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Jason Fried: Get Satisfaction is "awfully close to blackmail" (37signals.com)
291 points by ionfish on Mar 31, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 142 comments

I think it's quite bad form to publicly attack another company like this without discussing it in private first. I see no indication that there was any communication between 37Signals and GetSatisfaction prior to this very public post.

I've had this kind of thing done to me before, and I think it's really out of order. Essentially, 37Signals have decided, in this case, to trade politeness and "being good" for making a big noise and getting some page views and attention.

It's easy to criticise people publicly without trying to understand what's going on first. I'd love to say that I expected better from 37-Signals, but considering that their blog has been so focused on generating page views through negative disagreement, I'm not all that surprised that they do this as well.

Here's a challenge for 37-signals: Why not try to do positive things, rather than frame everything as a confrontational disagreement? Yes, being an arse generates page views, but so do other undesirable behaviour. Is that really the way you want to go in the long term?

I think it's quite bad form to publicly attack another company like this without discussing it in private first.

Whereas I think a public statement of outrage is entirely justified. Take a look at the screenshot. GetSatisfaction has been collecting feedback under the 37signals name for at least a month. Those people who typed messages into GetSatisfaction expecting a response have been disappointed for a while. Anyone who randomly came across that page and saw lots of months-old issues -- but no post from 37signals itself -- has been subliminally convinced that 37signals never gets around to answering their mail.

This is not a theoretical issue. I believe this group of confused visitors includes me. I think I remember clicking through to this page, being puzzled by the lack of back-and-forth, and then surfing away -- not consciously angry, but feeling lost and a bit let down. This incident, and others like it, is not a trivial matter. This sort of thing is costing the company money.

How is 37signals to solve this PR problem, which GetSatisfaction has intentionally inflicted on their company, except by making a big, immediate, loud public fuss? Ideally, this message needs to reach every single person who has ever visited that page on GetSatisfaction.

If GetSatisfaction doesn't want to get into confrontational disagreements, perhaps they should have avoided designing a system that automatically trashes the public image of other companies.

Loud public fuss is usually a reasonable backup plan if asking them to change doesn't work, but starting off by asking people to resolve something lends you credibility because you've tried to resolve things amicably. If you want to put a squeeze on them, you can add, "Or we're going to lambaste you in our popular blog."

But starting off that way is just obnoxious. Granted, as noted, being obnoxious drives page views.

Loud public fuss is usually a reasonable backup plan if asking them to change doesn't work.

You still haven't grasped the problem. I'm sure that 37signals could easily have used quiet channels to remove the offending pages, messages, and marketing copy on GetSatisfaction.

But that would not have reached me. Up until three hours ago I was wandering through the world, with a faint memory of the time that I followed a Google link to a 37signals support page and found nothing but a ghost town. To counteract that bad impression, they need me to hear that it wasn't their fault, and they want me -- a potential future customer -- to know that they take their reputation very seriously.

I suppose they didn't have to put up a blog post. They could have filed a lawsuit, or obtained an injunction, and then publicized that instead. Would that have been more polite?

You knowing that that support page solves the problem for you but not for 37 Signals, or for GetSatisfaction. And that's the problem with airing dirty laundry in public. It would have been much better for Jason to reach out to Lane and talk to them about this first, as this approach makes creates adversity.

It is called etiquette-- it is also called allowing your opponent a way out. A cornered opponent always fights harder. Fortunately for Jason, the GetSatisfaction folks are obsessed with listening and responding. They drink their own kool-aid. But had it been anybody else, this could have ended really poorly.

"And that's the problem with airing dirty laundry in public."

That's GS's mission, of course.

"Fortunately for Jason, the GetSatisfaction folks are obsessed with listening and responding."

No. Fortunately for GS, 37S started off with a public complaint and GS chose to respond quickly. "Cornered" or not, GS really had nothing to stand on if they'd opted to leave things untouched and 37S had taken the legal route.

They're not scrambling to make "customers" happy, they're scrambling to avoid a company with deep pockets and a bored legal team from noticing this little story, going to GS, and seeing "My Litigious Company's Customer Support Page".

Not every wrong in the world needs to be righted. Sometimes righting an old wrong creates a new wrong. Personally, I find new wrongs to be more costly than old ones.

Not to mention that this way of addressing it has no doubt created some new enemies. Sure, it looks like some of the stuff from GetSatisfaction is a bit shadey, but do you really want them as an enemy over it? If you loudly called my startup extortionist and mafia like, I'd be more than a little pissed off, even if I had screwed up.

The startup world seems too small to want to create that kind of karma.

But again, if the post had said, "Hi folks, just to let you know, the GetSatisfaction page for 37s is not official and we've worked something out with them where they'll now offer an option to all companies to redirect to their real support page and will ask permission to use logos in the future and tone down the language." it wouldn't have been the top story on HN.

Would those down-voting comments please take the time to reply explaining why?

GetSatisfaction's opening line in the "conversation" was: "We will be using your trademarks and collateral to imply that you are not interested in supporting your customers." GetSatisfaction had already lambasted 37 Signals.

How did GetSatisfaction, and you, reasonably expect the conversation to proceed from there? Gentle pleading on 37 Signals part? What???

Remember getsatisfaction provides a public front for YOUR company. Why shouldn't they discuss it in the public. They are discussing YOUR business in public, without your permission, and trying to come off as legit.

