Amazon reviews: why encourage non-buyer reviews?

Allowing people to write reviews for things they haven’t purchased devalues the review system, surely?

I always thought that you had to purchase a product via Amazon to be able to review it. That would make perfect sense, right? You couldn’t come up with a simpler and more straightforward way to ensure the veracity of the reviews that other buyers refer to when considering how to spend their money.

It seems such an obvious and simple way of ensuring the credibility of reviews that I’d assumed that Amazon worked to this system. The other day I discovered I was able to write a review for something I that I hadn’t bought.

Screen shot 2013-06-06 at 16.32.26I made it a nice review with 4 stars because the seller didn’t deserve to be a victim of my little experiment. Today, I checked back and it was duly published.

I was pretty shocked at the idea that Amazon could allow anyone to write any review for anything. My comment (see pic) shows my reaction. The potential for ‘gaming’ the system is obvious and there’s no doubt at all that there are people doing just that.

On closer inspection, I discovered there is a difference between reviews I make for things I’ve bought and those I haven’t. The reviews for things I have bought through Amazon are labeled “Amazon verified purchase” to attest to the review’s credibility and distinguish it from reviews for things that I haven’t bought.

I’d be more impressed if Amazon labelled reviews for things that the reviewer hasn’t bought something like “Not an Amazon Verified purchase” so that the reader can take it with a pinch of salt. 



Rimmers Music – spam hall of shame

Sorry, Rimmers Music but you chose this way of marketing, not me

Rimmers Music

You’ve made me waste my time contacting you to request removal from a list which I never asked to be on in the first place. That’s crappy. Stop and think about what that actually means for a second from my point of view, not yours. Annoyed. To make matters worse, you then failed to honour my requests (via your ‘unsubscribe’ link and via email) – as the picture of my inbox above clearly shows. More annoyed.

The result is that I’m now choosing to tell everyone else about your chosen method of marketing. It’s the easiest way I know of getting your attention and making you accountable for your decision to do your marketing this way. Don’t act surprised and don’t get pissed off  if people find this post when they go searching in Google for ‘Rimmers music’. This  is what happens when you annoy customers and prospects.

To anyone else reading this who isn’t the owner or an employee of Rimmers Music but owns their own business, please take note: firing off emails to lists of people might seem (from your end) to be a smart way to drum up business. It isn’t. This is what happens when you do. Or worse.

At least I’m willing to publish any response from Rimmers Music on this issue (because that’s what I do). Other pissed off customers / prospects who don’t have the professional, balanced interest in online reputation that I do won’t be so generous or fair.


Your video is turned off – Skype

Apparently, video is OFF the menu for Mac users since Skype was bought by Microsoft

At least that’s the view out there on the web.

Screen shot 2013-03-23 at 23.02.29
If you’ve come here because you’re a Mac user and suddenly, out of the blue, you can no longer use Skype to make video calls, then join the club. You dialled someone, they answered and then Skype shut off your video with the message “Your video is turned off”. That’s annoying but even more annoying is that nobody will tell you why.

This must be (is) happening to hundreds of thousands, if not MILLIONS of Mac Skype users and there is a massive information hole about this on the web.

Screen shot 2013-03-23 at 22.53.40If you go to Skype, you’ll see nothing about this. The only place you’ll find any reference to “Your video is turned off” is in the support forum – with a few exasperated Mac users seeking some kind of answer. Do they get any answer from Skype? No. All they get are a few people in the know saying ‘Mac user? You might as well forget using Skype now that Microsoft has bought it.”

From where I stand, they’re spot on. It seems that Microsoft don’t even consider Mac users worth an explanation.

An added little Skype joke (tell me how this isn’t deliberate) comes when you go to the Mac download page. “Get Skype for Mac” says the link which, when you click it, mockingly downloads “SkypeSetupFull.exe” for you. Yes, that’s right – SkypeSetupFull.exe.

“Start using your shiny new Skype” it taunts you, at the top of the page.

Why not use the comments below to tell Microsoft how much you appreciate their thoughtfulness. As for me, I’ve gone over to Google Hangouts as of tonight. So long Skype and thanks for all the fish.


