Thursday, July 8, 2010

Today's Comment on the Mybloglog Product Blog

I'll be posting this to the Yahoo developer blog, right after I get done proofreading it, in response to their "Mybloglog?" post. Yes, that's its title, and the question mark seems fitting. My comment:

"Is it, indeed, closing down?"

Today, it doesn't seem to be, but somebody does seem to want to kill it. Remember what we saw out of Yahoo, prior to the closing of Yahoo 360? The way basic maintenance was neglected and problem reports were responded to with nothing but handholding form letters? Take a look at Mybloglog, today. Go to the Mybloglog suggestion board, and take a look at the spam

One user in particular, who calls himself "Ajay", has been flooding the board with spam for months. I've reported this. No action, not even a response has followed.

Try creating a community on Mybloglog, as I did last night. Once again, we're seeing the eternal "refresh pending" - one goes to the "settings" page for the new community, which still doesn't have a screenshot, and finds that one can't upload a screenshot of one's own -

Screenshot    not available   (refresh pending)

It's almost noon, here in Chicago, and I'm still getting the refresh pending message. I wrote to Support, last night, which shouldn't have had any difficulty solving this problem, because Tilly told us what was going wrong, last year, when this problem arose

"Oops! Sorry about that, totally my bad. Before I left for the weekend I accidentally unplugged the screenshot robot. *blush* Its back up and running now, you should be all jet set :)"

But this year, the Mybloglog team just couldn't be bothered. All I got back from "Cid" was one of Yahoo's form letters


Thank you for writing to Yahoo! MyBlogLog.

I apologize for the trouble you're having with updating your MyBlogLog community screenshot. I realize how frustrating this must be.

This is a known issue and our Engineering Team is working to resolve it. If you have any additional questions or concerns please let us know as soon as possible.

Thank you again for contacting Yahoo! MyBlogLog.



Yahoo! MyBlogLog Customer Care

Mybloglog General Tech T1"

I responded to Cid, providing a link to Tilly's post, and here we are on the next day, and no movement has followed. The plan seems to be to let the service fall apart so badly that people give up on using it. That way, instead of having to deal with a huge, public outcry all at once, Yahoo whittles down the user base gradually, so that only an ignorably small group is voicing its discontent at any one time. What we end up seeing is the offering of deliberately bad service as a corporate strategy.

Mybloglog seems to work best as an update notification service. My advice would be to start offering Feedburner as an alternative for those wishing to subscribe to one's blog. No, one can't use Feedburner to tie all of one's content together. Feedburner is definitely not as cool as Mybloglog was before Yahoo started fouling it up, doing to it as it seems determined to do to all of its acquisitions. But Feedburner is a lot likelier to be around two years from now.

Oh - and Mr.Yeh, if you're reading this ... I remember that cute little thing you did with the comment editing a few months ago, and will be cutting and pasting my comment, as is, to my blog. If you try doing the same thing again, don't think that you'll be fooling anybody.

Note: After I posted this, I saw this message:

"Your comment has been received. To protect against malicious comments, I have enabled a feature that allows your comments to be held for approval the first time you post a comment. I'll approve your comment when convenient; there is no need to re-post your comment."

One might note that on the very same post, one finds a comment from "Alex Afdhal" that is nothing more than an advertisement for his travel service. So, apparently spam is OK, but honest criticism is not, in Mr.Yeh's world.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Playing Favorites? / Repost from Chicago Photography

Note: I am mirroring this post of mine on the Chicago Photography group on Flickr, just in case the staff should decide to respond to criticism with censorship.

Some of you might have noticed that the same photograph by Kymberly Janisch has graced the homepage for this group for some time, and maybe wondered if that was fair. Shouldn't I rotate that image some more, and maybe give a little added exposure for the other members of the group, as well?

In fact, that was my plan, originally, back during one winter day, when I took a look at that photo, and noticed how much I loved in and thought it captured the mood of that season. I decided that in each season, I'd look for one photo in the pool that captured that moment from my point of view, and ask for permission to feature it. But then Flickr surprised some of the owners of the groups on its system with a sudden policy change.

In what the company was said to be an effort to combat spam, Flickr started attaching "rel=no follow" tags to all outbound links from group descriptions, irreversibly. A number of owners were quite upset by this surprise. At the time, I did write in to Flickr support, and ask if, perhaps, the nofollow tags could be set to fall off after a reasonable amount of time had passed since the last revision. If the concern was spam, surely this would leave the problem addressed, because one would assume that spam groups would be tracked down and deleted before the tags fell off? Say, have the tags fall off after a few months, so the policy wouldn't end up hurting the honest users of Flickr along with the spammers?

