Why I am tired of Silicon Valley's focus on virality, Glassmap is far worse than Path ever was

You might have seen all the people beating up on Path about two weeks ago. But that really is pretty benign behavior, in my experience, when compared to companies, like Glassmap, who really are hurting the entire app economy.

How? I show how in this video.

Glassmap automatically posted to my Facebook feed when I simply started the app up. Yeah, it gave me lots of lame ass warnings but this is crazy behavior that just needs to be stopped.

Who is to blame?

Silicon Valley’s investors. In this case Paul Graham (Glassmap is a Y Combinator company, which really should be better than this as Silicon Valley’s premier startup incubator). They push these companies to go as viral as possible. So all these companies push as hard as they can to get viral.

Here’s what you should do as a developer:

1. Only put stuff on my feed AFTER YOU SHOW ME WHAT WILL GO THERE.
2. Only put stuff on my feed AFTER YOU GIVE ME THE ABILITY TO CHANGE IT.

This stuff bugs me A LOT MORE than what Path did.

It earns an instant delete and a bad rating on the app store.

By the way, Sam Grossberg points out that it’s a violation of Facebook Platform Policy: “(https://developers.facebook.com/policy/): “You must not pre-fill any of the fields associated with the following products, unless the user manually generated the content earlier in the workflow: Stream stories[…]””

I guess that’s why Mark Zuckerberg liked my post earlier today about this topic.

Why is this bad? Because a lot of users have told me that they never load apps anymore because they are scared that the apps will put crap on their feeds and they won’t know about it, or see it.

Inexcusable developers. Let’s do better!

76 Replies to “Why I am tired of Silicon Valley's focus on virality, Glassmap is far worse than Path ever was”

  1. Any website or app that spams my social media friends gets an automatic uninstall, 1 star rating, and an email to the developer from me.  It’s similar to when services announce “like us on Facebook for a chance to win …” or similar, I immediately lose trust in that platform.  It’s a means of spamming my friends with crap they don’t want to see.

  2. What about Facebook itself? It shares everything you do on its “partner sites” with all of your friends, and vice versa. Sure, you can opt out of it if you spend 30 minutes navigating their lucid privacy settings, but lets face it, most aren’t bothering – if they know how at all. In addition to what Facebook is telling our friends about our surfing habits, what they AREN’T sharing may be even worse. Facebook’s mobile apps check and store GPS coordinates every time you merely open the app.

    1. Two different issues. One is privacy (Facebook) and the other is Social Reputation. The reason Glassdoor is bad is because it pollutes and degrades your ability to be perceived as an honest and uninfluenced individual. This perception is why personal recommendations by people you know are so valuable, and thus why viral marketing is so sought after. Making a recommendation on behalf of an individual without their permission is thus a huge social sin, especially since it doesn’t consult the individual in question.

  3. This is why I’m scared of apps asking permission to integrate with Facebook. Seriously. 

    However, this also make me curious about the app and itching to try it…. gah

    1. I like Highlight better. I almost said Glancee, but someone said it does the same thing (I don’t remember seeing a Glancee post, I’m off to check that on my wife’s iPhone right now).

  4. Love the idea of a preview showing exactly how lame my feed will look if an app asks me to give it permission to post to my feed. No need for all that legal BS if I any user can see exactly what an app is trying to do. Any app that posts to my wall without my knowledge gets deleted immediately, I don’t care who or how many people are using it. Facebook will turn into MySpace unless this crap is stopped. 

  5. Robert, you are right. Startups nowadays will do anything to get traction and publicity because there is little downside. If the app doesn’t get the traction then the company fails. If the app does get traction, then they say ‘sorry we will change it’. But by this time at least they have broken away from the heard and getting people like you writing about them. I don’t see this changing unless Facebook actually ban the app for say 6 months.

  6. This is spam. There’s no other word for it. They know what they were doing is wrong or all of the over the top warnings would not have been forced in your face. If I get to approve any message, I don’t need any warnings. 

    1. I didn’t experience much of this when I joined which has me wondering if either my network wasn’t onboard at the time or if they’ve upped the ante as hype grew. Either way I suspect the noise level will grow the more they auto push.

  7. Hi Robert, just an FYI, in the video, when you first introduce the offending app, you called it “Glassdoor”, not “Glassmap”.

