Watch yourselves, Nirav and friends. Because you can be sure that I'll be watching you.Nov 2, 2001 Write an essay on this topic.
Popular Products in BooksThe Bottom Line Epinions is a wonderful place to research products, "meet" interesting people, and write. But management here needs help. Let's do it.
Well, well, well. Just when things start to calm down around here, I read the chat transcript in the Member Center, and there is some gasoline thrown on the fire.
It seems that our Epinions' CEO and his staff were shocked at the behavior of some of the well respected writers on the site following their executive decision to remove the Edit and Delete functions from our postings here. The vulgarity and obscenity of the postings that followed shocked them, as did the fact that Editors, Top Reviewers, and other highly respected community members rated these postings highly.
Let's look a little closer at the shocking facts:
1. I don't know anyone who writes here for money. Most do it for the thrill of sharing our knowledge of products or services in a helpful and creative way. Friendships are formed, horizons are expanded, perspectives are shared.
Everyone benefits as a result. This is the reason we write here - not the damn pennies.
I will always be grateful to Epinions for affording me the opportunity to "meet" some wonderful people. Their comments on my reviews, calls, letters and friendship are something I treasure.
2. Epinions decided to take the pennies. Most would not object to this business decision. But in a misguided effort to retain the existing revenue stream, Epinions ALSO decided to unilaterally, and without prior disclosure, eliminate the right of site members to Edit or Delete their reviews.
Removing the Edit function was simply a bad idea. I personally have updated my reviews when a company responded to my Epinion posting. (See my posting on Capital One.) In order to maintain the integrity and accuracy of any review, the ability to modify it as circumstances change or time passes must be unfettered. If it is NOT unfettered, that should be made clear to the author PRIOR to author's posting of the review.
Removing the Delete function without disclosure or notice was just plain theft. No more, no less. A fundamental function of ownership of anything is the right to control whether or not it exists. For an in-depth analysis of this concept under common law, I refer you to the comment posted by practicing attorney 29th_Candidate on Sordid-1's posting in this category. My legal research on this subject is complete, and it supports 29th's conclusions on this issue entirely.
3. People tend to get personally offended when the product of their minds, thoughts and experiences is stolen. By eliminating the right to edit and delete, the Epinions Board stole the right of every Member to control their work - and they did so for the pecuniary gain of Epinions. The fact that anger ensued can hardly be shocking. Nevertheless, Nirav Tolia says that it was.
4. Many members got together and formed what is known around here as a Write-Off. Participants wrote reviews entitled "Epinions Blows Dog", then rated all of these reviews highly, so that they floated to the top of the categories that they were posted in. The reviews were off-topic, vulgar, even obscene. Someone with no knowledge of Epinions looking at the site would have clearly detected something amiss. These reviews, to put it mildly, were not likely to help consumers make better buying decisions. But they sure communicated the way that Epinioneers felt about the theft of their intellectual property. It was done with the express proviso that the reviews would be deleted once the delete function was restored.
5. A handful of people rated these EBD reviews negatively, for reasons best known to themselves. Some did so because they felt that the ratings guidelines should be enforced no matter what. Some were not bothered by the Board's decision.
Some felt that the situation, if it did in fact constitute theft, could and should have been addressed through proper legal channels.
Regarding this last argument, I gave that some thought. Had the Edit / Delete functions not been restored, I would have done my level best to round up as many Epinioneers in as many different jurisdictions as possible, with detailed instructions as to how to file a civil action in their local small claims court for damages sustained as a result of the theft of their intellectual property. It would have been a small filing fee for each Epinioneer. However, the expense involved for Epinions to defend these actions or pay the default judgments issued when they went undefended, would likely have bankrupted the company.
I ruled this out as an option for me. It seemed wrong, at least at this early stage. Instead, I wrote not one, but two EBD entries, again, with the express proviso that I would delete them once that capability had been restored.
6. Shortly afterward, Epinions restored the Edit / Delete functions. I, along with the other EBD participants, deleted the offending entries. While Epinions states that the decision was NOT in response to EBD, it is an uncontrovertible fact that the decision saved the company a lot of lost revenue and legal expenses. It was a good decision, for that and several other reasons. It demonstrated that Epinions values the source of its revenue - the Members. It showed good faith.
That's what happened, folks. But the chat transcript really offended me. Mr. Tolia apparently took great offense to the tactics employed by the EBD participants.
He praised those who did not participate, and expressed his dismay and shock at the vulgarity he witnessed.
Oh, Mr. Tolia. We were shocked too, when we learned that you and your staff had appropriated our fundamental rights to our intellectual property. We found it vulgar, even obscene. We certainly did not mean to offend your delicate sensibilities by defending our rights. However, you might have been even more shocked by the mailroom staff dropping stacks of subpoenae duces tecum from all 'round the world on your desk. And I'm sure some vulgarities might have been voiced, even by you, when you realized that the civilized approach to resolving this dispute would very likely put Epinions into Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Perhaps, Mr. Tolia, you should express appreciation for those who chose to look at this from a "big picture" standpoint, and not ruin your company outright through the oh-so-civilized method of litigation. The EBD was disturbing, yes, but it afforded you the opportunity to rectify the wrong you and your staff committed. Not many thieves are given the chance to walk free simply by returning what they stole.
You made the right decision, and say you want to rebuild trust and move on. Don't ruin it now by badmouthing the ladies and gentlemen who graciously allowed you to right the wrong you tried to perpetrate on them. Those people ARE the site. If they didn't care about it, they would have left the reviews as they were, ripped their other work down, and posted it at one of the competition's sites.
You are aware that you have competition, aren't you?
I am proud that I participated in EBD. I felt it was a gentleman's way of voicing my displeasure, and it achieved the desired result. My entries were not particularly offensive reading, but they were off-topic. This is something I will not do again, as long as I retain the right to Edit and Delete my work. As a gesture of good faith, I have posted a CD review that I hope you like. Those who have reviewed it so far seem to. I have also elected to leave my work here, for the reasons outlined at the beginning of this essay.
I applaud your decision to appoint a Member Advisory Board. I respectfully nominate users 4-1-1, Sordid-1, and 29th Candidate. I would also gladly volunteer my time, if asked.
Some final thoughts...
The current TOS seems to allow you to remove those functions, the prized Edit and Delete. I strongly suggest that you do not. You see, if you do, I will have no choice but to pursue remedies via a more suitable, civilized, legal channel. Further, the body of law in this area is pretty clear that if that option wasn't disclosed to Members at the time they posted, you cannot remove it retroactively. I think that poses an insurmountable technical and legal hurdle for you to leap.
I wouldn't want to shock you next time.
P.S. - I edited this a few times, and it felt good.
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