The suggestion fell on deaf ears. I didn't even get a response. The owner of another group who made me aware of this problem (by publicly reporting what had just happened to his group) certainly saw no sympathy from the staff member who responded. So the policy is as it is, something that Flickr just isn't going to budge on or be reasoned with, about. One just has to build it into one's plans.

Were I to replace the photo, the outbound links to the rings to which this group belongs, and the ring homepage, would instantly get nofollowed. That would certainly not be fair to the other members of the rings which bring this group a share of its traffic, as those members would lose pagerank. The group's homepage on would instantly be hurt in the search engine rankings, and some years of experience in dealing with these matters tells me that before long, this group would be harmed in the process.

So, certain choices that I wouldn't have otherwise made, now become mandatory. The link to my global ring return page rotted when Geocities went out of business. I'd like to fix that, but I can't, so we have a dead link that's going to stay dead. One of the rings I submitted this ring to, just before the policy change, turns out to have been abandoned. I'd like to stop feeding hits into a ring that isn't reciprocating, but I can't, not if I don't want to undercut this ring's ranking, and the traffic of each of the members of this group, in the process. I could add other examples, graphics on other groups I run that now look malformed because Flickr changed how code was interpreted by its system in a highly non-intuitive way, right before the policy change, but I think that you get the point - the change has tied my hands.

Somebody will probably ask me if I've explained this to Flickr management. The answer is no, because after I explained a very similar problem right after they started slapping nofollows onto the outbound links from profiles, the staff member with whom I was talking responded by slapping nofollows on all of the links on the profile for the Flickr account I was writing from, seeming to think that this solved the problem. "See, it's a done deed, so you don't need to worry about the damage any more. You're stuck with it." Kind of like having somebody drive in for repairs, express his worry that his car might suffer from rust damage if he drives around in the string rains too much, and then finding that the mechanic on duty has responded to this concern by having his car dropped into Lake Michigan.

If I wrote to Flickr management, expressing my concerns, I don't doubt that I'd get the exact same kind of "help", all over again. "And if that happens, then you'll start fixing all of that stuff that you'd like to fix?", somebody might ask. Answer: no. I don't believe in rewarding bad behavior. In the short run, doing so might serve our best interests, but in the long run, it sends a terrible message, and willful sabotage is atrocious behavior under any reasonable standard.

We, as users, can't change bad policies when they're this far along, because whatever those policies might be about in the beginning, eventually they're about the staff having the satisfaction of winning a test of wills with its users. Something that, as I said, one has to factor into one's plans. But at least one can take a stand and express one's dissatisfaction in a firm manner. If enough users and group owners do that, then the next time somebody in management comes up with a half baked notion, maybe he'll look back on the last fiasco and back off from that idea, before the rest of us even know he thought of it, and before getting stubborn about it becomes a matter of saving face.

One can always hope.

That having been said, having Ms. Janisch's very lovely image as a permanent feature instead of a temporary one, however unintentional, is hardly the worst part of this outcome. As frustrating as this was, things could have easily turned out far worse. The artist could have deleted the image from her stream, leaving us with a red x in the description that I'd have no good way of fixing. I could have missed that post and edited the group description after the change. could have gone out of business. None of this happened.

And let's hope at least that much good luck continues.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Mybloglog closure and Yahoo's blog - a little subtler than the usual sleaze?


Let's start by repeating what I posted to the Yahoo developer network blog in response to the mention of the possibility of Mybloglog being closed by Yahoo, because nobody quite saw it on that blog, other than me:


"Mr.Yeh, let me tell you how this looks from a user's point of view. I've just invested a certain amount of time into creating communities for my blogs, linking to them, and encouraging visitors to sign up for them, if they wish to be notified of updates. That's time out of my day that doesn't get paid for by Yahoo with anything other than a service that you're now telling us might get shut down really not very long after I've taken time to link everything together, meaning that my time might very well end up having gone to waste.

How does that make this user feel? REALLY ANGRY. Betrayed. And totally unwilling to ever try another Yahoo service if you go ahead with this, no matter what that service might be, because I'm tired of this garbage. How much of my uncompensated time got eaten up this summer because your ever so delightfully whimsical CEO decided to kill Geocities, leaving us to scramble looking for replacements, because ... tee hee hee ... Yahoo decided that an FTP server was one of those luxuries its users didn't need, meaning that we had to do our downloading by hand, one file at a time? But hey, who cares? It's not like our time is worth anything, right?

Except maybe to us. You know, those lowly users without whom Yahoo would have no content onto which to stick its advertising, outside of a few newsfeeds one can pick up elsewhere. Seriously, if all that you people are going to offer in the long run is AP feeds, then why wouldn't visitors just go to the AP homepage or to some real news site? Why bother with Yahoo?

