Many-to-Many: A Group Blog on Social Software

March 24, 2005

acquaintance spam

I spoke last month at the National Voluntary Health Associations Innovations Conference on social network media, a conference organized by Randal Moss of the American Cancer Society. Randal did a great job, and I really enjoyed participating.

Once I returned home, however, I discovered that I had suddenly been added to the “KM Cluster” mailing list. The reason? John Maloney from Colabria (hmmm…I’m starting to like the nofollow thing already…), another of the speakers at the conference, had added my email address to mailing lists used to advertise books and upcoming workshops. In fact, my name was added twice three times; once with the address on my card, once with the address provided to attendees as part of the participant list, and once with the form of my address that often appears in my return address.

This isn’t the first time someone has done this—taken my contact information from a conference attendee list and put me on a mailing list without my permission. And it drives me totally nuts. To me, that’s a serious breach of conference etiquette, one that will drive people to stop providing their contact information to new acquaintances.

When I complained, politely, to John, he informed me that I could simply follow “common practice” and click the “unsubscribe” button at the bottom of the messages. But as many of you know, that’s often a tool used by spammers to determine whether the email addresses they’re using are legitimate. It’s not, and shouldn’t be, “common practice” to have to opt out of a mailing list that you never chose to be added to.

I’ve also received a spate of messages from Plaxo recently, asking me to update my information so that the person using the system—typically someone I don’t even remember meeting—doesn’t have to go to any personal trouble to ask for my current contact details.


I’m sick of acquaintance spam. It’s not that I’m not willing to be contacted by people I don’t already know. It’s just that I think it should be a personal contact. Don’t add me to a mailing list without asking me. Don’t set up an automated system to harass me for contact info. (Plaxo even sends a “I noticed you didn’t respond to my earlier request” message if you try to ignore it!) This strikes me as such a basic rule of etiquette, whether the contact is personal or professional. Relationships begin with and are maintained through personal interactions. Don’t screw them up by trusting them to software.

Update: John Maloney has responded via email to this post. He feels I’ve misrepresented him, and wants me to “correct” the post. Read on for his take on this….

Ell —

I reject this and your bad manners.

You must believe “no good deed should go unpunished.”

Did you forget about this conversation?

You lied in your blog. Very offensive. Please correct asap.

More than a few have reached-out from NVHA have reached out with gratitude and dialogue.

You are in a .001% minority. All appreciate community development and not-for-profit, vendor-free ‘how to’ networks.

Stop taking yourself so seriously and focus on moving forward, the future, it is much more rewarding…

I guess for you, network development, and responding to specific ‘next steps’ is a transgression. (?)

Give me a break, please. Unsubscribe. People like you are not welcome network inhabitants. Sorry.



In response, this would have been far more effective if it had actually gotten my name right. I use my initials, ell, for most of my email addresses—but it’s not my name.

The blog entry to which he refers mentions a brief conversation I had with Randal Moss at SXSW, which most certainly did not involve a request to be added to a mailing list. I’m pretty sure that Randal doesn’t think it’s appropriate to add people to lists without their consent.

Somehow, I doubt I’m in the minority on this.

Posted by Liz at 10:52 AM
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I got added to John Maloney's KM Cluster lists multiple times too and I'm not sure why or how. I too had to request to be removed- twice. I'm not sure he really gets it.

Posted by Lee LeFever on March 23, 2005 03:39 PM | Permalink to Comment

I guess the word snam never took off, but this kind of thing is exactly what they were describing...

Posted by Bert Reed on March 23, 2005 04:02 PM | Permalink to Comment

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