Why choosing a name matters in business

AudioBoo may have limited its revenue by its choice of name

AudioBoo is a social audio site, offering a very effective and simple podcasting power to the masses. Their free version lets you either record and post short mp3s from your smartphone (adding text, picture and tags as you go) or upload audio files from your laptop. Their ‘Plus’ version gives you the same plus up to 30 minutes duration for each file, making it a fairly simple – but dependable – podcast hosting option. Which is exactly why I’m comfortably paying £60 a year to use it to host my ‘Glider Show’ podcast. 30 minutes is as good an ‘imposed limit’ as anything so I can work with it. The next nearest option would have been a LibSyn account which – while I like their service a lot with its in-depth statistics and other podcasting features – would have been closer to £250 a year.

All has been fine with using AudioBoo Plus so far. All except one thing; the name. There’s a kind of unhelpful, unconscious ‘non-business’ logic behind the AudioBoo name which is surprisingly and depressingly common in the online world. It goes something like this: because our basic offering is ‘free’ (because we’ve mistakenly come to believe that we’re giving you something for nothing) then we can give it a name that you might be uncomfortable and less than willing to use. ‘Boo’. You can almost imagine someone at a development meeting saying “Yeah! We’re gonna kill the word ‘podcast’ and replace it with ‘boo’!”

Making customers use your terminology when they’re more comfortable using their possibly isn’t that great an idea. They may be willing to ignore it as just a part of the exchange for getting the service free. They may find ways to minimise it when paying £60 a year to use AudioBoo as a hosting service for their podcast. But will they want to introduce AudioBoo into their professional organisation?

Because, for a couple of years now, our business has been looking for a way to capture (among other things) audio on the fly so that our team can share information and updates on important projects in an intuitive way and without the hassle of going back to the office and writing up notes which all too likely end up as unlooked-at files in the back of some directory structure somewhere. Obviously we would need this to be private, with the – NO! I DON’T WANT TO SAY IT!! – ‘boos’ available only to our team.  Several times, I’ve looked at AudioBoo to find out whether its possible to make ‘boos’ private. Now, it appears that it is – with their ‘Pro’ option. “Extended recording time and private boos” it offers (with no indication of the kind of cost involved). “Contact us for package info”. Bad move, AudioBoo.

So while I’m reasonably happy with the ‘Plus’ option for my podcast hosting the reality is that if something else came along with less emphasis on its own brand (and without a silly name and new word for ‘audio file’) for the same kind of money the point is I’d probably go in that direction simply because in business it’s about what the customer wants, not the supplier – and the reality is that I need a solid audio host more than I need another social network to play in. And that’s a pity because AudioBoo deserves to hold this territory longer since it got in there first and did the hard work and there’s no reason why it can’t offer people like me what they need in the way they need it.

And so I don’t think that I’m even going to click the ‘Contact us for package info’ button for two reasons: one, I can’t see myself forcing my colleagues to use the word ‘boo’ in their day to day business and two, making me contact them for some indication of the price of this service is just another example of it being all about their needs and not mine. A pity.

It’s a lesson I learned the hard way myself several years ago when running my own business – mukaumedia. People we met and heard us talking about our business knew we were ‘moo cow media’ because they heard us saying it. But the very first time I took a phone call from a prospect and heard them struggle, self-consciously over the name – “Is that er…mm-m-makoo-m-media?” – I knew it was a big mistake, no matter how much the name mattered to us. We live and learn :-)


Drift HD stops recording after 40 minutes…

But don’t expect Drift Innovation people to tell you.

I bought the Drift HD camera for recording some group sessions at work. The picture quality of the GoPro camera is superior but only the Drift HD has the magical 2.5mm external microphone ‘in’ jack that lets me capture high quality audio from a wireless mic at the same time.

Good quality audio is often overlooked in favour of the image but poor audio ruins more videos than poor image. If you’re trying to communicate (and not just dazzle with snowboard stunts) then audio quality ends up being more important than picture quality. Can you find a reasonable digital video camera with a socket to take an external mic? Can you buggery.

My first experience of the Drift was good; I liked the ‘wide angle view’ but was annoyed that it mysteriously stopped and restarted recording at about 42 minutes into our 90 minute session. I had a big class 10 Micro SD so I couldn’t understand why it was stopping – and restarting. I didn’t want my session in two chunks, dammit, because that meant I had to edit the thing together and that meant hours of struggling MacBook, overheating trying to handle several Gigabytes of video in one go. Not ideal.

I contacted Drift Innovation via a support ticket and via Twitter. I described exactly what was happening: “Stops recording after about 40-42 minutes, consistently, and restarts…why?” Nobody could answer me. Eventually Drift Innovation support came back to me saying “Well, your camera is obviously faulty, you are welcome to send it back”. Which I did for a refund.

