Are Tell-a-Friend Forms Evil Spam or a Convenience for Readers?

Activity from “Share this”, “tell a friend” and other social networking links is creating “vast quantities of complaints”, according to Tom Kulzer, CEO of AWeber, a provider of email newsletter delivery and auto-responder services.

Tell-a-friend forms allow someone to send an email to another person via the web server of a third-party. For an example, go to Yahoo.com, click on a news story and click on the “email story” link at the bottom. Tell-a-friend (TAF) forms are a popular way to let users easily share items they find interesting. To those in the business or reliable email delivery, social-networking TAF forms are too popular.

Kulzer has responded to the launch of several “Tell A Friend” services with a reminder that their customers cannot use his service and tell a friend forms on the same website. He notes that because the recipient of the email did not request it, emails generated by TAF forms can be considered spam. I can see his point and can see his concern. It is his job to ensure his service remains reliable and reputable and is in no way associated with spam.

Yet, I wonder if he and some readers have fully thought this through. Kulzer mentions chain-of-custody concerns yet I fail to see where his service would ever have custody of an email delivered by a tell-a-friend form.

(Regardless, he says that if a component on your website delivers and email that results in a spam complaint, then “any other service” on your website is open to spam complaints. I’m certain Kulzer knows can-spam law inside-and-out. Yet, does he really mean “any other service”? Even if the “other service” has never touched the email that is the subject of the complaint, does not run on the same webhost as the TAF form, or has nothing to do with email at all – e.g. PayPal, flickr plugins? It will be interesting to see the details of this claim as the discussion continues.)

Kulzer points out that just because others are using TAF forms does not make it all right. I agree with him there. Yet, I wonder if users that applaud the decision, and say they avoid companies that use TAF, really avoid Yahoo, CNN, Wall Street Journal, Amazon, and the many other mainstream companies with TAF forms? Is there a social-networking tell-a-friend boycott in the works?

What do you think? Do you use tell-a-friend forms where your website sends an email to another person on a reader’s behalf when they find something interesting? Do you think tell-a-friend is spam or a convenience to users? Have you had complaints from tell-a-friend forms?