Friday, May 15, 2009

Fake Communities

I don't like fake community sites.  Let me qualify that a bit.  I've been finding a bunch of sites recently that create their content by screen scraping other community sites that I legitimately belong to.  I find them slimy for a couple of different reasons.  Yes, 'slimy' is the technical term.  Honest.  

First, they are trying to pass off someone else's work as their own.  They didn't go to the trouble of promoting themselves.  The site probably doesn't have any fresh ideas; definitely not in content and if they copied the content, they probably copied the features as well.  Why would I want to go to the site at all?

Second, they pollute search results.  When I go looking for information, I want the definitive source, not a copy, nothing inaccurate.  There are tons of sites like this that aren't community based.  I don't like those either.  But there's another reason that makes these community sites worse.

When I first started finding these sites, I happened upon them because I was trying to keep track of information about myself and my company.  I was trying to pay attention to what, if anything, the public might be saying about us so that we could respond and be good members of the community.  Anyhow, I found a site that had some information about me on it.  It was mostly outdated and some was wildly inaccurate.

I thought to myself, "I should probably fix that so there won't be any misunderstandings."  And then I realized that I'd been suckered.  Well almost suckered as I didn't actually take any action, but the point is...

There is subtle tactic these sites use to make people join.  Once people see their information there, there is a strong sense of personal identity that urges them to take charge of that data to make sure that they will not be misrepresented.  Maybe I'm just paranoid.  But, I can't believe that they accidentally got the wrong information when it's all publicly available from LinkedIn.

I felt that if I logged into that site, it validated all the questionable tactics that they used to bring me there.  The regurgitating of information from other sites.  Preying on people's sense of identity to create an account and fix the content. And the site is apparently trying to enter into competition with the sites that they steal the information from in the first place.  If I created an account, I felt I would be just another number that they could hold up to investors to 'prove' how much traffic their site was getting.

Maybe I've been reading too much Seth Godin and his honesty and up front marketing tactics are rubbing off on me.  But it doesn't change the fact that these fake community sites are more or less stealing other organizations' work and data and holding it up as their own in order to try to trick the public into using their sites.  And that just feels slimy to me.

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