Facebook screws iFart author

Facebook mat on 151 University

You couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried.

OK, I’m on the phone with Joel Comm right now. He’s been doing business online since 1995. He’s the co-creator of Yahoo Games. He wrote the Adsense Code, which got onto New York Times best selling list. He hosted and produced the first Internet reality show called the Next Internet Millionaire. He was the guy who came up with iFart, which got to be the #1 iPhone app on the iTunes store for three weeks. He also has “Twitter Power,” a book about Twitter coming out next month. You can find Joel on Twitter here.

Translation: he’s not a “nobody” on the Internet who is a spammer.

But, Facebook had a problem with him and kicked him off. Just like Facebook did to me just about a year ago. Why did this happen?

Well, he like me, has 4,999 friends which is the maximum allowed by Facebook. That’s not what got him in trouble. “So, Scoble, why you writing about him?”

Here’s why: he has 900 people who want to be his friend on Facebook. So, since he can’t add them to his social graph he sends them an a nice individual note, customized each time. He would look at each person’s profile and send them a nice note. What did the notes say? Something like “nice seeing you at XYZ conference, I can’t add you as a friend because Facebook doesn’t let me add more than 4,999 friends so could you please join me over on my fan page?” Sometimes also he’d send them over to his book page, or his Twitter page. Again, he customized each message to the person who was asking. Nothing automatic.

But yesterday Facebook disabled his account and removed his account from the public social graph. “I am the invisible man.” Facebook did exactly the same thing to me a year ago.

You still can get to his fan page, but he can’t administer it any longer (he has 734 fans). He also has a group on Facebook, which has more than 2,000 members. Fifty people have already joined a group to petition to have Joel added back to Facebook.

“So, why did they kick him off?” Because he triggered some sort of automatic alert that he was participating in spamming behavior.

“Did you get a warning,” I asked Comm.

“Yes. When we were sending the messages we got a warning and we stopped,” Comm says.

“Why did they kick you off then?” I asked.

“I don’t know, I stopped after they warned me. They kicked me off two days later. I have 900 people waiting to hear from me wondering why I’m ignoring them,” he told me.

“I try to log in now and it says my account is disabled. He sent them an inquiry and he got an email on January 22 at 1:42 p.m. Mountain Time. It says “Hi. The Facebook team has received your inquiries. We should get back to you soon. In the meantime, we encourage you to review our terms of use ( http://www.facebook.com/terms.php ). For more information. Thanks for contacting Facebook. — the Facebook team.”

Comm has no access to his photos. No access to his videos. No access to his wall posts. “I have no access, period,” he says. He wrote about the whole experience on his blog. I Googled his Facebook account and, right now, get a “Page Not Found” error. He has been “erased.”

I had almost the same experience a year ago and got more than 600 comments on that post. Every few days a new person leaves a sob story of getting kicked off of Facebook. I’ve complained about this quite a few times, including in public at SXSW when Mark Zuckerberg spoke at Facebook’s developer event there in 2008. I also have talked with Chris Putnam, head of Facebook’s video and security teams, as well as Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer. Each time they say they will look into it. Each time nothing happens and the account disabling continues.

My account was closed like Joel’s although Facebook reinstated my account within 24 hours. I answered my email just like Joel did. Nicely and calmly. But I always assumed that getting to the top of TechMeme and getting hundreds of blogs to talk about the event helped get me reinstated too.

Irony: He wrote a 30 page report on Facebook on how social networking can improve your business which was very positive about Facebook.

Comm, like me, says he’ll be back on Facebook if they reenable his account but warns that people will get tired of this kind of treatment. “You know what, I don’t need big brother watching me and I’ll go use another site.”

Get Satisfaction, a site where you can leave customer complains for companies, has an extensive thread on this issue.

I agree. I refuse to use Facebook to conduct business and don’t upload many videos or photos there because I don’t support companies that “erase” MY data without my permission. I know of no other social network that does this in this way.

“So, Scoble, how should Facebook keep from having spammers take over its site? What should it do if it finds a legitimate spammer?”