It's a nice way to profit from a bad situation. Added would be a pack of lawyers with rows of razor-sharp teeth and large dorsal fins.

People have disagreements and confrontation all the time.

Mature people resolve those potential conflicts through calm discussion.

Immature people resort to attacking the people they disagree with.

I was surprised this 37s post didn't end with "and this is why on March 31, 2009 we filed suit against Get Satisfaction for trademark infringement and unjust enrichment". That they don't seem to have done that hurts your argument that they're being immature.

Also, calling 37signals out for going straight to the public seems like an exceptionally weak criticism in this case. GS is trading on inserting themselves into the public conversation about companies they have nothing to do with. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

On the flip side, a company like Get Satisfaction that is pushing for open dialog on support issues should be perfectly comfortable eating their own dog food here. 37Signals made what I believe to be a legitimate public complaint, Get Satisfaction made what I believe to be a quick and acceptable public response. I suppose the only loss here is that this wasn't handled on Get Satisfaction's own support site.

Why should it have to be handled on Get Satisfaction's support site?

It would improve PR for them.

Why does anyone owe GS good PR out of this?

When the harm caused is largely that of public image, I think a public explanation is a reasonable response.


Totally OT, but aren't posts like this and other similar "I agree" posts redundant? I thought that's what the little up-mod button was for? This feels like clutter to me.

Isn't "this feels like clutter to me" what the down-mod button is for?

I don't think so unless it's pointlessly clutter (e.g. "amen"). In general I reserve voting something below 1 for things that are offensive or contain zero content.

I did down-mod it, but I see it often enough that I wanted to bring it up and see if I was misunderstanding something.

I'm in the camp that says 37Signals have a valid point. Let's assume their intention is not about traffic but is to pressure GetSatisfaction into rectifying the situation as quickly as possible (and not just for 37Signals) then as harsh as the post may have been:

1) 37Signals have used their considerable influence to achieve change on behalf of many sites who have far less influence 2) 37Signals used the open model of putting pressure on a company publicly that GetSatisfaction have built their business on 3) They've effected change and created open discussion

Could they have been 'nicer'? Perhaps. But more effective, I'm not so sure...

Bullshit (will probably get a downmod or two for my vehemence).

If Jason Fried dropped them a note saying, "I almost hit PUBLISH on the following rant-style post, but I wanted to drop you guys a line first", they would've jumped just as far, just as fast.

It would've cost him exactly NOTHING to give it a day or two on private channels before posting a rant other than the time it took to find a contact form and hit "ctrl-V".

Public rants are fun. Causing public harm to someone who has slighted you is gratifying. Getting a reaction from supporters and an apology from the rant-target is gratifying. That's the motivation of this post. Self-gratification. I generally love 37s, but not here.

Pretty disappointing.

Except that other folks on the web would have no idea this was going on. A private e-mail likely results in a private response (changing the wording on 37signals's get satisfaction page). A public exposure gets things changed... as it did.

The fact is that GS got caught with their hands in the cookie jar. To think that the wording on that banner was not carefully considered is just plain naive.

The 37 signals post is spot on. They where attempting to increase their conversion by strong-arming businesses into signing up. It didn't make it on to the site by accident. They changed the wording to something rather harsh, and received a commiserate reply in return.

I hope they've learned their lesson, as I rather like their product.

I dunno if you've ever worked in a small startup, but to think that all wording that gets out the door gets vetted all the time is just ridiculous. My startup is pretty careful, but we've gotten caught with mistakes or even placeholder content once or twice. Chances are, some lowbie at the company said, "Oh, this will improve the text, I bet. I'll make sure to bring it up in the next design review".

If a private communication as I described would've resulted in change (it would've), what extra benefit do we get out of turning it into an expose'? If it's a big monolithic evil company, I get the concept of a public spanking. But if it's a small startup, can't we give people just a LITTLE benefit of the doubt and try the polite path first?

I'm currently at my third.

Even if it was placeholder content it had been on the site for more than a week, on every single non-paying customers page. That's not something that just slips by. This isn't a typo in the terms of service, it's a marketing tool.

Give me a break. Your never going to convince me this was a simple mistake.

Enjo, I back your position on this 100%. Dodgy, intentional marketing tactic from GS - no doubt about it.

It's rather irrelevant if it was intentional or not - the damage is still very real. If you accidentally shoot someones head off, you're still accountable for the action. Of course there's a difference in how to handle the mistake (murder-one or manslaughter?), but the question of responsibility remains the same. If GS handles this matter well (And so far they seem to), they might get away with some minor damage done to their own reputation, but that's not Jason' fault - That's their own.

It's not like it's an either/or decision to send a private email or post an accusatory blog post. They could have simply tried the mature way first and then posted publicly if that didn't work.

In fact, the public post would probably have had even more impact if they had been able to say "We contacted GetSatisfaction to work with them but they wouldn't cooperate." As it is, it just reads like another one of 37signal's invented controversies designed to garner page views.


As if Fried couldn't have posted the article after an interaction w/ Get Satisfaction. But then it would be a good example of quick customer service, as opposed to a hatchet job.

it would be a good example of quick customer service

37signals were not and are not customers of Get Satisfaction.

So? Clearly some of their users are.

