Last week, the team at Spock had a very bad day at the office and it was largely my fault.
In my earlier post, It May be the Evil Spock, I invoked a powerful word. Evil. I passed this post amongst my tribe and they all blessed the word evil. I wanted to make sure I hadn't gone too far. When the tribunal had spoken, Spock was evil.
After thousands of page views and a bunch of comments and several posts by others, Spock is reeling in the court of public opinion. And most of these opinions jump on the condemnation bandwagon.
One of the comments was from Jay Bhatti at Spock. Surprisingly, Jay did not think of himself or Spock as evil. Well, that's just crazy! Of course he's evil.
So, this made me wonder .. what exactly is evil? And what, exactly would make Spock evil? Is evil correctable?
What is evil?
In the search to learn about all things evil, of course, I went to the 21st century CliffsNotes - Wikipedia. (Which makes Jimmy Wales the 21st Century Clifton Hillegass).
Wikipedia is a great memory jogger. Soon synapses that had long ago been shoved to the back burner - memories of Spinoza and Nietzsche. Memories of trudging across frozen Michigan snow on my way to early morning classes.
So ... here's the deal.
Evil is a fluid concept and a loaded term. In it's nitpicky form, an Evil act is a harmful act caused from ignorance. Let's call this "Oops! Evil".
Practitioners of Oops! Evil learn from the evil act and do NOT do it again. Practitioners of Haha! Evil learn from the evil act and DO do it again (hopefully in an even eviler way.)
Is the Evil Spock Oops! or Haha!?
Jay's long comment on my Evil Spock post shows a few things that should be appreciated:
1. Jay and Spock understand the need to respond to flame with cool water.
2. Jay and Spock are thoughtful and understand that Spock needs to be refined
3. Jay and Spock have spent considerable time thinking about the issues behind the collection and redistribution of personal information.
Currently, Spock is Oops! Evil. They are not malicious. But they do have a bit of work to do to make up for this.
Can they do it? Certainly. If Plaxo can dig their way out of their PR hole, anyone can.
Spock has potential
In my post that preceded the Evil Spock post, I said that Spock did some really needed things. Most notably, it lets you really coordinate your network. Recently (like late this week), Facebook started to allow the same thing - but Spock's implementation is better. This would be a post in itself, so I'll just say that Spock is a better platform for this because Facebook's business model is so chaotic. Spock is much cleaner.
Direct Response to Jay Bhatti
Please do go read Jay's long comment on the Evil Spock post. Then come back and read my replies. I don't want my quotes to remove any of his context.
Before I respond I also want to say that a blog post is like a text chat, so my aim here is to be perfectly clear to Jay and Spock what my issues are and how they can be mitigated. If I seem a bit forceful, it is due to the medium.
So, here we go:
Jay's first comment: We don't trick people.
... we NEVER send unsolicited email ... I hope this can clarify the issue some people raised above that we trick people to send invites. I have been trying to improve the process as much as possible to make it more clear.
I hear the earnestness behind these statements. The issue here is that the system makes it seem that people are on Spock when they actually are not. "Trick" like "Evil" is a loaded word ... I don't think that Spock or Jay specifically set out to mislead people, but the current architecture is misleading.
This is an Oops. It's also the reason for the invite flood. People are assuming they are linking to someone already in the system, not sending an invite. I know the system may be presenting these as slightly different - but the user isn't getting the message.
(paraphrased) Spock assumed that people in your address book was known to you. Unfortunately, many email clients save anyone you've ever emailed or received an email from - so lots of people in your mail client are total strangers. ....
This is compounded by the fact that many early Spockers were recruiters, biz dev consultants and others who have a vested interest in a giant network.
I did paraphrase here, so please do read his original and judge my work.
I appreciate the fact that Jay is airing a bit of laundry here and acknowledging something very important about social networking tools.
Different people have different strategies for applying their social networks.
The type of people Jay mentions in the second paragraph have a vested interest in having gigantic weak networks. Their business model is based on breadth and not depth.
The email issue is also very important. When I sign up for a system like Spock and it taps my email list to seed my network, I am always saying "Who the hell is that?" It works against my personal social networking strategy to include weak or unknown contacts. But for those other guys, they will add me no matter how tenuous the connection.
Oddly, Spock's tagging tool which lets you organize your contacts makes it the first tool to really let you self-filter your massive networks. So, even though this is an invite problem - Spock's architecture allows you to deal with large networks after they form. Organizationally, Spock has this covered - socially it was a bomb.
So, how do we deal with things like this? How do we deal with friend-whores who go out to collect every name in humanity's phone book and, in the process, fill your inbox with invites from people you don't know?
That's a big one.
Jay's third comment: We adhere to standard search engine rules.
We crawl the web the same way any other search engine does, we adhere to every robots.txt file from every site and we only crawl information in the public domain. ...
This is cool, but most people have no idea what a robots.txt file is. And no one has any control over the robots.txt files on sites like LinkedIn and Facebook.
Here is a conversation that I am so confident in, I will type it as it happens right now:
Jim: On your Elocution Seattle site, how did you set your robots.txt file?
Jim's wife: I don't know.
So, I'm afraid I see this as a bit of a cop out. Jon Udell has a great post today (much more succinct than me, I'm afraid) where he welcomes Spock's coming simply because it brings issue like this to light.
People's expectations of their data, while naive, is that it will not be used without their knowledge. This will help people streamline their data. But, as Jon points out, the crawlers are never accurate enough to filter out the difference between personal attributes and the topics of writing.
Also, as I noted before, names are not unique IDs, so building a massive database based on a non-unique ID is problematic.
Jay's fourth comment: We present good information
In the process of crawling, we do gather a lot of information about people. We made a decision .. that we wanted to represent people in their best light, and not in a creepy way. We try to never display publicly identifiable information (email, address, phone number, im, etc), even if we gathered it from a public source. We just don't think it is cool to show PII.
This is a good start, but doesn't seem to have served Spock well. I know that if I went in and looked around again, I'd find more pages declaring me to be an astronaut. I am very grateful that no Jim Bensons have done anything particularly nasty.
Unlike presidents. Neither George Bush nor Bill Clinton have taken the time to claim their Spock pages which are being systematically and ideologically defaced.
When I did a search for pedophile, I found 156 results. 156 people directly labeled by Spock as a pedophile. Somehow, I'm sure none of them stopped by and okay'ed that label.
It doesn't do a person a whole lot of good to protect their IM account over their reputation.
Jay's fifth comment: You can change it
We also allow people to claim their search result and remove wrong information and add information that they want to be searched on. If people want data removed, we have a easy process for them to get that data removed.
I'm going out on a limb here ... "Allowing" me to join your site and edit my data that you have misinterpreted is not a luxury for me as a user.
My personal advice here ... seed your database with people's personal information - but do not broadcast it publicly until it has been claimed. The seed data should be to help me, as a user, quickly set up my Spock account - it should not be a threat (even an unintentional one) that makes me come to the site and clean up the messy after affects of a crawler they never sanctioned.
This is the biggest issue, messy data on your side will quickly bring a response for an accepted and open-source reputation management system. People will lose their faith in companies that play by the accepted corporate rules but appear not to respect the people impacted by those rules.
It is hard to provide detail about problems without seeming negative. Problems are negative. It's not my goal here to take Jay to the cleaners, but to help Spock get even better - and thereby increase the effectiveness of social networking and social media in general.
I'm sorry to have caused a few bad days at the Spock offices, but I hope that in the end it'll make the product better.