Winning Mods Hearts and Minds

February 18, 2008
About moderators getting Grouply Owner Authorization Code emails that they did not ask for …

It seems that anybody could go to the opt-out page and sit there all day punching in the group names for lots of groups to get Grouply to send them the OAC.  Probably not a good thing for Grouply, and a good way to annoy moderators, especially those who already opted-out.

Could the opt-out page restrict the same IP address from using it more than once per day?  Maybe twice in case the owner didn’t get the email the first time for some reason beyond Grouply’s control.

A better solution would be for Grouply to block access to any group where the owner had not first opted-IN to grant access to their members.  In my groups, nothing would win over the hearts and minds of members for using a new service better than their own fearless leader promoting it, because I have a long-term trusting relationship with them that Grouply does not have (and probably never will have now).  Of course, first I’d have to be convinced that Grouply was a good idea.  That’s hard to do when Grouply uses spam as a promotional activity.

If Grouply wanted a short-cut to attract members of Y! Groups, they would provide special features and benefits to owners and moderators, to encourage their use of the product, instead of annoying them with spam and unrequested OAC emails and security holes like overrides on archive access restrictions and personal information sharing defaulted to on instead of off, and defaulting to on advertising in member profiles links to groups that are unlisted in the YG directory.

I have found nothing in Grouply that improves my ability to manage my groups, or anything to make it more convenient for me to do so, no tools that make my life any better as a moderator.  On the contrary, I have found that Grouply has caused me more work.

As owner of my groups, I’m not just a YG moderator, I’m the executive director of a club or association (varying according to the nature of the group) that uses YG as its communication venue.  If Grouply wants to offer a service to my club members, shouldn’t it come politely knocking on my front door instead of barging in the back door, spam guns blazing?Yeah, they made an effort to reduce the spamming, but did not eliminate it, and before they reduced it, they effectively tossed up a big global red flag saying, “Don’t trust this company because they use an illegal practice to promote their wares.”  Lowering the flag to half-mast, or shrinking it, is not a fully effective solution to its prior size or presence.  Burning it would be better.

Because of Grouply and the potential for similar services putting me through still more hoop-jumping to avoid their intrusion, I’m considering moving my groups’ communication venue to another service instead of YG, even if it means having to pay for a secure one.  Is that what Grouply wants?  Is that what Yahoo wants?  Is that “improving the experience of Yahoo Groups?”

Since group owners have the power to abolish Grouply access, and began doing it (as I did) even without the opt-out procedure Grouply now provides, aren’t group owners and moderators people whom Grouply needs to attract rather than annoy with illegal spam via their “Invite Groups” postings to groups, something universally objectionable to conscientious moderators of good groups?

Spam once a month or even only once per group lifetime is still spam and illegal under U.S. federal law when it is unsolicited commercial email (the definition used by the Federal Trade Commission), as Grouply’s “Invite Groups” thing certainly is, because it is sent BY THE COMMERCIAL ENTITY.  I checked the headers on their spam; the originating IP is registered to, not the Grouply subscriber pulling the trigger on Grouply’s spam gun.  So when I send it to the FTC, I will be careful to point out that it originated from the web site of a commercial entity, not just some Joe Citizen sharing an idea he likes with fellow group members.  The subscriber may be something like an agent for Grouply’s spamming operation, but the message IS SENT BY GROUPLY.COM.  How does Grouply expect to win hearts and minds among owner-moderators when they break the law to advertise their service to their members in spam postings?

Everyone who agrees should send the spam, with full headers displayed, and with a note emphasizing that the originating IP is registered to, a commercial entity, to the FTC’s spam reporting center at:

FTC probably won’t act on one complaint, but they might if lots of citizens file it.  It would be so much better if Grouply acted on it themselves.

Turn off the spam gun.  That would be a very good Grouply Improvement.

Since moderators of YGOG and EL-M seem to like Grouply, and put considerable effort into defending Grouply against criticisms, they could welcome Grouply posting promotional messages about their service in those big groups, which are actively promoted by Yahoo itself via links to them on Yahoo official web pages, and being groups that cater to moderators, people Grouply would seem to have a vested interest in winning over.

Or, instead of allowing access for any group by default on request of any one member of the group (which can be just a Grouply employee who joined the group to get a head start on scraping their archive, which takes time), Grouply could promote their product via the advertising banner in YG to attract moderators to sign up for it, and to attract members to lobby their moderators to sign up.

Yahoo uses YG banner ads to promote their Y! Hotjobs, Y! Personals, Y! Small Business web hosting, Y! Autos, and other services.  T-Mobile uses it to look for customers who want to “Get rockin’ now” with the “Samsung Beat,” and T-Mobile’s $10/month unlimited email.  Disney Cruise Line uses YG banner ads.  Macy’s, University of Phoenix, too.  Right now I’m looking at a banner ad in YG for Waste Management, Inc.  They seem to have the notion that it’s a good idea to advertise to YG users.

I’m no business tycoon, but it seems that Yahoo would have an interest in telling Grouply, “If you want a piece of the Yahoo Groups action, you can use our advertising banner service to target your ads at our YG users,” and come in through the front door instead of the back.  Yep, I suppose it might be expensive.  Cost of doing business with the big boys.

Ungrouply Thoughts

February 18, 2008

[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.