Last week we published a post on a new startup called DirtyPhoneBook.com, a site that lets users anonymously comment on anybody’s 10 digit phone number. We wrote that beyond the rare business review or personal compliment, DirtyPhoneBook is full of vile stuff — personal takedowns, reviews of prostitutes, and a whole lot of racially-charged anger.
DirtyPhoneBook cofounder Peter Green saw our post, and wrote us a response letter.
In it, Peter admits the site does have lots of nasty content, but that it is a site “based on freedom of speech.” He goes on to argue that the site is no worse than Facebook or MySpace, noting that “People have killed themselves over what has been written on Facebook and MySpace.”
He goes on to complain that we should be willing to give DirtyPhoneBook’s cofounders, “a stripper, a gambler and/or a comedian,” as much praise as we give Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg and Chatroulette’s 17-year-old founder Andrey Ternovskiy.
Here’s the whole letter:
Dear Nicholas Carlson,
My name is Peter Green and I am one of the investors at DirtyPhoneBook. About a week ago you wrote about DirtyPhoneBook in your article – Horrifying New Startup of the Day. Thank you for acknowledging our existence.
Even though I don’t agree with some of the points that you make in your article I still respect your right to voice your opinion.
We at DirtyPhoneBook are building a social network website that is based on freedom of speech, a place where users are able to voice their opinions without censorship. We understand that this is not a place for everyone and some people might disapprove.
After reading your article I revisited DirtyPhoneBook.com and spent about an hour reading some of the comments that people submitted and I will be the first one to admit that some of the posts are racially charged, some review escorts and others are personal takedowns. What I don’t understand is, why do you refer to this content as “Bizarre and mildly terrifying.” I hope you are aware that facebook broadcasts content that is one thousand times worse than any content you will find on our site:
The following was posted 4 months ago on facebook and remains there even though numerous complaints have been filed with Facebook:
Topic: Would you want to rape Megan Fox?
By Elisha Cook
I mean, come on, guys, consensual sex just doesn’t cut it when it comes to an annoying bad girl-posturing faux-feminist [redacted] like Meggie from the farm.
Me, if I got my hands on Megan Fox, I would…[redacted]
What about you? I would appreciate any details about how YOU think a posh [redacted] like Megan Fox should be put in place.
December 2, 2009 at 1:07pm
The post that you just read is bizarre and mildly terrifying. Imagine a 13 year old boy or girl reading this. I would like to remind you that the dirtyphonebook’s minimum required age is 18 while facebook is 13.
As I looked at facebook in more detail I found groups with huge following that hate blacks, whites, and Asians. I also found solicitation of prostitution and tons of other illegal activities that are all prohibited by facebook but allowed to remain on the site for years in plain sight. People have killed themselves over what has been written on facebook and myspace but because they have squeaky clean names and huge cash reserves for the lawyers, we must excuse their conduct. So why don’t writers like you examine big companies like facebook and myspace and small companies like DirtyPhoneBook with the same magnifying glass. Facebook should not be excused, receive preferential treatment, or be treated any different from the little guy. That little guy one day can become the next facebook.
By the way everyone that is involved in our company has their number opened to criticism or compliments, we have not block any numbers, my number is (646) 875-5998.
“WHEN WE DEVELOPED OUR SOFTWARE AND BUILT OUR WEBSITE, WE DID NOT POPULATE IT WITH A SINGLE PHONE NUMBER, OR ANY OTHER PIECE OF INFORMATION. IT IS THE ACTIONS OF THE USERS, SUCH AS SEARCHING FOR PHONE NUMBERS AND POSTING CONTENT THAT CREATES RECORDS IN OUR DATABASE. THUS IT IS IMPORTANT FOR ALL USERS TO BE RESPONSIBLE, MINDFUL, AND CONSCIENTIOUS, WHEN USING DIRTYPHONEBOOK.COM. REMEMBER, YOUR PARTICIPATION ON THE DIRTYPHONEBOOK WEBSITE MAY AFFECT OTHER PEOPLE, SO PROCEED WITH CAUTION.”