My own personal position - and I really, seriously doubt that it will be a unique one among your user base - is that I'm really tired of having my time put to waste because your company feels like flaking out, so tired that if you do this to us one more time - as you say you might be about to - I will never submit another piece of content to another page on your server ever again, outside of those I or one of my friends moderate, and that I'll start pushing to have those moved elsewhere. Enough is enough. Yahoo is either going to choose to be a credible hosting service or it is not.

If not, you're going to end up with the user base you deserve, and your stock prices will reflect the change, especially after some of us write to a few of your investors and explain to them why the quality and quantity of the content on those servers has started to drop, and why advertisers are wandering off. I hope that wasn't too vague. If it was, be sure to send a message to the corporate acquisitions office at Microsoft, and I'm sure they'll be able to explain it to you.

Posted by: Joseph Dunphy at December 26, 2009 3:02 AM


I posted, and then looked at the blog the next day, and instead of this passage


"so tired that if you do this to us one more time - as you say you might be about to - I will never submit another piece of content to another page on your server ever again"


saw this passage


"so tired that if you do this to us one more time - as you say you be about to - I will never submit another piece of content to another page on your server ever again"


It's subtle - nothing more than the removal of a single word - but this is enough to create the illusion that I don't know how to conjugate the verb "to be" ... which I do, by the way


spaceI am
spaceyou are
spacehe, she, it is
spacewe are
spacethey are


Aside from the political convenience of having an angry critic appear to be illiterate, which anybody who has been following my blogs will know that I am not, this simple deletion of a single word takes a comment about something that Yahoo's staff has said that it might do, and transforms it into something that contains a clearly inaccurate statement about something that said staff has said that it will do, an inaccuracy that can be seen for what it is, merely by reading the page. This is a very effective way of quietly smearing somebody who has expressed some very reasonable anger.

Yes, a little subtler than the usual Yahoo managerial response, that of simply deleting the remark and sending a threatening message, subtle enough that even I found myself wondering if I had just done a poor job of proofreading. Over a week passed without my being able to clarify anything, because any attempt on my part to post produced an error message stating that I had posted too many times, already, even though I had only posted to that blog one time, that I could remember. I believe that this was the first time that I had ever posted a comment on that blog, but I could be mistaken.

Finally, I was able to reply to this comment


I agree MBL had some potential, but it's been neglected for years. It doesn't really DO anything. Sure, the stats are solid, but the rest is just pointless. Communities you can't even post in? Ever heard of CMF Ads? They have a great forum. BlogCatalog has a better widget. Even BC has forums. The MBL widget is just another script to dump in your sidebar and forget about.




"It doesn't really DO anything."

Sure it does. It ties all of one's content, no matter where one has posted it, into one tidy, easy to follow bundle. It provides an easy way for users to be notified of new posts in the locations which they find to be of interest.

"The MBL widget is just another script to dump in your sidebar and forget about."

Which is what I think it should be - a convenient, labor saving tool that does what it is supposed to do, with a minimum of effort and drama for the user. Not everything needs to be a chance for somebody to post. If I wanted my blog to have a guestbook, I could easily give it one. What I don't like about Blogcatalog, among other things, is that using it effectively forces me to give my blog a guestbook, one without comment screening, whether I want one or not.

Posted by: Joseph Dunphy at January 14, 2010 1:23 PM

Again, my comment was mangled, so quickly in this case that automatic machiniery had to have been involved. This time I had carefully proofread, triple checking my work - this was no typo. What I had written is not what appeared, and I immediately had a question


Is there some kind of weird swear word screening program in use on this page? I ask, because I typed"It ties all of o n e ' s content, no matter where o n e has posted it"

(spaces introduced by me in an attempt to prevent a repeat of what just happened) and got

"It ties all of o n e ' s content, no matter where be has posted it,"

That's not cool, and this is not the first time I've found myself unpleasantly surprised in this manner, on this very page. What o n e types is what should end up being seen by those reading o n e ' s comment.

Posted by: Joseph Dunphy at January 14, 2010 1:49 PM

I must say, though, that if this is an accident, it's a strangely convenient one, one that looks a little too well designed. If one wishes to argue that Yeh has a right to keep my remarks from appearing on his blog, I will actually be quite supportive of that argument, but to post a distorted version of what a respondent wrote and attribute it to him is defamatory, absolutely underhanded behavior. I could not even credit it with what, under these circumstances, would be the faint virtue of originality, because I've seen this game played before, by a school newspaper editor intent on punishing a candidate in a student government election for having written a harsh rebuttal to a previous editorial, meaning that I am not even compensated for my aggravation by being left with a halfway decent story to tell after the fact.

