August 31, 2009

GetSatisfaction: Worse than I thought!

I've not been impressed by GetSatisfactions' basic premise - a feedback site that doesn't allow complaints, and is designed to make customer feedback seem positive even when it isn't.

But apparently, in the past, they've been a little shady in gathering clients.
They’ll use your logo, title the page “Customer service & support for [COMPANY NAME HERE]” and generally make it feel like an officially sanctioned place to get official support from the company in question. The problem: It’s not official at all. That’s misleading.

The heavy handed tactics used by Get Satisfaction seem to indicate that their long term plan is to own every company’s customer support experience – whether it has your permission or not. Google searches for “[COMPANY NAME] support” will end up linking people to a Get Satisfaction page. If that’s not the offical support home for that company, who winds up winning? It’s not the company. It’s not the customer. It’s really only in the best interest of Get Satisfaction.
-, an apparent victim of GetSatisfaction.
Here's the scam; they build a peer-support forum for your company on their website.  It identifies your company, including your logo, but it has no other links to your existing support sites.  There is a link for you to "claim" the support forum they started.  If you don't, they smear you with this lovely little disclaimer:

Pretty sleazy, huh?  You don't even know about this site, and you're getting blamed for not participating.

In the meantime, they will run ads from your competitor on "your" support forum until you cough up money.

Now, once 37signals caught them at it, GetSatisfaction claimed that it was a mistake;
Gosh, we messed up on the wording of that badge and are changing it pronto. The wording on that badge was actually intended to explicitly state that the space was NOT OFFICIALLY SANCTIONED by the company, but that doesn’t come off at all.
That's right, company co-founder Thor Muller actually said "Gosh."  And worse, a company professing to facilitate clear communication failed to see how the wording of their disclaimer appeared to blame whatever company the support page was dealing with for not cooperating.  Or so they say, anyway.  Personally, I don't buy it.

So they re-write their little badge:
“No one from [COMPANY NAME ] has sponsored, endorsed, or joined the conversation yet. ”
Note that it still appears to place the onus on the company, who very likely isn't aware that GetSatisfaction has put up a support forum for the company in question.

If there's one thing that GetSatisfaction is good at, it's spin. But as one GS user said on the GS weblog:
If you employ professional copy editors, it makes it more likely that the original language was calculated.
In a follow-up post, Jason Fried dissects the problems with the GetSatisfaction experience from the standpoint of a company that didn't know about this unauthorized support center.  It clearly illustrates the careful thought that went in to the design to convince the user that they were in a sanctioned support site.

They should follow truth in advertising and call themselves "GetSleazy."

Sun-Sentinel is behind the Curve

A week or so ago, Chris Tiedje of the Sun-Sentinel defended his paper's practice of aggregating news content created by others instead of creating their own content.
Many news providers aggregate content. Media organizations have done this since their inception with Reuters and AP, and it is becoming more prolific in this day and age as local papers struggle to survive.
I pointed out that if everyone is aggregating, and no one is creating, we end up with nothing.

Eric Suesz, a GetSatisfaction moderator chimed in:
...perhaps the answer isn't that aggregating stories is bad, but that aggregating relevant stories is the key to success. Just my opinion as a former newspaperman.
Well, two of the original news aggregators, AOL and Yahoo, have come to the same conclusions I have.
“Suddenly, a whole universe of talented writers were open to work with us,” says Moe. “This accelerated what we already had underway; it poured gas on how fast we could hire the best talent in every content category.”  -Marty Moe, to
This change of heart has led The Daily beast to ask "Can Yahoo Save the News?"

We'd better hope so, because the morons at the Sun-Sentinel won't.  And I'm not all that enthused about the Herald, either.

August 29, 2009

Eric Suesz; with help like this, who needs enemies?

As you know, I've been following the collapse of the Sun-Sentinel, and peering into the feedback from rabidly unhappy readers of the paper.

One complaint got "Buried." And that made me look at it:

This topic was buried on 08/25/09
Buried because: This topic was started by someone using multiple accounts in our system to harass employees, which is against our community guidelines.
And the complaint?