  8. I love Timeline and Open Graph stuff and that’s different. It’s not an endorsement asking for others to use it and it’s pretty clear there’s a difference.

  9. Reposting my thoughts from your Google+ link..

    It’s not only a bad practice ethically, it’s generally a
    failed marketing strategy, especially with adopters and younger users,
    people who voraciously utilize their social accounts and notice anything
    amiss. These are the people you want spreading things and when you do
    it without them asking, it ends up leading to posts like yours, bad
    reviews [huge for app markets], or just user to user comments [and thus
    no viral lift]. Bad strategy.

    put, make every share not just a function but a stated option upfront
    and after it’s done. People do a lot more when you give them the choice,
    and they don’t hit delete later.

  10. I agree with what you are saying and wish apps wouldn’t do this. 

    My process for avoiding such posts is to click the “who can see this” when approving the app and changing it to “only me”. Then if anything is posted, I will be the only one to see it. This is not an excuse for the companies but a way for users who know their way around to do so.

  11. There is also the fact that you cannot simply test drive an app in Facebook. It’s either allow full access to your account and an automatic signup, or nothing.  That’s a terrible approach.

    1. That’s depending on the application. I’ve written an app which requests Post-Rights only as soon as you manually want to post something to your Facebook wall using my app. Otherwise you don’t need to grant Post-Rights and could do all the read-only stuff.

  12. Preview is a really good idea. I’ve become accustomed to automatically checking my Facebook feed to see if there is any unwanted crap on my feed and manually deleting it after I install any app that allows me to connect using Facebook.

      1. I never even saw the checkmark. Opt Out is NOT acceptable. People click through these things so fast they don’t see those checkmarks at the bottom. This is REALLY sleazy. Other apps don’t try to fool their way through this stuff.

      2. I didn’t see what you were showing me even on the screen shot until I looked at it four times. So, no, absolutely not clear enough and anyway WHAT THE F***? You should never even ask to do this until someone has used your app a few times and is sure that he or she wants to spam his/her followers.

      3. Screw you. I looked at that four times and didn’t see it and I loaded that app twice on two different computers. 

        It is NOT clear enough. Give me a break. Most other apps don’t do this kind of stuff and try to sneak it by at the bottom of a screen.

      4. Pick your battles wisely Geoffrey, coming in mid-fray here but assuming the placement of an opt-out checkbox will prevent backlash on perceived spam  is a dangerous assumption.

      5. The button should be under the check box, and the check box should be bigger.

        This would piss me off too. The consumer is always right. Don’t make them adapt to your product. Make your product friendly to them. And don’t give yourself bad PR by being as reactionary as Rob here is.

      6. This is lame Geoffrey! Sleazy is the fact that you put a check box below the button. It is worse than putting “accept TOS” button upfront without showing you the TOS. it is sneaky and sleazy to put form elements AFTER the submit button and not clearly showing that they are related. 

      7. Read what? “Post about joining Glassmap!” is very, very vague so how is anyone to make any sense about what they are agreeing to? How from that short sentence are we to know a spam message will hit our Timeline? You had time to make 4 lame excuses as posts, then you have time to further explain this.

    1. That’s funny: “We never send anything to Facebook unless you ask us to” but having some kind of checkmark automatically ticked, at some place below the big login button…

    2. Geoffrey if you really stand by your product and your words, “We never send anything to Facebook unless you ask us to”, then allow the user to ask you to for real for then when they tell their friends/network it will have true impact. Instead you say the above, but assume the decision for the user by having the check-box checked already which contradicts you very statement on that same page. This sends up a red flag to us; and I for one if having seen the oh so obviously automated post then on my friends page would avoid your app instead because of this. Fix it, you can and there’s no good reason for you not to!

    3. Geoffrey if you really stand by your product and your words, “We never send anything to Facebook unless you ask us to”, then allow the user to ask you to for real for then when they tell their friends/network it will have true impact. Instead you say the above, but assume the decision for the user by having the check-box checked already which contradicts you very statement on that same page. This sends up a red flag to us; and I for one if having seen the oh so obviously automated post then on my friends page would avoid your app instead because of this. Fix it, you can and there’s no good reason for you not to!