Programming a virtual booby trap into one's system to do one's dirty work for one, wouldn't lift such conduct to a higher moral plane.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Little Paranoia is a Healthy Thing / Formerly on Just In

Originally published on "Just In: Joseph Dunphy's Newsblog / Connecting to Digg" on February 16, 2008. The post begins:

"Yet another blog from he who could fill out the ones he already has a lot more? Perhaps, but like any good would-be engineer, I'm being cautious. Well nourished and in good spirits as I enjoy a plate of that fine brisket Wordpress shares with new users who read the TOS

but at little wary, as I pass my mac and cheese serving over to the next user to the left. Is that bacon in those collards? Oh, well ...

In my "Keep an eye on these sites" post on Monday Never Comes, I mentioned the annoying habit a number of sites had, Digg included - that of sticking "rel=nofollow" tags on the homepages links of its users. Digg still does that, but it doesn't stick such links on the linkbacks given to those who blog its articles. Discovering this left me a little more inclined to use my membership their site, but I soon found another annoying habit of theirs. In order to "blog" an article on Digg, one has to give Digg the password for one's blog. Not that I'm saying that Digg or one of its employees would put that password to bad use, but long before I had ever heard of the Internet, I had already seen supposedly respectable, trustworthy individuals in positions of far greater authority engage in conduct far more scandalous than a little hacking. No, I'm not going to name names, but we are talking "obstruction of justice" - as much comfort as may be found in the thought that a man must rise to the occasion when others depend on him, real life is far less comforting, and sensible men will prepare themselves for that reality.

I don't believe that Digg or - more to the point - any rogue employee of Digg - will misuse the password for this blog, in fact I think that's highly, highly unlikely, and if I didn't, I wouldn't dream of filling out that form. HOWEVER, if somebody at Digg does do so, and this blog is vandalised or so misused in my name that Wordpress has to delete it, all that I'm going to lose, arise from this introduction and maybe a few decorative touches to be added later, will be the excerpts uploaded by Digg and links to places where I discuss the articles excepted. Further, since I am not going to share that password with anybody but Digg, if it is misused by somebody at some company which is in possession of it, there will be little question left as to at which company that person works, meaning that the buck in this case would be likely to stop very quickly.

Were that to happen, I would be mildly ... ummm ... "physically loved" ... but the offending party and his employer would be far more deeply so, and very little material original to me would be lost. Mainly, what would occur would be that Digg's pagerank would be infinitesimally decreased, because all non-nofollowed links from my sites to theirs would suddenly be cut. While the reverse would be true as well, I wouldn't be losing anything in this regard that Digg and its employees couldn't take from me without possession of the password for this blog simply by deleting my account there, an action that wouldn't pose the danger to Digg's corporate reputation that a misuse of confidential information would, and wouldn't raise the issue of possible federal prosecution - system intrusion is not viewed as gently as it used to be.

Really, then all I'm trusting Digg and its employees to do, as I hand them the password to this blog whose sole purpose is to be an interface between my sites and theirs, is to not choose to do harm to themselves without purpose. While anybody old enough to have a past knows that rationality or even sanity is not a given, to anticipate it in others certainly represents a far shorter leap of faith than does the presumption of good will, and doing things this way does, at least, limit the damage that a rogue company (or employee) can do, meaning that any damage caused by a misplacement of faith will be contained, at least to some extent.

I hope that Wordpress is OK with this. I suspect that they are, as Digg does have a "Wordpress" option under blogging, but if not, they have my e-mail address, and on the first word I see from them indicating that they are not happy with this use of their system, I will cease and desist without further argument and find a use for this space that they will be happier with, as soon as I can. As I've heard of no Digg related scandals, I suspect that there is no real danger, but I hope that any admin reading this will at least appreciate the fact that I gave the issue enough thought, that I made a point of structuring the incentives in such a way to minimize the risk.

That's my thinking behind the creation of this interface. I'll leave out the usual sincere hope that you'll enjoy your stay, because this is more a place you'll be passing through, maybe a lot should you become a regular reader and I become a more regular poster, which at some point in the near future, I expect I will."

End of post. So went the thinking, when I found myself confronted with what I felt to be Digg's highly unreasonable request for my password, as a condition for blogging one of their articles. Yesterday, on looking in on that blog and the one and only article I blogged used to used it to blog, on Digg, I found that the linkback to my blog, and to the blogs of the others who had blogged that same article, were missing. I never received any notices of the removal. Digg seemed happy to hold onto a link it was no longer reciprocating.

I might as well have not bothered setting up the newsblog; Digg ended up dealing with me, as it did with others, in bad faith. The remedy, at this point, is a simple one - I'm going to recycle the "newsblog", changing its name (and its password, you can be sure), deleting all posts currently there as I put it to a new use, and replacing all links to Digg with links directly to content, when such links aren't deleted altogether. I'll still visit, because I gain some benefit from doing so - it's a rich source of good quality links - but the fact that I have a membership there will become so irrelevant, that I doubt that I'll ever log back in.

