Alienating users, customers, members, readers

This weeks blog is angry and to the point. The only question is whether or not I should “name names” in terms the parties whose arrogance and stupidity prompted this rant. The obvious reason not to name them is because I might be “burning bridges.” There is actually another, arguably more important reason not to name them. Read on to see what I am so annoyed about and what my thinking is on the question of naming names.

I spend a lot of time in the third world, where I have limited or no access to the internet. I also spend plenty of time in the first world, where I also often have limited or no access to the internet. After all, I am what is called a “travel and culture photographer” which means I am supposed to spend my time out photographing.

What prompted this anger was how a growing number of the forums that I look to for information have recently changed their systems. In the old system, they sent me a daily digest of all the postings, discussions, etc. that were part of a given forum. The new system requires that I sign on and read all of the same postings while on line. Some of the newer systems actually have the arrogance to send me a daily digest telling me about all the “new posts” to a “discussion thread” without telling me what those same posts actually say!

The cold, hard reality is that I spend too much time on-line already and the idea of looking into all these forums is simply too much. It worked very well for me to get the digest once a day and then I could read them at my leisure, no matter where I was regardless of whether I had net access. I used to save up the digests and read them on airplanes (where we used to not have internet access.)

The most egregious offender is the APA (formerly the Advertising Photographers of America who recently changed their name to American Photographic Artists.) They have three great forums that I used to read regularly, since those were a wealth of information. One of the many pleasures of the APA forums was (and still is) that you do not need to be a member of the group to get the valuable information that is shared there. The forums were focused respectively on the business of photography, digital imaging and video for still photographers. Though I occasionally miss them, I actually am happy that I have a bit more free time each day since I am not reading them.

The main forum of the ASMP (the American Society of Media Photographers) the so-called “National” forum, recently made the same move, requiring people like me to sign in to Linked-In just to read the thread of discussion on a given topic. I find the ASMP move particularly egregious since I am a paying member and since their primary allegiance is supposed to be to their membership.

My anger is not just at forums. It is at many different types of sites. I was looking at one site recently, which is known for its multimedia journalism. After wasting to much time I wrote them:

I am on a Mac Book Air using Firefox in a hotel with wi-fi in Raleigh, NC. I am not in the third world (though I will be soon.) I have been trying half a dozen times in the last five days to look at your videos and they take forever to start to stream. Just now, to verify, I started to stream a video from The Wells Point at the exact same moment and it ran fine. The point is that you do what far too many people do, you assume the viewer is at the other end of a T-1 line with perfect internet. In the real world, most of us are using crappy wi-fi, on smart phones with limited processor power, etc. My guess is that your videos are beautiful (because they are posted at the highest res possible.) However, if I can’t look at the videos, I can’t comment (or I can’t pay for them which is what you really want me to do.)

I am quite aware that companies like Linked-In and Yahoo want these kinds of closed forums so they can keep our “eyeballs” in their media (advertising) environment. That is their job. It is the job of the trade groups and individuals who run these forums to look out for their readers/members/subscribers.

The argument for naming names is obvious. The argument against is that many of the organizations and groups that read these kinds of complaints and DO NOT see their names mentioned think they are off the hook. Nothing could be further from the truth. They all should be looking at how their technology serves the interests of their readers/subscribers/members/viewers/customers.

By the way, it is not that I am some technophobe or Luddite either. I run two webs sites, blog regularly and use plenty of social media so I am comfortable with technology.

The bottom line is that a kind of pervasive arrogance is taking over many organizations on the web. They mistakenly believe that their members, readers, subscribers, customers or whatever you call us spend our days sitting at the end of T-1 lines (the super fast internet connections,) just waiting for their content. In their minds we sit there glassy eyed, looking forward to digging into their sites for more of what they think of as “important” content. That may be true for other people, but it is not so for me. I like to spend my time being a photographers and not some internet content sink hole.