Shelfari Relents

By Deane Barker on November 8, 2007

Shelfari: Invitations and updates: From the official Shelfari blog, posted yesterday.

We’ve seen the recent emergence of complaints about Shelfari’s invitations feature, and it’s quite distressing. […]

It’s been about five months since we last touched our invitation design. In June we looked at a number of different designs with the goal of creating something easy to use as well as clear. Recent feedback has been clear that our current design is not clear enough. As I read through the feedback, and look at the experience afresh, I can see where the problems stem from.

So, will they actually change the design? You know we’ll be watching.

As this soap opera unfolded, I was contacted by dozens of people who have had problems with Shelfari. In particular, the guy who created Library Thing (an admitted Shelfari competitor) wrote me and just posted this list of a stunning number of stories about people who have been burned by this.

Some of the stories are really sad:

After it sent out a second email today, I dove right back under the rock of humiliation, sank into the moat of despair and basically thought about changing my name and moving to Tahiti.

[…] Shelfari sent a bloomin’ email to every person I have ever emailed. Ex-boyfriends, people I hoped would never contact me again, coworkers, my vice-president, my CFO, my old boss, potential employers, my bishop, the entire Sunday school and relief society. EVERYONE. All now invited by spam to join my on-line book club.

[…] One hour after I pressed the button, Shelfari invited two dead people, one prisoner (he should probably read books but his warden is reading his mail), the CNN news desk, four European editors—and potentially a boatload of others who I hope I never meet.

[…] so then I got the bright idea to email an apology for the spam to my entire address book and Gmail decided that I’m a spammer and shut me down for 24 hours.

[…] That email went out to ex-boyfriends from ten years ago, their parents, high profile business professionals that I sent my resume to five years ago

So, did all of this cause Shelfari’s change of heart? I doubt it. Given the number of copy-and-pasted blog comments from “Danny,” they knew full well how much pain this was causing people.

In the process of my crusade, I discovered that Amazon was a big investor. I managed to acquire the email address of a highly-ranked contact in Amazon’s PR department, and I sent him a collection of choice links. So, did Amazon put any pressure on them? I don’t know — I never heard back. But you have to wonder.

Maybe they change their ways because my post entitled “Shelfari has Pissed Me Off” just hit the first page of Google results for “shelfari.” That must be embarrassing.

In the end, I refuse to pat Shelfari on the back or tell them they did the right thing here for the same reason Jay Allen refused to be nice to Plaxo when they changed their ways. The bottom line is this:

  1. Shelfari should have known better from the start.
  2. They are not changing this because they give a crap about you in any way. They are changing now because the disadvantages of their under-handedness suddenly outweigh the advantages. They acted like jerks for as long as it benefited them, and as soon as that plan was no longer viable, they crassly switched gears and tried to pretend it was because they cared about their users.

With this in mind, their punishment must continue. They have to be beaten over the head not until they just stop what they were doing, but until they regret ever doing it in the first place. In my mind, they need to be crucified in the blogosphere until it wasn’t worth it. We must negate the advantage.

So, at the risk of sounding bitter, screw Shelfari. I have canceled my account, and I encourage you to as well (go to Account Settings — the button is at the bottom of the page). If you accepted my inadvertent invitation that started all this, expect an email from me soon explaining what happened (for those who don’t read Gadgetopia).

If you like the idea of a social networking service centered around books, I encourage you to look at these two sites:

What This Links To
What Links Here


  1. This is Josh the CEO of Shelfari. I look forward to seeing your reviews of our future designs. I am sorry we have obviously failed you up until this point — I have reviewed our designs and I know we can do better in the future. We are a very small team working insanely hard to build the best website we can.

  2. Josh, we’ve heard this before. The last time you were given the benefit of the doubt, you continued on with the spamming and even deleted comments on the Shelfari blog that exposed your spamminess.

    Genuine remorse? I doubt it. Not even an “it was wrong we won’t do it again” straightforward admission. Instead, we get more vague, waffly, “hey by the way” non-expressions of regret and boilerplate exhortations to “check out” new designs (i.e. attempts to change the subject).

    All very PR, and all very phony.

  3. I emailed my shelfari invitation to the AOL help desk, to the Gateway help desk, the e-bay complaint center and everyone who attend my 20 year high school reunion. Six weeks later, people are still apologizing to me and/or berating me for either not having responded or for having received it in the first place!! I like the Shelfari concept, but I wish my invitation would have gone only to the three or four people I intended to invite. On the plus side, my Shelfari friends number in the sixties!!

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