  13. Virality comes down to one simple notion and word which is choice; people choose to make a product viral which then gives that virality, and the product, much needed credibility through this process. To do as Glassmap and force the virality is to negate virality of any real value to the group and also undermines the product’s legitimacy all because it subverts choice. An analog would be a fixed election; since there wasn’t authentic consensus the elected official in the end lacks legitimacy and the poll results are worthless.This is utter nonsense!

  14. If these startups had any semblance of a user experience strategy — and knew who their target audience was — they wouldn’t feel the need to spam the world because they would be speaking to the right people in the right places at the right times. Instead they spray and pray and usually fail.

    1. Exactly. They would get a lot more love by treating users with respect and not trying to sneak shit by them just to get some “virality.” 

      At Microsoft we knew that most people would never switch defaults. Heck, most people don’t even understand what the defaults do anyway. 

      This is sleazy and any decent user experience designer knows it.

      I’ve loaded hundreds of apps on my iphone and it’s very rare that an app does this kind of “opt out” bullshit. This total bull and anyone who defends this kind of opt-out stuff is just crazy and is working against this industry.

      1. I have asked Paul Graham and every other VC I’ve met to deeply encourage their portfolio companies to hire UX strategists early on to help them define the why and who around their whats. Especially in an incubator where the program is designed to educate these founders on process and best practice, I find it deplorable that there still isn’t UX education within the vast majority of them. It’s 2012 for Godsakes — let’s grow up already!

    1. I agree with the general consensus about not wanting their apps activity to appear on FB wall.  I shy away from the apps on FB that do this.  However, I’ve been using Spotify for the past couple of years, for the past six months as a premium user (yes, it’s that good that I don’t mind paying for it – and since I moved from the UK to Greece, this was the only way of keeping Spotify as it’s not available yet in Greece).  With Spotify, you get the choice of whether or not you want it posting to FB – I choose not to.  Personally, I don’t feel the need to let the world and his wife know every track I’m listening to.  If I do want to share music – then I will usually find the track with a YouTube vid and manually post to FB myself.  @eko – you don’t have to let everybody know what you’re listening to on Spotify – you get the choice.

  15. For what it’s worth, Path used to do the exact same thing. When you first signed up for Path, we would post a message to your Facebook wall telling all your friends that you were using Path. We only changed our policy after Facebook shut off access to their API because, as you noted in the article, this behavior violates Facebook’s platform policy.

    1. I don’t remember Path doing that, but it would have pissed me off too. This is exactly what’s wrong with San Francisco-based startups. We don’t ask “what’s best for the user?” Instead we look to the platform owner for what the letter of the law is. That’s extremely lame and I expect better from these well-funded companies.

      1. Trust me, we did it. I was there. 🙂

        All I’m saying is that if you’re going to have a headline that says “X is worse than company Y *ever* was”, you’d better be familiar with the history of Y.

  16. Against my better judgment (my FB friends know I don’t “do” apps), I recently accepted the invitation of a friend on FB to add the “Words With Friends” app (very similar to Scrabble®). Every so often, it would ask if I wanted to post a play on FB. I said “No”. The next day, I saw it had added at least THREE posts on my wall *anyway.* Grrrrrrrr!

  17. We struggled with this concept as well as how to better “match” users by using their contact databases on the server. Ultimately we chose to do neither and continue to try and improve our app’s virality by making it useful to people who want to then share it. And to Robert’s point, any simple user testing would have shown probably in 90% percent of the tests that a user will just tap through all of the acceptance screens without reading them, so I agree, “opt-out” on automated social posting is a bad idea. 

  18. Robert, it seems to me that your giving this company 100x the PR they would have earned having an interesting product. Any press is good press. If I were Geoffrey Woo I would continue with the hardheaded responses and keep baiting you into a few more posts….. Too bad Crunchfund didn’t invest. This is the perfect spot for MG Siegler to ride in and defend your company.

    1. That is always the danger when you attack a company. That’s why I picked one with some redeeming value and from the best startup incubator in the world (Y Combinator). There are many other examples that I could use to demonstrate this kind of non-user-centric thinking.

  19. I have previously tweeted about many apps that do this and will continue doing so.

    Sorry, opt out is just horseshit. Think of the user here. I never even saw that checkbox. Why? Because it was underneath a big ass button asking me to push it. That’s not taking the user’s point of view.

    And, anyway, why the f**k would ANY app need to post right when I start up the app. That does NOT mean I’ve used it. It just means I’ve loaded it. THIS IS NOT USER CENTRIC THINKING and is just virality gone out of control. It is extremely lame, especially for a company funded by the richest and best accelerator in the world.

