The Perils of an Opt-Out Web Service

Just the other day, another one of these crackpot, opt-out web services aimed at innovating the future came across my radar. Like pretty much all of them, it was brought to my attention by a deluge of upset people on Twitter who never actually signed up for the service in the first place…

The concept of this one seems a little too weird and artsy for me to really be interested in – the idea is that you trade your time for time talking to other people … the tricky part being that while the no-name film director might very well want to chat with someone more successful, there in turn needs to be someone else who the more successful guy would also want to talk to, otherwise it seems like they’d just end up with a pyramid where lots of people on the bottom are left wanting to talk to a relatively few number of people at the top…who I’m not sure why they would want to use the service anyways.

And yeah, maybe there’s some potential for cross-genre blending and whatnot, but the concept itself isn’t really even what I wanted to talk about here today…

The problem is actually that instead of only letting its users trade time with other users who had already signed up for the service, AllThis also took it upon themselves to create “non-member profiles” for people when they were found to be not a member by an existing user. Kind of like how when you plug-in your email account to Facebook to allow them to search your address book for friends to add, then offering the option to “invite via e-mail” people who aren’t yet Facebook members … except in this case, AllThis just went ahead and created a profile for them anyways as a way of hinting that there was already a demand for their time on this new site that they weren’t a part of yet.

Like clockwork, a lot of people got mad because as a general rule, people don’t like getting signed up for things without their consent! Consider spammy e-mail lists when you place an order from a website – all you wanted to do was order their product, and as a gentle thanks, they proceed to bombard your e-mail account with promotional offers that you never asked for in the first place. It’s the reason why I’ll never, ever go on a Princess Cruise – because after being signed up for some Carnival Cruise Line promotions that I also didn’t ask for, they went and shared my address with all of their sister brands and now for the life of me I can’t seem to get them to stop sending me cruise promotions for this line that I’ve never even had the slightest interest in buying from!

But as far as web services like AllThis are concerned, I think the main problem is that they see somebody like Facebook or Twitter who already have hundreds of millions of users and with the idea of starting from the ground up being so daunting beside those numbers, the gears start to turn with ways that new companies can leverage the existing user bases of these much larger, completely opt-in successes.

AllThis certainly isn’t the first and they won’t be the last, either – before them, we saw TwitShirt, a company that saw potential in creating on-demand shirts of any tweet in the Twitter stream, despite the small detail that copyright over individual tweets is retained by each individual user. Not too long ago we were introduced to Kachingle, a micro-payment service which offered to accept donations from readers for their favorite websites before actually soliciting those website owners for permission to do so! The ideas were fine all by themselves, but nobody has the patience to wait several years for their user base to grow organically these days, so they try to cut corners like this and end up doing more harm to themselves than good.

Frankly, I think it takes an awful lot of nerve to spend all of this time creating a new project, then only to design its business plan around the assumption that everyone will just naturally want to be associated with your craft genius. It’s a great goal to be loved by everyone, but in the meantime you’ve got to work for it and luckily these days the Internet provides plenty of resources for folks to voice their concerns about you if they think that you’ve overstepped your bounds with your latest and greatest venture.

Whether they’re scared because they don’t actually think that their service could hold its own to build growth organically, or even if they’re truly just inexcusably naive to the idea that the entire world might not think that their idea is as great as they think it is, either way it amuses me that the proven track record itself of opt-out technologies that people actually enjoy alone isn’t enough of a deterrent for them to take a step back and launch their products the right way.

The web isn’t built on tricking users into trying out your service – you still actually have to sell them on it the old-fashioned way, and at that point if it’s not cool enough to actually persuade people on its own merit, then maybe that should be a sign that could save you 6-12 months of your life and several million dollars in venture capital before pissing off the very people who you’re hoping will become the passionate users who will make or break your latest vision.

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