Which brings us to the basic problem with Digg - its staff has foolishly structured the incentives it gives to its users in such a way as to leave most of us with little, if any, good reason to want to remember that we are users. Where is the love for those who make the site work, to the benefit of the company and the rest of its users?

After what I just told you, you should be able to see why somebody might not want to blog any more articles on, itself; this costs that site a source of its traffic. But think of the people who really make the site work, and why one might not want to be one of those people. Let's say that one submits four different posts, and that they're good posts, but somebody - a well connected somebody - gets his friends together, and buries all four of them. As I understand the TOS at Digg, one would lose one's account, and find that there was no way of appealing this possibly malicious act of "community moderation" (read "mob rule"), no chance for somebody's common sense to override the mindless application of a formula. The votes are in and one is gone, and that's that.

This hasn't happened to me, but I am told that it has happened to others and really, where is the surprise? If one choses to be active on a site where mob rule is a reality, and one doesn't wish to become to next victim, one does well to have a mob of one's own. Having assembled it, one had better keep it busy, if people are to remember that they're part of it at all, and not go wandering off. Infighting within such a system, then, is no historical accident, but merely the inevitable outcome of the perverse incentives put in place by the system, which only act to reinforce the natural, petty human jealousies that have so often been seen on the Internet, for so long.

Is somebody submitting more interesting links than one, and worse still, seem a little more intelligent and articulate, stealing the attention that one knows should be coming one's way? Then just gather a few friends together and have him silenced. Or maybe his political point of view is gaining adherents at the expense of one's own, one feels, and the pages he is sharing are helping to accelerate that trend. One could respond to that by rethinking one's thoughts, or articulating them better, or at least look for somebody who had - but why work that hard? Just bury him into oblivion, ending the problem and reaffirming one's friendship - if one can call it that - with the other members of the floating lynch mob, with this triumph one has shared with them, at somebody else's expense.

It's a system built to be abused, and that's a shame. I hope that Digg will rethink its choices, but I seriously doubt that this will occur. If you've been to the Ravine, you've probably seen some links to pages about a former Digg user called "Zaibatsu", and the treatment he received. More about him, later, but I think you'll find that it isn't encouraging reading.

"In other words, Joseph - Digg, a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there?" As cliched and derivative as that sounds, yes, that's the conclusion I've drawn, at least for the moment.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Reply to Larry Halff / Ma.gnolia

A discussion (of sorts) between a user (me) and the owner of a service (Larry Halff of Ma.gnolia) on that service's homegroup on Flickr:

Me, five days ago: "I was wondering if anybody else was having this problem. I recently got my invitation message to join the new Ma.gnolia - which is very cool - but when I clicked on the link, I found that I couldn't connect to the page one goes to, to accept the invitation. I tried going to Mr. Halff's page - and couldn't connect to that either. Finally, I just tried going to Ma.gnolia itself - and couldn't connect to that, either. Not in Firefox and not in Internet Explorer - most recent releases of both.

Yes, I cleared my cache, ran Spybot and rebooted. No change. Very frustrating, and leaving me wondering if the problem is with the site or with my connection."

Larry Halff, four days ago: "Hi Joseph, I haven't seen any other reports of problems getting to the site. Perhaps it is your connection? Do you get any particular error message when trying to access Ma.gnolia?"

Me, four days ago: "Just that usual one when one tries to go to a site that doesn't exist? I've since been able to get through, though, and start up my account, but run into a few frustrations along the way that I should mention.

Monk is coming on, though, so this will have to wait. First things, first. Empty Space Green Smiley"

Me, four days ago:

"1. The button on the sign-in page isn't visible in Internet Explorer. It was visible in Firefox and Chrome, however.

2. On going directly to Ma.gnolia from the place where I got my new OpenID and trying to sign up, I found myself on this page, where I was presented with this request:

"Please enter your invitation code below"

As my invitation letter contained nothing of the sort, I guessed and used the string following the in the url for my invitation page. The system didn't seem to share my enthusiasm for this idea, and I got nowhere.

Clicking on the link, again, though, once I was logged into Open ID on Chrome seemed to work just fine. So, the system did work in the end, but it had a few bugs and at least one quirk: one's screenname isn't one's screenname.

What one enters as a screenname becomes one's id, and what one enters as one's "real name" becomes one's screenname. Not a huge deal, but it will leave a few people scratching their heads for a second."

Me, four days ago: "Uh oh ... now, this is a problem. Having just created a group, I went to start a discussion - and found that I couldn't. That feature doesn't seem to exist in the new Ma.gnolia. Is that a permanent change, or am I missing something?

