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SayMedia (Typepad) Unethical Billing Practice

In the same way that AOL screwed thousands of their customers by double-billing until they got caught, made it extraordinarily difficult to leave the service, and did this so often with practicesso egregious that almost every state in the union had its attorney general go after the company until they settled.

SayMedia, parent company of the blogging service Typepad (they acquired Six Apart this fall) among other things, has been billing for services not rendered.

After a few months of a painful migration from Typepad to WordPress—made all the more difficult by the Typepad practice of obscuring the image pathname as well as changing their permalink structure three times from 2004-2009 when I was with them—I posted about my joyful transition to a platform (WordPress) that had a pulse and some passion behind it. I cancelled my Typepad Pro service that month (June of 2009).

Now I discover today (from doing tax prep last night) that Typepad not only billed me LAST November (2009) for $149.50—probably because I was doing a blog for Scholastic Administrator running on Typepad and had logged in to Typepad in order to post to it and they must’ve matched the email and assumed I was logging in to the cancelled account—and now I found out that they billed me AGAIN for a yearly $149.50 for a year of pro service this November!

This is no accident. It is clearly intentional and, I’m guessing based on my past experiences in businesses going down the shitter like Six Apart is, that they’re sneakily and quietly billing everyone they can, hoping that some percentage will slip through the cracks.

Why do I say that? BECAUSE THEY ALSO HAVE BEEN BILLING MY WIFE WHOSE BLOG WAS *ALSO* SHUT DOWN IN JUNE OF LAST YEAR.

Typepad charges a year in advance. They just posted a credit for one charge and I’ve contacted them about additional credits for June-December of 2009 (a pro-rated amount) as well as this full year (since they charged me in November of 2009 for Dec ’09 to Dec ’10).

While using Typepad and seeing the acceleration in social media use, I was always stunned by how hidden from view Ben and Mena Trott were (the founders of Six Apart). They barely blogged, were reluctant to engage with customers or the press, and were clearly way over their head.

My interactions with former CEO Barak Berkowitz to the current one Chris Alden, as well as the former “evangelist” for them Anil Dash, my impression always one of them willing to initially engage but then they’d go strangely radio silent….in a very atypical way. I’ve worked with dozens of startups and with (and at) large software companies and the passive-aggressiveness, shyness, and what seemed like childlike timidity was one of the other reasons I abandoned Typepad. My gut told me they couldn’t possibly be successful with those attitudes, their business practices and what certainly came across as complete indifference to customers paying them money.

I’ll be one of the first ones to stand up and cheer when Six Apart goes out of business and/or shuts down Typepad (like they did Vox) because so many people have abandoned the service.

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SixApart Lost Its Way

VideoEgg is acquiring SixApart, maker of Movable Type and the hosted service TypePad. Normally I wouldn’t care about a small time buy like this one, if it wasn’t for the fact that TypePad was where I started blogging in 2004.

The TypePad hosted service was the best out there in 2004. Great features, good themes, and a rock solid infrastructure. But in most ways they didn’t keep pace with the capabilities of WordPress, the emergence of microblogging platforms like Tumblr and Posterous, and I know I often hammered on them to add features and even got engaged in emails with CEO Chris Alden, who promised many new things that never materialized. As an aside, Alden’s joining SixApart was announced by co-founder Mena Trott in this blog post—her most recent—from three years ago.

The original iPod

In my view, SixApart lost their way. TypePad was the service as blogging was exploding and they rested on their laurels and didn’t do much while others were innovating all around them. I got so fed up I exported all my content in 2009 and, with great effort to fix their goofy attempts to keep people from migrating away, did so with great delight since I was finally on a platform (WordPress) that gave me great flexibility (and yes, I see the irony with yesterday’s post).

As an analogy, imagine if Apple had introduced the first iPod and then didn’t make any material changes for several years. Or, like Alden pointed out to me many times when he mentioned how many wonderful things they’d introduced, it was if Apple added a bunch of features to an iPod that no one cared about (“Look at our new Notes functionality! Now you can listen to music and twirl your click wheel to select letters and type notes!“).

The other thing that always bugged me about SixApart was how opaque they were when they were in the business of transparency (i.e., blogging). When they had service outages they never talked to their customers publicly. When the heat got turned up they appeared to hide from view. Alden, the chief evangelist Anil Dash, Mena Trott (with whom I talked at Web 2.0 Summit) and others with whom I interacted over the years would initially engage and then shut down and go radio silent.