I'm surprised to hear you take this position. If I set up a website with pages for companies including RescueTime, collected security vulnerability reports, provided statistics about them, included your logo and a comment about your commitment to secure software development, I'd expect to hear from your lawyers.

Well, if you didn't otherwise appear like an asshole, you'd hear from me first. If we couldn't come to some accord, I'd weigh the lawyer involvement with the time investment that it'd require to compel you to be more reasonable.

How about this: what's an honest answer about how pissed you'd be if:

(1) I was the top Google search result for "RescueTime security"

(2) That page linked to a site where I collected security reports from end-users.

(3) That page had your logo on it.

(4) That page had copy that might suggest RescueTime didn't take the security of your customer's data seriously.

We've established that you'd come talk to me first (actually, by your wording, we've establish that I'd be hearing from your lawyer). But how upset would you be?

Why are you creating a hypothetical situation about security? Seems like a hypothetical situation about customer support would be more appropriate. The answer is (for customer support)-- moderately. But the question is: What's the goal with a response? To make them suffer? Or to fix it? How does it benefit my business to invest extra time/money to make another company suffer?

I think the grown up / smart way to respond to feeling pissed off/slighted isn't what 37s did. And it's not calling a lawyer. Or not at first.

If it was important to my business that the issue fix itself, I'd way the costs and benefits of assorted actions. Easiest thing is to pick up the phone and take 15 minutes to politely explain our position and ask for a timeframe for resolution. If didn't feel that was going to solve the issue, I'd go the expose' route (which, as someone else mentioned-- carries a lot more weight if you can say, "I privately asked them to fix it and they pretty much told me to fuck off"). If that didn't work, I'd decide whether it was worth the $300 to spin up a form letter from my lawyer. And if that didn't work, I'd decide whether it was worth it to spin up a lawsuit (in terms of time and money).

Being "pissed off" shouldn't enter into business decisions. But, again-- I don't think 37s' decision to take this public immediately was not motivated by anything but self-gratification (unless you want to go meta and credit them for a great linkbait play).

What's the goal with a response?

As I've said elsewhere in this thread: To reach the people -- potentially thousands of people -- who cared enough to type the name of your company into a search engine, but who then read some misleading but official-looking information, came away thinking that your company is kind of lame, and will never be heard of again unless you act.

Just because your prospective customers are invisible to you doesn't mean that they don't matter.

No, I was saying: "What is 37s trying to achieve with a response?"

I think the correct answer is: "To get GS to make the site look less official/confusing and a bit less insulting".

If that's the goal, which gets their business there faster? A 15 minute phone call or a well-worded 1 hour rant on the blog?

I TOTALLY agree that GS is confusing, especially for novice users. In fact, I'll go farther and say that the changes they are making aren't enough to fix that. They need to change the page titles/descriptions so that they are obviously 3rd party in the SERP.

In short, I agree with the offense. I'm not sure about intent/malice. Because of that, I think the response falls into the self-gratifying torch-and-pitchfork vigilantism that plays so well on the internet. Humanity should be better than that and give companies the benefit of the doubt unless they have obvious malicious intent and/or a track record of evil.

For all we know, a call to GS could've gotten a response of: "Ya know-- we never looked at it that way and have been so darn focused on stuff that I think we didn't see the forest for the trees."

"To get GS to make the site look less official/confusing and bit less insulting" is only part of the answer.

The other part, as mechanical_fish has elqouently pointed out above, is to reach present/past/potential customers of 37s who were mislead by GS into thinking that 37s does not answer customer questions. Contacting GS alone would not have solved the damage GS already did. It was not enough for 37s to prevent future abuse, but also to turn back the damage already done in the past.

You left "deterring future companies who think this is a smart play" out of the calculus there.

Being able to manage "feeling upset" is generally considered a good thing, no? Or are we supposed to give in to our feelings every time we feel upset?

I'm trying to separate the legitimacy of 37signals' complaint --- which I care about --- from the "level of maturity" shown by their response. I don't care about that at all. Why would it? How does it affect me?

How does it affect me?

First of all, you also run a start-up, so it affects you because they might turn on you next, for some slight misunderstanding.

Secondly, it affects you as a customer, because people who act immaturely rarely do so in a single area. They might treat you, as a customer, with a similar level of immaturity, if you tick them off.

You walk on a very thin rope here. I don't at all buy the 'slight misunderstanding' thing concerning the case they had.

The damage to 37signals image could have been very real. Even if it wasn't done purposedly.

What is more important is, i don't get why you see 37signals as the porentially harmful actor here. If i had a startup i would be very happy that 37signals did the job to stop this company to potentially harm My work too !

Also the argument that this public response is gonna 'harm' getsatisfaction in anyway doesn't hold up at all. At the very worse, this is bad publicity, and if they're smart they can still turn that around easily.

Personally, I'm struck by the premise that Get Satisfaction, of all people, are being wronged by people publicly airing real, acknowledged grievances against them.

"I almost hit PUBLISH on the following rant-style post, but I wanted to drop you guys a line first"

No, that would have been extortion in the form of: "Nice place you got here. Be a shame if anything happened to it." In case you missed it, coersion is what is being railed against.

There is a world of difference between responding to public criticism and responding on threat of public criticism.