Also - if we will have discussions, will they be taking place in an all text environment, like the old Ma.gnolia, or will graphical content be allowed? I ask because I've just created a Mathematics group, but Math done in plain text becomes notoriously difficult to read, very quickly. I'm trying to decide whether I should focus my efforts on the Math group, or delete that and spend more effort on subjects that do lend themselves to plain text (eg. philosophy, literature) when posting to Ma.gnolia or moderating groups, there."

Me, today: "I see that you don't want to respond. I'm not surprised. After all, not counting your own personal associates, I was the only user of the old Ma.gnolia to post to the Ma.gnolia wiki, as I did in this post, and yet never got a reply. Obviously, Larry, you don't really value your users' input, which leaves us with the question - why do you ask for it? You did invite us to sign up for that wiki.

OK, whether you value that feedback or not, you're going to get some now. Right now, you and Ma.gnolia are associated with maybe the worst data loss incident in the history of the Internet. One need only google your own company name and see the search suggestions that come up to see just how much of an impression that crash made - it is what your company is now primarily known for, with multiple versions of "Ma.gnolia crashing" being suggested before any more flattering combination. It's a public relations nightmare.

Having been over on the new Ma.gnolia, I found that so few of the old users had returned, that even with the connection problems delaying my entry into Ma.gnolia for a few days, when I went to set up my groups, I had no trouble claiming names as common as "Chicago" and "Mathematics". As I looked around, I kept seeing the same names, over and over, with a frequency that would have been considered unusual even by small town standards. Accept this and come to terms with it - most of your old users aren't coming back.

This is more than understandable. Let's face it - by your own admission, you did mess up. Some of these people lost thousands or even tens of thousands of bookmarks and the commentary that went with them, I understand. Getting hit that way twice would be a hard one to take, so who can blame them, if those who suffered those losses should be a little risk averse at this moment. So, where does this leave you?

You need to get a large number of new users so excited about what you have to offer them, that when they remember what you're best known for at this moment - the January crash - that they'll be willing to forget that for a moment. If you do not succeed in doing so, then I sincerely hope for your sake that you're independently wealthy, because with what appears to be maybe a few dozen users at present, Ma.gnolia isn't going to produce enough income to keep a gerbil fed, much less a full grown man.

Oh, and Larry - I've seen your photostream, and having been poor, myself - I don't believe that you'd adapt to the experience, very well. Your tastes aren't just expensive, they're reliably expensive. After the third week of trying to find yet another way to make rice and beans interesting - and wondering how much longer you'd be able to afford the beans - I suspect that somebody would end up trying to talk you off of a bridge. Worse still, the Tech industry being what it is, odds are that you'd have to settle for the Bay Bridge, because the Golden Gate would probably be booked up a few months in advance, and nobody wants it to come to that.

So, what do you have to offer?

At present, you either don't offer the option of creating discussions in the groups we've set up, or you've somehow made that option a hard one to find. I do remember that the option wasn't a difficult one to find at the old Ma.gnolia, and you say that the new one is little more than a re-release of the old, so I'll conclude that you just removed it.

This leaves Ma.gnolia with much the same feature set - and thus, now serving the same market - as Simpy, with a few significant differences. Simpy is easy to log into - enter id, enter password, click and proceed. With Ma.gnolia, now that you've eliminated the option of logging directly into the site, one must instead go to Verisign or some other OpenID provider, log in there - and then, at least in the case of Verisign, log into Ma.gnolia using the same window! Having attempted this in Chrome, because your login doesn't work in IE - the choice of 80% of those surfing the Internet - I found that Verisign kept logging me out in Chrome. One is left needing two accounts instead of one, just to log in, and maybe the need to set up more, as one tries to find which browsers have been ignored by Ma.gnolia, and which by the partners with whom we're forced to deal, if we wish to enter our accounts, at all.

Simpy offers a button that one can put on one's toolbar, allowing one to use it with far greater ease than one can use Ma.gnolia. Oh - and Simpy has never lost its users' data.

In Ma.gnolia's favor, one does find a much prettier interface, and easier to read text, but in a Simpy vs. Ma.gnolia competition, will that be enough to make many people choose Ma.gnolia? Count the number of truly ugly and highly successful social networking sites out there - I think that you know that the answer to that question will be "no". Yet, go up to the average Simpy user, and ask him to give you an honest, instead of a tactful answer to a simple question - when was the last time you used your Simpy account?

Some contrarian or another will probably write in to say "I use mine every day, and so do lots of other people" - but take a look at the Simpy homepage. One sees little other than spam. Simpy has become the virtual equivalent of a trash strewn vacant lot, still alive only because its creator seems to love it, and doesn't have the heart to get rid of it. Conclusion: In a head to head competition with a known failure, Ma.gnolia would come out the loser.

