Social networking isn’t for spamming

Everywhere you look, businesses are discovering how social networking — Twitter presences, Facebook accounts and more — are effective ways to reach customers. But companies that start using social networks as ways to spam or troll for new business ought to be put in their place, and right quick. Case in point: MacHeist.

I’ve been using Twitter for a while, and have amassed a few hundred people whose Tweets I follow. They’re professional colleagues, friends, people who I know, and some relative strangers who say witty or insightful things — the reasons I follow people on Twitter are varied. But one way or the other, they’re all people with whom I share common interests or some kind of connection.

In the past day, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen this Tweet:

“I bought the @MacHeist 3 Bundle. 12 Top Mac apps worth $900+ for just $39 AND I just got Delicious Library 2 FREE!”

This is beyond irksome. It irritated me into a frothing rage last night, and I’ll explain why in a moment. First some background:

MacHeist 3 bundles a collection of shareware together for a price far lower than you would pay for them separately. And this latest MacHeist bundle includes titles as varied as the eBay sales tool iSale, the physics game World of Goo, Ambrosia Software’s audio app WireTap Studio and Cro-Mag Rally, the caveman racing game from Pangea Software, along with a number of other apps. What’s more, MacHeist “unlocks” additional apps to be included as part of the bundle as more copies are sold (ostensibly, as their charity donation increases).

I’m delighted that many Mac users find MacHeist a good value — even my colleague Aayush Arya recently took the plunge and is happy with his purchase. But I find MacHeist’s new intrusion into Twitter space to be completely over the line.

What MacHeist has done is to create a “Tweetblast.” MacHeist is encouraging its customers to Tweet that ad, in return for a free copy of Delicious Library 2 — the media cataloging software for the Mac — and Ambrosia Software’s recently released game Multiwinia.

It’s no secret that social networking sites like Twitter are becoming an increasingly effective way for businesses to reach their customers. I see references to Twitter on the news every night, and in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that we at Macworld maintain Twitter accounts (@macworld and @macworldbiz) to keep our readers abreast of what’s happening on the pages of our Web site.

But Twitter is, by its nature, an “opt-in” network. The people who follow Macworld’s accounts on Twitter are there by choice — because they want that information.

By comparison, MacHeist has induced its customers to abuse relationships, personal and professional, they’ve developed with other Twitter users.

Let’s just hope this isn’t part of a larger trend to clutter up Twitter and other social networking services with advertisements disguised as personal communications. I remember a day on the Internet before spam was omnipresent — before we had to load up our mail servers and client software with sophisticated tools to weed out real communications from garbage.

On that subject, Macworld’s Jason Snell recently explained how to filter text and use AppleScript with Twitterrific, the popular Twitter client software from The IconFactory.

But back to my rant: I sure as hell didn’t follow anyone on Twitter to see them spam me with advertisements, and I don’t suspect anyone else did, either. Make no mistake, this is spamming, pure and simple. And to that end, it’s an ugly, abusive way to advertise which lowers the value of the communications medium upon which it depends.

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