- Hey - you are stealing my sutff! - Oh, you noticed? Sorry, I will stop now. I will go steal someone else's stuff then.

This is not to equate GS actions with stealing, but merely to demonstrate a fault in your reasoning.

Getting a reaction from supporters and an apology from the rant-target is gratifying. That's the motivation of this post. Self-gratification.

I've got to admit, I've done this before to a much larger company than GetSatisfaction with a much smaller blog than 37signals' and this was part of my motivation for doing so.

I don't understand why you weren't upmodded more, you were 100% correct on this point.

I've been complaining about this for a while now and I'd tend to agree here. The whole getsatisfaction service is sort of like a blackmail scheme to start out with: They try hard to attract all of your users to their site, to be the "Weebly support forum", and then users are disappointed when their requests aren't answered.

What's most annoying is that GetSatisfaction has a strong selection bias towards the users who have problems, and so it very negatively affects the image of the company. There is no way to respond to those users or fix their problems besides buying into the whole scam and doing support on their site.

FYI, their support system has so much more overhead than the one we use internally that I'd estimate our support costs would increase 2-3X by moving all of our support into their system.

That they have a valid point is not in question. GS themselves have acknowledged it and immediately fixed the offending badges and pages.

My point is, the way they handled conveying that point to GetSatisfaction was nasty, brutish, and totally unwarranted.

That they have a valid point is not in question.

totally unwarranted

If you agree that Jason's point is valid, I don't see how you can think his response was unwarranted.

Jason did not appear to believe GetSatisfaction simply slipped up. Instead he accused them of extortion! His response was in line with this belief and only unwarranted if you disagree with his point.

That they have a valid point does not mean that all their points were valid.

Valid point: GS wording is bad.

Invalid point: GS are evil extortionists.

Both can coexist in the same post.

That they have a valid point is not in question.

Should I have taken that to mean: "That some of the very minor points he made were valid is not in question."?

Clearly the takeaway from his post was not that he disagreed with the wording.

What? Some random guys put nonsense like "37 signals is not committed blah blah blah" and 37signals should be polite with those bastards? And in case you missed the news, 37signals' main income is not ads on their blog, they have pretty successful web app business. Posting that for "generating page views" sounds ridiculous if you know at least a bit about the company which posted it.

Right, because none of their customers came from their blog :/

If I were them, I would have send an email asking for the page to be removed, and moved on.

It's also bad form to publicly masquerade as an official support forum for a company without discussing it in private first.

37signals public response seems commensurate with the amount of private discussion GetSatisfaction appears to have had with 37signals about placing that badge on their fake support page.

Did you discuss this in private with 37signals before attacking them in public?

I think the extortion was pretty blatant, and the counterattack was proportionate.

The BS response given by GetSatisfaction's people is so bad it proves the point.

DHH wrote a comment that I really agree with: "Brian, that language adequately reflects the feeling we have when we discover a site that is accepting questions and requests from users who expect an answer there - and will be disappointed when they don’t get it - is taunting the conversation with words like we haven’t committed to an open conversation and then have a price tag to make that go away.

GS’ is certainly helping to turn that image by being quick to respond here, but that doesn’t really change how the situation arose."

I think it might have been more polite to privately discuss this with GetSatisfaction first, but this needed to be discussed publicly.

The only difference between an official support page and an unofficial support page is the added announcement at the top that says the page is unofficial.

The official support pages also says it is supported by employees, but I don't really know what that means by itself. Does it mean that the product is only supported through Get Satisfaction, or does it only mean that company employees read the questions there?

Just check out the pages for officially supported products and unofficially supported products. Photosynth is only officially supported by GetSatisfication. The NY Times has its own customer support. The only big difference I see is that the NY Times has the added message that it is unofficial.


NY Times:http://getsatisfaction.com/nytimes

GS is advertising itself as a one stop customer support solution.If I believe that a company solely uses GS and try to contact that company, I am going to treat any response as an official response.

With 14k+ plus support pages on GS, I am sure that there are a few companies out there that don't even know they have a GS page. So if GS is not clearly saying that those pages are unofficial, any lack of correspondence will hurt that company.

GS was basically hijacking some companies customer service. If I have a problem with a product, and I incorrectly believe that I am being ignored, the company will end up worse off. At the minimum, I will seriously consider not buying from that company again, and I might mention my bad experience to other people I know. And if my problem was severe, I might think of filing a chargeback.

I really doubt 37Signals spends a lot of time scouring the internet looking for people infringing on their IP. So probably this was brought to their attention by their own customers. So while they could have go about this in a less confrontational manner, I really don't think they were being an arse. This problem deserved public attention.

The handful of times I've contacted getsatisfaction, they've responded quickly and like a startup that cares about its customers and what they think. I agree this could have been emailed first.

Agreed. Pretty bad form to not email first with concerns/questions etc.

But as you say, if they had resolved it privately, people wouldn't be reading about it on their blog.

37signals absolutely has a valid point and I agree with their decision to make this public so all can be aware of the tactics being employed by GS.

FYI-GS is using the same type of extortion that the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has used since inception to scare companies into becoming a paid member.  The general public has no idea how dishonest many of these client attainment methods really are.

I had no idea about the BBB. Can you tell us more?