As a prospective returning user of your service, how should I view this? Ma.gnolia doesn't have much to offer me at this point. Yes, it still has groups, but of the discussion-free simpy variety; bookmarks are pooled, but no opportunity for public interaction with the other users is to be found. To use a group like that isn't community building, it is parallel play - pointless. So let's pretend that the feature doesn't even exist, for the moment, because it might as well not.

This leaves us with the forced one paragraph per review format, which leaves Ma.gnolia, functionally, on a level with the far more reliable and well funded Delicious, and considerably behind Faves - which, by the way, also offers a toolbar. Nobody is going to get excited, other than the usual few yes men, because everybody will have better, more competitive, and more reliable places to be.

Let's say that I'm one of the few people who disregards this, and continues. What happens to me when Ma.gnolia folds? If I'm lucky, I'll get advance notice. If I've built up a real presence there, this will leave me spending the next few days in the most tedious possible way, moving bookmarks by hand. If I'm unlucky, I lose my work. Again.

This doesn't sound like a very good deal to me, and even if I were inclined to overlook that and plow on ahead, I'd be left with this thought - everybody else has just had the same thought, or will, soon enough. Even if I disregard my own best interests in order to be altruistic on behalf of a total stranger, what are the odds that enough people will make the same choice to keep your company alive and my work from going to waste? In this case, the generous odd man out gets badly hurt by his generosity, a thought that should deter most people from being charitable in that manner. Think of it as a variant on the Prisoner's Dilemma.

If this sounds cynical - Larry, what have you done to earn our charity? The downgrading of that feature set wasn't an act of G-d, it was a choice, one that you made, that set in place the perverse incentives that promise to keep your company from recovering unless, to put it bluntly, you succeed in finding yourself a bumper crop of idiots, or unless you have a lot of favors to call in. Maybe about 10,000 of them. Choices have consequences, and they should, when they're informed ones, freely made.

If you don't care enough about us to give us better choices than these, ones that don't involve us climbing out onto a creaking limb and hoping for the best - why should we care about you? As for the idiots - I don't doubt that you'll find a few, because they're always there, but for how long are people going to want to read what they have to write, or want to follow their links?

But it's your choice."

Me, today: "I'm going to unsubscribe from this group, now, and put my Ma.gnolia account and groups into mothballs. React to that fact, however you wish, even if that should mean killing my account. As it is, my account is nothing, and I refuse to be upset by the thought of losing nothing.

If, at some point, you decide that you'd like to start treating your job like a job and make Ma.gnolia into a place worth using, send me a message. I'll see it, eventually, and might even care enough to log back into Ma.gnolia. Until then, I have stuff to do."

End of discussion, at least so far and yes, I did unsubscribe, once again feeling a little foolish for having defended a provider. I'll talk more about that, later.

A number of us really wanted to give this guy a break. I'd even started writing a pep talk, thinking (after Ma.gnolia's reappearance almost failed to appear before the end of summer) that Halff needed a little encouragement, when what he really needed was a good, hard rhetorical kick in the posterior. He just doesn't seem to care about the people who rely on him, and that's just wrong.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Rebuttal to some Yelp Bashing

Note: I've deleted a small amount of profanity that was present in the material I've quoted, replacing it with roughly synonymous nonprofanity in parantheses, because I've decided to move toward making my own pages a little more family friendly. No profanity softening was present in the original text.

I posted the following response to this article, posted under the title "Yanked Off Yelpers: How To (Urinate) Off Your Most Passionate Users in 7 Days or Less", in which the author (Sarah Browne) wonders out loud ... read it for yourself.

"Everybody (and rightfully so) is ready to jump through hoops to keep their Loyal Customers purringly happy.

Everybody that is, except Yelp. SFGate reports that the online review site yanked ‘an undisclosed number of accounts after finding that the business owners had swapped positive reviews with other business owners. Yelp also regularly deletes reviews it believes are phony. The move sparked an outcry among local businesses, and has even led some entrepreneurs to band together with thoughts of a class-action lawsuit. Their reasoning is, if they legitimately spend their money and patronize a service, why can’t they review it?”

Because they're gaming the site? So, we have support for those who filed a nuisance suit in order to bully a free service into letting them use that service, in a misleading manner, posting ad copy as if it were a series of spontaneous testimonials. As is all too often the case online, the word "fraud" is the first one to come to mind, and continues to be as we come across the reply written by "Brian Smith", to which I attempted to reply, myself:

"If you write a negative review on yelp on there site, you will be banned. So much for freedom of speech."