    1. Robert:

      I can sympathize with your second point, regarding an app that posts as you start up the app. You’re right.

      However, shouting and swearing about not seeing a checkbox comes off as childish. Woo’s not asking you to click through a 40-page privacy policy, but merely notice that he has a checkbox checked.  
      If you’re unclear about what the checkbox does, uncheck it.If you missed the checkbox… well, I’m sorry. The user has to bear some responsibility for his own actions, or inactions. …”Because it was underneath a big ass button asking me to push it.”

      See, when I read this, I suspect I know who clicks those “punch the monkey” ads 🙂

      1. Mark: I’m sorry, I used the app twice and didn’t even see the checkbox. I don’t expect user experience designers to hide stuff at the bottom of the screen that is gonna spam all my friends.

      2. Mark, on the same page as the checkbox is the statement “We never send anything to Facebook unless you ask us to”, but already having the box checked refutes this. Glassmap makes the assumption for the user that they want to post to their FB, unless the user unchecks it. There is no reason for Glassmap to make this decision in the affirmative for any user for it breaks the trust in the relationship from the door. This is obviously intentional and manipulative in the way it is set up to get one over on those who rush through the activation of the app. Like rebate checks on products are intentional in that the manufacture hopes many users don’t send them back in, when instead they could have given the discount right at the POS. We are all smart people here and can see through transparent gimmicks like these, so Glassmap shouldn’t’t be given the benefit of the doubt. They should change it for the better (latter opt-in when it is a trusted app by the user), there’s no reason not to.

  20. Robert – can you change the “retweet” button scobleizer to the twitter button? I don’t want to give Tweetmeme access to my twitter account and therefore I can’t use your button to share this post. I’d bet there are a lot of others who may not share for this reason as well. I will manually share it instead. Thanks

  21. If Mark zuckerberg liked it, it means he doesn’t like apps doing it, which means he should modify Facebook platform to not allow apps to do that

  22. Facebook basically built their entire network by spamming people over email. Most of us were subjected to at least a dozen “invites” from friends who pretty much accidentally sent out an email to everyone in their email list.

    Problem is, now that Facebook did that and grew the way they did as a result, every other company under the sun is trying to do the same thing but can’t get away with it because people have cottoned on. So they try new things like this.

    I totally agree though, it’s an immediate turn-off for me when this happens.

  23. I’m glad that you’ve posted on this Robert. Sleaze and the Valley has been an issue that’s been building for some time, in 1000 tiny little ways. A lot of developers seem content to live in morally murky areas as long as it gets them eyeballs. The Facebook economy in particular has been appalling for this kind of behaviour for years, and remains a constant struggle between what Facebook permits, what developers get away with, and whether this pressure weakens the economy itself or not.

  24. The things is, once you lose someone’s trust it’s very difficult(if not impossible) to get it back. This is clueless marketing at it’s worst. A textbook example of what not to do.

  25. I was hoping to see some real change this time.. but after a while, it dies down and we go back to the accepting the abuse.

    Or do we?

    I’ve been avoiding anything that posts without the ability to edit each and every post that goes to my timeline. Once in a while, I let something stay on the iPad and it comes back to bite me in the hindside. Today it was Digg. I wanted to share a story, hit the command to tweet and it looked like nothing happened. Sure enough THEIR version of the tweet appeared in my timeline.I can’t be mad about this. It’s not anywhere near the abuse you refer to. But out of respect for my network/audience, I have to delete any app that won’t let me have editorial control over my own tweets.

    I could use Digg just to read stories… but why bother. There are better apps out there.

    We’ll never know which companies fail because they abuse customers. In the short run, they get to say millions have joined but soon you see their growth slowing down as people shut off feeds, block the spam, or just give up. 

    At least I hope that happens

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  27. Every now and then I revoke all my  ‘permissions’ for facebook. Most of them I don’t use. I’d rather keep a password vault for many sights than submit to laziness of using FB or twitter sign in. Robert, I could feel the heat here in Riverside..My voice stress sensors also lighted up red and the sirens also were triggered….I tweeted and FBed and also will post on my G+Stream.  Let’s have a hangout and crash Google. Has Google given you a go on live streaming hangouts?

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