Here's an intro article: http://yourbiz.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2008/05/13/996827.aspx

But the sentiment is pretty clear: you can pay to stay in the BBB's good graces. If you're naturally OK, you should be fine, but if you're bad, you can pay to get OK.

Well, you don't necessarily have to pay. Just that your local BBB will be a lot less annoying if you do, and they'll also give you a shiny seal of approval and a better grade that doesn't mean squat.

I have no idea why so many people I know are so willing to jump to file complaints with them before some more logical ways to solve a problem...like, oh, calling up the business in question? BBB don't have any authority over businesses and their tactics are annoying on both ends. I've been burned by the BBB from both a business and a customer perspective by being ignored and told to go around in circles and do things I already attempted to do.

What was that issue I had as a customer? The alarm company I went with not providing service, which we discovered after routine monthly testing..can you say negligence? They wouldn't stop billing us and they even billed us for the equipment they gave us originally after we got a new company in to replace everything and told the old company to give us an address to at least send this back, or have someone pick it up (but they never did). The local BBB told us "tough, deal with it, talk to them" even though we filed an online complaint and the old alarm company kept hanging up on us before we could talk to anyone in charge of billing, at the least. So what happened? We sued the company and the owner and the situation ended happily for us, except if you go to the BBB and look up information on this business that still exists, there's nothing bad about it. Good job BBB, really, good job.

The business one was even more preposterous, where the BBB informed me that a customer had a complaint for something that wasn't even our problem, it was user error. She had never told anyone about it, she never called, she never visited again, she just went and filed a bullshit complaint that we went to unreasonable lengths to resolve to her satisfaction. What do we get for dealing with user stupidity? A lower grade on the BBB website? They're insane. You'd be hard pressed to find a business that doesn't hate them, especially smaller ones who don't want to pay extortionate rates for a stupid BBB "approval" when they already provide stellar customer support.

For what it's worth, Thor Muller (Cofounder of Get Satisfaction) responded in the comments and said the wording was a mistake and would be changed immediately:

"Gosh, we messed up on the wording of that badge and are changing it pronto. The wording on that badge was actually intended to explicitly state that the space was NOT OFFICIALLY SANCTIONED by the company, but that doesn’t come off at all. The idea is to encourage openness, and provide a badge for companies that want to be associated with it. This was just unfortunate phrasing (one small part of an ongoing redesign effort), and doesn’t reflect our values, as I think many, many people and companies who’ve used our service can attest."

The text in the badge is/was:

37signals has not yet committed to open conversation about its products and services. Encourage them to join and support the Company-Customer Pact.

I really have a hard time believing that this was an oversight. It is at the top of almost every page. When you consider GetSatisfaction's strategy it is even well written.

I agree. The language was simple and clear. I have difficulty believing language that straight-forward was an accident.

They don't mean accident in that they fell on a keyboard and that came out. They mean accident in that someone wrote it as placeholder (or supposed final) copy and it didn't get reviewed/agreed to by the team before it got launched. Clearly some writer was overzealous and the higher-ups didn't get a chance to read it.

Happens all the time at small startups.

> Happens all the time at small startups.

ORLY? How many layers of management bullshit are there between the decision-makers at Get Satisfaction and the people writing their core message? This is not some random page buried deep within the site, it is top right on most of the pages they are generating.

I have a feeling that what they mean by "accident" is that someone with a voice decided to call them on it...

O Rly.

Have you ever worked at a startup? It's not layers of management. It's a mess of people pushing towards similar goals with a LOT less workflow and oversight than a normal company. Everyone at our 5 person startup has the authority to commit copy to the site. I imagine GS is similar (I think they have ~10ish people). Sometimes it's not great copy. Sometimes it's placeholder copy. Sometimes a user will point out a typo in a prominent place on our site that hasn't been touched for a week-- How could we possibly miss that for two weeks!? <gasp>

" This is not some random page buried deep within the site, it is top right on most of the pages they are generating."

I don't know their QA process, nor do I know the time/date of the commit of this copy change. But I can say that it only shows for companies where the company hasn't "claimed" the forum. So GS folks could've checked their own forum area, and a few customer areas (which were "claimed") and never seen that message. If one employee made the change without discussing it, it'd be very easy to miss. For weeks at a time potentially. I haven't re-read copy on our home page for WEEKS-- for all I know, one of my team changed it.

I agree; also, this seems like the kind of copy that most smart companies would be measuring for conversion.

That badge is/was on every page for companies that haven't set up an account with them - which I assume is a lot. And according to what other commenters here have said, it's been worded as such since launch. I have a hard time believing that the "higher-ups" hadn't read something as ubiquitous as this on their own site.

Also, at a small startup, shouldn't there be very little distance from the writers and the "higher-ups"? In a truly small startup, I would assume the descion-makers are the ones to write the copy.

> That badge is/was on every page for companies that haven't set up an account with them

Yeah, the badge itself is an include in a template, good tools give you great leverage but they amplify your mistakes as much as they magnify your successes.

I could see that being a mistake of the "We didn't think through the consequences of what we were saying.", type.

OTOH I think 37signals is on the right tack by responding publicly because a private conversation would have had to start with a C&D over the use of their trademark in a manner likely to cause confusion.

Actually, according to the founder of the company (and, more importantly, the Internet Archive), that wording changed with their most recent release.

What you say is completely true.