Pardon me - bull. Let's take a look at the review page for Yelp on Yelp:

We find this review, dated May 5 of this year, from Rick G:

"yelp (slurps). They delete what anyone flags. without question. no contaction the author to question the review. just a message to tell you someone flagged it and its gone. thanks for your hard work but its not needed. don't get creative; but stay within the small minded guide lines that only a hillbilly could comprehend. you (slurp)!!!!!!!!!!!!!! i used it', are you going to delete this. or will you flag it and then send me a email telling its been deleted already. you don't appreciate my work i don't appreciate yours."

Doesn't sound very positive, does it? Yet Rick G.'s profile is still up

I guess these censorious mods need more than four months to oppress their users? One might note that it hasn't been updated since that review, which could mean that Rick walked off in a huff, or his account was locked. "It must be the latter", somebody might write. Yet, if we take a look at this comment from Mashimaro M, who gave Yelp one star

"Often times, it seems that if you are a "PAID SPONSOR" you get the special treatment and if not, well, good luck for your business because you will be at the mercy of Yelp's selective listings. That's not what I call a "fair and unbiased" forum for reviews."

and go to his profile

we find that he has posted reviews as recently as last week - even though his one star review also was posted on the fifth. So, I'm guessing that more four months are needed by the operatives of the evil Yelp empire to silence their users? I wonder how much more. Let's go back more than a year, to when Sarah Y. posted these kind words in her one star review:

"Yup, judging from the other reviews and lots of PM's in my inbox, Yelp is definitely on the decline. When things grow, they die. Yelp now sides with the business owners who can pay to have negative reviews removed. Wonder why your review doesn't show up in the search? What a joke. Ultimately, GOOD FOR THEM, they're trying to make money. The users are just unpaid peons doing all the grunt work. ;-) You can't fool people forever, Yelp."

Yet her profile and review remain in place

and looking at the former, we find her last active on February 26 of this year. But these all come after Mr. Smith posted his remarks. Perhaps Yelp used to be ever so sinister, and has since cleaned up its act? Fine, let's go back to January 25 of 2008, well before Brian posted, when Jobby J. wrote

"Too many secret handshaking (sphincters)."

and also gave Yelp one star. Looking at his profile

we find that he was posting just last month. Conclusion: Smith's claims would not seem to be supported by the facts, but that won't matter, because most people won't take the time to do what I just did.

As for why the Yelp staff won't let their "most passionate reviewers" post ad copy on what is supposed to be a review site, maybe I'll let that one comment on itself.

The keyword, perhaps, is "attempted" - that reply has not, as of the time of this writing, yet appeared on Ms.Browne's blog. Let's see if it ever does.

Saturday, September 19, 2009 / How does one add a photo to a group?

Yes, it's a general question, but looking in the help center, I found nothing very helpful, and I've already burned away more than an hour on this nonsense. Honestly, I'm starting to get a little angry. This should be a straightforward function on Vox, and it isn't. Should I post this to ... where?

I'm in a group I've just created, and see a notice that the group has no photos, as one would expect. Would I like to add one? Sure. Go to your library and add one, I'm told, being given a link to my own library. I go there, find an image, click on "share" and find absolutely no option for sharing the photo to a group.

Share Image Screenshot, Vox

Fine. Is there some other option? I go back, and look at the page I was on before I went to that remarkably useless share page, which seems designed more to help promote Vox than to help the user - note that all of the options given involve the posting of content outside of Vox. Is there anything useful there?

Back One Screen

Apparently not. As I watch a morning that I had intended to walk out into start to turn into an afternoon, I finally get around to trying the edit screen

Edit Screen

and find what I'm looking for at last. What I've found is that the Yelp system won't provide us with an option to add photos to a group if one clicks on "photos" instead of on "edit", on one's main screen - and I was supposed to know this, how? I was just supposed to know it, that was all. OH! – and look at all of the beautiful red x’s (exes?) that posting these screenshots have left on my main blog page on Vox, where those last two links are to be found.

Party of One Screenshot

Though an easy solution to this problem could be found ...


... at which point everything return to normal, or at least to what passed for normality.

Vox Blog, After I deleted the screenshots

The customary act of a user, at this point, is to post some self-deprecating remark about how the service needs to understand how stupid its users are, and work with that, but I'm not going to write anything like that, because this is simply absurd. There is a difference between being intelligent and being psychic.

How, precisely, was the user supposed to know that Vox would set its system in such a way as to disable the sending of photos to groups, unless one reached the photo using just the right path, and how would one know which path to take? Once one is there, one should be there, and free to do what needs doing, whether one has found the right sequence of hoops to jump through or not.

This is what Vox really needs to work on - making its system more intuitive, more user friendly, and better documented. Creating a help group, instead of sending users to wade through a mass of documents, and having an employee watch that group, might not be a bad idea, either.

Mirrored: Here, on "Party of One"