Flipping Off the Customer for Fun and Profit

A must-read for today is A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web, by David Segal in today's New York Times. It's a story of on online bully, Vitaly Borker, who runs an e-commerce site that sells eyeglasses. His intentional goal is to make customers complain about him online. Why? He says it increases his Google rankings, and that's good for business. In this account, the wronged customer is a woman by the name of Clarabelle Rodriguez. There seem to be hundreds of others.

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From a pure storytelling perspective, Segal nails it. His, you know, journalism is fantastic. He digs into the people and the story, and actually goes out there (both online and off) to learn what he can about what's actually taking place, showing up unannounced at Borker's house and wrangling an impromtu living-room interview. Go read the whole thing. Here's the link again.

Both Segal and Jeff Jarvis point out the role that Google has in this whole drama. As search engine results drive an increasing amount of traffic to e-commerce sites, the question becomes what role (if any) does the search giant have in identifying, ferreting out or penalizing bad actors? Should sentiment analysis factor in to where a site falls in search results? I say "no," by the way; any topic worth discussing will have opinions on both sides. The example given in the article on how search terms such as "Barack Obama" would be affected by sentiment analysis is a great hypothetical case.

The focus on Google and search's role in this saga, however, is a bit misguided. There have always been those who feel that there's no such thing as bad publicity. This is the internet-age corrolary: there's no such thing as a bad inbound link. Conceptually, the two concepts are the same. There are those who have felt that anything that gains notice is good for business, and Borker's approach is no different.

As Jeff Jarvis points out in his linked article above, the old caveat emptor saw still holds fast, whether an individual is a customer in a shop or on an e-commerce site. A small amount of homework can prevent a significant amount of angst. Be a smart customer. Do a modicum of research before engaging in a transaction with an unknown actor. Miscreants like Borker are only in the game for the transaction, not the relationship. Build your own relationships with those who are trustworthy.

A Couple of End Notes:

Big props and kudos to Wendy Lea (@wendyslea) and the gang at Get Satisfaction, who get well-deserved notice in the article for being the hub where customers and ethical brands can interact over issues just such as this one. You go, girl.

Here's the Get Satisfaction community where folks are sharing their experiences noted in the NYTimes piece.

One More Thing

I really, really enjoyed Segal's reporting and writing in this piece. Then I started asking myself what was it about the article that was so compelling? Being the geek that I am, I decided to deconstruct the article a bit and see what was actually there. Here's what I found:

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(You should be able to click on the word cloud to expand it.)

I suppose I subconsciously knew the following before doing the analysis, but it's kind of cool to see it writ large. Ultimately this article, like all great stories, is about people. It's about Borker versus Rodriguez. It's also about business philosophy, and is a great personification of the underlying discontent that there are those businesspeople out there who will do anything to get their next customer, regardless of the karmic cost. It is, at its core, a contemporary story of good versus evil, updated just in time for the holiday shopping season.

The Google angle is the hook that makes this story timely, and it's the thing that seems to make this story different. But it's not, really. As noted above, I think the Google aspect is a red herring.


Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land does a great followup post showing when and where Google integrates customer reviews into its experience.


Thor Mueller from GetSatisfaction shares some more detail on GetSatisfaction's interactions with Borker over the years

Cartoon: David G. Klein, NYTimes

Facebook Places Overview

Here's quick overview on Facebook Places (Facebook's new location-based service) from David Armano.

Link here: David Armano Point of View on Facebook Places

Facebook Places

Key pull quote from David:

"From a user perspective, Facebook places is not bad, which is a bit of an accomplishment for a new launch. From a platform perspective this is not great news for the competition. However, there are some serious issues and the biggest is lack of integration with other platforms such as Twitter. There is also no reward system (badges) which some Foursquare users like and others care less about. The experience though shows promise and for Facebook it's yet another source of behavioral data which will prove to be valuable to advertisers and brands. In short, as a user it's off to a decent start. If your Facebook connections use it, it's likely you might as well. If users adopt the behavior as Facebook rushes to support other mobile platforms and global locations it could gradually make the act of checking-in as common as the status update. If this happens, organizations with physical locations will have to take a very close look at this and what it means for their business."

The Rise of the Creators (Mobile Edition)

Some interesting data from Pew.  Note that we're not just consumers, but creators thanks to mobile, as evidenced by the photo / video / text growth. Full source is here. Internet access over mobile also is experiencing statistically significant growth. -cfc

"Cell phone ownership has remained stable over the last year, but users are taking advantage of a much wider range of their phones’ capabilities compared with a similar point in 2009. Of the eight mobile data applications we asked about in both 2009 and 2010, all showed statistically significant year-to-year growth.

This year Pew also asked for the first time about seven additional cell phone activities. Among all cell phone owners:

  • 54% have used their mobile device to send someone a photo or video
  • 23% have accessed a social networking site using their phone
  • 20% have used their phone to watch a video
  • 15% have posted a photo or video online
  • 11% have purchased a product using their phone
  • 11% have made a charitable donation by text message
  • 10% have used their mobile phone to access a status update service such as Twitter"

Facebook’s Next Trainwreck Waiting-To-Happen: “Community Pages”

Picture 2Ok, so do this.

Go to http://facebook.com and do a search for "JC Penney."  Go to the #1 result.  It's a page here.

Now go to Facebook and do a search for "JCPenney." Go to that #1 result. It's a totally different page here.


Back in April, Facebook released a new feature called "Community Pages," which are touted as "a new type of Facebook Page dedicated to a topic or experience that is owned collectively by the community connected to it.  Just like official Pages for businesses, organizations and public figures, Community Pages let you connect with others who share similar interests and experiences."  

You can learn more about Facebook Community Pages here.

Reasonable idea, horrible implementation.  The main difficulty is that, structurally, both types of pages look pretty similar.  Big logo thing in the upper left hand corner, tabs across the top, and generally the same kind of layout.

The implications are manifold:

  • Since both "official" and "community" pages show up in Facebook's search results side-by-side, it's impossible to know which type of Page you're clicking through to until you do it.
  • Pages are not always ranked by number of members, so more popular pages may get pushed down out of the results.
  • Unless a person is paying close attention, it's not apparent at first blush what type of page you are on.  Confusion abounds.  This is made worse by the fact that it appears that the "unofficial" community pages seem to be usually set up with the "official" logo of the organization.  So, you'd come here, see the JCP logo and think you're in the right spot.  But you're not.

Some other good analysis of the issue:

Caveat emptor.

photo: hubpages, "the crash at crush"