That said: Accept the groveling apology for what it is. GetSatisfaction has passed the first test of customer support: When the customer gets angry, you must grovel, and vice versa:


"GetSatisfaction has passed the first test of customer support", What customer? 37Signals are not a customer, but a victim.

That's true, but this is the internet. Just because the customer is not visible in this exchange doesn't mean that (s)he is not watching.

Not to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but could this have possibly been deliberate? The language in the badge seemed quite unambiguous to me. Could they have done this deliberately, waiting for someone big (and somewhat vocal) like, oh, 37signals to notice and speak up, then swiftly make apologies and correct the "accident"? If this is true, then GetSatisfaction has truly played 37signals, HN and possibly many other sites as news gets around, like a flute. A publicity coup of magnificent (if a tad Machiavellian) proportions.

That badge has been on GetSatisfaction pages for as long as I can remember, at least a year. I find it hard to believe that it could be an oversight.

I have to say that I seem to be completely wrong here. Looking through the Internet Archive, with the previous design it used to say: "Anyone can add a company or organization

Love a company? Or hate one? Add it to Satisfaction!

Is your company or organization already here? Claim it and get involved with your customers."

It would seem as if I'm misremembering because I have spent a disproportionate amount of time on GS the last few weeks. Apologies.

Talking with the GetSatisfaction guys on their Ustream: http://getsatisfaction.tv/

The badge has been up for about 2 weeks according to them. It was deployed with their redesigned header 2 weeks ago.

That's only half of the job. They still don't offer a way to "delist" yourself from GS. Customers will still think GS is providing support for 37Signals and will be disappointed. Even if the badge says it is not an official site many people will not read it.

Some comments in the post compared this to Google, but it is not a valid comparison, as Google offers a very clear way to get yourself out of their index.

Good, and they should never offer a way to delist yourself. GS is almost irrelevant to companies with good customer service - if your service is good enough that you discover your own GS page, then linking to your official support or monitoring it is better than delisting. BUT there are a lot of corps with dire service who like to avoid public discussion rather than deal with their poor service. A magic gag option would be right up their street, and would screw over their customers.

This is what 37S is complaining about - it's borderline defamation.

We switched to UserVoice because GetSatisfaction is often simply broken. Way too many links have just failed.

Try to count the steps for a new user to leave feedback. There must be at least 10.

Our UserVoice widget (http://tipjoy.com/feedback ), also has a really easy email form.

I just logged into our GetSatisfaction account to see if I could direct people to our UserVoice. Nope, can't do it.

Until today, we encouraged people who visited our UserVoice page to go to GS with complaints (the idea was that UserVoice would be for feature requests only). I'm trying to remove that language as a result of today's brouhaha.

EDIT: couldn't figure out how to change it on http://dawdledotcom.uservoice.com but at least we're sending people to UV at http://getsatisfaction.com/dawdle/ .

It's funny that Thor@GS, in the comments, points out that they're continuing to use non-free logo images, on the auspices that they're using them the same way a Wiki would.

It is in fact not easy to use non-free company logo images on Wikipedia:

The tests you have to meet on WP to avoid copyvio include:

* Demonstrable encyclopedic merit (you can't just upload and tag a logo)

* Noncommercial use of the mark

* No dilution of the trademark --- ie, you can't make it appear that the company sanctioned your use of the logo.

Doesn't GS flunk all three of these tests?

Yes they do.

Which is unfortunate, because in some cases they are providing a valuable service.

This is one of those challenges that can make or break a company.

Wikipedia's content policies are a fair deal more strict and paranoid about intellectual property law than the law itself is.

The site also hosts, without permission, company support pages for over 14,000 companies. They’ll use your logo, title the page “Customer service & support for [COMPANY NAME HERE]” and generally make it feel like an officially sanctioned place to get official support from the company in question.

If they're using your company's logo and name, and those are a registered trademark, isn't that grounds for a lawsuit? Isn't this exactly the sort of thing that trademark law is supposed to prevent? (One company purporting to be associated with another when it isn't)

I know there's a reason a I can't make my own cola, slap a Pepsi logo on it and sell it out of the back of my truck. I thought this was it.

Or operate a "Pepsi Helpline", for that matter.

I'm amused at all the "gee, he should have just emailed them" responses. The fact that 37Signals didn't lawyer up to start with was an act of restraint.

The whole point of trademark law is consumer confusion. GetSatisfaction has exposed themselves to an insane amount of legal liability by setting up pages for companies without their permission.

I'm a bit amazed by a lot of these responses. I sympathize with the idea that problems should be worked out with friendliness and civility, but this sort of thing is not a question of etiquette that Fried mishandled. These are actions by Get Satisfaction that could easily lead to serious lawsuits.

I suggest that folks in web businesses who look at this and see the major concern here as the tone of an aggrieved blog post should make sure they have good lawyers to run their ideas by.

I don't have any strong feelings about Get Satisfaction (or any of the other sites like this), but we made http://featurelist.org available for free to anyone who wants a lighter approach to that sort of thing. It focuses a bit more on the feature request side than the technical support pieces, but it might be interesting to some of you.

Once we catch our breath from our other sites, we're going to provide featurelist.org as open source (PHP/CodeIgniter) in case people are hesitant to host their user feedback on someone else's site.

