“An infographic my team built”: Mystery Spam o’ the Time-unit

So the other week I got this on one of my Dale Innis email addresses:

Hey Dale,

I found your site while I was looking for sites that have talked about World of Warcraft and wanted to reach out to see if you were interested in using a graphic my team and I designed, which highlights how online gaming stacks up against online dating, in a classic 8-bit video game aesthetic.

Let me know if you’re interested, would love to connect. Thanks!


Tony Shin
@ohtinytony

The phrasing strongly suggested that the writer was from a subculture with which I am not generally very comfortable (“reach out”, “love to connect”: ewwww, stranger-danger!), and I pretty much ignored it (but left it in my inbox with the several hundred things other swirling around in there), and later on I got an actual followup:

Hey Dale,

Wanted to follow up and reach out about the email I sent last week about the graphic on gaming and dating.

Hope things are going well.

Thanks!


Tony Shin
@ohtinytony

He’s still groping at me, but this seemed personal enough that I actually replied:

Um, hi! I actually have no idea what you were talking about. :)
What is this graphic, and how/why would I want to use it?

and he rereplied pretty quickly:

Hi Dale,

I was searching for people who have talked about gaming and those who’ve taken any interest in it, then came across your site. So I thought you and your audience might find the graphic interesting.

The infographic I was talking about lives here: http://www.onlineuniversity.net/gamers-get-girls/

If you like it, feel free to link to it or use it in a post. Would love any feedback you or your readers have.

Thanks.
Tony Shin

I didn’t reply again, ’cause while visually cute I found the image kind of silly and pointless (not sure just what point it’s trying to make, various of the facts seem awfully implausible but I don’t care enough to trace down the sources, etc). And I figured that was probably the end of that.

Then, today, at one of David Chess’ email addresses, I find:

Hi David,

I came across your site while searching for resources related to ‘NORML’ and saw that you had referenced their site. That said, I wanted to reach out to see if you’d like to view a graphic that my team and I created which illustrates the benefits of marijuana legalization. Would you be interested in taking a look?

I’d love to get your readers’ feedback as well as yours!

Thanks,
Jen R.

This seems markedly similar! Also from the email headers the first Tony mail and the Jen mail are both coming via a mass-mailing service (Tony’s via “SMTP.com” and Jen’s via “mailingcomplex.com”), forged to appear to be from gmail.com, whereas Tony’s followup seems to have come via Integra Telecom (not an obvious mass-mailer, but similarly forged), and his reply to my reply seems to have actually come from gmail.

I should just write Tony and Jen and ask what’s going on of course :) but it is fun to speculate. Is it a college visual design course whose professor encourages the students to do this kind of thing? Is it a very clever bit of meta-spam designed to be unusual enough that gullible people (like me!) will put up weblog posts like this that actually include links to at least one of the Infographics in question, and thereby boost their Google Search Rankings (Brazil Triplets Nude!), or something like that?

Apparently there is a real Tony Shin who is perhaps actually at-ohtinytony on Twitter, although that person calls itself “Tonytones”. The account does “tweet” about various of this same kind of enormous Infographic, though, so it’s plausible.

Relatedly, here is a sort of article-thing by or about or something Tony Shin and various similar Infographics (warning: all sorts of rather cheesy ads and counters and little widgets from social media sites you’ve never heard of and general annoyances), which refers to him as “a social media ninja and creative design samurai”. Maybe these emails are part of some ninja-samurai initiation ritual, in which the student must stand on one leg atop a flagpole, blindfolded, until his Infographic gets a Klout score of at least 47.3 or something.

And here is a much less annoying site which has had several posts about the Mystery of the Infographics, including “Tony Shin taken to task“, which links to an Ohio State University professor posting about one of tiny Tony’s Infographics, and opining quite accurately I think about the various dangers of this kind of shiny information packaging. All very much worth a read.

Haven’t found anything on Jen yet, though. I think I will write to her… :)

17 Responses to ““An infographic my team built”: Mystery Spam o’ the Time-unit”

  1. OMG! I’m glad I found this post, because I just got an email from Tony Shin, the same type he had sent before, except that the topic on mine is “coffee” lol Wow, how dangerous.

    Thank you for posting this, you’re helping many other people to be cautious.

    • Glad you found it useful! It’s rather mysterious; it smells very much like some sort of scam, but just who’s being scammed and who’s benefitting isn’t at all clear. I suspect it’s the genericly-named URLs that are embedded in the Infographics (although apparently unrelated to them), that are supposed to be getting hits as a result of the emails. But why anyone would care if those basically-vacuous sites got hits is still beyond me…

  2. I got one from Jen Rhee today. It was the “rheester88@gmail.com via mailingcomplex.com” business that caused me to check it out before replying.

    Hi Steve,

    I came across your site while searching for blogs and posts about Mexican drug cartels. That said, I wanted to reach out to see if you’d like to view a graphic that my team and I created which illustrates the benefits of marijuana legalization. Would you be interested in taking a look?

    I’d love to get your readers’ feedback as well as yours!

    Thanks,
    Jen R.

    Sorry Jen. No, not like that.

  3. Hey do I win – I got contacted about sanitation and toilets! See below. So glad to have come across your posting!

    On 16-Apr-12, at 5:48 PM, Tony Shin wrote:

    Hey Jackie,

    I found your blog while looking for people who have talked about pooping and wanted to reach out to see if you were interested in sharing a graphic my creative team and I designed. It focuses on the results from the lack of sanitation around the world and what we’re doing to resolve it.

    If you’re interested – I’d love to connect.

    Thanks!


    Tony Shin
    @ohtinytony

    • Yeah, I think the unironic use of “people who have talked about pooping” definitely gets you some sort of award… :)

      • Yeah! Poop is definitely mine. Again thanks so for posting the blog. A solid case of where knowledge is accessible that would otherwise would not be, allowing for an informed perspective and good humour.

  4. Ah, thanks for this post! I, like marine detective, received the mysterious and hilarious “people who have talked about pooping” email inquiry today. It appears this is the most convoluted, bizarre SEO link-sharing scheme I’ve ever heard of. I’d write back to Tony, but I’m afraid I have a bunch of Nigerian princes I owe email replies to first…

  5. Glad I used the ever-popular Google to check this out. Just got an email from Jen Rhee and this one was about an info graphic regarding transplants and black market body parts. Busy group or person, whoever they really are. After leaving this comment, I’ll be reaching for the “delete” button.

  6. I got one today (April 18). Glad I looked it up.

    Disclaimer: I’m not into pooping info, though do write about backpacking. You know, just in case you get the wrong idea, like, ah, “Tony” did. My sanitation is pretty darn good and I feel no need of graphic graphics. Know what I’m saying?

    Hi Dave,

    I stumbled onto your blog while trying to find blogs who have talked about pooping and wanted to reach out to see if you were interested in sharing/using a graphic my team and I designed.

    It focuses primarily on issues from the lack of sanitation and also what we’re try to do resolve it.

    Let’s connect if you’re interested.

    Thanks!


    Tony Shin
    @ohtinytony

  7. hey! i’m glad i found this! I received similar email a while back from the lovely Tony Shin about “coffee”. Lucky for me i get a lot of spam so i’m kind of used to this, however it was worded in a way, which makes you really question if it’s real or not, so i had to do a ‘google search’ and lo and behold your site popped up!
    Thanks for clearing this up, Kat xo

  8. Jen Rhee is still stalking me…unfortunately I was baited, but the continued unnecessary emails led me to look her up again … so thanks for this post.

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