This behavior was polar opposite from other interactions I’ve had with companies whose leadership embrace and appreciate a customer trying to help and suggest ways to make their product better. SixApart folks always seemed to take customer feedback as a personal affront and go in to defensive mode instantly vs. seeing it as an opportunity to improve.

It’s no wonder they failed.

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Posting from my iPad


There is no question that the iPad packs a lot of promise in to its small form factor. Already I’ve done liveblogging with it on another site I run (here at Minnov8: http://minnov8.com/mhta2010/) but doing serious blogging on the iPad is still an exercise in frustration. I’m writing this post in Blogpress Pro on my iPad using an Apple Bluetooth keyboard (since long-form text editing isn’t a joy with the built-in keyboard!).

DEALKILLER #1: NO HYPERLINKING or TEXT EDITING
Notice that I had to type out the hyperlink instead of using the app “Blogpress” for the iPad? It’s because it — and the WordPress app now optimized for iPad — are unable to enable easy entering of hyperlinks. Huh? Aren’t hyperlinks “Web 101″ and something at its most basic core? Yep.

I’ve interacted with a guy named from the WordPress team who developed the iPhone version and modified it for the iPad. Seems like a great guy (Chris Boyd @chrisboyddotnet on Twitter) and says both image editing (in Blogpress but missing in WordPress for anything but posting at the bottom of a post) and hyperlinking is being taken in to consideration.

Add to that no bolding, italics or other uses (though I might experiment to see if adding HTML code might do the trick like bolding these words)

DEALKILLER #2: NO REMOTE SAVING/LIMITED FEATURES
The other frustration is an inability to remotely save posts (so I can do a workaround by firing up Safari and finish editing within the web interface). Remote saving would fix that.

Blogpress Pro was $2.99 and is what I’m using to write this post. Of course, I can’t add a thumbnail (used on my homepage) or any custom fields nor can I hyperlink. I’m taking a risk by seeing if the image I placed within this post looks good or not (used Photogene on the iPad to modify it) and then I’ll turn to my main MacPro to add the thumbnail and so on.

DEALKILLER #3: NO HTTPS
When I’m on-the-go and need to access my WordPress backends I *always* login with https in order to ensure my username/password combo isn’t flying through a coffee shop’s Wifi connection exposed for snagging by some unscrupulous packet sniffer running on a geeks laptop.

It’s this sort of productivity stuff that is somewhat missing from the iPad *or* it takes a bunch of new steps most of us don’t yet know. With text editors for coders/developers out and coming out, easy ways to access remote servers (e.g., Box.net, iDisk for MobileMe, lots of built-in FTP capability in apps) I can see that it will become second nature to use our iPad’s for content creation at some point, but it’s just not yet there.

UPDATE: Blogpress posted via Twitter to THE WRONG ACCOUNT (my Minno8 one) because it can only manage ONE Twitter account. It also scheduled the post when I submitted Publish to my blog with a time FOUR HOURS AND 27 MINUTES after I published it. So not only does Blogpress have serious limitations, it has serious bugs.

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Sir, Yes Sir! Thank You for Thinking *For* Me Sir!

drillsergeant

One of the dangers in being a “thought leader” or “influencer” in blogs or social media is this: others might actually believe you’re an expert and take what you say on faith, as gospel, or as their duty. On the flip side, those of us who follow so-called thought leaders make some assumptions that they’re experts or at least more plugged in than we are so they must know something we don’t (and too many people are influenced by them automatically). I’ve been seeing this happen too often in the group-think that occurs in the blogosphere and this sort of mass persuasion (or “mass meme’ing” as my friend Bill calls it) is now moving even faster with the real-time internet (e.g., Twitter).

In my several decades on this earth I’ve learned the power of propaganda, seen the unfortunate downsides to “spin” and group-think, and have been made well aware of the persuasion, motivation and psychological manipulation techniques most people with an agenda employ.

Having an agenda and trying to persuade or motivate is not inherently evil or good, it just is-what-it-is. Humans are driven by all sorts of intrinsic motivations that go well beyond Maslow’s baseline on his hierarchy of needs. In my view, Maslow was stating a pyramid of needs that was far too happy-assed and missed many human motivators like a hunger for celebrity, power or control by an individual or organization, the continual nation-based struggle for resources, or a need to be dominant.

