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18 August 2008 / April


It was only a matter of time before chain mail spread to Facebook inboxes.  Well friends, the day is here.  (For me, at least.  For others, it might have been months ago.)

This is slightly surprising to me, but only because I’d been noticing a definite decline in chain mail in my e-mail inbox.  I dared to suspect people had actually wised up and realized that no matter how many people they send an e-mail to, they are not going to meet the love of their life within the next 24 hours and live happily ever after in a cascade of delightful coincidences.  If it were that easy, 90% of the music industry would be bust.

The pernicious variety of chain mail that has been bombarding my inbox recently is this one, saying that there are too many people using Facebook so inactive users (i.e. ones who don’t forward on the message) will be deleted.  This is anything but new.  Here is a spoof I wrote for the AIM version back in– holy shit– November 2004:

Dear AIM users: Because of a recent lack of interest in the Internet, we have decided that any “nonactive members” must be punished by having their accounts permanently deleted.  We ask that you send this exact message to 100 different people every time you get online during the next year, and you must get online a minimum of 700 times during that year.  Our special system tracking devices will keep track of all this (they are like little robotic online stalkers, you see).  Once this task is completed, your account will be safe from deletion, but if you fail to execute these actions, your account WILL be deleted.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

Look, how quaint, I even capitalized “internet.”

Anyway, Snopes points out that if a company really wanted to gather information on user activity, they could just message everyone and instruct them to respond directly to the message.  Additionally, if their tracking devices can track this particular message, surely they can track any message passed on by the user and measure activity that way.

But really, I think, the main issue is the entire concept of a company being unhappy about their vast numbers of users.  Isn’t that a metric of success?  As any user of Twitter knows, servers can and do get overloaded, but then the onus is on the company to make things more robust.  These sorts of services thrive on having a large user base.  There will never be “too many people” using Facebook or any other service.

Also– and this is probably just me being ignorant– I’m not sure how having too many inactive users is overworking the servers.

No doubt I am devoting way too much effort to analyzing something that is patently dumb, but I’m just annoyed that people still haven’t learned to ignore these things.  I know it’s so easy to hit copy and paste and send, and you think that receiving just one of them couldn’t be so bad.  And it’s not.

But the thing was chain mail is, it’s never just one.


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