Grouply Evangelism

February 23, 2008

I guess this whole Grouply thing just means that now owners have two new responsibilities:

(1) constantly watching the group-related message boards for information about invading third party services and other risks, and

(2) educating all their co-owners and co-mods about it.

It’s not enough to just know how to use the Management settings in a group.  And Yahoo’s Moderator Central is weak in reporting things that many of us regard as problems and risks, though not useless.

You know how well that will work.  Many group owners and mods barely know how to use the service, much less become experts in third party issues.

Maybe someday Yahoo! will accommodate us by providing a firewall that by default blocks all third party access, and provide a checklist in Management settings where we can opt-in to third party services we want to offer our groups.

(One can dream, right?)

Otherwise, the whole notion of free online groups is going to go bad in a big way, and serious moderators of serious groups will have to sign up for a paid system that is truly secure.  It shouldn’t be expensive, though, given the continually decreasing costs of running a web service.

Did you know that there is a core team of GrouplyFans calling themselves Grouply EVANGELISTS?

I enjoyed noticing that it’s in the FINANCE section of YG.  Should be in the religion category.

The home page says:

“The Grouply Evangelist Program is a select group of Grouply users who help define and select new Grouply features and who broadly communicate the benefits of Grouply in order to expand the Grouply user base.”

That “broadly communicate” thing?  Spammming.  Why don’t they realize that spamming as a promotional tool is self-defeating?  It just arouses the ire of group owners.

Their other tool: propaganda blogs and groups.  But they’re not the only ones who can play that game.

Evangelist?  Hmmm.  Not a bad word for it, really.  When you dig into what it’s all about, and its roots in the history of web-scouring hooking-up for commercial purposes, it does tend to feel sorta like a kind of religion … or like a cultish thing that can give you the willies.

How much ya wanna bet a dollar (as my cousin useta say when we were kids) that these evangelists would scream bloody murder if someone spammed their group and members’ personal email addresses with commmercial messages for a service they don’t want, don’t need, don’t like?  They’d declare something like a jihadist war.

Grouply Evangelist Program group:
Created 11/23/07
14 members
Fairly active, I guess …
Nov 07 = 47
Dec 07 = 410 (!!! – no wonder Grouply became such a hot topic recently)
Jan 08 = 181
Feb 08 = 55

Now I guess they’ll move to some other cave.

Given that kind of activity, and Grouply’s spamming machine, and YGOG and EL-M and GrouplyImprovements mods defending and advocating for Grouply, and their activity in the blogosphere, there is a NEED for vocal activism to counter the Grouply propaganda, to protect our groups and members and what integrity is left in the whole idea of free online group services.  If we don’t take a stand now, as other third-party invaders come along YG will never be the same.

Eventually I hope to be able to point to some investigative reporting on the core people behind Grouplyfication of the web’s free groups services.  It’s not just Grouply.  As always, follow the money.  It leads right to their front door.

– UnGrouply Atheist
(no offense whatsoever desired or intended toward adherents of true religions serving the spiritual good)

Ungrouply Thoughts

February 18, 2008

[Posted here by permission of the author, who asked not to be identified.]

This is not the first time this kind of thing has been done by people trying to cash in on YG message traffic (through back doors, of course, knowing that if they asked Yahoo for permission it would be denied), and it will not be the last.

So far it seems Yahoo is saying that it’s the local moderator’s problem, not theirs.  That stinks, from a user’s or moderator’s perspective.

Still, I have a hunch that if we give Yahoo really solid evidence of a blatant and ongoing TOS violation, especially a broad-scale one that could hurt their reputation if publicized heavily, they may yet act on it, if they don’t see any financial advantage to themselves in Grouply’s success.

From my experience with Yahoo, to get them to act on an abuse complaint, it must be accompanied by detailed specifics of exactly who did what and how it was done, in technical terms.  Sad that they won’t investigate and develop the evidence of it for themselves once tipped off to it, but then ask the FDA why they inspect so little of our food.  Enforcement is expensive, even when it’s relatively easy to do.

There is only one reason for Grouply’s existence: for them to make money when they turn on the data-mining to scour message content so they can target inline message advertisements (inserted at the bottom of every message posted by a Grouply user, riding the forwarding network as messages tend to do) and to target online context-sensitive ads for display to Grouply users while at their site.

It amazes me that advertisers invest so much in online and inline ads, but I guess it really does make money, considering the billions that Google and Yahoo have made over the years.  A penny here and there off each of billions of messages and millions of page views … well, it’s a nice chunk of change.

Consider how Waste Management, Inc., the biggest garbage company in North America, displays online ads in YG … especially in groups having anything even remotely to do with ecology.  One would think, now what do they need an ad there for?  There must be money in it.  If nothing else, just public relations value, which means money, too.