I bought another one and it arrived today. I charged it up (4hrs) and then started a recording to see if it would record past 40 minutes. Guess what? It didn’t. I did some more searching until I found, in the small print of the manual pdf, a sentence that says:

“Note: If the video being recorded is very long, the video file will be separated into multiple files every 3.6 GB (i.e. every 40 minutes in 1080p). This is automatic – you do not need to monitor this process. The camera will resume filming after a few seconds, once the file is saved. Please be patient while the file is saving.”

Well, that settles that. Shame that Drift’s support staff don’t know about it.

MacBook Pro trackpad not working, won’t click, mousepad broken?

Has your MacBook pro trackpad stop working? Does it become unusable when the computer gets hot?

Mine does. Every time I most need to use it. Like on a train, at home or on a plane. Recently, I flew business class to the far east and first class back – the idea being I could work on a particularly important project on the way. Imagine how annoyed I was to get my MacBook pro out, start it up and then find, within minutes that not only couldn’t I use it but that trying to use it was ruining every document I was working on because at a touch, the mouse would stay clicked and drag-and-drop everything everywhere. That’s bits of text inside documents and files, applications and folders outside of documents. Within a minute or two I was swearing aloud in the First Class cabin of a 747, making myself very unpopular.

The problem is, I have since discovered, that the battery expands over time and presses against the track pad, causing it to compress. This gets worse when the computer heats up (hot things expand even more) and when I take the MacBook on an aircraft. I guess this has something to do with pressure but I’m not sure what. All I know is that I can forget trying to work – at least with this great big silver hot water bottle.

Someone on a forum advised taking the battery out and trying to run the MacBook on just mains power. I did this and – presto! – I immediately got back the nice, crunchy, positive, clicky mouse functionality. I also got to handle the battery and was amazed to feel just how expanded and distorted it really is. No wonder the mousepad doesn’t work properly.

So the secret is either to run your MacBook pro on mains only (I’ll remember this next time I need to work on a plane) or grudgingly buy a new, flat, slimline battery and wait for it to become middle-aged in its turn.

Ecademy’s Lyndon Wood: sailing into a perfect reputation storm?

If you’re interested in online reputation management, you might want to watch that space

Once apon a time I was a member of Ecademy, an online business networking platform. At the time I joined (somewhere around 2006) it had an interesting mix of online and offline interactions. Like many people trying to start up their own businesses and make them work I spent too much time networking online (in various places) while convincing myself I was building some kind of foundation for my business. In my case, this turned out not to be true – however, it’s not the case for all businesses. Many people get just the start they need from that kind of activity and many use online networking in a way they can demonstrate adds value to their businesses.

Eventually I decided to let my Ecademy membership lapse. There were a number of reasons for this. Firstly (as I mentioned above) I realised that my activity there wasn’t what my business really needed at the time. Secondly, I didn’t like the cliquey-ness of Ecademy with it’s ‘BlackStar’ elite and their incessant marketing. Thirdly, I didn’t really like the management style. There was a very small power-circle (pun intended) made up of the Powers and the Watkins. If you didn’t toady to this inner circle, you were out in the wilderness. As for me, I neither agreed nor disagreed with them on anything, I just didn’t really want to be in a place that smelled so strongly of ‘Arslikhan’ (as Private Eye would have it).

I found the process of closing my account infuriating – so much so that I blogged here about it on this site. As someone who has been around social media since way before the start, I was interested to watch the fortunes of Ecademy over the time I had been a member and beyond. There’s nothing like being a social media / online networking user to know what makes an online environment work and what doesn’t. The first thing for any entrepreneur to know is that the experience is product that we may or may not buy – not the platform that the owner or the developer get so excited about. That’s just the environment stuff happens in.

The second thing to know is that ‘free’ doesn’t mean you can forget about delivering value.  No matter how ‘free’ a service is, no matter how generous its owners think they are by giving it away, it still has to deliver benefits that are tangible to the user and which he/she thinks are a fair exchange for filling that world with their data and content. On top of this, too many online entrepreneurs end up believing their own list of the ‘benefits of the free membership level’ even when they are given evidence to the contrary. Facebook understand the folly of doing this and so, surprisingly, does LinkedIn. Both of these have steered a careful course and listened (if grudgingly) to their users, notably the non-paying ones.