In your article about chatroulette you were impressed with and praised a teenager from Russia for creating the site, I agree with that assessment – very talented young man. But why shouldn’t the public or the media be happy for and praise a stripper, a gambler and/or a comedian for an interesting concept. Why do we judge the book by its cover and not the content, which makes us the same as the vicious, racist people that judge and post vile stuff about others on DirtyPhoneBook. Why is the technical community only impressed with young geniuses from Harvard or Moscow. Is it possible that a simple person (everyday Joe) that sees the world from a different point of view can come up with something truly special.
I would like to share with you a letter that I received describing this innovative concept, the first time I was introduced to it. I hope you will read it and maybe it will help you understand why this is a new concept and something good may come out of it.
The Idea of DirtyPhoneBook
In every civilized country, every human has at least one telephone number that they consider their personal property. We use these numbers to communicate with each other. It is very convenient to keep the same number for a long period of time and most of us do so. As social beings we constantly exchange numbers with each other to keep in touch. So as time goes on, more and more people get to know our numbers and we get to know other peoples numbers.
We believe that the most valuable information about ones’ character can only come from people that know this person best. These people are usually found in the so called “immediate inner circle” of that individual. We also believe that the information that these people hold about ones character is not easily obtainable, easily summarized, and not readily available.
We believe that our concept is global in scope and can easily be applied to any civilized country, in any language, as long as the country has a basic telephone communication network. We intend to build a website and services that will act as a potential database of all possible numbers in each particular country. These numbers can be landlines, mobile lines, home, business, or personal phone numbers. Each phone number will be an individual internet page, publicly broadcasted to the world. We will ask the audience (the whole population of a particular country) to comment on the phone numbers that they know something about. The audience will have a chance to do so anonymously (to a certain extent). All comments for all phone numbers will be displayed publicly for everyone to see. Every single person on earth has some piece of information (good or bad, true or false) about someone else that they would love to share with the world. People would also do it more willingly, if they know that the process is in some way anonymous.
Our idea, is that the community as a whole knows a particular member of that community much better than any single individual of that community. In other words, the sum of information that the community can provide about each particular member of that community is much greater than any single member can provide about any other single member. As humans our interaction with each other is based on ability to continuously learn about each other. Every day we learn something new about each other in our daily interactions. Our thirst for more knowledge about each other is the main reason why we continue our relationships, but there is one major flaw in the way this valuable information is exchanged. The source of this information is usually the other party and because of their inherently, vested interest they manipulate, edit and restrict this information in order to paint a specific picture or convey a specific message. Both parties realise that information they receive from each other may not be accurate, true or complete thus they try to decode and investigate this information further. Our site would solve this major problem by introducing a third party into a two way relationship. This third party would encompass every single person that might know some good, bad, true, or false piece of information about any of the two subjects in this particular relationship. This valuable source of information will surely be welcomed by both participants thus fueling and accelerating their learning process of each other. Obviously, both participants understand that not all information provided by the third party will be accurate and truthful but that fact is irrelevant. On average, we believe that community as the whole will provide more honest information, paint a better picture and be a the ultimate judge of an individual’s character than the information provided and the picture painted by that particular individual about him or herself.
The net benefit to any individual in the community will be the information that they can obtain about any other individuals in that community from our website and/or services. Contribution to the community will come in a form of commenting on other members of the community on our site. As more people begin to participate by commenting, the motivations to contribute and participate of other users will increase, creating a virtuous cycle in which more participation triggers more participation. Our goal is reached when our members will describe their participation in our site as “addictive”. Due in part to the fact that the strength of motivation for contributing is usually proportional to the size of the community, we believe that as the size of our audience increases, so will the attraction of contributing and participating. Thus, we forecast tremendous, unimaginable, never before seen growth rate of our audience, right out of the gate. Return to the top of the letter and read it again but this time replace an individual person with a specific company (i.e. restaurant, auto mechanic, doctor…..). The concept works for both individuals and businesses.
So let’s not overreact. I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter.