Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Ghost.org deleted my website (postapathy.substack.com)
421 points by davidbarker 9 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 345 comments

I agree with the post author that the tactic of allowing users to exceed plan limits and then upping their bill (yes, even with the 7 day notice email) is shady.

I hate this kind of behaviour from my tools - it feels like I am constantly being watched for when I "slip" and can be charged more without recourse. If you are going to use this behavior, provide a switch to enable hard limits on usage so a user cannot blunder unto having their budget blown by accident.

Edit: Also, why does the CEO have direct access to cancel user accounts and send them direct messages? Surely they have more important things to do?

> Also, why does the CEO have direct access to cancel user accounts and send them direct messages? Surely they have more important things to do?

Not every company is a 100k employees company with CEO deatached from mudane operations - why would not a CEO of a small company be involved in customer support etc.

Though in particular this case, customer care is not his strong side :)

It can happen in big companies too, like in this old post of Raymond Chen "Can I talk to that William fellow? He was so helpful" https://devblogs.microsoft.com/oldnewthing/20091123-00/?p=15...

> Also, why does the CEO have direct access to cancel user accounts and send them direct messages? Surely they have more important things to do?

They're probably still a small start up, where lots of people still do multiple roles.

>They're probably still a small start up

Sounds like they are determined to stay small.

Yeah, no wonder. Shooting down paying customers while in startup phase? I'm all for firing annoying/needy (service) customers but this is far from being the case here.

It’s clearly a lifestyle business that enables John to bounce around South East Asia.

In many alternative scenarios you hit a sudden spike in traffic that could make your business thousands and the hosting company starts blocking people from accessing your site because you exceeded the quota.

7 day notice of upgrading seems much more reasonable in that case

That is fine IF you warn your customer about scaling BEFORE the customer gives you the credit card.

This system does make sense for some customers, it does not for others, some will agree and subscribe to the service, some will not.

> That is fine IF you warn your customer about scaling BEFORE the customer gives you the credit card.

Ghost is pretty clear on their signup pages. For example, if you go over your traffic limits:


> Average views per month

> Views refer to the number of requests to your site each month. These are tracked much like an analytics 'pageview' - and are incremented with each page or API request.

> We never disable sites for traffic spikes, so no need to worry about the front page of Reddit or HN. If you exceed your limit consistently on a 3 month rolling average, we'll just let you know that you need to upgrade.

And for staffing:

> Staff users

> Staff users refers to the total number of active team members invited to Ghost Admin whom you collaborate with. For the purposes of billing, we only count staff users who have logged in at least once in the last 30 days.

> If you have lots of authors of posts who are not logging into Ghost Admin on a regular basis, they won't count towards your plan limits.

And if you don't want to upgrade they tell you how to avoid it before charging.

“...we’ll just let you know that you’ll need to upgrade,” sounds very much opt in (or lose services), while the author was instead told he will be upgraded unless he opted out.

That’s a distinction that certainly matters to me. I’d be upset in the author’s shoes.

Only if you exceed your traffic limit consistently on a 3 month rolling average will they even try to upgrade you. That seems very fair to me. OP is trying to make this about traffic but it's really because he knowingly had more then 2 active staff accounts.

OP clearly states that it's about the active staff accounts.

The concern is still valid -- they claim 3 months of excess before attempting an upgrade but give 7 days warning as soon as you go over the staff limit? They should either limit the staff amounts or give you longer than 7 days.

The page says "you can pick a plan later" and that users can "upgrade", which implies to me that people opt into and manually control the pricing plan they want. But what they have actually behaves more like usage tiers in reality.

It also says that staff are considered active if they've used the product within the last 30 days. How could the OP get usage back below the threshold with only 7 days notice?

By removing those accounts

My mistake, you absolutely are right

There is a purple section "Our simple + fair billing policy" that is pretty clear.

I actually looked at the pricing page before commenting, but somehow missed that

>There is a purple section "Our simple + fair billing policy" that is pretty clear.

I don't know. Some of the wording doesn't seem consistent with what happened.

>We simply email you to let you know when it's time to upgrade.

At least I don't think "it's time to upgrade" means that "we are upgrading you".

I agree that this is hard to find. When I visit the site there are tiny, very pale, question marks that expand these boxes.

Fine for a business, but for a personal blog I'd rather have visitors temporarily blocked than get a huge bill. Such a blog doesn't make money.

> I hate this kind of behaviour from my tools

Things which behave like this are not your tools. They belong to someone else. The tool is you, for using them.

Ghost is open source and self-hostable, so you can very much make it your tool.

Like the person I was commenting, I was making a general statement, not talking about Ghost in particular.

> I agree with the post author that the tactic of allowing users to exceed plan limits and then upping their bill

It's only the same as pay-per-use, which loads of other companies use. If you use network bandwidth on AWS or GCP, they're going to bill you per gigabyte, and there is no 7 day grace period or action required on your part to get a big bill.

On AWS, I sign up to be billed at per gigabyte. I don't sign up for a 100 GB bandwidth bucket and at 101 GB AWS automatically upgrades me to the 1000 GB bucket.

AWS has exactly the same problem with not allowing you to limit spend. And lots of individuals and small businesses are uncomfortable with using it for that reason.

Yeah, google cloud provides a page to programatically cap your spending: https://cloud.google.com/billing/docs/how-to/notify#cap_disa...

Why don't they just provide a big red button to enable caps instead?

> Why don't they just provide a big red button to enable caps instead?

So many companies have departmental budgets and need the ability to guarantee a bill not more than $X.

It seems crazy GCP doesn't have a budget limit option. In fact, AppEngine used to have a budget limit option, and they've just removed it!

> AppEngine used to have a budget limit option, and they've just removed it!

awful behaviour!

Looks like there is someone stealing identities, Mr Graham ^^

Are you saying that there is only one person legally allowed to be called Graham Paul in the whole planet?

Well, letting customers spend money on their platform earns them money

That's true but in this instance, you can set up a max cap limit after which there would be no cap limit. I don't think google will gain much from trying to fish students and small businesses for, say $250.

Doesn't this do what you are referring to?


That just sends you an alert when your spend reaches certain points, it doesn’t stop you from exceeding it, and there is a one day delay while they reconcile usage.

Most people wouldn’t want to stop operating completely even if they exceed a budget so it’s really more for monitoring.

People who do want that are probably better off renting a server for a fixed cost - plenty of places still do that.

Cloud makes more sense if you are growing rapidly or have short term needs for significant increases in computing power.

At some point after that cloud stops making sense and it becomes cheaper again to host your own infrastructure.

It's not pay per use or does Ghost downgrade the tier when he'd stopped using the extra staff accounts automatically within 7 days too? Don't think so. It's an illegal practice to upsell someone without consent.

You say that like it's not the #1 complaint about using AWS/GCP for personal stuff.

People finding sympathy in the CEO behavior should make an effort to remember the number of time they likely ranted about their landlords / network provider / post service / bank service / ... on Twitter. How would you have reacted if they had decided to ban you without even letting you take back your assets?

Closing a customer's account without following procedures, on the CEO's whims, just because they don't feel comfortable with your practices, with a passive aggressive "sorry it wasn't a good fit for you!", deleting data in the process, is extremely unprofessional. There's no good light for this.

In fact, the following story is a great example of the danger of this kind of practices: https://www.newsweek.com/bank-closes-accounts-criticizes-twi...

I do sympathise with their CEO on a personal level - but that's that: a personal level[1]. When your twitter account is not only public, but the public-facing twitter account of the CEO of a company: it should never contain "personal" messages that haven't been run by a PR team, otherwise SNAFUs like this will happen.

Save the customer rants and banter for Slack or the morning standup - not Twitter. Egads.

You'd think everyone would have learned from Elon Musk's example by now, surely?

[1] ...and even then I'm onlyy sliiiightly sympathetic, and ultimately I'm still siding with the article's author, provided they're being truthful. It was wrong for Ghost to unilaterally delete their content and retaliate against their user. They turned a possible PR victory (by acceding to the author's requests and upgrading their account for free (given the marginal cost of each user is negligible, giving a service credit doesn't cost them anything) into a disaster. Eeejits.

>You'd think everyone would have learned from Elon Musk's example by now, surely?

How has it hurt Musk? If I was looking for justification, Musk and POTUS have pretty much laid the groundwork for spew whatever via Twitter does not hurt the brand. It only makes it more visible.

I used to respect and admire Musk on a personal basis which led to me being interested in buying into the products and services he's responsible for (I own a Tesla Model X, and I applied for an avionics SWE position at SpaceX). The more he keeps up his cavalier attitude on social-media the more it puts me - and others in my social network - off from benefiting his companies, and by extension, him.

The same way that I'm not interested in working at Facebook because of Zuckerberg's attitude towards his users.

Customer rants have no place anywhere in any company. They are unprofessional and toxic.

The CEO of Ghost has always struck me as weirdly defensive.

I remember ~2 years ago he tweeted something about how he was so proud to have built Ghost up with little help from anyone, no funding and was really pushing the angle of how the project is open source.