By the way, the original title of this complaint was "second hand news." It was changed by Eric Suesz, and employee of GetSatisfied. About twenty minutes later, he buried the topic.

Here's his immediate response to the user posting the complaint:

This isn't the first time that Suesz has responed to this unhappy Sentinel reader:

Brilliant, Mr. Suesz; the Sun-Sentinel is bleeding readers, and you're telling one reader who cares enough to use your feedback system to kiss off. Hey, why fix the problems so people will stop complaining when you can simply tell them to go away?

At least the Sentinel staffer actually addressed the complaint:

This is where I got involved:
clj replied 5 days ago
If everyone "aggregates," we end up without any news. I don't need to the Sentinel to "aggregate" stories from the Herald or the Post, because I already read those papers. And while it is true that they do include the occasional Sentinel story, the Sun-Sentinel uses more of their content by a very large margin.

You won't survive this way. And frankly, if you can't provide your own content, you don't deserve to.
And Eric did for me what he wouldn't do for Unsatisfied: he responded to the actual complaint:
Eric Suesz replied 5 days ago
clj: This is indeed the challenge that most newspapers face. It's compounded by the fact that newspaper readers more and more prefer to get their news online. And, they don't feel like paying for it anymore. It's a huge struggle. In addition, most readers say they want more local coverage, yet their actual reading habits often run contrary to that.

Some people think the answer may lie in community sourcing the local news. I'm not sure where you live, but where I live there are blogs popping up that are written by my neighbors (even though I don't know them), and they only write about what's going on in my neighborhood, and perhaps the surrounding neighborhoods. Would you agree that this would be a great thing to aggregate? I think it would. That kind of content is perfect for newspaper Web sites to collect and present as "news."

So, perhaps the answer isn't that aggregating stories is bad, but that aggregating relevant stories is the key to success. Just my opinion as a former newspaperman.
So here's my response to Eric Suesz of GetSatisfied, in response to his comment on behalf of the Sun-Sentinel: I'm having to post it here, because apparently once a comment is buried, you can't comment on it any further.
The fact that I'm concerned about the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel should be a small clue as to where I live. A good reporter should be able to take such not-so-subtle clues and make some good deductions.

If I wanted to aggregate my neighbors' blogs, I'd use Google to choose the blogs that I feel do the best job. In fact, I have done exactly that for years. Like most people who follow the news, I also aggregate the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post's news (hey, former newsboy, can you figure out where I live yet?) So when the Sun-Sentinel runs those same stories a day later, of course I'm not even mildly happy about it. No one is. And we're NEVER going to be.

Nobody needs the Sentinel to aggregate local news. I need the Sentinel to find the facts behind the news - something that most bloggers can't do. I want professional writers using their training, specialized tools; and exclsuive database access to bring me what my neighbors can't; ACCURACY. I need them to find out what the Herald and Post missed; because they WILL miss something. Good journalism is driven, like everything else, by competition. If the papers aren't competing with each other to get the best version of the story, then we, the readers, are not getting the entire story. We're probably not getting half of it.

I need the Sun-Sentinel to do its job. And it is failing miserably at that. Sure, the others are also falling down on the job, but they are not pushing as much content from the Sentinel as the Sentinel is from both of its "competitors." It's obvious; management isn't even pretending that they're still in the news business.

And neighborhood blogs? Oh, the blogger next door can tell me that a car was broken into around the corner. But they can't tell me if the guy was caught, or if police catch the guy a couple of weeks later. They can only tell me what they see. And that leads to another point: eyewitness testimony is the worst kind; eyes are notoriously easy to fool.

Journalists, in theory, are trained to be objective. That blogger who rails against the city may be able to inform me that sewers are being dug up, but he's likely to skew the story to suit his opinions. We should not rely on bloggers for news. And for someone working for a newspaper - even in an advisory capacity - to state otherwise, only illustrates how poorly advised newspapers have become. If YOU are who the Sentinel is listening to, no wonder it's in the toilet.

As for blaming the readers: "they don't feel like paying for it anymore" - well, that's another incidence of ignorance paraded as wisdom.