Over the years, I’ve occasionally looked in at Ecademy to see how it was doing and it clearly wasn’t good. At one point Ecademy suddenly went from being the familiar dark-blue, visually-reassuring, orderly business site to looking like a bad undergraduate design project. I have no idea when this transition happened or why, but it was as if the maturity and seriousness had dropped out of the project overnight. The site design and new logo looked shoddy and chaotic. I have seen this happen once before to an online business networking site where two of directors fell out with a third – their IT director – with the result that he went home in disgust and took his toys and the entire site with him.  All that was left was some data and a skeleton for the remaining directors to frantically try to rebuild. Perhaps something similar happened with Ecademy? I don’t know.

Something prompted me to look at Ecademy again today and I saw straight away a new ‘splash’ on the home page announcing that ‘Ecademy is changing’ to become something called ‘Sunzu – the art of business’. I learned quickly that the Powers had left the building and the site now had a new owner – a Mr. Lyndon Wood (Founder and Director of the Moorhouse Group).

I took a look around to see what was changing. I didn’t find much tangible evidence of change, but I did read quite a few posts outlining Mr. Wood’s vision and promises for the future of Ecademy. I also read a fair few comments from the last-guard of the Ecademy community, many of them ‘Blackstars’ (those people who paid Thomas and Penny Power a lot of money for ‘lifetime’ membership benefits that they now say never really materialised). These members were in dialogue with Lyndon Wood and some were challenging him on his vision and views.

Which brings me to this post.

It’s clear that Lyndon Wood has chosen to position himself visibly at the helm of what he describes as a ‘gamble’ with Ecademy and to engage the members in a publicly-visible dialogue. From a brief reading of the exchanges so far, I would say that there is the danger of a reputation storm brewing for Mr. Wood. This is fuelled both by a combative style of communication and a tendency to dismiss as unworthy the views of those who disagree with him. You might get away with this with your employees but not with your customers.

The most dangerous path for any business to tread online is the path of dialogue with one’s customers – particularly when they’re not happy. This is the real space where reputations are made and destroyed – sometimes in the space of a single sentence. To dialogue with one’s dissatisfied customers productively in the glare of online visibility takes the kind of awareness that doesn’t come lightly. To borrow from Einstein:

most people try to solve reputation problems with the same level of awareness and communication skills that created those reputation problems in the first place

I’ve every respect for someone who has built up a successful business in insurance. I tip my hat. But if you want to see a potential reputation disaster in the making, then in Mr. Wood’s own words: feel free to watch what happens next.

Managing yourself productively through this kind of dialogue where your dreams, ambitions and beliefs come up against critical feedback from paying members is an extremely tough ask and it’s that much tougher when those customers haven’t had a very good deal so far. In those circumstances, it’s all too easy to vent your feelings and your frustration in a way that can do your reputation untold damage.

What do I recommend?

I would say:

• Take the position that you’re the last person to know the impression you’re creating

• Ask others who are not involved and who aren’t going to massage your ego what they get from the exchanges you’ve already had

• Increase your understanding of your own emotional reactions in this dialogue; invest in some new skills to stay out of reaction in such difficult dialogues

It’s the unconscious reaction that costs every time.


How to delete my wecandobiz account?

A quick guide to save you some time in deleting your account

I’ve nothing against ‘’. It’s an online networking platform that I joined in 2009, didn’t really get involved with much (after getting ‘sold to’ immediately by other members) and left alone. That’s my personal choice, not a reflection on the people behind ‘’.

Today a result for my name in Google prompted me to return to the site to try to delete my account. Like most online networking platforms, WecandoBiz depends for its currency and survival on retaining its members. Again, that’s understandable. But how many times have I found it really, really difficult to find the ‘close my account’ option on such sites? More times than I care to remember, actually.

Individually, many of these site operators take umbrage when someone like me publishes ‘how to delete my account’ posts, naming their precious sites. They feel we’re picking on them unfairly; going a bit overboard…trying to damage their business even. What individual site owners never manage to look at is the cumulative effect on a punter like me of continually having to waste 10, 15, 20 minutes trying to close our accounts on site after site…or wasting our lives trying to unsubscribe from mailing lists (even those we might originally have wanted to be on). Together, it adds up to a lot of frustration and – whether the individual operator likes it or not – gets focused on their damned site.

So, to re-iterate: I’ve nothing against ‘’ other than the fact that they could have made closing my account easier and saved me quite a bit of time. If they choose not to (for the reasons outlined above) then posts like this – designed to save other people getting frustrated – are the price they’ll have to pay for that choice.

