Monday, April 07, 2008

You Get What You Pay For - The Problem With "Free" Internet Tools

I have blogged on The Some Assembly Required Blog for over three years. Many bloggers and other social media gurus have criticized me for being on the "Blogger" platform, as they seem to think that there are better outlets that one can utilize, however I have found the service to work for my needs. I can post, people can read, and life happily goes on every day.

Until last Friday. When I woke on Saturday I was reminded that you get what you pay for in life and blogs. You see, while has been great, it is a free service, and free services have limited access to any human customer service and support.

Late on Friday my blog was "Locked" by's electronic computer robots that patrol their system to limit "spam blogs". While my complaint is not that I was wrongly tagged as a suspected "spam blog" and prevented from posting, (I actually appreciate the fact that they are patrolling their system to eliminate abuse!), but I was saddened that there was no quick way to remedy this situation.

We live in a society that has come to expect instant gratification, and an email telling me that my request to be unlocked will be processed in two business days just seems wrong (especially on a Saturday morning). I wanted to talk to someone immediately.

Yikes, the facts were clear that it would be Tuesday before I could post again.

I tried to see if there was any way to contact a live person in customer service, but there was no manner for me to remedy this situation other than to wait. I did find a Blogger Help Group in "Google Groups" that appears to be monitored by live humans who work for the Google owned, but I was skeptical that this would speed me to a solution.

I began searching the web and found this is common for users to get locked out via a random spam inquiry. The scary part was when I discovered that many spend much more than 48 hours waiting to be reinstated. I could write posts and save them as a draft, but not actually communicate with the outside world through this blog until they decided to get around to a review. Three years ago that would not have mattered, but now my blog is part of my personal identity.

You see, the social media revolution that is taking place changes the way we behave, and many have come to expect all of these online social media / social networking tools to always be available to us, regardless of any other factors.

I started thinking...most of these sights that are so popular and pervasive in the lives of their users are also "free" sites. Since I pay nothing to, Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, and the rest, do I really have any rights to expect them to be there for me every day when I wake up?

I wonder if those power users of Twitter would be relaxed if they woke and found that Evan Williams and his buddies just shut down the whole operation. Poooof. Gone. No more tweets. When the system currently experiences short technical interruptions, many go crazy and restless.

What if Mark Zuckerberg closed Facebook to pursue his professional speaking career? (I know, that was unfair). But if the company just shut down one day, they would take the away much from the users who are now socially hooked on their service.

And what if (or other blogging platform) locked you out from making posts on your blog. How would you feel?

I feel sad. Frustrated. Pissed that it is impossible to reach a real person via the site to expedite getting this issue solved. I also feel vulnerable that I have come to rely on these free social media tools as part of my life and that I am just one of millions of users who possess zero ability to garner their attention. Since I pay nothing, I am not sure that they would care if I started over and moved this blog to WordPress (who would also have the ability to shut me down on the whim of a computer algorithm).

Would we be willing to pay all of these sites just for guaranteed access to a live human beings when we have a problem on a Saturday morning? Some sites yes, some no.

I am a spoiled brat who has gotten very accustomed to 24 hours customer service. I am ashamed to write this paragraph, as I know that my grand-father was born with no electricity (my god, Al Gore had not yet been born, so no internet was invented!) in the 1800s. In fact, Grandpa was born on a farm where their mode of transportation was a covered wagon. I should just be grateful that I even have running water, much less a free blogging service!

I wrote this post at 7:15 AM on Saturday, April 5, 2008. I probably cannot post it until Wednesday based on what they have told me via the blogger website.... but it will be interesting to see how long it does actually take to get this resolved.

My opinion of Blogger will be higher if this is resolved sooner rather than later.

Have A Great Day

thom 5 PM on MONDAY I had the ability to post again. I am very pleased with for this being resolved quickly. I am still sad and concerned about the lack of live customer service options, but I realize that you get what you pay for and is free.

I would like to praise the Google / Blogger employees for getting to this quickly and not letting me get lost in a sea of nothing-ness. I am concerned about how the world of free online social media tools leaves the user dependent - yet powerless. I had a lot of time to think about this and is does make me uneasy.

I would like to say "Boooooo" to the fact this had to happen at all, but I am not one who is quick to anger over situations like this. I am pleased that companies like Google are taking steps to limit abuse of their systems.


Scott Allen said...

You said it, Thom - it's the lack of OPTIONS. I think it's one of the missing business models in the social media space. I think there are a lot of people who would pay $5, $10, maybe even $20 a month for live support for some of these tools. And given the dropping CPM rates for ads on social media sites, I think it's time for companies to start exploring those options.

James T. Parsons said...

Hey Thom,

The thing I noticed a few years ago when the city was iced over and the power was out completely in my area (for about 12 hours) is how dependent we are on our technology, as you indicated. Finding out I didn't have to go to work that day was a plus, even if I couldn't drive anywhere because of the ice. But then, the reality struck me - ok I will log onto email and catch up with friends? No power, no internet, no computer. [I guess now days that might be a benefit of the crackberry!] Forget the TV, DVD, video, etc. - all need power. No heat - although I like the cold and it beat the time when I was young the power went out in the summer when it was 100 with high humidity. Now days, with so many of us having digital phones, even a landline solution with an independent power source would be down, too. Sure, you can use your cell phone to talk to friends, if the circuits aren't overloaded, but you might need to save that battery life in case the power is out a while and you need the cell. I think it is often the rude awakenings of those moments when we realize just how dependent we really are on things affected by modern life in ways we don't even fully comprehend ... until they are gone.

Luckily, I would note to any readers that the benefit of the cell (and also blackberry) is that if you run your battery down, you can always drag power off our car battery by recharging it off your car. Now, whether this is a good solution that will allow you to burn more time and minutes on the cell in such 18th Century moments - I leave to the person in question. Likely if you have at least a solid car battery you can probably risk it - but if the car is that cold, you might ask if you will be able to start the car later. Of course, depending upon one's level of addiction to technology and feeling connected, many of us would disregard the concern and plug in where we still can.

Good blog and thanks for your effort with it.