a humiliating mistake: inviting the world to join shelfari

The emails started coming in nearly every 20 seconds on an August morning. All of them had the same subject line: “Do we like the same books?”

“What the…” I thought as I cocked my head. Then it registered.

By mistake, I had invited friends, colleagues, former bosses, professors, volleyball teammates, ex-boyfriends – everyone I had ever known or met once in my life — to join a book sharing Web site called Shelfari.

When I sent out the invite that morning — that fateful click to 925 email addresses (because gmail saves every address you ever write to) — I knew nothing about the website. A former coworker who had leant me some books like Jodi Picoult’s “My Sister’s Keeper” invited me to join it. I thought I was adding one friend and instead I accidentally urged people who live in D.C., London, India, Germany and Hong Kong to join.

I was a marketer on behalf of a company I knew nothing about. It was like campaigning for a politician I had met once. In fact, if Shelfari were to ever turn profitable, I would think I would have every right to go to the board meeting, stand up, raise my hand and suggest I share in the profits.

Here are some of the responses I got (and I would like to add that I had no hand in the excessive punctuation):

•Is this some kind of sex website???

•I only watch movies. HAHAHAHAHHA!

•i don’t read.

•ERIN!!! You know I can’t read….

•Very nice. I joined as well. You know you are supporting Amazon’s takeover of all commerce don’t you.

•You probably ought remove me from your distribution list. Unless you want me influencing your selection of books, which could be a dangerous thing (wink) (from a guy who asked me out whom i had ignored on email two months earlier)

•This is cool. You better go add my book!!!!!

•I LOVE THIS!!!!! I’m in. How are you doing??? We need to dine together and catch up.

•Only YOU could be the best at timing!!! I kid you not, I was just on the website of my local public library looking up to see if they had some books for which I am hoping to read!!!! I didn’t even look up your site yet because I was just excited to see your name on my e-mail screen! HOW THE HECK ARE YOU GIRL!???

And, from a guy I still can’t place – even after googling him and trying to figure out how I might know him:

•Hey there! Thanks for the invite to your book group. It’s a neat concept. I’m actually in Berlin and on my way to Moscow tomorrow for work (to brag a bit). I think I picked a good time to be out of DC — it’s much cooler here!

Over the next few days, I felt nervous every time I checked my email. Who else was going to respond to my haphazard, not-so-thoughtful message. “We haven’t talked in years, but uh, want to join a book sharing website?” “Hey, I know that I didn’t return your messages because I wasn’t interested in dating you, but uh, how about you join Shelfari?”

I got messages from a former college soccer teammate whom I haven’t seen in five years and my former college roommate, who now lives in India, with whom I had lost touch. There was a long message from a friend from London whom I last saw in 2000 on the El in Chicago and from a guy I knew when I interned at Time Magazine in Hong Kong in 2001. He’s still in Hong Kong.

I have to admit, I enjoyed reconnecting with people — although it was exhausting to connect with dozens of people I hadn’t talked with in years all at the same time. When I heard from people, I quickly wrote up a standard apology and explanation, and it mostly elicited laughs. But two weeks later, Shelfari sent out a reminder to those who didn’t sign up the first time.

There was nothing I could do about it – and it started to piss people off. Or make them feel bad.

•Yes, this is your second e-mail. I’ll be blunt: Do I know you?

•How desperate are you to have me on this thing? I’m too techno-challenged with these things ie: linked in etc. How are things anyway?

•Thanks for inviting me to join. I honestly don’t have the time right now to join-but if I do get some time, I will definitely look at it.

I continued to apologize and explain and apologize. I now have 80 friends who signed up to the site, and I put my photograph up and added my favorite books. I figured since I invited everyone I know, I might as well embrace it. I bought my last three books from Amazon, all on recommendations from Shelfari.

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