Monday, August 15, 2011

A Cautionary Internet Tale - Part 1

I love the Internet.  I can't imagine a world without Google, Wikipedia and YouTube.  My life is richer because every day I read the powerful and inspiring words of my blog sisters, see new artwork from around the world and catch up briefly with friends, old and new, on Facebook. My life is simpler because I shop amazon, pay bills online, and watch movies on Netflix.

However, with all of this opening up of information and possibilities, there is a little bit of a wild-west feel to doing business here.  While it seems as if the Internet has "changed everything," some things still remain the same:  look before you leap and if something promises you "thin thighs in 30 days," "easy-breezy success as an internet marketer, author, artist, blogger, stock trader or anything else that normally takes years of preparation, learning and effort," take a deep breath, do some research, and wait for at least two days before jumping in.  Tomorrow I will post some easy ways to check out an Internet offer before you get involved.

The whole story of what I didn't do follows, in case you need to read it.

A couple of years ago I came up with a concept of "iceberg books," small books that would be surrounded by an electronic environment that would allow readers to explore deeper according to their own interests and motivation.  I'm sure the idea isn't original but it haunted me. I put it away because I really didn't know how to make it happen, so when, earlier this year, I received an email for a process of creating "mini-books" that would be supported by an Internet environment, my head said "bingo!"  I rushed into an association with the program and talked a friend of mine into joining also since she has a book that needs to be written.

The warning signals came shortly after signing up: conference calls that were long on marketing and short on content, missed deadlines and a surprising lack of organization for an operation that said it had been in business for several years.  Frequent emails started arriving touting other "must-have" programs, and then the promised "mini-book" by the program founder arrived (six weeks late) and I suddenly realized how little due-diligence I had done.  This "mini-book," which the program folks had told us could be sold for $5 per copy, was about the size of a deck of playing cards but it was 1/3 the thickness.  Ten of the 32 tiny pages were front-matter and more advertising, and the poorly laid-out copy was shallow and mainly hype.  I would be embarrassed to give it away, let alone try to sell it.

By this time, I had seen a glimpse of the "supporting electronic environment" and it was a rabbit warren of sign-ins, rehashed videos, marketing "landing pages" for other products and offers, old teleconferences and darn little value.  I knew we were not aligned so I asked for my money back and, reluctantly, very reluctantly, they agreed to return it if I would not "bad mouth" them.  

I let it drop and focused on helping my friend write her book since I figured she could use it as a give-away marketing brochure for her cooperative parenting program workshops.  We would both have been somewhat satisfied except after she submitted her book, nothing happened ... no book, nothing.  After a few weeks, she started sending emails and the program directors responded with all the ways she had failed to do what she was supposed to and how she had misunderstood what they offered and some not-very-subtle remarks about her lack of positive attitude and how she needed to take responsibility for her life and quit being a "victim."  It would have been laughable if it hadn't been so ridiculous, especially coming from an organization that professed "spiritual values." I don't know anyone more positive than my friend; she lives life positive and teaches positive principles in her workshops.  And, I'm not sure "spiritual" customer service includes attacking your customers. 

Since she couldn't get them to tell her if they had even received her book, she asked for a refund.  They refused, although they did eventually tell her they had received it but would not tell her what she should do next.  She continued the conversation for awhile until the increasing level of verbal abuse got beyond reason so she wrote it off as a bad decision and let it go.  I started to let it go also, especially since I had agreed not to bad-mouth them (therefore, I am not mentioning their name), but it seems like my duty to at least warn others that it is our responsibility as consumers to think carefully before we invest our time and energy into an Internet offer.


  1. Thanks for this Joyce. I'm sorry for your friend's experience -- and glad to learn of it as a cautiounary tale.

    I too have been intrigued by 'the promises'. I've not succumbed -- and now, I have a better understanding of why not -- and what I need to do if ever I decide I will -- and with your tips tomorrow -- I know I'll be an educated buyer!

    Thanks my friend.

  2. The amount of energy that goes into Internet scams is extraordinary. And if not the Internet, then e-mail. The scammers would not continue if they weren't finding the gullible lucrative.

    Those on Twitter should also beware. If someone sends a tweet under your name that only includes some kind of link, don't open it! What the link takes you to is usually porn. This kind of thing infuriates me. Every time I see one of these tweets in my stream I block the sender. Sometimes, there is no real account to block, which is even more infuriating. I ignore every tweet, even one with a picture, that uses only my name and a link. Of course, it's like some weird monster; as soon as you block one, a new one pops up. Twitter et al. should figure out a way to stop this kind of message so we don't have to take the blocking action.

  3. Maureen ... thanks for the warning about Twitter ... I didn't know that.

    The scams, of course, are the worst. I don't think my experience was a "scam," just folks whose dreams are bigger than their competencies. It's the get-rich-quick mindset without the deliver-great-value capability. Definitely a buyer beware environment.