'm judging others for behavior I myself engage in.
They just didn't have enough evidence, and persuaded themselves that the evidence they had was better quality than it actually was. The surgery isn't outlandish; it has a plausible mechanism of action; patients report good results afterwards. And the reason best standard research wasn't done is because there's a bunch of stuff we do that we've been doing for a long time and are only just now getting around to properly studying.
So, when a placebo-controlled blinded study was done we discover that knee arthroscopy probably doesn't do anything more than placebo for osteoarthritis.
> Carving an exception like that for oneself
Well, I guess it depends on how aware people are of cognitive bias, and how much they're closing themselves off to the possibility that they're subject to biases.
These things are really hard to guard against.
I agree with you and like the example, but I wanted to provide feedback that this example is confusing in its relation to the current topic.
We know that we should only trust double-blind controlled randomised trials. This surgery hadn't had that trial, thus it shouldn't have been trusted, yet it was. And the reasons it was trusted are just biases.
_They're_ doing it because they're pricks and trying to get as many eyes as possible.
That's normally what I see happen.
This is one of the areas that having "no-men" is a good idea. Someone who will force you to reëxamine your idea and lay out alternatives.
Because sadly, everyone abuses actor/observer bias.
As far as the ethics involved, I don't really expect corporations to be ethical at any level. I would like them to, but I don't expect them to. I am a strong proponent of extreme fines/legal action because really if it doesn't effect the bottomline I dont feel it will change behavoir of a business.
You're right in that being unethical is the best way to get ahead in the game, and it might be a good idea to make it so that's not the case.
That said, the US of A is an adversarial society.
It's possible for specific people inside a corporation to behave in unethical ways. However, the definition of maximizing shareholder value is not simply "make the stock price as high as possible in the short term." It's perfectly possible for executives in a corporation to take the high road as the optimal strategy for maximizing shareholder value.
Thankfully, ethics do not depend on the existence of a soul nor conscience. There is a such thing as emergent behavior, after all.
Not if the shareholders want them to be ethical more than profitable. Arguably, shared ownership tends to promote turning a blind eye to that aspect.
Patagonia changed their corporate structure to a California B corp to allow this.
Now, I can see how one might miss the fact that this will send an email.
Things you can say if you're being intellectually honest:
* The fact that this will send an email should be more prominent
* The content of the email should be more explicit
* The tone of the email was overly personal
* The from: field appears as if it's from the person, not FD
* The form is opt-out
* There's no copy on the page indicating an email will be sent
* The copy on the page is hidden below the fold
* The copy on the page is worded designed to mislead the user
* The fact that clicking submit will send an email is obscured
* There is no indication about the content or tone of the email that will be sent
The tone and wording used in the auto-generated email shocked me. I would be pissed if that had been sent to anyone I know.
Saying that the content of the email "should be more explicit" is an understatement of significant magnitude, and it glosses over the crux of the issue. The site clearly betrayed the OP's trust, and had I been in his shoes I would have felt the same way.
My comment was made prior to your edit which added mention of the "tone" and the "from: field".
I have also up-voted your comment, although I strongly disagree with the conclusion.
Other people are saying they found the page they saw misleading. You have to take them at their word.
If FounderDating folks have a brain in their heads, they will take that feedback seriously.
I just created a fake LinkedIn account and will post a similar (and honest) analysis after I receive the invite.
The fact that nobody in this thread bothered to do their due diligence before pouncing is enough for me to discount their opinions as uninformed. But we'll see what the actual page looks like in a sec.
From my perspective, you fooled me into using my professional network to advertise your service. You sent an email which purported to be me, put words in my mouth, and made me look like an ass to my colleagues.
I had to go look in my LinkedIn inbox and send out apology emails to everyone you messaged on my behalf.
> (in white writing) on black backgroud)
In tiny text. That I didn't notice until it was too late.
> and let you see the message
I didn't see the message beforehand. It isn't visible by default. I didn't realize what you were really going to do until I Googled for "FounderDating spam", which turned up the above article. That article, by the way, was submitted by one of the people you spammed, and who I wrote an email to to apologize.
> it's also completely opt-in - no tricks where you can't find the "x".
It's actually opt-out, not opt-in. And by opt-out, I presume that means I should've marked all of your default selections as not "entrepreneurial".
> not send or choose who they send a message to
It's not clear from the UI that picking a person sends a message to them.
> There is nothing sneaky about it.
In my opinion, it's downright deceptive.
> there isn't much we can do about that.
You could try not abusing my trust.
Here's what you should have said:
"It was not our intention to mislead users with the recommend feature. We felt the current wording was clear. However, apparently it is not. We will be issuing an update as soon as possible to make this feature more clear and ask the user to review and modify the message that will be sent out before we send it.
Thank you for this valuable feedback."