For our own usage, we really just needed a way to track feature requests and have YC-inspired feedback widgets for our own sites. So we opened that service up for everyone to use.

sorry to say, but featurelist.org has a horrible look and feel, although the idea is quite nice.

i'd guess you're a couple of coders -- get a graphic designer on board! (and keep up the work :)

Thanks for commenting.

Featurelist won't appeal to everyone visually, though, neither does Reddit or HN. A lot of our users have liked the simplicity of the site, but it might not be for you.

We're not focusing on the visual aspects (not to the extent we have for bug.gd or yumbunny), so no one should expect a facelift or for it to win any awards. I'm just sharing it here so people know they have other alternatives floating around. To each their own, of course.

Thanks for your feedback.

To prefix all this: I've never really looked in to Get Satisfaction for anything except a couple of random posts on other companies pages there. I can see where 37 Signals is coming from with the whole not being committed to an open conversation thing but I think the whole article is a bit sensational. A guy from Get Satisfaction even jumps in and says they messed up with that badge. They do need to make money some how and targeted ads seem like a good idea for that. It really strikes me as a young company that's just making a couple of mistakes and I don't think they deserved this PR. I wonder if anyone at 37S tried to contact GS before making this post. If they did then it was deserved but if not I'm not so sure.

My issue with the whole thing would be the fact that they use branding, logos, and so forth from a company that they have no business relationship with. Doing so devalues the brand, and should cease immediately.

It would be like going into a storefront that has a UPS Package Store sign, and finding out it's just a counter with a guy that claims to be UPS customer support, but doesn't actually help you out with anything. And then find out it's a different company entirely.

Sounds like fraudulent misrepresentation/impersonation. Good luck if you try to do that with a brand like UPS. They would be down your neck in a second. A cell phone store in my neighborhood got busted by TMobile for misrepresenting themselves as official TMobile resellers. This is no different. Should be grounds for legal action.

Good luck if anyone passes along those URLs to the companies in question. :)

I think having ads and being paid not to have ads is fundamentally different. The latter reminds me of protection payment.

As pointed out above, I have difficulty believing the badge wording is a mistake.

It sounds more like fraud and misrepresentation.

An enterprising lawyer could put together a compelling class action case if only GetSatisfaction's pockets weren't so shallow. I'd like to see them get their asses handed to them for this shit.

You are not the only one. Supposedly someone is offering to pay 25k to a fund in support of a class action lawsuit. http://www.37signals.com/svn/posts/1650-get-satisfaction-or-...

What's the difference between something like this and Yelp? (Why is this bad, and Yelp's not? Is it because people here all have online businesses, and don't want a forum where people could say something bad about them?)

Because when I go to Yelp and look up Morton's Steakhouse in Atlanta GA, I see clearly marked reviews, not "Complaint Department and Feedback for Morton's Steakhouse". I don't see ads for Morton's competitors that only go away if Morton's sends Yelp money.

Seriously, you might find the linked blog post interesting.

"I don't see ads for Morton's competitors that only go away if Morton's sends Yelp money."

Actually, this seems to be exactly what Yelp does:

Here's what advertisers receive, according to an e-mailed sales pitch that a local business owner sent to this newspaper. They can highlight a favorite review to appear at the top of the page about their business. They also show up first in search results for similar businesses in their region (for example "coffee" near "Alameda, CA"). Ads for that business appear on the page of local competitors, while competitors' ads do not appear on their page.


Hmm, then maybe it is as sleazy as GS in that aspect.

Still, I couldn't reasonably end up on a Yelp page and mistake it for a Morton's Steakhouse feedback page. That's the bigger offense.

Yelp is even worse on the extortion front, they have sales guys that make shakedown calls: http://jwz.livejournal.com/1002269.html

Garrett Dimon's comments are the only voice of reason on that page.

Posts like that are useless, yet I'm sure Jason will use all the "I agree, GS is lame" comments from his fan club to validate his reasons for posting.

Thor Muller posts an open letter to Jason Fried:


...and negates 95% of the "he should have been nicer about it" complaints about the original post by saying "And while I would have preferred you sending us a note, or even posting it somewhere less trafficked than your popular blog, the fact is that Get Satisfaction is a huge proponent of public airing of grievances. You were right to bring it to our attention any way you saw fit."

sue them

So GetSatisfaction mildy misrepresents their association with 37Signals and uses their IP without authorization.. and 37Signals counters with a potentially slanderous letter in a public forum? Not exactly a great way to start a dialogue or build a legal case.

Most any other company would first engage with a civil, private, discussion, followed by legal action before firing off a public lambasting as a last resort (a rare event at that.)

There may be some valid points in the post, but whining in public makes you like a fool, to customers, to other businesses and to the public at large. Totally unprofessional.

What was slanderous (or, since it was written, libelous) about anything in the blog post?

Very simply, GS set up web pages where they appeared to represent another company in a detrimental way. That is <i>not</i> something the other company is obligated to quietly request them to stop - they are well within their rights to open up with a cease & desist order, not an annoyed blog post.

A blog post can be classified either as slander or libel, depending on the jurisdiction. Some courts have placed blogs together with other broadcast media and libel law, while others have ruled blogs are part of an ongoing conversation and fall under slander laws.

For starters he implied (and borderline accused) GetSatisfaction of blackmail and extortionist practices.

