Beef in the Crowdfunding Game

Crowdfunding, You’re Doing It Wrong: Twitter Bots and Spammy Emails Are a No-No

Startup founders, please remember that crowdfunders, like everyone else on the Internet, tend to take spam amiss.
vergencelabs Crowdfunding, Youre Doing It Wrong: Twitter Bots and Spammy Emails Are a No No

The original Kickstarter campaign.

Last week, we covered Vergence Labs‘ canceled Kickstarter campaign and relocation to Indiegogo. Kickstarter’s no-comment policy regarding suspended projects means there’s no way to know the official reason for the cancellation. But now it looks like someone–though it’s not entirely clear who–has embarked on a spammy promotional campaign for the Indiegogo project, blasting out emails from a “Sergey Grin” and blitzing Twitter with @replies linking to the new project.

Founders Erick Miller and Jon Rodriguez were unable to respond by publication time (despite multiple requests for comment), but it’s presumably either them, or someone who is very, very enthusiastic about their idea.

Shortly after the project’s cancellation, the issue popped up on Quora, and the most compelling explanation yet came from Stephen Lau, a senior software engineer involved with Google’s Project Glass.

He wrote, “I suspect it was likely due to the spam (or perceived spam) sent by “Sergey ‘Grin'”, or perhaps the comments left on many articles/blogs covering Project Glass pointing readers to the Vergence Labs Kickstarter,” which violates at least one Kickstarter community guideline. Google’s project also aims to create a set of social video specs, and it’s obviously far better funded.

Consultant Josh Davis then reported on his blog that he’d also received a spam email with a subject line screeching, “Holy crap! Even better than Google Glass” and directing him to “this fun crowd-funded project at IndieGoGo!” He also noted that suspiciously bot-like Twitter accounts were pumping out @ messages promoting the move to Indiegogo. We reached out to Mr. Davis, who wasn’t sure why he would have received the email, other than that he contributed to a rival social glasses project.  He also pointed out that the Twitter spam slowed dramatically on Friday at 3:55PM CST, i.e. “about 15 minutes after Google Analytics showed I had 15 different unique visitors from Stanford read my piece.” According to his LinkedIn profile, cofounder Jon Rodriguez is a member of Stanford’s class of 2012.

Thus far, Mr. Miller and Mr. Rodriguez aren’t owning up to the spam, and they haven’t provided a response to our requests for comment. CEO Erick Miller did, however, respond to Mr. Lau’s Quora comment, deflecting responsibility: “we are not making any public statements about [the Sergey “Grin” emails] because we’re unclear what this was about, but we had a chuckle about it, and a grin — at least we see this as an indicator that we’re gaining some visibility and interest w/ what we’re working on.”

However, another comment from Mr. Rodriguez looks an awful lot like a confession that he’s behind at least some shenanigans:

I see it as a duty to develop Singularity-causing tech as fast as possible, gain the socioeconomic clout to ensure its adoption causes people more benefits than harms, and in general a combo of faster-than-anyone-else R&D and admittedly-annoying maximally-reachful marketing. [emphasis ours]

Well, we suppose a desire to bring about the Singularity would, at least, explains the crusader zeal.

We’re still waiting for a response from the Vergence team, and we’ll update when/if we receive one.

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS. kfaircloth@observer.com