You'll thank me later.
Here's the facts of this flow (http://imgur.com/KSsinEq):
1. EVERYTHING that indicates a message will be sent is squished into one corner in 11pt font-size - smaller than anything else in the flow. Neither the header nor the explanation indicate a message will be sent.
2. The two links that you squished into a corner do not follow standard link conventions, they are neither underlined nor in classic blue. Which is interesting because across the rest of your site I see you use the underline convention of grey links (in the "save for later' and the footer for instance).
3. It's not white on black, it's #c8c8c8 on #3a3a3a, those are both muted tones that make the contrast significantly less stark. It makes a difference (check this out: http://i.imgur.com/Pypkv3n.jpg). The header is pure white on the background, so clearly you knew the color would make less of an impact when muted.
Why not just own up to the fact you wanted to get the word out and this was a classic attempt of a company being too smart for it's own good? I'm sure this version converted way better than when you made it clear it sent a message. Instead you come in and just fan the flames.
In all sincerity, I did not even see the link text the first time I looked at the screen shot (and I was consciously aware it should be there). I'm not in the least bit surprised others "missed" it.
I recently applied to FD and it appears that you randomly
spammed 10 of my LinkedIn contacts. What the hell? Not cool.
I was highly embarrassed when I received a reply to one of the LinkedIn messages. And your failure to respond to my email only makes it worse.
Oh that is totally untrue. There is something fairly obvious you could do: Don't attack people with viral tools in the first place.
Anything that intentionally adds overhead to the other person, without adding value to them, is an attack. How many people can you possibly think would want to advertise your service for you - and need your words to do it? You think if people really want to share your product they're going to develop a sudden writing difficulty?
You know as well as I that people don't read everything - we have finite attention, we do things in a hurry. And you exploit that as an attack vector for your nasty advertising stuff.
You're acting against the other party's interests from the off and you want to what?... Make it seem okay somehow? I suppose strictly speaking it's better if it's the way you say it is than some other way - but it's like saying: "Well, strictly speaking, I only murdered three children. Not the ten everyone said I did."
Checkmate. She can't worm her way out of that.
The guy whining in the blog post exactly opted in.
He clearly did not give his full consent because the UI was designed to bury the thing that he would have explicitly opted-out of.
> FounderDating asked me to identify ten that I would vouch for. I didn’t have to do it but I thought oh well, I guess I’ll do it and see what happens. So all I did was click their photos. Nothing more.
Can't speak to the rest of the flow but clicking photos indeed sounds like opting in.
I can see how it'd be easy to miss the fact that this will send an email, although it's stated unambiguously, at the top of the page, and underlined. And it's definitely opt-in. I have to select folks.
There really is. The fact that you either don't realize this, or care to admit it, is cause for concern. The email being sent out to your users' contacts is highly personal, and one very few people would be comfortable with.
> If someone doesn't read the line "this will send a message" there isn't much we can do about that.
How far would you extend this logic? That is to say, how much can be justified by saying someone "missed the fine print"? In my opinion you clearly crossed a line here, just not a legal one.
Does the warning say that the message will be signed by the person who sent the message (a message to X from FounderDating saying I clicked a thing is very different than a message to X from _me_)?
Does the warning say that you are highly recommending to the person that they join? Or does it just say you are vouching for them?
(These are all actual questions, as I haven't gone through that flow. I'm not trying to be snarky)
Being more transparent about the message that you're going to send, as well as adding the ability for the user to edit that message, would help you much more than a half-assed defensive statement on Hacker News ever would.
I agree that many people don't read everything they see on sites, but I believe we should optimize our sites/products for that, to help those people pay attention to the details that matter to them.
Not reading the terms and conditions of Reddit when all you do is browse and read and never even log in: not too important.
Not FULLY understanding that you are going to send an email to my contacts, using wording that YOU wrote to make it appear as if I wrote it: pretty damn important.
If you wanted the user to be able to see the message or cared that they did, you would have made it more obvious what was going on here.
That said, she now knows that people aren't reading the instructions and should find someone to get them to.
Opt-in means the X is not checked by default.
Opt-out would be where the X is checked, and people have to find/un-check it.
Opt-out is disallowed (ethically and/or legally) in many situations.
I don't know if you're truly doing opt-in or -out, but I wanted to point out the difference.
Opt-in is how you avoid unpleasant surprises. When it comes to email marketing, some even advocate double confirmation: You opt-in, and get an email where you have to click a link to confirm you really do want it.
Does anyone has a screen shot of that page?
Right now you just look pissy.
I am not saying I disagree that this practice is shady, but I am not sure where the bad attitude and grow up part is coming from. There is a lot in between "your practices might be misleading and slightly shady" to "grow up you have an incredibly bad attitude"
A user was asked to endorse people, but that action ended up endorsing a product; that is the very definition of deceptive viral marketing.
Someone who is too eager to attract users and too confident to politely respond to even the most scathing criticism is clearly struggling with a lack of maturity. If this was an overly zealous employee, that would be one thing, but the founder/CEO? Giant red flag.
(I am the original poster.)
“It’s difficult for me [or the other customers] to tell if they do this deliberatively to try to sell… or if they’re just careless with the way they’re designing things,” he said. “You need to see your product from the user’s standpoint.”
Um, you misspelled your company name.
If people have to "choose to not send", then you shouldn't claim your process is "completely opt-in", as what you're doing is the very definition of opt-out.
Instead of blaming users, how about stepping up to the plate, and addressing the problem?
Perhaps you could post some screen shots of exactly what someone would see and apparently what someone missed?
While it seems possible that someone missed a checked box it doesn't seem possible that someone missed particular wording which is what you imply happens by "let you see the message." Can you clarify this with screen shots? (I'm just noting how people are taking you to task over this and I'd like to see exactly what someone has seen.)
It's too bad because your business seems really valuable and would have been something I would have considered using if it wasn't for this terrible experience.
I hope you take my feedback as constructive and you use it as fodder to justify for changing this UX. Good luck.
- Sef (http://sef.kloninger.com)
Yes. In a SMALL font. INTENTIONALLY far away from the Agree button. You know damn well what you're trying to do. If you really wanted to give them the option to see the email sent out, you would have designed that to be transparent.
But you didn't. Intentionally.
edit: Louis not Louie
1) Selection of which contacts to message was opt-in. The OP decided that he wanted to send a message to a particular subset of his contacts.
2) There was a View/Edit message link that the OP didn't bother to utilize.
So between 1) and 2), we have case where somebody opted-in to having a service message their contacts, didn't look to see what that message was going to be even though they had the option to, and then got angry when they discovered they didn't like the content of the message that they could have viewed or edited beforehand.
The "I highly recommend applying... you'll thank me later" piece of the message is certainly inappropriate because this was a "get friend to vouch for you" feature, not a "recommend founder dating feature". Still, I don't see this as "spamming your LinkedIn contacts" nor a massive violation of trust. Also, OP's failure to mention the existence of the View/Edit Message link in his rant seems rather dishonest.
Edit: I'd love if the early down-voters could explain why they disagree. You seem to have read my entire message in about 20 seconds..
I am the OP.
(Of course, there is still the questionable practice of writing such an enthusiastic endorsement in the first person, but again you had final veto powers on the wording and you opted in to it. Such practices are unfortunately "par for the course" nowadays.)
This is the most extreme faux-1st-person endorsement I've ever seen. It makes schoolFeed look positively reserved.
Even if it were the norm (which, based on the response here, it clearly isn't), something being common doesn't make it the least bit right. That's the worst kind of complacency.
I'm toying around with a free, open source solution to this problem that reflects its true nature. If you're interested in contributing, contact info's in my profile.
First, I received a private email from a close friend I trust. Didn't know he was quitting his job and starting something new. All he was asking was for me to vouch for him. Ok. Then a few days later, he told me I should join too. That got really weird.
Looks like I wasn't the only one being played.
jmalter is the founder of FounderDating.
jfarmer is the founder of Everlane.
Both have terrible UX, but only one of them is being a total ass in this thread (vs. pretending to be oblivious to dark patterns). Mind who you're insulting about their behavior.
lol. And the winner is: jmalter.
I always select "Visible only to me" (and of course never grant messaging rights.) The app can't tell the difference and if I really like it I'll green light it once I see what they actually post on my behalf.
Given that your relationship with your contacts list on LinkedIn is much more fragile I'm really surprised they haven't given this more attention yet.
On the bottom left corner, you'll see they tell you that they'll send a message to your chosen contacts. You can also edit the message.
The text is really small. I may not have noticed it had I not been looking for it. Also, I don't know when this was added.
I also think it's important to notice that the big, friendly button says "Agreed". "Agreed" doesn't lead me to think that it will send a message, just that I will vouch for them.
No one would press that. Hence the fraud.
I saw that you started to apply for FounderDating yesterday but haven’t finished it yet. Just wanted to reach out and see if there is anything I can help with - I’m on the community team? Happy to answer questions or if you’re set highly recommend taking 3 minutes to finish it up
Finish it up and submit here >>
Here to help,
I don't have a LinkedIn account. This is the reason that I haven't finished.
The answer surprised me. No workaround.
We do require a LinkedIn account, it's the easiest way for applicants to save time and pull in past experience and education. Would love to see your application,
Why on earth a company rely so tightly in another company like that. Well, the post gave me a clue.
How is that even acceptable? Obviously it's far less insidious, but it still sucks.