The fact is that readers have never paid for news. Oh, sure, they bought papers. But that wasn't what paid for the news. Advertising paid for that, not the cover price. Ads have paid for the real costs of the paper since Ben Franklin posed as a Puritan widow to write advice to the lovelorn. And if you don't know that, then you never learned much about the business.

And do you know what else advertising pays for? Internet websites.

The problem isn't that people don't want to pay to read the online stories, the problem is that a lot of idiots think that's the problem, so they ignore the actual problem, which is the quality of the content, and the ease of access to it.

Early on, the troglodytes running newspapers thought that only their subscribers should be able to read news online. Or that at the very least, they ought to block non-subscriber's access for a couple of days. Their mistake? The belief that they are the only available place to get news. The mistake still being made by you and the Sun-Sentinel.

Those first few years shaped internet users' preferences: they learned that there were websites that didn't block or limit access, so users went there INSTEAD of waiting for their local news provider to "let" them see current stories. For YEARS, the Sun-Sentinel - and most newspapers - actively drove prospective readers away.

"Aggregating" that content won't save any newspaper anywhere, ever. Only an idiot could think this was a viable plan. And here's why: WE ARE ALREADY GOING TO THE PLACES YOU ARE AGGREGATING. We were there yesterday. Why would the fact that you have it a day later attract us? Can you imagine a restaurant raiding the trash bin of a successful restaurant so it could sell the scraps? "Well, you ate there last night, so we went and got it for you!"

If the Sun-Sentinel is to survive, it must bring me something no other news source is bringing me. And it CANNOT accomplish that by bringing me stuff from the other news sources.

That's just my opinion as one of the millions of people you need to read your newspaper.
Hey, Eric: you miscalculated again. You didn't end comments by "burying" the discussion, you simply forced me to take it somewhere else. It's just the like what the Sun-Sentinel - and you - are doing to its readers; driving us to go someplace where we can get what we need.

Isn't about time you guys started learning from your mistakes, instead of protecting them from criticism?

And you'd better start learning quick. We won't bother with you much longer.

August 25, 2009

One More Time...

I've posted before about blogging and anonymity.  My basic premise is that even if you don't give your actual name, you are not anonymous as long as you have an identifiable blog.  You are identified by your association with your own creation.

There are many kinds of blogs: this one is my soapbox, where I express myself on issues of the day.  Or where I just share whatever it is I want to get out there.  Other blogs serve more specific purposes; news analysis, reviews of plays/books/restaurants/whatever, "how-to" do just about anything, personal journals - there are all kinds of blogs, serving all kinds of purposes.

But a lot of them are just places for people to spew invective about things they hate.

Rosemary Port is one such blogger, according to CNN.  She created a charming blog called "Skanks in NYC," a blog wherein Port made derogatory remarks about fashion models. Of course, she didn't attach her name to the stream of bile she posted.

One of the models, Liskula Cohen, got tired of the verbal abuse, and sued. 

That's when Rosemary Port learned that just because you don't put your name on your blog, it doesn't mean that you can't be found.  Cohen's lawyers got a court order for Google to release information about the blog's owner, and Google complied, handing over Port's email address.
The judge rejected Port's argument that blogs on the Internet "serve as a modern-day forum for conveying personal opinions" and should not be regarded as fact.
- Stephen Samaniego, CNN
The 1st Amendment of the Constitution guarantees us the right to free speech, and to say whatever we like.  But it doesn't absolve us of responsibility for the things we say.

Port, on her own volition, started a blog and used it to insult, harass and defame people.  She was held accountable in a court of law.  She learned a painful and expensive lesson; with great power (free speech), comes great responsibility.

And it's proof, once again, that bloggers are not, and cannot be, anonymous.  We are, at best psuedonymous.  We can be held accountable for the things we say.

And Port?  That twisted skank doofus moron misguided person is suing Google for complying with a court order and otherwise obeying the law.  Yeah, that's going to work well for her.

Google is not obligated to hide your identity.  If you're going to say stuff about other people, you're well advised to be responsible about it.  You can reveal ugly truths about people, but you'd better be able to back up the claims you make.