But then I replied with something like "Congrats on all of the success, but what about the thousands of folks who gave you $250,000+ on Kickstarter to help kick start the project?", because he didn't mention that anywhere.

He deleted his reply on Twitter since then, but it was pretty hostile and he even left the tweet off with saying he was blocking me. All from that 1 question I asked. Prior to that I've never contacted, messaged or replied to him so this had nothing to do with previous history.

Frustrated customers, even rude ones, are an opportunity to learn and improve. The CEO of Ghost unfortunately resorted to schoolboy tactics instread of acting like a diplomatic executive. Sure you should fire your bad customers. But don't mistake a frustrated customer for a bad one. They are not the same.

This. The customer is upset because he was wronged and he’s going to be frustrated. If you’re going to fire every rude customer you’re quickly out of business. People point out that „both sides are in the wrong“. But the extent to which they are wrong is different.

Also, he wasn't rude. The responses were.

You’re right I edited the comment.

> The customer is upset because he was wronged and he’s going to be rude

At which point was the customer rude here?

> At which point was the customer rude here?

The customer was a little aggressive in their opening email when they described Ghost's business practices as shady, but I'd still consider it in-bounds for a professional email.

Then, before Ghost's support had a chance to engage with this customer, the customer publicly tweeted about the problem in a way that implied that Ghost was intentionally ripping off customers.

I would encourage anyone reading this to stop for a moment and think back to the projects they've worked on, either for an employer or as a side project. How many of those projects explicitly aimed to defraud paying customers? Even a single one?

Now, how many of those projects had to deal with customers that rudely complained about something that ended up being a misunderstanding on their part, or were simply abusing the support staff as a way of getting a refund or some other type of free service? Practically everyone who has ever had to deal with any type of customer support has encountered that behavior -- "Karen" caught on as a widely-understood stereotype for a reason.

Ghost's CEO likely reacted the way he did because he has enough experience to quickly categorize customers who reach out for support, and concluded (probably correctly) that this customer would continue to be unreasonable, would end up being a net drain on both revenue and team morale, and that refunding the customer and banning their account would be the quickest and least distracting way forward.

I can't fault Ghost here. Dealing with people that immediately drag your name through the mud for every perceived slight is exhausting, and for a low-fee service like Ghost, can very quickly erase whatever margin they may be making. And frankly, as someone that's tired of the increasingly polarized and hateful discourse on social media these days, it's refreshing to see a business that's willing to clamp down on incivility, even if it means lost revenue.

I agree that terminating contract with some prior notice and sending data back could have been a rude but understandable decision... but insulting the customer on twitter, then deleting the tweet before immediately nuking customer's website was clearly out of bound.

It only seems that way because Ghost was up-front about telling the customer to fuck off.

Larger, more established companies do that as well, but in the form of automated account blocks, or byzantine phone/support ticket workflows that effectively prevent you from reaching someone other than entry-level support who can do little to help you. Even if they're more polite about it, they're still essentially telling you to get lost if you don't like their service or its terms.

Yes rude is the wrong word I‘ll edit it to make it more accurate (I’m no native speaker, sorry)

And you should refuse customers in a procedural way, not in a personally angry way where you delete their data.

Maybe, but going instantly to twitter without waiting for a email response is not just rude.

"I also decided to tweet about it - because that’s what people do, right?"

I honestly don't know what to think about this. On one hand I understand you want to create awareness on a practice you consider as shady,ok.

But from what I know, Ghost usually try to please its customers. It's a small team with hardworking members, competing against giants.

Attacking them on Twitter before they could even reply to your email: kind of a dick move.

What I understand from your comment is that letting people know about the business practices of a certain company is a dick move. What I am struggling to understand is how you came to such a conclusion?

The tweet is not offensive in the least – all it shows is some signs of frustration from a customer, who may or may not be right.

The CEO on the other hand, looks like an ill-tempered, rude child, who should be nowhere near Twitter, let alone be the CEO of a company.

I invite you to consider another sequence of events, where the CEO doesn't show his childish side on Twitter, sends almost the same reply to the customer, noting that they will delete their site in 7 days if they don't want to pay, saying "here's link to the backup of your data".

Bonus points if he asks the customer for feedback on how they would like this to be handled in the future.

you're right, I probably tried to find an excuse because I like the company and the team behind it.

I've been following him on Twitter for a while and he always seemed quick to dismiss people. Anyway, regardless of his, there is no reason for him to act this way with a customer.

Just to be clear: the CEO deleting the customer's site is absolutely not okay.

It would also make me reconsider using their service.

That's fair, but I also think the CEO unsubscribing him and revoking his access in the way that he did was a dick move.

This is how I think about it as well. Two dick moves by opposing parties means it's probably not true that only one of them was justified. IOW, they were probably both wrong in the way they handled it.

... but to very different degrees. Like somebody calling another person an asshole and them pulling out a gun and shooting them in response. Yeah, don't go around insulting people, but let's not pretend that it's anywhere close to equally wrong.

People are getting trained by Google and other SV companies that you only get support if you can get x retweets. I don't like it, but I understand why people react to that by tweeting out their issues with companies. And, of course, opt-out upgrade is shady.

I think it's more accurate to say that you only get support if you pay. If a service is free, you are the product.

I dunno, Twitter is a perfect channel to get feedback on whether other people think something is shady. That doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not you responded to the email.

Not kind of a dick move. It was a dick move. Having said that, the CEO did even worse.


This is not helping the discussion at all. Please refrain from such slurs.

What on earth is small penis syndrome, anyway? Is that still the best insult we have in our disposal?

Something you need to compensate for by showing people you’re boss?

6 days ago HN discussed the article "Fire your bad customers":


It is interesting to see this in practice, and see this from the customer's point of view. Obviously they do not believe they are "bad".

Why was he a bad customer? He was frustrated. And he exaggerated what he was frustrated about. That could have lead to an insightful conversation that improved the product. Don't make the mistake of thinking every frustrated customer is a bad one.

Yes and no. A customer who complains to you is doing you a favor by letting you know how your product fell short of their expectations. That's an opportunity to either 1) improve the product or 2) clarify the customer's expectations. But a customer who takes their grievance to social media immediately is a troublemaker who's not worth the grief. The CEO was right to "fire" him as a customer (but he should have been civil about it and not deleted his work without notice).

A single complaint means you're a bad customer? It's bad PR for sure, but as far as customers go, this is extremely minor.

"Firing" this customer more convinces me the CEO just has no idea how to handle criticism for their product or how to explain their aggressive revenue model, and yes, the policy is aggressive.

We had to revisit the licensing model for our company a few times over the last years, and it was a huge headache; people whined, loudly and rightfully, cause we did have a bit of a crappy change up. No one "lost" anything in the changeup, but there were headaches for sure. Our PM handled it like a champ as we had a lot of public outcries; some valid, which we took on the nose, others not so valid where we called out the wrongful arguments.

We never "fired" anyone as a result of our business decision though; that's not a way to build trust in others. If our decisions ultimately makes someone part with us, let it be their decision, not ours. We save firing for only the truly most abusive and disruptive customers who eat up support/dev time needlessly (and I do mean needlessly, like demanding the attention of our best support engineers to show them which button to click, which is far too common in big IT companies with supposed IT professionals)

Ghost's CEO seems like he couldn't handle the mildest of criticisms from one fo the most common types of customers -- ones who didn't RTFM. His decision wasn't right in the least bit, it was an example that he has no idea how to handle conflict.

The Ghost CEO did precisely the wrong thing.

But anyone who has had to support thousands of customers can spot this customer as toxic.

The irony here is that the toxic customer gave the CEO the solution: restrict functionality so users don’t get surprised.

I deal with our company's 500k+ customers - this tweet would have been a 5 minute email and maybe a slightly short term discount to resolve, perhaps a quick 'mea culpa, we weren't clear; how could we have made part of the TOS more visible for you?' and follow up with a request for input on which situations the customer feels shouldn't be subject to the fee increase (e.g., a temporary viral article as they mentioned)

The article author's complaint barely registers for me as this is something I handle daily; I cannot even imagine the scale you're judging on if this is a toxic customer for you.

As someone who has and still run a SaaS product, I’m amazed at the number of HN people saying this is a toxic/bad customer. This is an incredibly low bar for “toxic”.

Apparently for some here, making a post where he made a legitimate complaint made him toxic just because it’s on Twitter? Twitter has become a standard way for some people to communicate with companies or to vent frustrations whether you like it or not. Deal with it instead of calling them an “ahole”.

Well I'm not sure if I consider the complaint legitimate (it legitimately is a complaint, but I'm not sure how valid it is ;) ) but I agree this is normal now. This is how people vent.

A few minutes to just absorb the venting for something everyone complains about (pricing) goes a long way at very little cost

Plenty of good customers take a grievance to social media immediately. We are emotional animals. If you are using angry tweets as your signal for what makes a bad customer, you're going to lose a lot of good customers to the competition willing to see past the initial emotions and get to the root of the problem. Solving your customers' problems is pretty much what keeps you in business.

Taking grievances to social media immediately is generally wise because it is often the only way to solve an issue (sadly).

In addition it warns the other potential customers of the issue.

> The CEO was right to "fire" him as a customer

He wasn’t right at all. The customer was still paying, and was still making use of the service.

Why in hells name did he take that twitter post to mean that the customer wanted to cancel.

Firing a customer over social media disagreements is a worse PR problem than the original post.

Negative feedback is how I improve stuff. I mention the value of negative feedback, here: https://littlegreenviper.com/miscellany/the-road-most-travel...

Similarly, if a customer complains about Apple or Google, in a way that's "immediately" to social media, you think they're a troublemaker who isn't worth the grief and it'd be right if the CEO fires them as a customer?

There’s a world of difference between the two cases, though. There’s a fairly wide line between a first complaint about your business practices and a customer who’s an actual drain on your business and distracts from your business plan.

I don't think there is any excuse for how Ghost.org terminated an account like this. Maybe they have a fancy TOS, but the bottom line here is that they destroyed somebody else's work/investment/value, and apparently only because they didn't like the customer's behavior. In a (functioning) state of law, that should means you've just fucked yourself.

Maybe there's more to this story (there often is) and maybe the author is a class act himself, but that shouldn't change that Ghost.org should be liable for doing damage, if that indeed is for no valid reason (as it appears thus far).

One thing I do know for certain .. I wouldn't touch this company with a ten feet pole after this .. and if I had been an investor, I'd seriously reconsider that investment.

It’s not a “fancy TOS”. Almost all terms of service for almost every service online reserve the right to terminate service at any time, with or without cause. It’s just like at will employment, or any other voluntary association.

Either party can revoke consent at any time. If the customer can close their account at any time without notice, why shouldn’t the operator be able to as well?

The service did nothing wrong. They’re not a backup service, and if a customer ends up being more of a headache (either financial, emotional, or simply just time/attention) than the operator deems their custom worth, they have EVERY RIGHT to opt out of future transactions.

Furthermore, the customer explicitly agreed to this when they signed up. Even if they hadn’t, though, it is entirely reasonable for either party to the business relationship to be able to say, at any time, “this isn’t working for me, let’s stop.”

That’s how consent works in real life outside of business contracts, too.

Yeah, I agree that ghost likely hasn't violated any business/legal contracts. That said, they've certainly violated an implicit social contract for the behavior expected from service providers of their type.

So to say "The service did nothing wrong."... is correct but only in a technical, legally correct sense.

There is no social contract besides the legal one. The legal contract says it is the full and complete agreement between the parties. There is no other reasonable expectation besides what is said explicitly in the contract.

The term “social contract” refers to the implicit agreement we have with people with whom we do not have an explicit, written agreement. This one was specified in writing, in full.

There is absolutely both a legal and a social contract in play here. That's not unusual, either. In almost any situation involving cooperation between humans, the participants are implicitly agreeing to a larger or different set of terms than may be specified in any legal contracts. These contracts are even sometimes contradictory.

If someone violates a legal contract you have the right to get back damages via the legal system. Similarly, if someone violates a social contract you have the right to respond via social means, for example, by writing and disseminating a blog post detailing your negative experiences.

This is a SaaS business, kicking someone out of the service because of something he said once on twitter is beyond ridiculous. This shouldn't ever have been a thought that crosses his mind.

The CEO has done massive harm to his company's reputation.

The customer was also right, IMO.

The practice of not stopping you from service if you go over your limits and than charging you is a good one, but only for things the user can't control - traffic is a good example.

For a limit a user actively needs to exceed - such as number of users - there should always be a warning at the very least. Not doing so is shady.

On top of that, the CEO of Ghost (John O'Nolan) publicly calling a paying customer an "ahole" is completely unacceptable.

"fairly polite" email, eh? That's actually a very reasonable business practice of asking then charging instead of just making a site go dark.

The Ghost CEO should have taken the higher road and there's no excuse for expunging your site but you were definitely being a dick first. I won't be using Ghost and I would try to avoid having you as a customer as well.

I don’t think the argument was that he wanted the site to go dark. The author wanted them to block out offending features until the account was upgraded with purpose. Maybe an upsell screen overlay when he tried to add another staff member.

“To add more staff you need to upgrade your account, upgrade with 1 click here”

I don’t agree that it’s “shady” but you can already tell that it would negatively affect conversion to directly inform people of what they’re doing, rather than waiting for them to do it and then automatically upgrading them.

If you charge on some unknown, like requests per second, then it’s better to allow the user to set an upper bound on finances anyway.

> I don’t think the argument was that he wanted the site to go dark.

There was an explicit dispute over this. The original email from Ghost was concerned with the number of active staff users, and the customer is definitely right that Ghost just shouldn't allow excess staff users rather than allowing them and then automatically increasing your bill.

But the two plans in question don't differ only by the permitted number of active staff users. They also differ by the permitted number of page views per month. And the customer explicitly asked "what happens if I post something that exceeds the number of page views allowed for my plan?".

So yes, the question of whether the site should go dark is very much in play.

> I don’t agree that it’s “shady” but you can already tell that it would negatively affect conversion to directly inform people of what they’re doing, rather than waiting for them to do it and then automatically upgrading them.

"shady" is an understatement, not an overstatement.

"If we auto-upgrade, there will be people who miss it or will be too apathetic or procrastinating to fix it, therefore better conversion rates" is on the bad side of "shady".

On the other hand, this gives a week or two (if not a month) to seed your site with a bunch of staff members and still be charged for a basic plan, once your site is done.

Still you're right that such warnings should not be side-channeled via email, but that can be just a mistake of a product design, not an intended tactic.

Ok, maybe shady implies intent that we couldn't possibly know. The approach is absolutely a dark pattern, intentional or not.

Either way, the CEOs response is such a giant red flag that any one who sees it should seriously reconsider doing business with him. He seems genuinely unstable.

  “To add more staff you need to upgrade your account, upgrade with 1 click here”
Can a Ghost user comment as to what you are told in the process of adding a rate-exceeding feature? Does it warn you that "this will result in a category upgrade if it persists over 7 days" or whatever?

The author talks about going viral. He also says that these higher plan features should just be disabled. To me that appears to mean that he wants his site to go dark if he goes over traffic limits.

Here's what Ghost does if you go over your traffic limits:

> Average views per month

> Views refer to the number of requests to your site each month. These are tracked much like an analytics 'pageview' - and are incremented with each page or API request.

> We never disable sites for traffic spikes, so no need to worry about the front page of Reddit or HN. If you exceed your limit consistently on a 3 month rolling average, we'll just let you know that you need to upgrade.

I think this is pretty good? It would be better if they allowed the user to set a hard limit in advance.

>> We never disable sites for traffic spikes, so no need to worry about the front page of Reddit or HN. If you exceed your limit consistently on a 3 month rolling average, we'll just let you know that you need to upgrade.

> I think this is pretty good? It would be better if they allowed the user to set a hard limit in advance.

I agree that that's pretty good, although it still leaves you vulnerable to a page that goes viral enough to get triple the number of allowed views. That will block your 3-month rolling average for 3 months, but if your monthly traffic looks like this:

    Month 1:  50k views
    Month 2:  50k views
    Month 3: 400k views - no big deal, sometimes surges happen
    Month 4:  50k views - you know, you're starting to push your limits...
    Month 5:  50k views - OK, at this point, we need you to upgrade
At that point, the demand to upgrade looks pretty strange.

How else am I supposed to read his tweet? He asked what happens if his site goes viral directly after asking for the extra users feature to be blocked. I think it's ridiculous to look for some finely grained charging scheme from a start up.

This transaction was never authorized and no proper consent was gathered.

Remind me to never use anything you make.

Not sure you you are addressing, but if it's Ghost, then I'm 99% certain that you agreed to this behavior when you signed up for the service.

Yes and that's not informed consent

A mutually agreed contract where both parties have an opportunity to review the terms before agreeing is pretty much the gold standard of informed consent.

A one click eula is not a mutually agreed contract for most non lawyer use of that term.

I agree.

There is, however, a world of difference between a 1-click eula and a paid service agreement, where one has, at the minimum, voluntarily entered payment information to engage in a transaction.

Giving someone money is a far higher explicit endorsement/agreement to terms than a one-click eula.

Companies can’t win here unless they put a prohibitive number of onboarding questions at the start.

Many businesses would complain about the lost business if it didn’t automatically scale to meet demand.

Then there are the cost capped users who would rather the site be disabled due to over usage.

The problem here was that the user didn't consent to scaling. They thought they were paying one rate, and got an email telling them they were paying another.

Completely agree. I think it's worse actually. It's not even about scaling. It's about having more staff users on the account.

> I was expected to stay on top of them or risk an automatic “upgrade” from $36 to $99 for having an extra staff user on my website? I had forgotten about this, but why not just block me from adding them?