Grouply’s argument that they are providing a useful service to YG users is typical corporate propaganda.  I can see where some very tiny minority of YG users (1 or 2% at the outside over a long time) would like some of the features Grouply offers, but for the other 99%, it’s a pain in the ass and does nothing to improve their experience of YG (and excludes support for anything but YG message archives, I guess because there’s no money in mirroring the photos, files, links and calendars).

But Barnum & Bailey knew what Grouply knows … a sucker is born every minute.  They can be duped by enticements into trying it.  If Grouply can make one dollar per year off each of ten million people (10% of YG users), that’s ten million dollars per year.  That doesn’t count Google Groups users they are also pursuing.  And who knows?  They may be able to secure revenues more like $100 per year off only one million users.  That’s $100 million per year.

Being such a lame product, I really do expect them to fall flat on their faces and go out of business (these days $1.3 million in venture capital is not so “big” relative to the scale of things in their industry) … IF Yahoo or Google doesn’t decide to buy them and make it a “feature.”  Often the best thing that can happen to a startup is to get bought out by a bigger company, and that often means VP desks in the bigger company for the principals of the smaller one bought out.

(The fact that Mark Robins engages directly with us small fry users tells me that he doesn’t have very big guns behind him.  If he did, he would just ignore us.)

The Federal Trade Commission is tasked with enforcing the CAN-SPAM Act.  Unfortunately, under the Bush administration, the FTC is hobbled by understaffing (hard to fund some things while spending a trillion on a war).  I doubt they ever do much prosecuting of spammers unless they are really doing it big-time and make front-page news, or phishers making real progress in stealing credit card or bank account data.  As always, follow the money.  Enforcement activity is probably geared primarily toward situations where real money is at stake, or other kinds of severe criminality.

From things I’ve read here and there it appears that some of the avid Grouply fans are hoping against hope that their being chummy with Grouply CEO Mark Robins will help them get a foot in the door with a startup they think will “go big.”

Every minute of every day all sorts of untoward behavior gets rationalized under the notion that if it means making money, then it’s good, in a world where moral relativism is not just the norm, but the core of the worldview of the dominant belief system … one that many people live by, even though they don’t consciously choose it.  Most core beliefs come from conditioning, not choice.

Highly vocal Grouply fans seem to think that they have hitched their wagons to a rising star.  They see the rest of us as dupes and tools, while they alone see the light.  But it’s a red light, in my view, or at least an orange one, a warning about the possible future for things like YG, and the Internet in general, in a world where Money is God for so many.

Last Spammed By

February 18, 2008

This is interesting.

When a Grouply user goes to their Invite Groups “feature” (spam gun), they are shown a list of all the groups where they hold membership.  Next to each one it says whether the group has been spammed yet.  For those already hit, it says:

“Last told about Grouply by [subscriber personal name] at [time] on [date]”

Too bad it doesn’t provide the sender’s email address.  But that usually can be found on their Grouply profile.

Grouply Recruitment Spam Contest

February 18, 2008

Ever wondered why there was so much Grouply-related spam flying around?


Nothing like enticing spammers with a Nintendo Wii and an iPod as prizes.

CrunchBase Article

February 18, 2008

I just love Google Alerts telling me what’s going on out there on the web.  And for free!

Comments from people unhappy with are starting to accumulate at the bottom of the CrunchBase company profile at:

Add yours!

Press Conference?

February 18, 2008

Posted here by permission of the author:

In response to Grouply CEO Mark Robins’ announcement of a blog entry he called a “virtual press conference” … but did he actually INVITE THE PRESS?  How can you call something a press conference without inviting the press?

Speaking of a press conference …

It may be past due time the press, especially tech trade journals, and major, popular bloggers, along with mainstream news media, got involved in reporting these Yahoo! Groups owners’ concerns about, because it bears significance for what has been reported here as “100+ million” Yahoo! users.  That makes it a matter of considerable interest to the general public, worldwide.

And it is definitely past due time for Yahoo! to take a publicly broadcast position on the matter.  Until we know exactly where Yahoo! stands on it, I feel like we’re sort of three sheets to the wind, so to speak, in trying to do anything about it.

Tricia wrote, at:
<begin quote>
2.  NO “Invite Your Group” capability.  Inviting an entire list at once, even once, never mind once a month, even if the owner doesn’t really care, is spamming the list members who did NOT sign up for the list to receive Grouply unsolicited commercial emails, even if Grouply uses the fingers of their users to send them rather than co-opting the computers of the unknowing to do so.  Same concept – get someone else to send your spam for you.

