Ungrouply Thoughts

[Posted here by permission of the author, who asked not to be identified.]

This is not the first time this kind of thing has been done by people trying to cash in on YG message traffic (through back doors, of course, knowing that if they asked Yahoo for permission it would be denied), and it will not be the last.

So far it seems Yahoo is saying that it’s the local moderator’s problem, not theirs.  That stinks, from a user’s or moderator’s perspective.

Still, I have a hunch that if we give Yahoo really solid evidence of a blatant and ongoing TOS violation, especially a broad-scale one that could hurt their reputation if publicized heavily, they may yet act on it, if they don’t see any financial advantage to themselves in Grouply’s success.

From my experience with Yahoo, to get them to act on an abuse complaint, it must be accompanied by detailed specifics of exactly who did what and how it was done, in technical terms.  Sad that they won’t investigate and develop the evidence of it for themselves once tipped off to it, but then ask the FDA why they inspect so little of our food.  Enforcement is expensive, even when it’s relatively easy to do.

There is only one reason for Grouply’s existence: for them to make money when they turn on the data-mining to scour message content so they can target inline message advertisements (inserted at the bottom of every message posted by a Grouply user, riding the forwarding network as messages tend to do) and to target online context-sensitive ads for display to Grouply users while at their site.

It amazes me that advertisers invest so much in online and inline ads, but I guess it really does make money, considering the billions that Google and Yahoo have made over the years.  A penny here and there off each of billions of messages and millions of page views … well, it’s a nice chunk of change.

Consider how Waste Management, Inc., the biggest garbage company in North America, displays online ads in YG … especially in groups having anything even remotely to do with ecology.  One would think, now what do they need an ad there for?  There must be money in it.  If nothing else, just public relations value, which means money, too.

Grouply’s argument that they are providing a useful service to YG users is typical corporate propaganda.  I can see where some very tiny minority of YG users (1 or 2% at the outside over a long time) would like some of the features Grouply offers, but for the other 99%, it’s a pain in the ass and does nothing to improve their experience of YG (and excludes support for anything but YG message archives, I guess because there’s no money in mirroring the photos, files, links and calendars).

But Barnum & Bailey knew what Grouply knows … a sucker is born every minute.  They can be duped by enticements into trying it.  If Grouply can make one dollar per year off each of ten million people (10% of YG users), that’s ten million dollars per year.  That doesn’t count Google Groups users they are also pursuing.  And who knows?  They may be able to secure revenues more like $100 per year off only one million users.  That’s $100 million per year.

Being such a lame product, I really do expect them to fall flat on their faces and go out of business (these days $1.3 million in venture capital is not so “big” relative to the scale of things in their industry) … IF Yahoo or Google doesn’t decide to buy them and make it a “feature.”  Often the best thing that can happen to a startup is to get bought out by a bigger company, and that often means VP desks in the bigger company for the principals of the smaller one bought out.

(The fact that Mark Robins engages directly with us small fry users tells me that he doesn’t have very big guns behind him.  If he did, he would just ignore us.)

The Federal Trade Commission is tasked with enforcing the CAN-SPAM Act.  Unfortunately, under the Bush administration, the FTC is hobbled by understaffing (hard to fund some things while spending a trillion on a war).  I doubt they ever do much prosecuting of spammers unless they are really doing it big-time and make front-page news, or phishers making real progress in stealing credit card or bank account data.  As always, follow the money.  Enforcement activity is probably geared primarily toward situations where real money is at stake, or other kinds of severe criminality.

From things I’ve read here and there it appears that some of the avid Grouply fans are hoping against hope that their being chummy with Grouply CEO Mark Robins will help them get a foot in the door with a startup they think will “go big.”

Every minute of every day all sorts of untoward behavior gets rationalized under the notion that if it means making money, then it’s good, in a world where moral relativism is not just the norm, but the core of the worldview of the dominant belief system … one that many people live by, even though they don’t consciously choose it.  Most core beliefs come from conditioning, not choice.

Highly vocal Grouply fans seem to think that they have hitched their wagons to a rising star.  They see the rest of us as dupes and tools, while they alone see the light.  But it’s a red light, in my view, or at least an orange one, a warning about the possible future for things like YG, and the Internet in general, in a world where Money is God for so many.

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