So looks like Ghost allows you to add more members freely, does not warn or tell you anything when you do it, but then only tells you that you'll be upgraded automatically via email later? (It's partly a rhetorical question, but I genuinely don't know how it works).

Yes, that definitely seems to be what they do, and I understand why that frustrated the user. I think the CEO should have taken the frustration as feedback, even though the user wasn't very tactful on Twitter.

The user wasn't very tactful on Twitter but the CEO ramped that up to maximum levels with calling the user an "ahole"..

Yeah, he really did, that wasn't awesome.

  the user didn't consent to scaling
They didn't have to agree to TOS when onboarding?


I think that's a fair argument for things like external requests made to the site. For the number of admin users you have, there's no reason not to prompt you at the moment you add those admin users that you're going over plan though.

I just commented below to a sibling comment, but as far as I understand it, it's not about scaling here actually. It's about staff members.

But even if we talk about scaling here, As you noted different people will have different expectations. Some will prefer to get charged more and handle the extra traffic. Others will be the polar opposite and will prefer to cap unless they give explicit consent to upgrade.

I don't think you can avoid asking about it.

Isn't the question: 'do you want to enable some form of autoscaling?' the only one necessary here? How many other questions need to be asked? Sure - you can ask more if they select yes but otherwise that's the end of it, no?

It's a simple yes or no question if you want to handle it in onboarding. And loads of successful companies have tiered plans with hard limits.

Why can't the CEO talk to the client more politely? Even with a kick ass product, most companies call centers take time to assist frustrated and angry clients. If the client is unreasonable, simply send a formal email explaining termination procedures but don't call them assholes.

Not everyone can have Twitter clapbacks like Wendy's

I know what you mean here, because the difference is that Wendy's Twitter is obviously humorous. Wendy's throwing shade on McDonald's or Burger King via mic drops, roasts, tongue-in-cheek microaggressions and even savage burns doesn't rise to the level of serious abuse dished out by a CEO of a company to one of its customers.

> That's actually a very reasonable business practice of asking then charging instead of just making a site go dark.

They're not asking then charging, they're telling and charging. It's absolutely not a reasonable business practice to just bump you up to a different plan without explicit agreement.

Even less so since there's no "going dark" here, as TFA notes this was about adding extra staff users to manage the system, why not block these extra users with a paywall, why let them go through then send a mail indicating the account will automatically get upgraded?

But talking about going dark, as TFA asks and got no answer for: what happens if one of your posts suddenly gets popular, does ghost just keep upgrading your plan until you fit within the limits? Can you find yourself with a bill in the thousands through no fault of your own?

  they're telling and charging
No, they're warning and not charging unless the over use exceeds a full week.

I think it’s reasonable for some of their limits - the obvious one being that they limit views on the lower tier and you’d probably rather be upgraded than have your site go dark. But for things like this number of staff users there’s no reason to let you go ahead and create more accounts on the lower plan. If you want more staff users then upgrade, but until you do you can’t create any more.

My guess is they just use the same system to track all the limits without really thinking about how well it works for different ones.

The CEO literally called him an "ahole" in a public Tweet. If anyone is a "dick" it's the CEO. The customer was very polite compared to that.

Post Apathy OP here -

I was definitely being an ass when I first tweeted about it (IIRC, this was after I e-mailed them). I was generally frustrated with some wider issues around building my website so I decided to blow some steam by tweeting about it. I actually thought "that was too harsh" considering I had nothing but praise for how user-friendly Ghost was (and how great Ghost support was - shoutout to Sarah, whoever you are, you shouldn't be there).

The one thing you don't expect is that a CEO of a company would take the annoyance of an account with circa.350 followers seriously and respond with what is apparently vitriolic rage, not only cussing me out, but then immediately going to shut my website down even though I was talking to a support rep at Ghost about upgrading and getting migration underway.

The main problems are this:

1. An automatic upgrade within 7 days that triples in price is sleazy, there's no two ways to look at it. I don't know if it's an American thing, but in Europe, a company would be crucified for doing this. You always have offer and acceptance before agreeing to something. It would be very easy for Ghost to simply put a popup stating "you cannot add more staff users as you are on the basic plan - please upgrade here to do so". Again, no excuses here, it's clear that some customers are being caught out by these automatic charges, judging by the dozen people that have expressed similar issues with Ghost since I published my post. So much for being a non-profit.

2. Something I forgot to add to the story - the main reason I went over the 2 staff users I was permitted to have on my account was because I had invited Ghost support in as a staff user to help with migration. This made me really annoyed as I had some friends on to help with setting up the website and I had to kick them to avoid being charged triple - for bringing Ghost in to help with some stuff.

3. The CEO going from cussing on twitter to deleting my website (all within 15mins, as I was working on it) is unacceptable, again, from any POV. The people here talking about this being an acceptable practice to deal with "toxic customers" have clearly never actually been in a customer-facing role. You wouldn't last in such a position if you dealt with every disgruntled customer in such a manner. Stop LARPing.

Anyway, that's my side. I understand the cynical mood of Hacker News so I won't say more and let the people here make up their own minds.

Feel free to subscribe to the Post Apathy newsletter. I promise you it's enriching.

> An automatic upgrade within 7 days that triples in price is sleazy, there's no two ways to look at it

There are two ways to look at it. I use a tool that reports errors in my web app. After one of releases we started receiving a lot of errors and we reached the maximum on our plan. What would the proper response be? To just block all the incoming error reports until end of the month? Or maybe to send me an email saying "hey, you've reached your limit, if this continues we'll upgrade you to higher plan automatically"? There's no clear answer here, that depends on your context (I used the app for work and having proper error reports was more important than the cost for me), but there are two ways to look at it.

> respond with what is apparently vitriolic rage

not defending CEO's response (it was very inappropriate), aren't you doing the same right now? You're retweeting stuff like "F* Ghost and F* their CEO" with their accounts tagged.

I can definitely see why having soft limits for error reports and views is acceptable and perhaps encouraged. But this complaint was about the soft limit on staff accounts; adding new members requires active engagement which would be a perfect place to inform users that they are going over the limits. And asking for a warning on such actions or a hard limit is definitely reasonable, but they instead chose to just send a warning email knowing that emails could be and are overlooked(perhaps to increase conversion) - which is definitively shady.


> If this was necessary, other website builders would be doing this

I didn't said it was necessary, I've only said there are 2 ways to look at.

> you are the same!!

Again, something I didn't say. I said you are doing the same about the "vitrolic rage" response, not about deleting the site.

CEO's actions were inappropriate and unprofessional, and I do not defend him here, it is unacceptable to delete client's content (and as I wrote in another comment under this post, it makes me feel uneasy as their client).

What I'm saying is that this whole thing blew out of proportion and neither action justified the next one - the email didn't justify the outrage; the outrage didn't justify deleting content; deleting content didn't justify spreading hateful tweets.

Interestingly, Ghost has a Code of Conduct:


Wonder if that fits in somewhere, on either side?

I don't think Codes of Conduct actually stop dedicated assholes but actually help them. The assholes know the letter of the law and then toe it perfectly while forcing their less well versed victim to step across it.

"1. An automatic upgrade within 7 days that triples in price is sleazy, there's no two ways to look at it. I don't know if it's an American thing"

Since the Ghost Foundation is based out of Singapore and the terms of service state that any disagreements are subject to the jurisdiction of the Courts of Wales and England I would say it isn't an American thing.

My bank provide me with a "e-card" functionality (I can create virtual VISA card with a definite amount of money on it). It is so useful to deal with this new trend of automatically opt-in subscription. If you try to charge me without my consent, the card will just block. Some company even try to send their collection people at me, but I usually remind them that those shady contract where you pay more without any confirmation on your side won't stand in a European court :)

I read the comments before the article and going by the defenders of the CEO, I expected the user to be well and truly in the wrong. But wow, nowhere near. They were a paying customer and far from a free-loader. The dispute was over staff accounts which are surely a non-factor in server load and other costs to Ghost. The user wrote an aggressive email that would take five seconds for support to kill-with-kindness in response, the same content in a tweet, and lost their work.

I can only assume there is more to the story or the CEO was having a particularly frustrating/upsetting day because otherwise this is a pretty dodgy response.

>I can only assume there is more to the story or the CEO was having a particularly frustrating/upsetting day because otherwise this is a pretty dodgy response.

Another post in this discussion notes that this isn't the first time the CEO has acted this way over petty things.

I don't think either party comes out especially well here, but my sympathies lie with the CEO. The only thing I might have done differently would be to include a tarball of the site in the "Sorry it was not a good fit" email, thereby avoiding the accusation of wasted work.

If I'm providing a service and someone has a problem with it, I expect them to look to resolve it with me first, before tweeting about "shady practices".

Added in edit: People seem to think I believe the CEO acted well and that I'm defending him. I don't, and I'm not. But neither party comes out well from this, and I can see why the CEO acted as he did, even if I think it was flawed.

Yeah, neither party looks good here, but my sympathies doesn't lie with Ghost (nor the CEO).

