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?
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.
But starting off that way is just obnoxious. Granted, as noted, being obnoxious drives page views.
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?
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.
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".
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.
How did GetSatisfaction, and you, reasonably expect the conversation to proceed from there? Gentle pleading on 37 Signals part? What???
Mature people resolve those potential conflicts through calm discussion.
Immature people resort to attacking the people they disagree with.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
37signals were not and are not customers of Get Satisfaction.
(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?
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).
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is not to equate GS actions with stealing, but merely to demonstrate a fault in your reasoning.
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.
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.
My point is, the way they handled conveying that point to GetSatisfaction was nasty, brutish, and 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.
Valid point: GS wording is bad.
Invalid point: GS are evil extortionists.
Both can coexist in the same post.
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.
If I were them, I would have send an email asking for the page to be removed, and moved on.
The BS response given by GetSatisfaction's people is so bad it proves the point.
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.
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.
But as you say, if they had resolved it privately, people wouldn't be reading about it on their blog.
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.
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.
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.
"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."
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
The badge has been up for about 2 weeks according to them. It was deployed with their redesigned header 2 weeks ago.
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.
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.
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 is in fact not easy to use non-free company logo images on Wikipedia:
* 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
i'd guess you're a couple of coders -- get a graphic designer on board! (and keep up the work :)
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.
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.
As pointed out above, I have difficulty believing the badge wording is a mistake.
Seriously, you might find the linked blog post interesting.
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.
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.
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.
...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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?"
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!
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."?
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.
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.
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."
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?
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.
"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."
"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.