Libel has to be a lie. Someone harshly laying out their opinion on a business's practices and saying those practices resemble extortion isn't even in the running for libel unless s/he says something factually untrue about those practices. Opinions aren't libelous.

In law, defamation (also called calumny, libel, slander, and vilification) is the communication of a statement that makes a claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that may give an individual, business, product, group, government or nation a negative image. It is often, but not always, a requirement that this claim be false, and, or alternatively, that the publication is made to someone other than the person defamed.

Fried didn't post about the private sex lives of people working for Get Satisfaction. He accurately described their operation and characterized it unfavorably.

While the law differs in other parts of the world, in the United States libel has to involve knowingly false statements meant to give someone a negative image.

Making complaints on one's blog and having the party you're complaining about show up, act highly apologetic, and immediately start rewriting parts of their website to address your complaints is about as far from "defamation" as you can get.

Any statement can be grounds for defamation if it can be proved true or false in a court.

A statement made as a fact (for example "The site also hosts, without permission, company support pages for over 14,000 companies.") is potentially actionable.

By your persistence on this point, I assume you're both British (or otherwise only familiar with UK law) and think UK law is relevant on this point.

It's not.

I'll leave you to ponder the question, "If Fried's complaints in his blog post are 'defamatory', what exactly are all the consumer complaints on Get Satisfaction's site, then?"

For startes GetSatisfaction accused 37s of not caring for their customers. Publicly.

Thor Muller 31 Mar 09

Gosh, we messed up on the wording of that badge and are changing it pronto. The wording on that badge was actually intended to explicitly state that the space was NOT OFFICIALLY SANCTIONED by the company, but that doesn’t come off at all.

According to this DoucheWeasel, GS tried to say that their page about 37signals is not sanctioned/approved by 37signals, but failed.

Instead they ended up implying that 37signals doesn't care about their customers. Whoops.

Have you ever tried to type "This space is not officially sanctioned by 37signals" but made a few typos and ended up typing "37signals is not committed to open an conversation" instead?

Gosh, that mistake could happen to anyone!

The GS guys are doing an amazing combination of groveling and passive-aggressive whining about being caught at the same time.

You nailed it. That was just about what I wanted to say, but couldn't.

In any case, last time I checked, they had most of HN fooled with their douchery too, which is quite surprising.

Seriously.. If their "wording" was explicitly meant to state that the "space" was not officially sanctioned by 37signals, well then, why not just freaking go ahead and explicitly state exactly that?

It's obvious that GS is a shady company, and after Jason's blog post, what exactly do people think they'd do?

"Why yes, we are full of shit. You got us."?

We need someone to start up a site that provides user feedback on GetSatisfaction, using GetSatisfaction's look-and-feel. Taste of their own medicine.

Those "getsatisfaction" people need to be eradicated.

TOTAL rats in suits - I wish I could tell you all who and what, but a person I know (former client) has enough on them to get them thrown in the bighouse.

Get Satisfaction got Customer Service Served by 37Signals, ouch!

Is that really Get Satisfaction's doing, or was it a 37signals fanboy who put that together without permission?

Snagging the look-and-feel (graphics, colours, etc.) of a target's site is particularly sleazy and it seems very odd if Get Satisfaction has chosen to go that route for their business.

Unless Get Satisfaction provides a prominent "request this forum be deleted" link, and actually removes a forum on request, I wouldn't touch these guys with the proverbial 10' pole if site mimicking has become their standard practice.

It should be noted that the look and feel is the same (except for logos) for every company. See, http://getsatisfaction.com/comcast for example.

Yes, I would say that they have a similar L & F and color scheme as 37 Signals, but I would not go so far as to say it is "ripped off."

Taking the logos without permission is bad enough.

Why should companies be able to "delete" 3rd party forums where people discuss their products and help each other?

If someone asks a question on Stack Overflow about using Visual Studio, should Microsoft be able to delete it? Should they be able to sue SO? Should SO not be able to run ads for products that compete with VS?

They clearly shouldn't be able to stifle online discussions about products. Under US trademark law, the right to use trademarks you don't own for purposes of commentary or criticism is specifically carved out.

But that's a red herring. The relevant complaint for this branch of the discussion is that GS wound up sponsoring a website that was clearly and evidently confusing to the public. They ran that site for commercial gain, and in multiple ways made appeals to 37signals for payment to gain more control over that site. None of that is kosher.

I don't think there's any problem with third-parties putting together support forums, Q&A pages or the like. It's when they snatch the look-and-feel of a company's site to try and pass themselves off as an official part of that company (without permission!) which sends my alarm bells ringing.

Yep, look-and-feel is protected as part of a company's intellectual property. As it should be.

You're technically right. For reference, look and feel fall under "trade dress" [http://www.ivanhoffman.com/tradedress.html]. In brief, the relevant case law is:

"To recover for trade dress infringement ... a plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence: (1) that its trade dress has obtained “secondary meaning” in the marketplace; (2) that the trade dress of the two competing products is confusingly similar; and (3) that the appropriated features of the trade dress are primarily nonfunctional."

Continuing ...

"Strength of ... trade dress depends upon the interplay of two elements, the uniqueness of the trade dress and the investment in imbuing a trade dress with secondary meaning."

... which makes trade dress difficult to prove, even to only a preponderance of the evidence.

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