The user complained about something, then the company deleted his content? Feels like it's missing something in the middle. Why would Ghost simply delete his website because he's complaining? Feels like they are making the decision for him, instead of just leaving things as they are, and if the user doesn't upgrade, then they don't.

> If I'm providing a service and someone has a problem with it, I expect them to look to resolve it with me first, before tweeting about "shady practices".

Yeah, you might want to readjust your expectation if you ever end up running a service on the internet. This happens _constantly_ and if you start feeling you need to delete users content when this happens, then please don't run a service for public usage.

I think the thing in the middle is taking to Twitter to complain immediately, rather than giving the company time to respond. One piece of advice constantly given to people who run businesses is to delete/remove/get rid of problem customers. In this case the CEO has decided - rightly or wrongly - that this customer is likely to be more trouble than they are worth. So the CEO has refunded his money and terminated the service.

What's wrong is simply deleting the data/site. All the data should have been returned to the (now ex-)customer.

> ...please don't run a service for public usage.

I run multiple services, and I expect people to give me a chance to resolve problems before taking to Twitter. If they don't then I contact them to express my disappointment that they haven't done so, and then I have, on occasion, refunded people, returned their data, and terminated their service.

Admittedly my communities aren't the public in general, but I do have some relevant experience.

Comments here are clearly divided, and it gives me pause to consider how many people are commenting as those who have, and those who have never, had to deal with customers.

> I think the thing in the middle is taking to Twitter to complain immediately

What I meant is that flow of the events seem to have been something like:

- User received notification about impeding upgrade

- User replies to Ghost and tweets about the event

- CEO replies on Twitter

- ??? (Here it feels like some information is missing)

- Ghost terminates the users service

I cannot fathom that a user complains once via Twitter, and Ghost terminates their account. Has to be something else that have happened, otherwise this is way beyond crazy to do (from Ghosts side)

> I run multiple services, and I expect people to give me a chance to resolve problems before taking to Twitter. If they don't then I contact them to express my disappointment that they haven't done so, and then I have, on occasion, refunded people, returned their data, and terminated their service.

Same here, with lots of people complaining about bunch of different things and I have never, paying user or not, terminated their service unless I've asked before if I can terminate it or not.

Interesting to see that there are others who simply terminate users service when the user complains (gives feedback), wonder how that impacts the bottom line?

I've said elsewhere that I've never terminated services purely because the customer complains, and I've never done it without notice. I think the CEO gets that wrong. As I said, neither party comes out of this looking good.

But I have certainly terminated services from one side, without asking permission, after trying multiple times to resolve the issues.

If people complaining about your company on Twitter as a first resort is a problem for you, perhaps you’re not cut out to run a big company, because it happens to all of them.

The Ghost CEO might as well have just put out an advert saying “We’re not ready to compete with Wordpress.”

> I have, on occasion, refunded people, returned their data, and terminated their service.

You have terminated a customer's account without notice because they made a complaint?

Did I say without notice? No.

I have not terminated someone's account without notice. I have always first tried to find out what the problem is so we can resolve it. But when someone has raised an issue, not given us time to resolve or even investigate, and then accused us publicly of inappropriate behaviour, I've contacted them to say that I think it better we go separate ways, returned their data, refunded their money, and gave them 48 hours before considering the issue closed.

We (you and I) probably agree that the CEO did not get it entirely right, and certainly I would not have done what he did. But in this situation, where neither party comes off looking good, my sympathies still lie somewhat with the CEO.

Wow, I don't think I could ever really trust a service that thinks making a complaint on social media is a valid reason to terminate someone's account. It feels unprofessional (I can't think of a major company I've ever heard doing this) and makes me wonder what other reasons the CEO might find to terminate my account. I (like the author) never in a million years would have guessed that making a complaint on social media (a channel commonly used to get support) would be grounds for my account being terminated.

Please note: I'm not saying the CEO got it completely right, I'm trying to provide a different perspective.

So ...

It wasn't just making the complaint on social media that got the response, it was the wording of the original email as well. Already in that email he has said:

> This is an extremely shady business practice ...


> ... makes me question my commitment to moving to Ghost.

I think the CEO got it wrong, yes, but as I said, I have some sympathy.

> I ... never in a million years would have guessed that making a complaint on social media ... would be grounds for my account being terminated.

You might want to double-check the fine-print on some of the services you use. Often there's a clause about "publicly disparaging the service provider" or similar.

Let me finish by saying I think the CEO acted wrongly, but I have some sympathy.

Neither is someone saying you're saying the CEO got everything right. The issue is that you're still feeling sympathy for the CEO, even though you believe he did wrong (and also the author, but less important).

> You might want to double-check the fine-print on some of the services you use. Often there's a clause about "publicly disparaging the service provider" or similar.

Yeah, ToS and similar usually have language like that + "we can terminate your service for any reason, without telling you", but companies who do terminate peoples service for any reason, without justifying it, will rightly get less business because it´s a shitty thing to do. Just because it´s legal doesn´t mean it´s right.

> Neither is someone saying you're saying the CEO got everything right.

It does feel like that. Perhaps it's not being said out loud, but there is a sense that that's what people think/mean. But you're right, no one has said that explicitly.

> The issue is that you're still feeling sympathy for the CEO, even though you believe he did wrong

The implication there is that if someone does something wrong, somehow you're not allowed to understand their motivations and sympathise, even if you don't agree. I find that disappointing, but I'm getting used to being disappointed by people.

>> ... the fine-print ...

> ... companies who do terminate people's service for any reason, without justifying it, will rightly get less business because it's a shitty thing to do. Just because it's legal doesn't mean it's right.


Most people who "deal with customers" have a boss who would be upset with them if they responded to people getting angry on Twitter by taking their ball and going home.

The tweet doesn't contain the "shady practices" wording you quote. Critising is normal when you have a bad experience and if you don't expect it, you're going to be very very disappointed when you launch a product that actually has a few users.

You are correct, "shady practices" is wording from his email, not his tweets.

His tweets say things like:

> How can it be fiercely independent publishing and a "non-profit" with such practices?


> Ghost operates a very sleazy "auto upgrade" practice.

Both parties handled it with emotion and childishness.

The CEO should not have acted the way he did. No excuses for what he did.

I wanted to be careful before blaming OP but after reading his blog post, he did not send a polite email to begin with and then on top of that, he immediately complained on Twitter and even accused them of shady practice. He went too far. Sorry OP, an email that starts with "This is an extremely shady business practice and makes me question my commitment to moving to Ghost" is NOT a polite email, whether you are right or wrong. A Polite email would have been "I am a little surprised receiving this email from you guys and wasn't aware of this rule you guys have. Can I get more time to think about this since I am not sure I want to pay that kind of money" etc etc.

On top of that, OP says "I also decided to tweet about it - because that’s what people do, right?". No OP. People don't do that by default. Good customers try to work it out with the business first. They wait for a first response. They give them a little benefit of doubt before making judgements. If you cannot resolve it together in a friendly way and you feel you have been wronged, go ahead and rant on Twitter by all means. But it was a knee jerk reaction on OP's part to post on twitter which accused Ghost. No business likes these types of customers. Of course, the CEO had an equally if not worse response and now Ghost deserves all the negative press. This doesn't absolve OP's immature reaction. I cannot agree with their tactic.

Why is a company entitled to having customers that give the benefit of the doubt, try to work out something, and act in private before making public statements?

The owner of the blog felt like the billing update was shady, sent an email, and complained harshly on Twitter. Regardless of the harshness of the tweet, that is literally a customer wanting to work something out and providing feedback. It's what every company should want. It's even better than working it out privately because Twitter is a public platform that ghost can utilize to make their customer service look better. "We have given you a free 30-day upgrade so you have more time to think about this. In the meantime, we will take your feedback into consideration and discuss this internally. Thank you for being a loyal customer" or whatever corporate-speak ghost wants to partake in.

Cutting the customer off completely, knowing full well that they will then talk about this publicly, is not only the complete opposite of working things out professionally, but works against ghost's public image.

This is the exact kind of customer a company wants. They go public with complaints that can be easily fixed and remedied. It's the easiest form of free goodwill.

> If I'm providing a service and someone has a problem with it, I expect them to look to resolve it with me first, before tweeting about "shady practices".

That’s just someone being frustrated. Maybe its not the right thing to do and a bit rash, but that you will have a few frustrated customers act rash is part of being in business. It doesn’t make the guy look great, but its still not a reason for the CEO to say he looks like an asshole (which IMHO makes him look just as bad, for the same reasons the customer looks bad, as you described it) and then cancel his account without warning (which is just outright an asshole move).

I agree entirely that it's wrong for the CEO to tweet that the customer looks like an asshole, and I agree entirely that simply terminating the account without further warning or interaction is wrong. I'm not defending the CEO, and I never said that I was.

I'm saying that I have some sympathy for them. Clearly a lesson I need to take away from this is that expressing sympathy for someone is taken ipso facto as complete agreement.

So let's say again, neither party comes out looking good, I think both parties have behaved less well than they should, and the CEO should not have terminated the account without more interaction.

