Shelfari Has Pissed Me Off

By Deane Barker on October 27, 2007

Shelfari is a social networking app built around books. You connect to other people based on the books you’re both reading. It’s been pretty cool…until tonight.

Here is my email to their “Feedback” address.

I let you into my Gmail address book to find people I know that might also be using Shelfari.

I got presented with two lists: friends already on Shelfari (six people), and friends not on Shelfari (about 900 people) [note: this is everyone I’ve sent an email to over the last 18 months or so].

Right under the list of “Friends already on Shelfari” was a button that said “Send Invite.” Being a user of LinkedIn, I figured I needed to be “connected” to these people via Shelfari, so I thought I should click it.

Briefly I thought, “But will these send an email to the other 900 people?” So I scrolled down under the list of 900+ people not on Shelfari and saw another “Send Invite” button. So, I reasoned, that was the button for the people not on Shelfari — I really don’t want to press that one…

Well, it turns out that the top button still sent an email to 900-some-odd people, many of which I barely know. I didn’t realize this had happened until I suddenly got 100+ undeliverables back about 30 seconds after pressing the button.

This sucks. It’s somewhat humiliating. Some of these people are clients. Some of them are prospects for my business (that’ll look great…) A lot of them where ticket management systems — I have now apparently opened a dozen different tickets with various vendors.

The usability of this sucks. Fix it. Have you ever heard of a confirmation screen? You know, a screen that maybe says, “I’m just about to send 900 friggin’ emails to a bunch of people you might not know too well. Do you really want to do this?”

Now, please excuse me while I go manage the undeliverables, out-of-office replies, and general “what the hell did you send me” emails from close to a thousand people.


Even if I misunderstood the concept of an “invite” on Shelfari, I maintain that they made three usability mistakes here:

  1. They pre-checked every single box of the addresses they got from my address book. No similar system I’ve used has done that. They’re usually all unchecked, and left for me to pro-actively check.

    Think about it: how often is someone going to want to shotgun an email to every address in their address book? Especially a social networking invite.

  2. The positioning of the buttons was confusing. In retrospect, the button I pressed was supposed to prevent me from having to scroll down to under the list to press the other button there. But from where it was positioned, it looked like it was referring to the “Friends Already on Shelfari” list above it.
  3. There was no confirmation screen. If you’re going to send an email (or 900) under my name, at least ask me if that’s what I really want you to do.

I’m sitting here right now, fuming. Every 10 seconds or so, I think, “Oh crap, he/she/they got one of those emails as well…”

Never before have I prayed for spam filters to intercept my email. Please, SpamAssassin, do your job well tonight.

If you got one, I’m sorry. I’m really not stupid. I swear.

What Links Here


  1. aha, i just got that email from you this morning. If I hadn’t have read this post first (hmmm….. my priority seems to be 1) Google Reader, then 2) Gmail….. weird) I would have marked it as spam, because I would have honestly had a real hard time recalling who “Deane Barker” is. no problem – count me as 1 of 900 is isn’t pissed. ;)

  2. That’s why I said “my contact book is located elsewhere”. Then clicked “skip”. :)

    I’m not mad at you either Deane. I’ll just invite you to some other random service later on.

  3. In the immortal words of you: That’s like having a hallway with a “Call the elevator” button right next to a “Shoot a flamethrower through my butt” button

  4. Lesson learned here is that you shouldn’t hand over your identity to people you don’t trust.

    Of course, sites ask for your email and im credentials with such frequency that people have become conditioned to just turn them over.

    This is where oauth will help. As it gains support, hopefully people will start to think twice before handing their username and passwords out.

  5. Deane, If it makes you feel any better, I may actually be 2 or 3 of those people for I received the invite on multiple email addresses. Think of it in this light…at least Deane emailed me sometime in the past – yes, that does make me special.

  6. I just got one of these invites from someone who got my church e-mail address in his Gmail account.

    You sound like you got scammed. He sounded like he liked this.

  7. What I don’t understand is what would possess anyone to ever provide their primary email account information to a third party service. Yet, you see posts just like this one on a daily basis lately, with the rise of these data mining “features” on all of the social sites.

    Identity thieves everywhere probably just added Facebook, LinkedIn, and MySpace to their Christmas lists.

  8. What I don’t understand is what would possess anyone to ever provide their primary email account information to a third party service.

    Yeah, in retrospect, this was stupid as hell.

  9. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not dogging on you at all with that comment.

    It just worries me a lot that this has become such run of the mill functionality lately. If smart users like you are (were) comfortable with it, then people like my CEO or my mom don’t stand a chance at maintaining their privacy.

  10. Hey there,

    I just had the same thing happen to me. My ENTIRE address book was poached. I think this is purposeful so they can spread their service faster and pass it off as an “oopsy!”

    I emailed customer service and received no reply. I deleted my account. They still sent a reminder email!

    I called taste makers inc at 206-201-2348. This is the only number I can find on the Shelfari site . Left a message… Not sure it is the right number… ANYONE know how to contact Shelfari???

  11. My ENTIRE address book was poached.

    For the record, I think it’s important to note that Shelfari isn’t doing anything that you’re not explicitly asking them to do. All the boxes are checked, and you dutifully press “Send Invite.”

    BUT —

    They make it very, very easy to make a “mistake.” Additionally, they benefit highly from your “mistake.”

  12. Just had an experience today that was similar…I was calling to cancel a subscription to Runners World, and they made me a “great offer”, which was I could cancel my existing subscription and start a new one for only $20 a year (same offer they made me before!). I said “no”. The automated voice said something like, “Are you sure you don’t want to cancel your existing subscription and start the new one?” I couldn’t figure out whether I should say yes or no to cancel my subscription. I thought I was being tricked, but it turns out that no was the right answer, because I called back and it had indeed been cancelled.

  13. I got one as well…my pre-coffee mind was able to remember who this Deane person was and why he’d have my email address (I once emailed you a link to a humorous Wii news item). Although I am an avid reader, in that email I made no mention of any reading preferences, so I figured something had happened unintentionally.

    In looking at that Shelfari thing, I thought it was kind of a neat concept as I’m always looking for new reading material, but I didn’t follow through on the link at the time because I got distracted. Now it’s going straight to File 13. Thanks for the heads-up.

  14. Hello, I am an employee of Shelfari and found your blog a bit disconcerting. Shelfari by no means forces or tricks its members in anyway to sending invitations to all of their contacts. We only send emails on behalf of users who have explicitly authorized us to do so. The invite friends page clearly lists your friends in the system and all the email address of friends from your address book who from which you are given the opportunity to invite. If you don’t want to send emails to your friends there is an unselect button above each section. We have actually evaluated numerous designs for this process and have chosen one that we felt was extremely clear explaining the process and what is happening.

    For your friends to stop any future invitations from friends on Shelfari, they can enter their names here

    -Danny from Shelfari

  15. What exactly did you expect to happen after clicking a button that has the word “send” on it?

    I expected it to send invites to the short list of six people directly above where the button was positioned, not the 900 people, pre-checked, below the fold, and in an area of a page that a reasonable person would not expect the button to affect.

  16. you have made it into the top 5 of google results for “shelfari” I think it’s high time you use your web domain, just let people post comments there.

  17. I have Shelfari and I’ve only recently heard about these complaints. I think they’re unfounded. I found the process to be simple enough, although I decided not to send any invites at all. I’m sure it could be better, but I work at a public library and it is impossible to public-proof everything, trust me. I love Shelfari, although not as much as a social networking as just a book cataloging system. I’ve had BookJetty and LibraryThing which are both excellent, but in my opinion not as detailed or simple to use. Shelfari has flaws, but they are the only ones that I have seen actively updating and attempting to fix those flaws. Everyone else seems happy to stay stagnant. Anyway, that’s my opinion.

  18. I am horrified that this has also just happened to me! I was shocked when my entire address book just showed up with every one pre-selected. I was trying to just invite 3 friends already on Shelfari, but instead as I was just looking around for a way to get rid of my entire address book and uncheck hundreds of boxes, it submitted! I am very embarrassed and humiliated thinking of the people who should definitely NOT have gotten any email from me in this manner. It was wrong that my entire address just appeared on its own without my permission, that they were all pre-selected, and that it was difficult to get around.

  19. That is not the only reason it sucks I was banned from Shelfari for politely disagreeing about the historical accuracy of “The Book of Mormon”. They were mad that I pointed out flaws in its history and so they contacted an admin, Amanda, and she banned me just because they had the majority. She said my comments were inflammatory but they were much more polite than what was being written to and about me.

  20. I’ve faced similar issues on other websites like mGinger… It sent off emails to some 400 odd people on my GMail, many of which were bosses of mine at work… Humiliating and frustrating. Clearly websites do this to get more footfalls. Strangely, they don’t realize the bad publicity they get or the potential loss of users.

  21. I’ve been a member of shelfari for almost 3 years, and I’ve never had this problem, admititly, I never invited anyone as I send more e-mails to places like book stores than actual people. Just asking, what did you expect the invite button to do if the friends were already on shelfari? As a last thought, I LOVE that website (although I don’t use it for books)

  22. I’ve had the same problem. Thankfully my contact list is considerably smaller. They should give you money or something, you have just advertised them to nearly 1000 people after all…

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