If I were in charge at Facebook I would have a “jail.” If you broke the rules I’d move your account into “jail.” Everyone would be able to get to it, although you might have an icon that indicates the account has been thrown into jail. I would also turn off certain features on the account. I would just turn off messaging, for instance, if that person was abusing messaging. Or, turn off his/her ability to write on wall posts if he’s abusing privileges there.

I would NEVER delete or erase data. That’s highly unethical and really stupid when you need the trust of your users. Right now Facebook can do no wrong. It is getting 450,000 new users a day. So, they don’t care. But what about in four years when growth slows down and people discover a better system? I bet that they will wish they paid more attention to those issues then (sort of like Microsoft wishes it paid more attention to being a nice citizen back in the 1990s because it would help them get a better search service going today).

This week at the World Economic Forum I expect I’ll be seeing several executives from Facebook (they told me they were going). I’ll bring this issue up again with them and see if they have a better answer than they’ve had to date.

What do you think?

New Twhirl Twitter Client adds real-time-web integration

[kyte.tv appKey=MarbachViewerEmbedded&uri=channels/6118/326147&tbid=k_2041&premium=true&height=500&width=425]

Last night Twhirl (one of my favorite Twitter clients) introduced a new version. Here’s Loic Le Meur, CEO, showing off what’s new in Twhirl.

Biggest new features? Ping.fm integration and Seesmic video integration.

Loic has a blog post explaining how to get it and he talks about lots of other new features. Highly recommended.

A Tale of Four Venture Backed Companies

You’ve probably seen the nasty headlines over on TechMeme and TechFuga yesterday. You know the ones, like this one about how Venture Capital has dried up.

Before I leave for Davos, Switzerland on Monday morning to attend the World Economic Forum, I wanted to get around to a bunch of San Francisco and Silicon Valley-based companies. In the past two days I’ve met with six companies. I’m beat. But Friday I got to four companies and I found them to be impressive. One of them, iWidgets, will announce its A round of funding next week.

The videos I shot reveal how these companies got funded (one, Kosmix, has received $50 million so far from its investors).

Let’s meet the four companies:

SkyDeck. Video: 28 minutes. SkyDeck takes your cell phone and makes it much more useful. They just shipped a new version this week. They say they are getting business from big companies who are looking to save money on their cell phone bills and make their workers more productive. I’m using it here and it tells me all sorts of stuff about my bill that I didn’t know, and the new version does a lot more than that — on some phones it takes over your voice mail so you get voicemails sent to your email and much more.

iWidgets. Video: 23 minutes. This company has an easy-to-use tool that lets you build widgets for most of the popular social networks out there. This looks and feels a lot like Visual Basic, but it is much more interesting because it lets you design apps for Facebook. They are closing a round of funding next week, weren’t quite ready to announce who their investors are.

JaJah. Video: 22 minutes. JaJah lets you make overseas phone calls for very little money. One of the co-founders explained why their service is better than others and showed me a cool VOiP application for iPhone Touch. Says that they will soon announce their new user numbers, which they told me are “dramatically more” than exist today.

Kosmix. Video: 33 minutes. Did you know that one of the co-founders had a chance to buy Google and turned it down? I learned that story on the video as well as got a tour of this new kind of search engine. This showed me a path for Microsoft to get back into the search market. Do you see it? I’m already an addict of this site and will visit it every morning. Shows me interesting news and search from around the Web.

Lessons I learned from all four companies?

1. They all told me of friends who are having trouble getting funding, so funding isn’t flowing easily. But…
2. Some of these companies have received funding recently. In the case of iWidgets they are closing a round next week. So it’s not impossible. But…
3. They bring something unique to the table. All of these are interesting, fun, engaging sites that I will use (I already use SkyDeck and added Kosmix and JaJah to what I do). It’s so nice seeing four companies that provide total solutions that have some depth to them.
4. Kosmix talked about how they convinced investors to pitch a lot more money into the company in the past few weeks: demonstrate adoption, they said.

Anyway, hope you enjoy this little tour. One other thing, these videos were made with my Nokia N95 cell phone with the just released Kyte.TV app on it. It gives dramatically better quality with the Nokia than they had previously. More on that vs. Qik in a later post.

Anyway, looking forward to bringing you to Davos with me. Talk to you next week!