But I have more sympathy for the CEO than the customer, which is not the same as saying that I agree with their actions, nor that I support them.

That sounds reasonable.

Really? I'm rather gobsmacked to find someone defending this.

I'd be interested to hear more ... why do you find this so surprising? People running businesses are constantly told "Keep good customers, identify and get rid of toxic ones." That appears to be exactly what the CEO has done here. As I say elsewhere, rightly or wrongly he has decided that this customer will be more trouble than they are worth, so he has refunded his money and terminated the service.

To me the indefensible thing is not returning the customers data, but other than this, why do you find it so unreasonable that a vendor should choose to terminate a service? It seems to be in the Ts and Cs of every (nearly) service I use.

So on that basis, can you explain why you think the CEOs behaviour is indefensible?

> "Keep good customers, identify and get rid of toxic ones."

This quote right here doesn't mean that if someone is saying "you have a good service" or "you have a terrible service" once is "good customer" vs "toxic customer". One message doesn't allow you to extrapolate the full situation, what if the user was simply having a bad day?

Now, if you have a user that constantly is being a drain on customer support or otherwise ruins the business, sure, go ahead. But just because you send one email about the pricing and bitch a bit on Twitter, you get your service terminated? That's super petty, and not at all what I would expect of a company like Ghost.

I think the CEO stepped in and made a judgement that the customer was not going to be worth it. I'm not saying the call was the right one.

Everyone here seems to think I believe the CEO acted perfectly correctly and that I'm defending him. I don't, and I'm not. I'm saying both parties come out of this looking bad, but I can at least understand the CEOs actions, and even if I don't actually approve of them, I have some sympathy.

BTW: I suspect we are not far apart here, the difference might be in the nuance. We both believe the termination without warning was petty, we both believe that there are such things as "bad" customers and "toxic" customers. We both believe that both parties behaved badly. The question is whether either or both deserve any sympathy.

But more importantly ... what lessons should we take from this?

* As a customer?

* As a provider?

I see. I think your comment which includes "and then I have, on occasion, refunded people, returned their data, and terminated their service." makes it seem like you have acted the same way as Ghosts CEO did here, terminating the service without asking if that's what the user wants before, and you were fine with acting in that way, but seems I misunderstood you.

I have personally no interest in figuring out if anyone deserves sympathy here, I simply want to make sure that other founders and CEOs reading HN don't believe that terminating someones service willy nilly is perfectly fine, because complaining once on Twitter makes you a "toxic" user.

Customers who immediately try to raise a mob on social media whenever they encounter the slightest issue are toxic customers, there's no way around it. There should be a list of such customers for companies to filter them out of their business when possible, ideally at signup. I know multiple small companies that would gladly pay for this service. Market for a new startup?

Blame all the big corporations who provide minimal customer service through anything except getting their attention on Twitter.

I think OP comes across as a bit of an asshole. They send a fairly confrontational email and didn't even wait for a response before taking their dirty laundry to Twitter.

I disagree with Ghost taking down the site without more discussion, but I do think their original practice of giving the user the benefit of the doubt and allowing the use of upgraded features without upfront payment to be generally good. I think OP's complaint could probably be addressed through the UI (though I don't know what that looks like presently).

That's the difference between being a company and a person. The threshold for an entity taking money for a service to be publically highlighted is lower than for a person behaving badly

Agreed, both appear unprofessional here, I don't sympathise with either any more than two children I might walk past bickering in a playground.

Instead of emailing about 'shady business practices' off the bat, why not just ask the question? 'Please limit my account to the features of tier X rather than autoupgrade me'.

Instead of tweeting, wait for an email response. Then if necessary, again just ask the question: 'uh, what if it goes viral and I break 100k limit too?'.

Then the CEO, well, why's he even getting involved, just ignore it. If he must reply on Twitter, why not just answer the question about what happens on the 100k limit? Why not apologise that autoupgrade wasn't desired and say (even if bullshit) you're grateful for the feedback and it'll be reviewed? Certainly don't start calling customers 'asshole's on the internet.

But.. the tweet seemingly had no traction (so maybe it didn't matter!) but what was 'what are you on about [...] asshole' even supposed to achieve?

Just seems so petty, on both sides...

There is no expectation that customers be professional. There is no profession, no salary, and no stakeholders. The failure here is almost all with the one professional involved: the CEO.

My expectation is that the customer who writes a more professional/courteous/mature email will be the one more likely to see a better outcome.

The CEO of Ghost did not ever call his ex-customer an asshole, though.

In the quoted tweet in the submitted post the CEO says:

> "Kicking a screaming on Twitter doesn't actually accomplish anything other than making you look like an asshole."


In a legal context, the ruling is often on the basis of how "the average person" would interpret something, and not on the minutiae of what you think the exact semantics are. Given that, it's likely that "the average person" would interpret the CEO's remark as, to all intents and purposes, calling the OP an asshole.

This is why (a) it's a gamble "going legal", because the interpretation the judges make might not be what you expect, and (b) nitpicking like this is unhelpful and unconstructive.

You're playing semantics and it's making you look like a pedantic loser.

I know you won't take offense to this, because I never called you a pedantic loser.

Is this correct?

It is, especially in a legal framework, and it means I probably won't win if I sue you for writing that sentence. Do you have a point?

Ok, my mistake. But nobody's suing anybody for calling anybody an asshole here. What I actually said:

> Certainly don't start calling customers 'asshole's on the internet.

is not materially changed if I had not missed the edit window and instead said 'do not start saying your customers look like assholes on the internet'.

Basically just don't say 'asshole'.

Same and there are costs involved in hosting and automatically billing for bandwidth is generally preferred by customers to shutting down the site when it goes viral. It's also the standard in the industry. If you link a credit card and agree to a pay-for-what-you-use plan, then yeah, you'll pay for what you use.

I can see very strong use cases for each approach - can it not be an option? I mean, if the advice is "just keep an eye on it and cut the service yourself once you get close to the limit" then surely "how about I throw you a dollar a month to do that for me, since it's far more efficient that way?" seems reasonable. The people who are at most risk here are those with the least means - it just seems quite unnecessarily unfair.

I would have simply ignored the tweet instead of attending it in a rude manner. Many people rage tweet and it's expected when they are frustrated.

If Sundar Pichai started banning hners for everytime they compain about Google here, half of HN would lose access to google services.

Don't ignore the tweet: yes people may be unhappy, but it's an opportunity to offer an explanation and a solution! Then you can win a happy customer, and also "win" the internet (ie. many more customers) as the tweet is going to stay and be found through search

Agreed, a complaint is a gift can help you in so many ways. Often better than never knowing why a customer just upped and left.

This is indefensible, and terrible for Ghost's reputation. Both you and the CEO should be groveling. This was a huge mistake. Please think of the actual engineers, designers, and everyone else who works on this product, who are probably facepalming over this. What a horrible representation of one's work. Hopefully you can still sympathize with them, along with the customer.

(The withholding and potential destruction of data and IP, not the tweeting).

Fully agree. Both parties should have handled it better, but I can understand the CEO. Entitled customers who immediately complain on social media are people you should avoid whenever possible.

Yeah, I'd also side with the CEO in terms of his Twitter reply, but not with shutting the site down. I think the OP going to complain on Twitter is going overboard; it's not as though he didn't get any warning at all before being upgraded and he is using features that he's expected to pay for.

I'm not a "startup" guy. I've worked at many places and I've helped a lot of SMB's turn around their company with only a decently designed website and some better customer service.

One thing I have always said is that you can have a million good reviews. But it will be only one that will be the downfall of your company.

This reminds me of that. This was an opportunity to fix what the user was complaining about. Instead the CEO's behavior clearly shows what kind of support to expect when you're unhappy with the service. I've complained publicly about gmail before, never would I think I would have my account removed and data deleted by the CEO. "LIKE US OR I WILL BAN YOU!"

Ghost uses one of my GitHub apps [1][2] that I wrote in my free time after their CTO asked me to do it [3], and I wonder how would their CEO feel if I would ban them because I condemn wiping customer data in retaliation for being criticized in public.

Even if they decide to fire a customer, they should have notified them and let them export their data. Harming your customer's business because they criticized you is likely illegal, no matter how twisted your terms of service are, and I hope they will get sued for what they've done.

[1] https://github.com/dessant/label-actions

[2] https://github.com/TryGhost/Ghost/blob/master/.github/label-...

[3] https://github.com/dessant/support-requests/issues/6

It looks like the CEO of Ghost has a history of booting customers when they criticize them in public.


Interesting, so there are at least two occurrences now then. I must admit this is why I like self-hosting services.

Ghost seems to be trying to compete with WordPress, but if this is how they approach customer service and people talking about their service, I don't see businesses moving over.

A business' web presence is an important asset, I'd be reluctant to let a third party have control of this, but even moreso for someone that cuts users off from service for criticising the company.

Ghost once messed up my site, and they promptly gave me a refund when I closed my account, which was nice.

My 404 is still holding a grudge, though :-P


OP here -

Thankfully, later on, they did send me a win.rar file of data. Not sure how to use it since I'm not a techie. Asking some friends to help me unpack and restart.

I wonder what would the CEO reply if you asked him for help with it now :)

Please report them to your local consumer protection agency, and if you have the resources, sue them for damages. This is the only way corporate abuse can be kept in check.

Stop acting like an American.

Depending on jurisdiction, booting a paying customer in this manner can be illegal, and the terms of service cannot be used as a shield for breaking the law.

Encouraging others to stand up for their rights in not a uniquely American trait.

Sue them for what exactly? OP went over the limits of his plan, publicly shamed the company for doing nothing wrong, got refunded and got his data back.

Ghost did fine, in my opinion.

They've terminated the customer's account before the 7 day upgrade window has lapsed, which has caused disruption to their business.

What do the terms and conditions allow? That’s the important question here

Out of curiosity I went and read their terms: https://ghost.org/terms/

Of course it says we can terminate your account at any time (immediately and no notice required), like many services do.

But, I noticed there's nothing in these terms about the automatic plan changes. So you've raised a good question: did ghost violate their own terms of service each time they "helpfully" upgraded a customer's plan without their express permission?

And worse, they have a no refunds policy... so they change your plan, then refuse any refunds. Maybe that's not a big problem for a small plan change, but considering the plan change isn't defined, it could be for literally any amount, with no approval from the customer.

And just to preempt the idea this agreement is elsewhere, their terms have an entire agreement provision, which states the terms are the entire agreement, and can only be modified by changing the terms or a "written amendment signed by an authorized executive of Ghost Foundation"... which the email notice does not qualify as since it's not signed.

The EULA spells out what is legal, not what is or isn't considered acceptable in society. For a business to arbitrarily remove their customer's data may be entirely legal, but it's a very shitty thing to do, and that business shouldn't expect many customers if it goes around acting like that all the time.

> The EULA spells out what is legal, not what is or isn't considered acceptable in society.

The question that was asked was:

> Sue them for what exactly?

So the EULA spelling out what is legal is the relevant factor when answering that question.

In this cases it not the EULA but rather the service contract that is the most relevant document. The same law that binds you to pay a contract once agreed on binds the other party to deliver. A refund does not automatically free the provider from the contract, through its a good step.

An EULA can try to side step this but it depend on how the agreement was made, when, what information was provided before agreement, and so on. There is also a bunch of laws for consumer protection and Fair Business Practices, and it depend on where the people involved is located.

Not really, it's entirely possible for an EULA to have unenforceable terms, i.e. where they contradict applicable law. Not a good practice! But also not that uncommon.

No, the EULA spells out what a given company allows with their product. Between that and something that's legally enforceable there's a huge leap.

The problem is the automatic (huge) recurring upcharge when you go over the limit, which doesn't seem sensible. It's much more reasonable to just not let you go above 2 staff users until you upgrade, or to let you have them for some time and then automatically remove the most recent 2 staff users if you don't upgrade in time, or show you a prompt when you log in to the admin panel forcing you to either upgrade or remove 2 staff members. This is how almost any other company would do it.

If for some reason they don't want to do these reasonable things, at the very least the onus is on them to make you accept a big red confirmation prompt when adding a third staff user saying "Warning: This is a premium feature. Your plan will now be upgraded to the $99/month tier, and you'll be charged $99/month beginning on [date]. Accept / Deny". They don't even do this, though.

Without a doubt, some or many customers have gotten surprise charges due to this. Warning about it once via email 7 days in advance is a bare minimum; that email will inevitably be missed by many and they may be silently upcharged for months (unless there's also a blatant notice in the UI, in which case you're probably only on the hook for just one or two months; which is still pretty bad). And this is likely deliberate and perhaps even a specific strategy on their part. This is what the OP was trying to say and warn people about.

I agree with them that this is a shady practice. It's a startup / subscriber model dark pattern. It's not that far off from and in some ways even more deceptive than companies that rely on making most of their money from customers who forget to cancel during trials or discount periods.

This isn't some pay-by-resource-usage thing like AWS, where the responsibility largely and (usually) rightfully falls on you to examine pricing and anticipate or prevent big increases in your bill. It'll still happen to some customers, but when it does, it's (generally) not AWS being shady.

And it's not something like Cloudflare where going over the limit incurs some concrete additional cost for the company; the 2 staff member limit is completely artificial and arbitrary. It's perfectly reasonable to have as a limit to encourage upgrading, but it's not reasonable to have lying in wait as a potential trap to unknowingly, near-silently fall into.

Most users of Ghost probably do not expect anything like this behavior at all and probably have not used any other service that operates like this, so I expect some or many have been caught blind-sided.

And on top of that, the CEO had absolutely no justification to cancel their account out of the blue, and then (if I understand correctly) only give them access to their data after a social media outcry. It was blatantly done in retaliation and anger. Maybe the OP's initial tone was a little too hostile, but I probably would've had a similar emotional knee-jerk reaction shortly after I saw this and considered the impact to other unsuspecting users, and I think it's absolutely a shady business practice even if it's perhaps not "extremely" shady, as they stated.

Legally, the customer may or may not have any grounds, but ethically, I think the company and CEO are in the wrong, here.

> publicly shamed the company for doing nothing wrong

Maybe we have a different understanding of what "wrong" means.

Ghost's CEO is very thin-skinned and has a hard time dealing with criticism [0].

[0] - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11104430

I understand your frustration, but your Github app is MIT licensed. You can't ban them from using the code on their own servers (although if they're using a hosted version on your servers, sure you could ban them from that).

You could re-license a future version as proprietary and ban them from using that.

But personally, I feel like it's a tiny bit dangerous to even joke about adding moral clauses to Open Source licenses.

GitHub apps are hosted services, and I maintain a public instance on a server. I obviously wouldn't ban them, but it is in my right, and this has nothing to do with the license of the project.

I've meant to illustrate how abusive their attitude is towards their users by drawing a comparison and putting them in their customer's shoes.

Although for their users it's even worse, because they appear to be booting paying customers that have an expectation of service continuity, not users of a free service.

I was once infatuated with the digital nomad "community". One day, I came across a twitter thread where he (the "ceo" of ghost) and other prominent members of that community were engaged in a harassment campaign against customer service representatives of a local airline for delaying one of their flights. What I found particularly revealing was that they used various families with kids that were also waiting as a front for their own complaints, as in "How dare you make these families wait?", when in fact they meant "How dare you make _us_ wait?". I found that pretty gutless, and my admiration for this "community" began to wane as a result. Long story short, I'm not at all surprised questionable business practices and mistreatment of customers sprung from there.

>engaged in a harassment campaign against customer service representatives of a local airline for delaying one of their flights

Did the airline do him right by cancelling and refunding his ticket without being asked to?

Customer service agents aren't your personal punching bag and they usually have limited power to rectify the situation. The person in CS who was receiving that complaint could hardly force the plane to depart.

... and leaving them stranded where ever they were, banning them from flying with them again? Most likely not, airlines are staffed with professionals, not emotional teenagers.

Do you have source?

I am curious.

In my opinion, Ghost made a mistake in terminating the service without prior notice (although I think it would be okay for them to do so with prior notice). The terms of the service allow doing so for any reason, but that's no justification. In fact, having such a term is a good reason to avoid Ghost.

Also, I find it interesting that Ghost didn't answer "What happens if an article goes viral and it breaks the 100k views boundary? Automatic charge?" question. The pricing page provides a reasonable response here.

> We never disable sites for traffic spikes, so no need to worry about the front page of Reddit or HN. If you exceed your limit consistently on a 3 month rolling average, we'll just let you know that you need to upgrade.

They forgot to add “unless our CEO doesn’t like your tweet. In that case we immediately delete your website.”

> The terms of the service allow doing so for any reason, but that's no justification. In fact, having such a term is a good reason to avoid Ghost.

This is a standard condition in most ToS: we can kick you out for any reason whatsoever.

Not really. I checked AWS ToS and it explicitly lists conditions when you can be kicked without prior notice (the illegal content that disrupts or threatens the Services or in accordance with applicable law or any judicial, regulatory or other governmental order or request, repeat infringers in appropriate circumstances). Generally you will have 2 business days to fix violations of AWS policies.

I went ahead and checked ToS parts of all the big clouds and you are correct. Most have clauses to notify you before suspending the services unless [disruption]. I checked the consumer subscription services I use and they don't have such clause in theirs.

He said "most" not "AWS"

I can’t understand the CEO’s decision. This is valuable feedback on their practices. Yes the customer is angry but that should be okay! Imagine if professionals in other areas would behave the same (like doctors for example)... Behavior like this will lead to customers being scared to criticize Ghost. This is the opposite of what the team at Ghost should want.

Someone should not be regarded as a bad customer for complaining once. A bad customer should be defined as someone who over a longer time frame costs resources. And also only after talking to them and not being able to find common ground.

The web never forgets :-)

Wow, I'm surprised that so many call OP rude or a bad customer. What exactly did OP do wrong? I think his mistake was tagging CEO on Twitter, that's what costed him a website.