August 20, 2009


Today we examine Suzanne Levinson's action against a local blog. It's an action that is already drawing ire from other professional journalists. Sadly, Suzanne Levinson is Director Of Operations for the Miami Herald.

It's sad because she's apparently blisteringly stupid.

Here's the story: a blog called Random Pixels posted some pictures he found on the Herald site, buried in a slideshow. He's a photographer and a journalist, and as a journalist, he often offers insight into the news media, and sometimes it's bluntly critical. Other times, not so much, such as the entry in question.

The article in question is titled "Random Pixels Recognizes..." In it, he salutes the Herald for the work of two of their staff photographers, and to make the point, he included the photos from the website (since you can't link directly to a picture embedded in a slide show).

This photo:


and this one:


Frankly, while the subjects are pretty, there is nothing particularly exceptional about these photos. Nobody is going to be winning any awards of any sort for them as photographs. In fact, that's the satirical point that Random Pixels was making. These are just pretty good pictures of very pretty girls. No one is ever going to look back at them to prove who won the game, or if a law was broken, or the state of the union. They're not good candidates for a poster or magazine cover. They aren't even worthy of a postcard. In fact, because they were buried in a slide show, it's unlikely that very many people would ever have seen them - until RP included them in a post.

He didn't claim credit for the photos - they are full attributed. He even provided a link to the Herald photo gallery, so that his readers could go and see more Herald photos. Far from doing any kind of damage to the Herald, he's actually sending traffic their way!

And Levinson's response?
Please remove these photos and any other Miami Herald content present on your site immediately.
It's obvious that the Herald's Director of Site Operations is absolutely clueless; about copyright law, and about how the internet works, either of which is bad news for the Herald.

First, the internet. INTERnet. The INTER stands for interconnectivity. The goal of every website is to have other websites link to it. It increases visibility. It's how search engines work: the website with the most links to matching specific parameters must have the best relevance to the search parameters. The website with the most links is the most likely to have data worth searching for

When I link to other blogs, their traffic goes up, and sometimes I get an email thanking me for the link. In fact, on one of my blogs, I get thank you notes from magazines and news outlets -and even reporters - for driving traffic their way. It's quid-pro-quo.

So stories with content like Random Pixels' works on two levels: first, people will follow the links, which increases traffic at the Herald. Second, it increases the the likelihood that search engines will cite the website in searches, which also drives traffic to the website. It's a win-win situation for the Miami Herald, which is why it's so mind-bogglingly stupid of Levinson to complain about it.

Some of you might be saying "But - he used those pictures! They are protected by copyright!" And yes, he did, and yes, they are. But he didn't violate copyright. When you write an article about copyrighted material, you are permitted to use small samples of that material if it's germain to your article. It's called the Fair Use doctrine, and specifically covers use of copyrighted material in news stories or satire.

It says loads about the Herald that the person in charge of its website not only is apparently unfamiliar with Fair Use, but is so out of touch with the workings of the internet that she'd threaten someone who's actually increasing the visibility of the Miami Herald on the internet. "Stop telling people to read the HERALD" is what she's really saying.

This illustrates one of the worst by-products of the massive layoffs made by the Herald - you end up with a staff consisting of the very best (whom you don't layoff because they bring in revenue) and the very worst (whom you keep because their salaries are lower). Columnists and creators of content associated closely with the Herald, tend to fill the first group. A few advertising execs are in that first group, too.

Since Levinson isn't in sales and doesn't have a byline, this action makes it very apparent which end of the spectrum she falls into.

August 18, 2009

230 mpg? As if!, you're a huge automobile manufacturer, your company is going down the tubes (or actually, gone down them). In a world with a finite supply of fuel, you skirted fuel economy standards by pushing vehicles that fell outside those standards.  The one sensible project you've ever started gets abandoned. 

You're given a chance to redeem yourself.  What do you do?

Well, if you're General Motors, you lie your ass off  tell the world that you've built a car that "gets 230 miles to the gallon," even though it really doesn't.

That's right, despite all their ads, their commercials, and all the hype, the fact is that you can not put a gallon of gasoline into a Volt and then drive for 230 miles before you need more fuel.

