Invites Done Right

Photo by Zaknitwij

Tonight I launched InvitesDoneRight. Here's why.

Despite being pulled away from my original focus on email, I'm still obsessed by how much valuable information is sitting neglected in our inboxes. Now that both Yahoo and Gmail support OAuth, I decided to release an application that's been on my mind for years.

If you're running a consumer web service, one of your most important distribution channels is your users sharing with their friends. Unfortunately there's never been an easy way to encourage this. Facebook might seem promising, but for good reason the service has made it hard for applications to broadcast indiscriminately to their user's social network. Many services use contact importing, but address books are both notoriously incomplete and full of people you met once at a trade show. Without extra information, you're stuck presenting the user with a space-shuttle control panel full of checkboxes, and asking them to wade through and figure out who to send invites to. If you get it wrong, not only are your invites ineffective but they'll be marked as spam by the recipients, making it very hard to reach even your existing users!

What's the answer? I think it's getting user's permission to scan message headers and pulling out a shortlist of people they actually exchange emails with. The user gets a nice experience, with only a few people to pick from. The web service gets a better-targeted set of recipients, which means higher conversions and fewer spam reports.

To implement this approach I've just launched the InvitesDoneRight service. If you have a website that signs up new users, just add an extra step that directs them to the service, I'll ask them for permission to figure out a shortlist of contacts, and then I'll call back a URL you provide with ten contacts that they've been in touch with recently. It couldn't be much simpler to integrate.

What about privacy? I'm still thinking hard about how this service could be abused, but I'm rigorous in removing all user data the instant they leave my site. It acts purely as a middle-man between the external service and the mail provider, and only passes the short contact list back to that external service. No other information is either passed or stored or shared anywhere. No email content at all is fetched, just who the recipients are.

I think this could be a powerful tool for websites, as well as improving users' experiences, but this launch is an experiment. Is it too creepy? Are there problems I'm missing that will render it ineffective? Tell me what you think in the comments, or email me.

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