I admit it: I'm a social networking junkie. I have a great time checking in with my online friends on a daily basis, sharing snippets of my life and catching glimpses of theirs. While it is certainly no substitute for actual human interaction, there is a definite sense of community found among those of us who are conducting this "virtual social life". And, the online neighborhood has no physical boundaries. My network, for example, includes folks from as far away as Amsterdam, Indonesia and Australia as well as friends who literally live a few blocks from my house.
As I am still a relative "rookie" in the Social Networking world, and there are a wide assortment of Social Networks out there to choose from, I try each one out in order to find which fit my personality best. I have presently settled into four main services: Facebook is far and away the best I have used, combining a user-friendly interface and a variety of privacy levels with an assortment of games, discussion groups, and other interactive services; it is my main network online. Twitter is a close second, with its "online cocktail party" vibe; here is where I have met the most new and intriguing people. Linked-In is an absolute necessity for maintaining a professional network; here I maintain existing business contacts as well find new ones. MySpace, while definitely geared towards a younger main demographic than I fit into, is useful for keeping in touch with some of my former employees as well as keeping up with bands I enjoy. There are other networks online that I am in for various purposes (MyBlogLog, for example, now that I've entered the blogosphere), but those four are the hub of my online life.
A couple of days ago, I was introduced to Bebo. Now, there have been sites that I have tried and decided weren't for me, but never before a site that I'm sorry I ever came into contact with. Folks, let me tell you about the fun that Bebo injected into my world...
Like any other social site, Bebo wanted to know about me - who am I, where am I, what do I like -- you know the drill. I dutifully filled out my profile, and onto the next step: are any of my existing contacts already on Bebo, and if not do I want to invite them? Again, pretty standard fair. Plug in your address book and let it determine who matches up to the current roster, and hit a button to send automated invites to those who aren't. Simple, right?
A few of my contacts were already on Bebo, so I wanted to add them to friends list. However, when I'm trying out a new service, I don't want to invite my whole network willy-nilly until I have had the chance to see whether I'm even sticking around. On most sites, this is easily accomplished - and the steps to accomplish it clearly indicated. Bebo is not so clear when it comes to navigating its auto-invite page, but I'm a smart guy. Should be no problem. Ahem.
In a matter of moments, a few acceptances trickled into my inbox, including one name I didn't remember being on the list of friends already on Bebo. Hmmm...maybe I missed that one or it just didn't register. Oh well, good to have friends...wait a minute, now I know I didn't invite THAT person yet. What's going on here?
Within about fifteen minutes, what had happened became embarrassingly clear: Bebo had, despite my wishes, sent invites to my entire address book. What's more, somehow invites had also gone out to every single email address found on any email in my inbox...including several people I don't even know!
Now my inbox was being bombarded with confused emails from strangers asking who I was, how I had their email, and in one or two cases telling me in less than polite terms that I should never email them again, and suggesting places I might stick the invitation.
Damage control time! As quickly as I could, I put together an auto-response that would go out to anyone sending me an email explaining what had happened and apologizing profusely. Many folks were understanding - thankfully so. But I was still left wondering how in Blue Hell this happened. Had I really misread the instructions? Had I picked up some sort of Bebo virus?
One of my favorite type of Google searches to do if I want to find out about a company, product, or website, is search for "________ sucks" -- if you get a small number of search results, you know that not many have gone online to voice complaint. My search for "Bebo sucks", however, returned page after page of results, including this remarkably similar tale. And my personal favorite, here, complete with a call to arms that my post here responds to.
The good news: after three or four days, everything seems to have settled back down. Clearly, there are those who use Bebo and are fine with it. I am not one who wants to work with a site that spams my entire email universe, though, so I went to cancel the account. Surprise, surprise - even though there is a link to click to cancel, all of the sudden Bebo doesn't recognize my password in order to allow me to delete the account (even though I just used that password not a minute before to log in to the site in the first place!)
Facebook is wonderful. Twitter is outstanding. Linked-In is excellent. MySpace serves its purpose well. Bebo = FAIL.