Basically, it's true mileage is comparable to the much lower-priced Prius.  The only thing the Volt does that the Prius doesn't is plug into a wall.  That's a critical difference because you can charge the batteries without running the engine.  And that's the key to the GM spin campaign.

Here's how GM is validating the 230 mpg claim:
The vehicle can go 40 miles on a charge.  Your daily commute is 23 miles each way, or a total of 46 miles - 6 miles more than the charge can take you. So the generator kicks in for the last few miles of your trip.  Since you're only using gasoline for a small portion of your trip, it will take you about 5 days to use a gallon of gas, and in that time you will have traveled abut 230 miles.

But that's a far cry from puring in a gallon of gas, and then hitting the highway for 230 miles, which is how most people think of mileage.

That's not to say that the car isn't getting great mileage - it is.  But beyond that first charge, the Volt isn't much better than other hybrids on the market that cost thousands of dollars less.  Its price tag indicates that GM still hasn't learned how to be competitive.

August 16, 2009

A Brit Speaks out on their Healthcare

Former Deputy Prime Minister of Britain John Prescott responds to criticisms of their National Healthcare System:

August 10, 2009

All Righty, Then

flying pig

Conservative pundit Bill O'Reilly said something nice about President Obama. In fact, he absolutely praises him:
...perhaps the greatest lesson the President can teach children: In America, anything is possible
This is something of a cliché, but never has it been more vividly illustrated. Barack Obama, a youngster in Hawaii without his parents around, has toughed it out and become one of history’s great stories, no matter what happens going forward. What he has achieved in his 48 years is simply astounding.
He wrote this for this past Sunday's issue of PARADE Magazine. I have to admit, Bill O'Reilly has surprised me.

August 2, 2009

Don't Pooh-pooh Poo Power

I've always said that using corn to create biofuel was, ahem, a waste. Instead of putting food on the table, we're putting it in the tank! Stupid!

I've always maintained that we'd be better off using by-product to create power; I was thinking along the lines of "use the cobs, not the kernels." But one Pennsylvania dairy farmer has taken it a step father, according to CNN:
With the help of a mechanical scraper in the barn, manure drops into a 19,000-gallon tank. The slurry then moves into the digester, which is 16 feet deep and 70 feet in diameter. It's heated there for about 16 days while the bacteria break down the organic matter in order to produce methane gas. That gas is burned in two engine generators to make electricity.
That's right, Shawn Saylor is using cow-patties to generate the power to run his farm! And there's a side benefit:
Before he installed the system, the pungent smell from the cows could linger for three to four days, Saylor said. "The farm used to get a lot of complaints from motorists, which is understandable. It used to stink a lot."

Now, the digesters reduce 98 percent of all odor, although he admits that if the wind blows, you still "get a whiff."
Now, if only pig farmers would invest in this: pigs are prodigious poopers.

August 1, 2009

Joe Kaplan: Dumber than a Chicken

Well, Joe Kaplan apparently doesn't own a dictionary, or understand that words have specific meanings. He's ordered the eviction of Mr. Clucky, stating that the pet is poultry, even though that is an entirely false statement.

Let's look again at the definition of poultry, from the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
  • Function: noun
  • Etymology: Middle English pultrie, from Anglo-French pulletrie, from pulleter poulterer, from pullet chicken — more at pullet
  • Date: 14th century

: domesticated birds kept for eggs or meat

No matter how you examine it, the fact remains that Mr. Clucky is a pet. He is not poultry. It's not rocket science, but sadly Kaplan is too stupid to grasp the obvious. One has to wonder what other mind-boggingly obvious mistakes Kaplan's made in his position of power.

Mr. Buckley has not violated 10-15. And that is simply the truth of the matter.

Our laws use precise language, and the language in this case is very clear. Yet Mr. Kaplan has chosen to ignore language. He's instead done exactly what the law forbids: he has arbitrarily applied a standard that the letter of law does NOT support.

Joe Kaplan is a menace. We deserve officials who obey the laws, and not ones who make up arguments to serve some hidden bureacratic agenda.