3.  OPT IN ONLY.  Not “send the list owner a message letting them know that someone on their list is using Grouply and they can opt out if they want to”.  True Opt In means that Grouply doesn’t lay a virtual finger on a list until the list owner says explicitly that they want their list to be made available for Grouply.
<end quote>

I agree, and intend to maintain this position and present it vociferously to Yahoo!  Thank you, Tricia, for persistently staying on target about the true fundamentals involved.

Spam is spam is spam, and is means is.  The U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s mandate to enforce the CAN SPAM Act of 2003 needs to be applied to this situation, if the spam-encouraging feature of is not eliminated immediately.

Opt-in is necessary, by a group OWNER (not just any mod who may not be owner replying to an opt-out message sent to all the moderators via the group’s -owner address).  I find no opting-out scheme to be a satisfactory substitute for OWNER-chosen opt-IN.

Countering GrouplyFan Propaganda

February 18, 2008

These GrouplyFans yakking it up in the GrouplyImprovements group think that we have no right to “interfere” in Grouply’s business.  Well, Grouply is going to find out that as word continues getting out about what they are doing, there will be many more moderators blocking them and banning their users.  This is just the beginning.  Many people never heard of Grouply.  None of my co-moderators did until I told them about it.  None of my freecycling group members heard of it until I told them not to use it or they will be removed from the group.  As more people find out what it is (a scheme to make money off our private message traffic), many will not participate, and will tell their friends and groups to stay out of it.

Some of these GrouplyFans are not defending Grouply because they truly believe in the product.  I see many of them posting messages to groups every day without using Grouply to do it!  If they like Grouply so much, why aren’t they using it?

Some of them just see dollar signs.  They think that Grouply is going to be the “next big thing,” and they want to get in on the ground floor buying shares when Grouply issues an IPO (becomes a publicly traded company), if they survive that long.  I have seen three of the leading GrouplyFans say things like this.  They think they are going to be the next Google or Microsoft first shareholders.  Nonsense.  Grouply does not stand a chance of ever becoming big, because there is no need for their product.  They will be lucky to get 2% of Yahoo and Google Group users to subscribe, especially with the bad publicity they have caused for themselves.

They’ll get lots of spammers and miscreants to join, because it’s a great tool for spamming and spying on group members.  Stalkers and pedophiles will just love it.  That will just generate more bad publicity for them.

It is not “good business” to barge in and demand that people surrender their private data so some stranger can use it to generate advertising revenue by mining their data to target advertising dollars.  Grouply has only ONE goal: making money.  Their propaganda about “improving your experience of Yahoo! Groups” is nonsense.  If that was their goal, they would include support of all features of Y! Groups, not just aggregation and mining of the message archives.

They don’t care what we think, but they will find out that many good people believe there is more to life than making money, and they don’t believe (as Shal and Srihari and TexasCritter other GrouplyFans do) that Grouply has some “right” to make money on our message traffic.

Grouply shot themselves in the foot when they gave spamming tools to their subscribers.  All it did was raise alarm bells, not generate good publicity for them.  I see it as conspiracy to violate the U.S. CAN SPAM Act of 2003, and the Federal Trade Commission needs to receive lots of complaints about it to get them to act on it.  We need to flood the FTC with email and postal mail about it.

Yahoo management and the public and the Federal Trade Commission are the people we need to be talking to, not groups run by GrouplyFans who suppress opposition to Grouply.

We need to stick to the fundamental principles involved:

(1)  It is dangerous and foolish to give up your password to a stranger.

(2)  Nobody has a “right” to take our private group message traffic and make money by generating advertising revenue with it.

(3)  Yahoo should provide group owners with the ability to block third party “aggregators” from this kind of activity, and to block external domain names from accessing our group content.

(4) The Yahoo! TOS prohibits transmitting group content to another web site.

I think it’s time for Yahoo to give us firewall-style tools to prevent access to our groups by DOMAIN NAME.  In other words, the ability to block any outside web site from accessing our group site, or any email address with a given domain name from joining.  Hotmail allows its users to block not just email addresses, but entire domains.  In my hotmail account, I can block, not just individual email addresses.  Yahoo should allow us to do that, too.  But blocking email addresses with a given domain name is not enough.  We need a firewall-style blocking that prevents external web sites from directly accessing our message archives via web connection (not just harvesting via Individual Emails member settings), even if they do have a member’s password to do it.

But I note with interest that people are not flocking in droves to sign up for Grouply, either.  Less than one percent of the EL-M group are Grouply subscribers.  Only about a dozen of the GrouplyImprovements members are Grouply subscribers, and at least two of them are Grouply staff, and two of them are GrouplyFan moderators.  Grouply hardly has any serious beta testers (which is why they have so many bugs and problems), and very few fans.

It’s a pretty lame product anyway.  I explored it pretty seriously, and found nothing about it that “improved my experience of Yahoo Groups.”

Grouply may end up just dying of natural causes and self-inflicted wounds.  I hope so.