Several months ago I joined a networking website that focused on the university I went to in college. Having been open to worldwide networking sites like Friendster, MySpace, Facebook and Multiply, I welcomed a networking site that focused on and accepted only members of the school I went to.
Yesterday, I deleted my account and left the site because I was starting to feel uncomfortable in it. I’m taking great care not to name names because I honestly think there’s nothing illegal going on. I’m just not comfortable with what I suspect the ultimate purpose of the site is. If you want to comment, don’t mention the site if you know what it is because I won’t post it.
At first I felt it was all right. It was cool to be there being with my fellow alumni and current students and perhaps even some faculty. There’s blogs, message boards, videos and so forth. I recognized that the site was built on a Ning platform. It’s a platform I’m familiar with because I previously joined other networking groups using that same platform. It’s easy on the eyes, and easy to navigate. So for a while I didn’t have a problem with the site.
I started to get persistent emails from the sponsor of the site. When I left yesterday, there was only one sponsor to the site. And in the months I’ve been there, there has only ever been one sponsor. Also, I learned that it is the sponsor itself who created the site in the first place. Basically the emails encourage me to attend seminars on list building, whatever that is. Joining the seminars would “help pay” for the site.
I thought about that. Ning is a free platform. Anyone can create a networking group on Ning for free. But since the school site had it’s own domain, one had to buy that domain. A domain of that type goes from anywhere around $30 to $40. And Ning charges $4.95 to link that domain to the site. So that’s what… $35 to $45 cost for the site on average? Still, where are you going to pick up $45 just like that, I thought. So I let it go.
The emails persisted. Someone commented on my profile page welcoming me to the site, but at the same time, the person encouraged me to attend the seminars. The seminars on list building, whatever it is.
I went to the site and I started to notice, right on the front page, adverts all over the place pointing to the sponsor’s service of offering seminars for list building. I visited a few classmates’ pages and on their pages are similar welcoming messages encouraging them to attend the seminars.
The featured blogs talk about benefits of the seminars, and 2 out of 3 discussions in the message board talk about the seminars.
On the front page members are encouraged to invite even more members to the site. The sponsor is even holding contests. Anyone who gets the most people to join will get to attend the seminar for FREE. And how much is the seminar? $1000. $40 for those who sign up early. Just one customer and the site is paid for already.
I researched online just what this list building business is.
List building is a manner by which you collect a list of potential customers to whom you can sell your products and services. A list like that is very valuable to advertisers online because they can use it to promote their stuff.
In the old days, a list was generated automatically when products are sold via advertisments on television. Meaning, everyone who sees that ad on TV becomes part of the list to which that product is promoted to. That kind of loose anonymous list is still used today.
But with more people tuning online, people can choose to ignore ads. Advertisers are having a much more difficult time getting eyes to tune in on their products.
And so companies started to build lists in different ways.
One technique is to create a networking site, and invite as much people to join it. To get people interested, there has to be a theme or subject to the site that would encourage them to join. And once a few people join in, they are then encouraged to invite other people. And when the people are there, they would now be exposed to numerous advertisments of that company.
It was then I realized our school networking site is one huge elaborate list building exercise, designed to ultimately sell us the product of the sponsor. And what is the product? Seminars on list building. It was a truly horrifying realization. But it’s an awesomely brilliant scheme.
Let me say again that there’s nothing illegal about this that I can tell. It’s all perfectly above board. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it as it’s just a business trying to make money. We’re all trying to make money in this world somehow, someway.
But I’m horrified at being asked to join such a spam list, on the pretext that it’s a school networking site. There are things we can play with on it as a networking site, but ultimately, it is a spam list, designed to sell only one product. Yes, I don’t hesitate to call it a spam list. Because I believe that’s what it is.
My school can create a networking site of its own on Ning, and it would be FREE. There are still ads, but they’re unobtrusive Google ads that everyone is used to by now.