How many times do you argue with regular employees in a retail shop or over a phone? Obviously, it shouldn't happen, but it happens and you don't get kicked out of a shop. Here OP wasn't happy about auto upgrade, called out CEO on it, got his site deleted, wtf?

I personally think he could've handled this is in a much nicer way, calling a business shady or saying they screw over clients instantly sets the precedent that you're trying to attack them. If he just asked them what would happen when his website goes viral, I'm sure he would've gotten a proper response.

The CEO definitely wasn't as professional as he should've been, but I'm not sure how I would feel when someone calls my business shady or says I'm screwing over clients over what might have been a misunderstanding.

Well it's is kinda of shady for B2C market, where every cent counts for the customers.

There is no way easy way to explain why it's done this way, because it's obviously made on purpose to earn more $$.

What's the alternative tho? In the case his website goes viral, is Ghost supposed to just shut down the website when it reaches its limits? Sending a notice that you'll be upgraded in 7 days if your usage continues seems like a fair deal. (Perhaps it could be 30 days, but then Ghost is also just giving away their product for free)

The way I see it, there are two numbers:

- active stuff users, that could be solved by adding new ones only after an upgrade

- views/month - this one is harder to fix, I think it should be selectable by the user how to deal with it.

He asked what would happen if he went viral, and his site was deleted without that question being answered. They appear to have a policy for that situation that would've likely appeased the customer so it should've been trivial to respond with that.

It would be standard practice to disable the "add staff" button after two users and alert the user to upgrade options. I can't think of a service that doesn't operate like this, actually.

He did, while including that they're trying to screw over clients, and implying they're a shady business in his email. Again, he could've asked this without making these accusations.

I agree, they should've disabled the "add staff" button.

He expressed his disapproval of one particular practice and I don't blame him. I think it's a shady feature too - getting people accustomed to a feature above their plan and then default-upgrading unless they take a particular step.

They have a solid policy for traffic spikes which is to be commended, but with something like adding staff, which is an active user decision, I think the method is reminiscent of dark patterns which this community tends to resent.

When your first response is to shittalk the vendor on social media rather than contact them through normal channels, you're likely to be a net-negative customer.

His shitpost tweet timestamp was 07:21; his screenshot of his email says it was sent at 13:29. Maybe time zone accounts for some disparity, but there was certainly no attempt to allow a response before shitposting.

How exactly was it a shit shit talk?

So it's okay to only praise executives over social media, but you can't say anything else? That's stupid.

The CEO needs to see his psychologist. I’m neither being sarcastic nor being provocative, but as a CEO when you find yourself calling your paying customer an asshole and deleting their website over a tweet, it’s time you look back at what you have become.

Probably he is in too much stress due to the pandemic, or he has developed too much of a “I’m the CEO, bitch!” attitude. In either case, Ghost as a company should take care of that guy to stay in business.

Well said. I’m sure he felt justified, but it was an angry/impulsive/self-righteous thing to do. He needs help, particularly for the sake of the other members of the company who rely on him not to act like this.

Whether you believe you’re being non-sarcastic and non-provocative, please keep internet psychiatric diagnosis off this forum.


I am sorry; I hadn’t come across dang’s replies ever (and I am not able to edit my comment because of the replies). I’m not diagnosing him as a mentally ill. As a CEO of a startup myself I gave my opinion about being conscious about behavioral changes and act on time. But yeah, I realized I could have not said that.

Don't forget that you're only seeing one side of this story.

Your armchair psychologict assessment is off-putting for everyone who is in therapy.

Your comment is off-putting to the guidelines of Hacker news. https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

Yours as well, then.

Nah. User was an ass, company is in no obligation to keep serving them, kicked them out.

You're not entitled to having access to Ghost.org. you can even selfhost if the technology choice is what makes you stay.

The only thing Ghost should do is hand him over a backup of his data.

Not really. I'm sure they probably have something in their ToS that covers such kicking but even so, a paying customer is entitled to having access to the site, no?

Being unhappy with a service doesn't mean you get your subscription cancelled.

Yes, Ghost.org hasn't done anything illegal, but that doesn't mean that they haven't done anything wrong. That's a very superficial way to look at it.

Right. That doesn't really attract me to host on their service however, if they might just delete your website at any time.

All fine, but surely it doesn't make Ghost look good.

I was on the fence with the author's behavior but I re-read the issue -

The author could add a staff member without being on a new plan. This is really shady. If your product has pricing tiers, then PLEASE do not let people get features without accepting to pay in the first place.

Here is the pricing page: https://ghost.org/pricing/

This does not seem like a per-user pricing, which would give Ghost a benefit of doubt. This is clear tiers that consumer has to explicitly buy.

I'd be very interested in their take on this. This is totally unlike John and I'd hope someone on his team would intervene if he were to act in such a manner.

But I'm still surprised that someone signs up for a specific plan, exceeds the plan's limitations, gets 7 days off warning, and is then openly complaining about that practice, as if it were the first time a company ever had that business model. You don't sign up for AWS and then don't get to create resources unless you top up your account first.

Of course Ghost could add such a feature, but how many of their customers are asking for it? From the looks of it, not many.

It's also funny how he was ready to spend hundreds of dollars on his project, but the people who host it, maintain it and make sure it's highly available don't deserve more of his money, despite him exceeding the maximum amount of users of the plan he chose. Instead, he complains about a totally fair warning of 7 days before he even gets charged more. "What if I didn't read my email in 7 days" is like saying that you don't open your physical mailbox regularly and you don't deserve to get a warning for a due invoice. If you do business online, read your mail.

I'm curious how John or Ghost will react. I'm sure there's more to this story.

The pricing doesn't scale linearly, this is an upgrade because he exceeded single metric (staff users). If it scaled linearly, it would have gone from $29 to $43.50 - not $99. This practice is a dark pattern. There isn't a single mainstream service out there that pulls this type of shit without catching flak for it - the likes of AT&T, etc.

This is a poorly implemented feature where they claim to "Only pay for what you actually use, never worry about traffic spikes"[0] .. but you have to read into each plan to see the other metrics this applies to. Works great for users who over-subscribe but terribly for those who don't.

Ghost should be doing this manually for users who don't exceed their bandwidth caps - there's no charge for them, and they're just going to be eating any good will they had from the community (which up until recently was pretty good). Just bar access to additional staff accounts. They're being called out for poor tiering and upgrade practices, the 7 day notice is laughable when they even talk about 3 month rolling averages in the front.


Neither side looks good here, but it sure is bad business for ghost to do this, it kinda makes me immediately exclude using their services for anything.

As a paid Ghost.org user this makes me feel a bit uneasy. I realize that's just a one case and maybe the only one ever; also I wouldn't use such a harsh tone as OP in the email and on Twitter (maybe it's not the best way to handle pricing of staff users, but I wouldn't call it "extremely shady").

Still, the fact that CEO could just jump in and delete my site makes me concerned. Do I need to regularly back up all my content in case it gets suddenly deleted?

You should always have a copy of your own data.


Without exception

Your service provider may get hacked and lose all their data, or may have a disk failure and lose all their data, or abruptly go into administration and have your data inaccessible.

Why would you not have a copy of your data? 8TB disks are cheap, buy 3 and rotate them. "rsync" is quick and efficient.

You should always have a copy of your own data.

Yeah, you're totally right!

I think what I tried to say is that normally I have certain trust that the company managing my data has their own backup, so my own backup is kind of a last resort. While if they delete my data on purpose, then my backup is the only option left.

I think the Ghost response should've been toned down a lot, but I also disagree with the author that the initial behavior was "shady".

There are loads of services that charge you when you use more than the pre-defines limits of your current pricing tier and don't just shut you down. That's not shady at all. I don't think I've ever seen anyone else complain [edit]that this is sleazy[/edit] for any service, much less Ghost.

I have mixed feelings about exposing features to users without a clear demarcation of what's included in the current plan and what's not - and then auto upgrading if they haven't paid attention to email notices. I think I'll side with the user here - especially since he's a paying customer.

People complain about this all the time. AWS is the most common example that comes to mind.

You're right, I meant complain that it is "shady" or "sleazy". People get annoyed by a lack of hard limits you can set, but it's not "shady" – you are literally paying for your usage of the product. It's not like they're making you pay for something you're not using (which is when I would start to call something "shady").

I consider AWS' almost indecipherable usage billing to be shady. I very much doubt I'm alone. It's next to impossible to predict your AWS usage bill for anything beyond a very basic setup.

What's annoying is the solution is a simple radio button: bill me for what I use or stop my service when I go over limits.

Who does it benefit to not have that hard limit? The customer or business? The answer is why it feels shady.

AWS isn't psychic. They don't know what you're going to use, so of course they can't predict what it will cost.

Their fees are out there in the open, if you know how much you are going to use AWS it is actually trivially to calculate how much it will cost you.

They even have price calculators.

Also, not having an option doesn't mean a company has intentionally done that because it benefits them.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact