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Want to Spam Your LinkedIn Contacts and Be Humiliated? Try FounderDating (ilikestuffblog.com)
289 points by tlrobinson on May 8, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 126 comments

The name sounded familiar. This company is a bit spammy anyway.

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, Abby


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.

I'll say they're spammy. This is the same form letter that gets posted to many tech-leaning meetups. It's started some pretty long, snarky threads on the mailing lists to the point where I had to unsub from one.

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.

I was asked to be a "Managing Director" of my local chapter of FounderDating when it unlocked. Basically this is a volunteer representative who wants to help out the community. While I was not in need of a co-founder, I knew a few people who did, and thought the network might be beneficial to them.

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.

Yep, I've seen this exact text come through other Meetup groups many times here in the DC area. This wording has been in use for months. My email archive has this email sent to 6 different meetup groups going back to 2/14/2013.

Maybe Abby is Abby Beck, Designer Extraordinaire who makes user friendly products - http://founderdating.com/about/who-we-are-2/

On various meetup pages, Abby also describes herself as a designer.

I am sorry now I signed up to unlock my city.

I've had similar issues. People in my group asked me to stop approving FounderDating posts because they felt it was spammy. Clearly something needs to change with their tone and overall marketing because it could be a great resource for some people with project ideas!

Who do all those ManagingDirectors [sic] direct? Title inflation ahoy.

Those ManagingDirectors [sic] are not employees. I'm familiar with two of them. They are folks in the startup space, likely operating in an advisory role, probably brought on to lend credibility to the company. Or maybe they were brought on for access to their contacts.

This is as misleading as the stunt they pulled with spamming that poor guy's LinkedIn contacts. Where there is smoke, there is fire.

It's surreal that, after all the blow-up-in-your-face moments that social media apps have had after doing underhanded things like this in recent memory, companies are still pushing under-the-radar hard sells like this. It has to take an incredible combination of obliviousness and ethical failure to still consider something like this a good idea.

Also, this gives me a very vivid sense of deja vu; I swear I read this exact article at some point last year... strange.

> It has to take an incredible combination of obliviousness and ethical failure to still consider something like this a good idea.

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.

Carving an exception like that for oneself strikes me as immediately disingenuous. I personally can't see how that doesn't make you either stupid or evil or both.

I don't think "cognitive bias" doesn't make you not-a-dick.

Carving exceptions for oneself I think is very common and may not be obvious to the person doing it.

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.

Doctors referred patients with osteoarthritis to surgeons for something called knee arthroscopy. They did this for years. Doctors, and surgeons, thought it was doing good. They were not dicks. They were not charlatans. They were not quacks. They were not idiots.

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.

Patients demanding placebo like vitamin shots or antibiotics is an old problem (or technique, depending on how you look at it). For that matter, many doctors are regularly prescribing people stimulants or opioids because patients are asking for them - instead of turning down their money and/or making them unhappy.

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.

This example is excellent for cognitive bias!!!

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.

_You're_ doing it for a valid reason that makes sense to you

_They're_ doing it because they're pricks and trying to get as many eyes as possible.

That's normally what I see happen.

Sure, but self-analysis isn't optional.

No, it isn't, but it becomes much more difficult when you feel justified in your actions.

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.

You don't seem clear on what "cognitive bias" means. At all.

As frustrating as it is, actor/observer asymmetry[1] is a reality and you can't simply say it's "unacceptable" unless you're willing to find a lot of people's normal behavior to be "unacceptable". It's a line that if you draw, it becomes hard to not appear dickish in normal situations.

Because sadly, everyone abuses actor/observer bias.


It still happens because, when your seeking that viral edge sometimes the cost benefit analysis turns out in favor of pissing off a certain percentage of your members.

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.

I'm pretty sure, as it is now, corporations that have shareholders are obligated to be unethical.

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.

A corporation is just a group of people. It's not possible for a corporation to be ethical or unethical, a corporation doesn't have a soul or a conscience.

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.

It's not possible for a corporation to be ethical or unethical, a corporation doesn't have a soul or a conscience.

Thankfully, ethics do not depend on the existence of a soul nor conscience. There is a such thing as emergent behavior, after all.


> I'm pretty sure, as it is now, corporations that have shareholders are obligated to be unethical.

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.

Not for a public C corp. They must maximize shareholder value, or a minority shareholder could sue and win.

Patagonia changed their corporate structure to a California B corp to allow this.

Sounds like a caricature of the actual laws.

This reminds me of "Why is there tele-marketing when everyone hates telemarketers and getting calls at 7pm when you are sitting down to dinner?" Because it worked! It was profitable. Now, interestingly we then hit a tipping point where there was enough outrage (US) that a "Donotcall" list was created - very effectively. How long till there is a "Donotemail" equivalent? The industry is arguably not policing itself well enough. I'm really glad the CEO showed up her to defend his/her company but "Hey guy didn't pay enough attention so what are ya going to do?" is too cavalier. Imagine if social services had to check all email addresses given out like this against a central list to see if they were on the "no social offers no matter what"

The email equivalent is CAN-SPAM and carries hefty fines for violators.

The problem is, it works. It is, after all, why LinkedIn itself has such a strong network (my father used once and apologised many times for using, although you'd never guess that from looking at his 170-contact network). It is the only reason I ever had a Bebo account.

They do it because it works. And will continue to do so until it stops working.

It's not really an under-the-radar hard sell. Here's the page in question, which nobody in this thread can be arsed to look at: http://cl.ly/image/2V302C3j290B

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
Things you can't say if you're being intellectually honest:

  * 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
Looking at this page, the most aggressive case I can make is for a slightly confusing design that should better highlight the consequences of choosing vouchers. It doesn't seem in any way misleading and doesn't show any of the fingerprints of someone looking to trick a user into accidentally emailing their friends.

So, being honest (intellectually or not), here's what I can say :

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.

edit :

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.

Here's the mistake you're making. You don't find it misleading. Because you don't find it misleading you're assuming nobody else should. That's not how reality works.

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.

That's not the page the blog post is talking about. The page the blog is talking about is the one people are sent to after they vouch for someone who has filled out that page.

Fair enough. Before people jump on the "omg spam" train they should take it upon themselves as thinking individuals to look at the primary source.

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.

Any luck on that page?

Actually, I'm the CEO of FOunerDating and what's surprising is that no one has actually asked if this is what really happens. We not only state (in white writing) on black backgroud) that "a message will be sent to your chosen linkedin contact) and let you see the message but it's also completely opt-in - no tricks where you can't find the "x". People can choose to a) not send or choose who they send a message to. There is nothing sneaky about it. If someone doesn't read the line "this will send a message" there isn't much we can do about that.

Actually, I just had this happen to me today.

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.

"Hey this idiot didn't look hard enough at what we were going to do for him." isn't the best defense, and really doesn't make your company look better.

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.

Well played with that closing line.

I hate to jump on the bandwagon here, but looking at the screenshot it's very clear that this was a conscious decision and honestly your response here is inappropriate.

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.

This is one of the most informative posts in this thread. Thank you for sharing both the screen shot as well as your analysis, which I agree with.

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 emailed you on April 30th with the following:

  I recently applied to FD and it appears that you randomly 
  spammed 10 of my LinkedIn contacts. What the hell? Not cool.
That "line" definitely wasn't obvious to me. I originally dismissed the oversight as carelessness on my end, but the widespread outcry here leads me to believe the UI is likely deceiving.

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.

This is exactly the problem- they choose to ignore / attempt to discredit the people giving them an early warning that this is "Not cool" / deceptive.

> If someone doesn't read the line "this will send a message" there isn't much we can do about that.

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."

"You think if people really want to share your product they're going to develop a sudden writing difficulty?"

Checkmate. She can't worm her way out of that.

For the record, "opt in" has a specific meaning. For your spamming to be considered "opt in", a user would have to actively take an action that indicates that they want you to spam their friends. What you have described appears to be an "opt out" scenario.

>I didn’t have to do it but I thought oh well, I guess I’ll do it and see what happens.

The guy whining in the blog post exactly opted in.

He opted in for one action, and was signed up for two actions. How is the second action considered opt-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.

I think we all agree that he opted in to vouching for the people. The complaint is that it wasn't clear that vouching also entailed sending a message if you didn't opt out of the message portion.

For context:

> 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.

Yes, he opted in to "vouch for" those people. A ethical UX designer would have shown a modal showing the full message with the list of people it would go to BEFORE sending it on the user's behalf.

No, you're deliberately misunderstanding her. Here's a screenshot of the page in question: http://cl.ly/image/2V302C3j290B

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.

Thank you for posting the screenshot but I don't think this is the one I saw. It was a different flow. I was not applying and asking people to vouch for me. I believe I was asked who I would vouch for.

That's not the page in question.

> There is nothing sneaky about it.

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 this warning about the message include the text of the message that will be sent?

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)

Rather than getting defensive in the face of what's a very valid criticism, why don't you work on improving your product?

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'm not being defensive (which I know sounds defensive) I'm just explaining how things actually work. That there is a message, but like many things on the internet people don't always read everything.

The fact that you are acknowledging that "people don't always read everything" makes it very hard to believe this is anything other than an intentionally deceptive pattern. A responsible and ethical UX designer would show the email and allow an easy path to opt-out of emailing anyone.

"but like many things on the internet people don't always read everything."

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.

It's YOUR responsibility to make sure the user is well aware of the ramifications of what's about to happen.

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.

Wow, blaming the user? That's low. Just like in customer service where the customer is always right, in web development the user is always right. It's not the users fault they didn't see some text, it's YOUR fault.

Boom. That right there pretty much ended any defense the CEO had. HN has countless submissions focusing on site layout/design/user interaction/click rate/etc

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.

The term Layer 8 and PEBKAC exist for a reason.

That said, she now knows that people aren't reading the instructions and should find someone to get them to.

> it's also completely opt-in - no tricks where you can't find the "x".

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.

I'm sure she understands. Here's a screenshot of the page in question, since nobody here can be arsed to actually check facts: http://cl.ly/image/2V302C3j290B

That's not the page I saw. I was asked who I would vouch for, not who I'd like to vouch for me.

Does anyone has a screen shot of that page?

You may want to step back, take a deep breath, and figure out a way (or someone else, if needed) to respond positively to criticism.

Right now you just look pissy.

FWIW, jmalter (FounderDating CEO) and jfarmer (who's passive-aggressively posting the same screenshot in a bunch of threads) are different accounts.

That's an unfair statement given that it's an invite only page.

It appears this is the page in question: http://imgur.com/KSsinEq

I don't think the problem is with the message, the problem is with the way it is worded as a personal email from A to B when they probably thought they were getting a generic 'A has invited you to join FounderDating!'.

Yes, we have a "see/edit message link"

You also have an incredibly bad attitude, and have a difficult time taking constructive criticism. Your default wording is ridiculous. A user wasn't able to understand the consequences of your UX. That's a failing on YOUR part. Grow up.

Woh... Grow up? All they posted was that they DID have an edit/see message button... how is that failing to take criticism?

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"

See her other replies. The only correct response to this type of situation is a professionally worded apology and some soul searching to determine where the zeal for viral distribution outpaced commonly understood limits of ethical marketing.

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 would rather you show me the message up front.

(I am the original poster.)

I'm sure it's a link because more people would choose not to send it if they actually saw it first.

This is generally called "Deceptive UX" or http://darkpatterns.org/

“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.” http://blog.web2expo.com/2011/10/deceptive-ux-how-to-trick-p...

I can't decide what amazes me more: that you think the described behavior is acceptable, or that you think writing this comment will somehow help your case.

Wow, this overly defensive response doesn't help your situation. You don't need to insult the intelligence of a user making a valid complaint. You make it sound as if he had a different motive for writing the article ..

> Actually, I'm the CEO of FOunerDating

Um, you misspelled your company name.

Maybe there were some typos in the code too that caused this snafu.

> People can choose to a) not send or choose who they send a message to

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.

The OP and several other people on this thread have identified real problems with your service's integration with LinkedIn. They clearly feel a line has been crossed.

Instead of blaming users, how about stepping up to the plate, and addressing the problem?

What you are saying "and let you see the message" appears to contradict what the OP is saying. "I don’t remember being asked to approve the wording–because if I had been asked, I most certainly would not have approved the wording."

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.)

Since your service is invite-only, why don't you post a screenshot of the page in question? If a significant portion of posters think the page is deceptive, maybe that's an indication that your UI is the problem, not the user.

How about not having awful, abusive "features?"

Can you or someone else post a screenshot so we can see what it actually looks like?

I got bit by your site recently too. The way that flow is designed feels like it was designed to be deceptive. I was embarassed when I found out that you'd spammed a bunch of my contacts.

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)

Wow. Making this comment and then allowing hours of responses to it to build up without a followup could be a case study in mismanaged PR.

creative use of parentheses

"We not only state (in white writing) on black backgroud)..."

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.

In case if you are wondering what honest "opt-in" option looks like, I recommend looking at Louis CK's site - http://i.imgur.com/jJDuTeQ.gif - it actually made me want to check yes

edit: Louis not Louie

I'm in a dilemma. On the one hand it is a highly relevant response to the problem stated by the OP on the other I am absolutely not satisfied with that response. So with that in mind - up or down voting?

What makes FounderDating spammy is that the messages are opt-out, not opt-in.

I'm the first to jump into the pit and start publicly shaming companies that abuse my privacy but in this case I'm not sure FounderDating deserves as much flak as it's getting:

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'm sorry - but a "View/Edit message"-link? That seems like the proverbial fig leaf and nothing more. If they wanted people to view/edit the message, they would show a preview of the message without "finding" the link first. They hide the message by default and they do that for a reason (if they aren't stupid).

Good points. A clarification (also stated in the first paragraph of the post): this was not "get a friend to vouch for you." This was "who would you vouch for?"

I am the OP.

Thanks for the clarification. I'd say as long as it was clear that a message was going to be sent, then a the "Who would you vouch for?" context actually makes the recommendation less inappropriate and puts FD even more in the right.

(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.)

> 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.

Either way, the email reads like "I'm vouching for FounderDating."

Aside from this being really uncool, FounderDating doesn't really work anyway. I've done it. Gathering a whole bunch of people who have an idea they want to work on in one place doesn't lead to very many of them pairing up and ditching one of the ideas. It's a lot easier to meet future co-founders, potential hires, and potential bosses before you actually need them. That's how networking works.

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.

I think it's more likely to be effective than blind networking. Building an early team just a fundamentally hard problem with no single / quick solution. FWIW I've met very helpful (non-cofounder) people through the site. In it's capacity to be a more startup-specific linkedin, it's interesting.

Happened to me too. Very spammy (I reported it to LinkedIn too, I hope they kill their API access).

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.

Hey guys --

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.

"but only one of them is being a total ass in this thread"

lol. And the winner is: jmalter.

Surprisingly enough this is one thing I really like Facebook for.

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.

I generally assume that every site that gains access to my contact list will try to exploit them without my consent. It's very easy as a developer to do, so I look for dark patterns in the onboarding process that give me red flags into their principles. FounderDating was one that I initially used and immediately deleted after realizing they were attempting to spam.

This reminded me that one of my friends wanted a recommendation from me on FoundersDating. I got to the form you're talking about and here is a screenshot:


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.

Seeing the screenshot (not having looked at the site or anything), the "see/edit this message" is pretty small. Everyone else isn't exaggerating when they say it is small.

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.

The button should say "Agreed. And send the message to my Contacts."

No one would press that. Hence the fraud.

Honestly, I don't know what the hell some of these companies are thinking but sure wish I had a blacklist of all of them that abuse contacts so I can never ever patronize them.

I would use this chrome/ff extension!

I'm in SF for a month and stumbled upon this web site that seems interesting to find co-founders and like minded entrepreneurs to exchange ideas and maybe some early feedback about my upcoming launch startup. I tried to sign up but dropped in the middle and received the follow email:

Hey, 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, Kristen

I responded:

Hi Kristen, I don't have a LinkedIn account. This is the reason that I haven't finished.

The answer surprised me. No workaround.

Hi: 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, Kristen

Why on earth a company rely so tightly in another company like that. Well, the post gave me a clue.

Congrats, you have been GrowthHacked™!

> I figured behind the scenes maybe they would send notes to these people, telling them their contact Brian Morearty had used FounderDating, and suggesting that they try it too.

How is that even acceptable? Obviously it's far less insidious, but it still sucks.

Your social contacts are currency these days. I could see being burned by this, so I won't say something stupid like he deserved it... but I also feel like he deserved it.

LinkedIn is full of embarrassments. I have no idea why it continually begs me to scrape my gmail inbox for contacts? There is no way my inbox represents business associations that I want shared with anyone let alone LinkedIn.

This is a deceptive, but it's not anything who hasn't used a Facebook app in the past 5 years hasn't been trained to avoid. It makes the OP sound very naive.

It's because of similar experiences to this that I will avoid using a social network to sign up for things if it has access to anything more than my details.

[CEO responded, see buried comment from 'jmaleter' currently about half way down the comments].

This happened to me! I had to apologize to so many people.

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