December 18th, 2006
Update: A couple of readers have written in to say that I misunderstood how this one works or at least missed some significant features — wouldn’t be the first time. See below.
The folks behind a dead anti-spam service called Blue Frog have decided to adapt their technology as an advocacy tool, which they’re calling Collactive (get it?). As Ryan Singel reports in Wired News, Blue Frog was based on a model that was similar to a distributed denial-of-service attack — once the system identified a site as a spammer, it coordinated mass hits from Blue Frog subscribers’ machines to the offending company’s server to shut it down. Ultimately, Blue Frog itself fell victim to a Russian spammer’s DDOS attack (at least the retaliation didn’t involve polonium).
The Collactive folks claim that their system will be easier to use than existing advocacy solutions and also imply that it will be cheaper for sponsoring organizations to install. Hmmmm, have these guys looked at exactly how many online advocacy vendors are already out there? Let’s think about another obstacle — for individual activists to use the system, they’ll need to install software on their computers. Man, it’s already hard enough to get people to join an email list, but now you want them to put something new on their hard drive? That might have been an effective model for an anti-spam network, since a lot of folks will do just about anything to screw with a junk-mailer. But activists? I don’t have to go out on much of a limb to predict that the sign-on rate will be much lower than for an email list.
The bigger problem? The promise of yet more mass emails to Congress, whose persuasive value will be close to zero. I don’t want to denigrate email advocacy as a tool, since I definitely think it has some good uses, but mass unedited messages are just about the least effective way for your activists to let their views be known to a Congress that already gets 300 million emails per year. A personally written message, a fax, a phone call or a good old-fashioned piece of snailmail would be much less likely to find itself summarily deleted. Thanks, Collactive, for a “solution” that may well make the problem worse.