Invoke Media’s HootSuite: Spamming, Lying & Frame Jacking Oh My!

by Ben Cook on July 30, 2009

You almost have to admire the audacity of HootSuite.

The company has released a new version of their “Twitter toolbox” and many of their members are naturally upgrading.

So where’s the problem with that? Well, unfortunately HootSuite requires you to allow them to auto-tweet to your twitter stream in order to upgrade.

Update: HootSuite claims that users aren’t required to auto-tweet. Users who do not tweet will be automatically upgraded in “a couple of weeks” while users who do tweet are rewarded with an immediate upgrade. But, if you want to upgrade to the newest version today, you are in fact required to post a tweet as you can see in the screen shots below.

HootSuite asking you to upgrade

HootSuite asking you to upgrade

HootSuite asking you to spam Twitter

HootSuite asking you to spam Twitter

The result, as you can see for yourself is a massive number of tweets spamming… er promoting a link to HootSuite as well as the #HootSuite hashtag.

Now, I don’t have a problem with a little bit of self promotion or even trying to game your way onto the trending topics list. However, I DO have a problem with Twitter services automatically tweeting to their users’ accounts.

HootSuite  Still Frame Jacking

Unfortunately our dear old HootSuite isn’t JUST spamming Twitter, They’re also still frame jacking other websites’ content via their URL”shortening” service, Owly.

Frame jacking, for those of you who haven’t heard the term before is when a site like Ow.ly places a frame around another website’s content. If you want to read why frame jacking is an all around sucky thing to do, you can do so here.

The point is, it’s still happening.

Invoke Media Lies

But why would I expect Owly to stop frame jacking and placing their ad/link on other people’s content? Well because Invoke Media (the company behind HootSuite & Owly) founder, Ryan Holmes promised to do exactly that in the comments on a TechCrunch post.

On April 15th Ryan stated:

“Great to see digg coming to this compromise. Ow.ly (hootsuite) will be implementing these same changes in an upcoming release.”

Which changes did Digg make that Ryan committed to? That only logged in users would see Ow.ly’s frame & other users would be redirected (via an SEO friendly 301 redirect) to the content’s source.

And, when I pressed them on this issue weeks later, I was told that:

“We’re close w/new release. Need to dot some i’s & test until it’s rock solid. Will be a bit still, but it’s on the way!”

Those must have been some REALLY big i’s to dot if it has taken them 3 months and counting to do it.

Update: As @redwall_hp points out, Ow.ly url’s do serve 301 redirects which solves the SEO issue. However, they still display the frame to users who are not logged in, which is precisely what Ryan stated they would change.

In that time though, HootSuite was able to upgrade their fittingly named “toolbox” to version 2.0 and require their users to spam Twitter in order to use it.

Now I’d fully expect Invoke Media to provide some sort of excuse if and when this post gains enough traction to elicit a response from them. But no matter what their excuse is, do you really want to be using a service that takes advantage of their users in this fashion?

More importantly, would you really want to do business with a company like Invoke Media that engages in these kinds of behavior?

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Becky July 30, 2009 at 3:29 pm

I fell for it. It is their send later functionality that makes me gullible I like it a whole lot better then Tweet Later’s.

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Skitzzo July 30, 2009 at 3:57 pm

Becky, it’s easy to fall for. That’s my issue with it. They really didn’t present the option of NOT upgrading and getting 2.0 in a couple of weeks.

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Swan July 30, 2009 at 4:32 pm

The only part that I did not like about it is that they did not let me change the wording on the tweet. I would think they would want some wording change to make it more authentic. Just the link should have been static.

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Skitzzo July 30, 2009 at 4:46 pm

Swan, that’s because they weren’t going for authenticity, they were trying to spam their way into the tredning topics. Now, as I said, trying to game your way in is fine with me if you make it obvious what the options are.

For example, the contests where you have to tweet to enter are fine because they have clear cost & alternative (either you enter or you don’t). Hootsuite didn’t present it as an option.

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atomicpoet July 30, 2009 at 5:21 pm

Going to later write a point by point rebuttal on your post, but first, a couple of points:

a) If it says “early upgrade”, it implies the upgrade is not forced. Furthermore, it also implies there will be a later upgrade that does not require tweeting.

b) If I use an ow.ly link it’s because the content I’m sharing doesn’t have a Digg/Stumble/Reddit button, and therefore the source URL is useless. Why should I use a link that is not optimized for social bookmarking — even if it is source?

c) I use Twitter for my own purposes. If people like my content, they’ll click. If not, they won’t. Ow.ly has thus far given me more clicks on Twitter than bit.ly, Digg, or Tinyurl combined. Can’t argue with success.

d) Telling other people how to use Twitter is lame. If you don’t like someone’s links, unfollow them. If you don’t like them personally, block them. Either way, there’s no RIGHT way to use Twitter.

Stay tuned…

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Pierre Far July 31, 2009 at 7:29 am

Ben,

Ow.ly does not always return a 301 forward. In Firefox, it displays a toolbar which means it cannot do a 301 (The HTTP protocol doesn’t allow that!)

To see it in action, get the Live HTTP Headers Firefox addon, and watch the headers an ow.ly link returns. It’s HTTP 200, i.e. a successful serving of a page from the server.

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Anony Mouse November 15, 2009 at 11:06 am

@atomicpoet Implied intentions based on wording doesn’t entail options.

If i said “I will give you $10″, and not give you anything for 1 year, if you remembered me telling you I was going to give you $10 and didn’t, you would think me a liar… When in all actuality, i may have intended to give you the $ on the 3rd Wednesday of 2055.

This sort of vague inference is used mostly by politicians, and other such ” shady ” people as a backdoor escape from their actions.

The truth of the matter is that their intentions, and methods are quite clear. By intentionally leaving out information or obscuring the tactics with well crafted wording.

You also say ” If it says “early upgrade”, it implies the upgrade is not forced. Furthermore, it also implies there will be a later upgrade that does not require tweeting.”

This is nothing but an assumption. If it says ” early upgrade” then that’s all it means, that the upgrade is early. Where you get it means it’s not forced, or that the details of the ” later ” upgrade will not require a tweet is beyond me.

The fact remains the same, all over the internet these so called ” respectable ” sites use tactics that in real world would be considered theft, plagiarism, or fraud. By intentionally using code to encapsulate another person’s website within a frame / iframe or include on their site, they are effectively stealing the bandwidth from the origin’s site, not to mention using their site to intentionally promote themselves off of a well known brand. By hiding behind an act as a suplimentary service for the originating site they feel it is perfectly fine to lie, cheat, steal, and fraudulently pass themselves off as a legitimate service.

The traditional, and correct way to build upon someone else’s brand is with written permission. An honorable solution for these so called ” services ” is to ask permission, or better yet, take a note from the facebook developers, and actually request an API so you may be able to implement your service from within, thereby being forced to abide by the site’s guidelines if any.

As it stands now, these shady people do what they want with their source, and piggyback off of another companies success without permission, or any sort of guidelines to maintain the security of said sites, or their users. The temptation under these circumstances are ripe for one of these shady people to start collecting and selling off any personal, or other gathered information about the users. Very slippery slope, and HAS happened before.

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