Think about all of this the next time you read something (especially a blog post or tweet), listen to a political speech, are asked to do something by your boss, or watch a TV show or movie about a big topic. What are the writer/tweeter/producers motivations? Who is funding it and/or what is their agenda? What are the creators of it trying to get you to do, to think and what action do they want you to take?

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Personal & Professional Hubs for Your Digital Life

1.002The Minneapolis/St. Paul Social Media Breakfast is a surprisingly strong group of creatives, PR, marketing and interactive media enthusiasts, so much so that it’s possible that the Twin Cities could be the social media capital of the world! Thinking back on my days at Apple — and knowing that the base of creative talent in Minnesota made it one of the strongest markets for the company — it probably shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise.

On June 26, 2009 I was privileged to give a talk to, what turned out to be, the largest SMBMSP yet at 300+ participants. Several people emailed me about adding a voiceover to the PDF of the presentation I’d provided and did so. I’ve created it’s own page for the video here so you can view it in HD resolution.

Let me know what you think!

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Typepad to WordPress: It’s Done!

wplogoAfter significant and careful consideration, I’ve decided to migrate my Connecting the Dots blog (which I started in December of 2004 using the Typepad hosted service) to a WordPress installation on a server I control.

While Typepad has made many changes that are good for the blogging community, the platform is still too limiting and the energy in the ecosystem surrounding the service is, well, non-existent. Argue with me all you want (and many have already) but WordPress is giving me what I want, how I want it, and the limitations on growing with Typepad are too constrictive.

The sad part is that exporting from Typepad is a God-awful mess of code. From URL’s that were short, then not short, and underscores (“_”) that turned into dashes (“-“), I’ve had to invest dozens of hours into changing the blog over.

The other sad part is that getting MY images from THEIR servers is a nightmare. While importing into WordPress kinda, sorta works (but permalinks are all hosed up), all images are left on the Typepad server. I used a caching plugin to capture them, but it’s a band-aid and not a comfortable, long term solution.

After waiting days and days for a response from Anil Dash, he finally responded with a connection to a guy named Mark Simmons, but by that time I was already down the road with the migration.

While I understand that Six Apart (Typepad parent) has zero incentive to help me get MY data out of THEIR system (data *I* own by the way), they’ve made it work juuuuust barely enough that they can stand on a box of righteousness and argue the finer points of ATOM and migration.

I’m paid up through December but just set the domain to transfer and will clean up loose ends if necessary, especially the RSS feeds so I don’t lose you, my subscribers.

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URL Shorteners: Is a Custom One the Solution?

When I wrote this story about a Minnesota company, TinyURL, I mentioned some concerns about URL shortening services.

URL shortening, if you’re not aware, is a service that takes a looooooooong URL (e.g., like a huge one from Google Maps) and turns it into a short one such as www.tinyurl.com/45hnf.

Now that Twitter is becoming so widely adopted — though has its 140 character message limit — the only way to author a good message and deliver a URL is usually with a shortened one.

Here’s the problem. Already I’ve found dead links from shortened URLs. Spammers are getting wise to using them to mask the end site they’re trying to get you to view. In addition, I went to a resource site this week which had every single link a shortened URL!

Concerns have been raised by many people that shortened URLs are weak links that are undermining the integrity of the Web itself (e.g., here and here). To illustrate how pervasive these services have become, well over a year ago Mashable published this post on 90+ URL shortening services! This shortening of URLs process has become laughingly easy for all of us and there are too many uses (again, Twitter, SMS, etc.) where it’s a lot easier to use a shortened URL than a long one…so we all do it.

When voicing my concern about this to Kevin Gilbertson (creator of TinyURL), he assured me that these temporary and ethereal pointers to ‘real’ URLs were not going to “break the Web” but instead were providing a useful service (e.g., to email or Twitter users) where long URLs were a barrier and obstacle to providing others with links. He also pointed out that any publisher, creator of resources online, or those delivering high value which they wish to remain permanently available, are being imprudent if they don’t use the original URLs.

Good point. But is there even a better solution? How about a custom one?

Many URL shortening services are able to create custom ones for companies, media publishers and others. My friend, Garrick Van Buren, has a service called “Cullect” and he recently delivered a customized URL shortener for an online news organization, MinnPost, so I’ve observed how this can be a positive and be within the ultimate control of the organization itself.  They ‘own’ both the original URL and the shortened one so they can maintain the integrity of the linking (disclaimer: another blog I participate in, Minnov8, is the technology contributor to MinnPost).

My recommendation to individual participants is to go ahead and use the URL shortening services, keeping in mind to link to the original URL (not use the shortened one) when creating more permanent pointers on a website, blog or social network. My advice to clients, especially those that have a need to deliver many links in a Twitter stream or through other means, to have a custom URL shortening service created for them so they own, maintain and ensure the integrity of the linking so the Web is not, as many fear, in jeopardy of being ripped apart.

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Lessons From Our First “Social Media” President

The enormity of the shift that occurred last night is still sinking in. Feeling the spirit of millions that have been moved and are primed to tap into vision and get behind this new leader was certainly profound. Ironically, it wasn’t until I saw a man in a live TV shot last night whom I’ve had zero affinity for in the past — the Reverend Jesse Jackson — shedding tears in Chicago’s Grant Park in the midst of tens of thousands of others, did it sink in how amazing this was for the African-American community.

Not that I’ve been unaware of Obama’s black 50%, but it’s been totally irrelevant since I, like more of us than ever before, realize that we’re all connected and in this together. What’s mattered to me is his vision, my belief in his intention for change, his certain inclusion of everyone, a refreshing intelligence, and the world-class thought leaders he’s already brought close to him as he crafts strategy.

What will be hyper-analyzed over the next several months, however, is that the Obama campaign leveraged the internet, tapped into the social media zeitgeist, and engaged with people in ways never before possible (and because so many of us are already connected with social media), and there are key lessons here for every company, organization, movement or individual wanting to sell, build brands, move an agenda forward, or build an ecosystem.

[Read more…]

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Web Content Container Companies: Let *Us* Make Money Too!

Over and over again I’m delighted by the phenomenal offerings on the Web, specifically in the areas of content creation and delivery. Most of them seem to be looking at the YouTube model of delivery: Make it free; make it (and all the content produced) public; and wrap advertising around the critical mass of users that flock to what you’re offering and make bazillions.

The problem? Any person, company or organization serious about investing time, effort, energy and resources building atop them — and delivering their content in an embeddable container on their website, blog, “FaceSpace” page or elsewhere — need to find a way to make money.

Now before you get all riled up with, “Hey Borsch, you numbskull. Haven’t you heard of the freemium model or that giving content away drives other business?” hear me out.

The answer, of course, is “yes” as evidenced by clients I’ve recommended implement a free/paid/pro version of what they offer online, as well as the huge success I personally experienced when giving away my report, Rise of the Participation Culture (RPC). With the latter example, for me to continue to carve out the time necessary to create quality deliverables like a line of social media ebooks, videos or presentations, there needs to be a way to make some dough off of them.

Arguments like, “Just give your stuff away and people will find you and new markets and opportunities will open up,” is mostly bullshit or a far too optimistic generalization for all but a few who do it. Yes, I believe that there is validity to “free” or otherwise I wouldn’t give stuff away (like free speaking engagements, free initial consultations, pro bono work, or free reports like RPC) but I limit those to 10% of my time or otherwise I’d get nothing else done.

There’s a real crazy-maker though, with licenses, and the fact that these offerings are geared so that YOU as a user, generating content, make NO MONEY and that THEY benefit from your effort.

[Read more…]

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Will Comcast crush internet innovation?

If you’ve been following the story about net neutrality, Comcast’s games with bandwidth throttling and the FCC rebuke of these practices, then you’ll really want to know about Comcast’s decision to place a 250GB per month ‘cap’ on your use of bandwidth.

My favorite blog that discusses this issue, Om Malik’s GigaOM, had these two posts that are a must-read if you care at all about this issue:

a) 5 Questions About Comcast’s New Bandwidth Throttling Plan by Stacey Higginbotham

b) Memo To Comcast: Show Us the Meter for Metered Broadband by Om Malik

While I completely understand that Comcast has a business to run, shareholders to please and profits to make, it is also crystal clear to even a casual observer that they now hold too much power in residential broadband.  [Read more…]