So if you’re looking to close your account, please note this is where you’ll need to go to do it (see below). Once you’ve clicked the delete option, WecandoBiz politely lets you go.

BT customer service: the difference between on- and off-line

There’s a huge gulf between BT’s online and offline customer service experience

Recently I found myself with an unexpected bill from BT for an old internet product they had switched me from back in 2009. (The fact that I had to demand to be switched from the old substandard BT-Yahoo product to the new BT Total Broadband that everyone else was on was pretty poor customer service in its own right. To have ‘forgotten’ to switch me off the old service was poorer still.)

Anyway, on receiving the erroneous bill I wasted 30 minutes getting nowhere with BT’s customer helpline. I ended up somewhere in India (as you do with BT) speaking to someone who, despite their desperation to please, had no hope of understanding my problem. This was both a language and a complexity problem. The poor guy couldn’t grasp the nuances of the problem I was describing and ended up by chucking me back into the call queue after 30 minutes.

So I did what smart people everywhere are doing (except the really smart ones are doing it first, without wasting time in the call queues). I Tweeted @BTCare and made the problem public.

Within minutes my Tweet was picked up by (I’m guessing) a UK-based social media customer service guy who took up my issue, continued the conversation on email and resolved the issue for me. “If only all BT customer service people had the ability and the power to intervene they give to their Twitter monitors” I Tweeted, a view I expressed to the BTCare person who called me (yes, you read it right called me) about the issue a couple of weeks later.

You can guess what he said, can’t you? Exactly. “Don’t bother with the telephone helpline in future. Just come straight through on Twitter”.

You betcha, BTCare. I don’t care if that means your social media customer service people will be swamped by Tweets as the world and his brother wake up to the fact that this is the only way to get good customer service out of BT. That’s the way it should be.

Looking for great customer service from BT and immediate action on your problems?

Tweet @BTCare, the only place to get customer service from BT. 

Clumsy approach to online reputation management – ‘Theophostic Counselling’

Theophostic Counselling tries just a bit too hard to counter its critics in my opinion

A chance look at a profile in LinkedIn brought my attention to something called ‘Theophostic Counselling’. I’d never heard of this before so took a little detour to find out. Before long I was at the website of Dr. Ed Smith, the man behind

I am proudly, clearly and happily atheist: this means that I don’t believe in the existence of a god or, for that matter, any gods. It’s my experience that while beliefs and belief ‘systems’ are commonplace and quite natural, the greater the identification one has with one, the greater the blindness and intolerance that follows. I don’t care for that blindness or intolerance.

So Theophostic Counselling isn’t for me since I don’t share the beliefs that are at its core – for starters. But that’s not why I’m posting this.

My interest in it was piqued by the lengths to which its’ founder goes to prepare his prospects (yes, it is a business) for the negative criticism they are likely to find online about his Theophostic Counselling. He devotes an entire – long – page titled ‘Redemptive Criticism‘ to trying to minimise the impact of negative online criticism that he knows is out there and which he fears will impact on the success of his business.

In describing ‘redemptive criticism’ as that which “comes to us with a spirit of Christian concern and a desire to restore and bring clarity”, Dr. Smith is defining for them the only kind of criticism they should accept, telling them to question the veracity, validity and motivation of everything else. To demonstrate what he means by redemptive criticism, Dr. Smith quotes from a ‘positive yet critical’ review by the Christian Research Institute.

To deal with non-redemptive criticism - i.e. all other online criticism, Smith advises the following:

Basic Steps to Arrive at a More Accurate Perspective. 

1. Read through this page of information. This section will give you foundational material for understanding this ministry.

2. This site provides a vast amount of free information to help you to come to an accurate conclusions concerning what TPM is about. Begin with downloading the free sample chapters from the introductory book “Healing Life’s Hurts” which will give you a good introduction to this ministry.

3. Consider the positive testimonies and the thousands of positive experience-based web pages when coming to your final conclusions. Unfortunantly, a single negative opinion is sometimes given more weight than a thousand positive expereinces.

4. Watch the fruit of this ministry to determine whether God is involved. You will know a tree by its fruit.

5. Hold up the TPM Guidelines that give a succinct description of what a TPM session should look like when evaluating people’s negative experiences. Not everything that is called Theophostic is indeed Theophostic.

6. Be diligent to come to your own conclusions and not just the opinions of others.

7. Take the list of questions supplied below to evaluate the accuracy of criticism.
Consider these questions in your Internet research.
1. What is the spirit of the criticism? Does it appear to be redemptive or jugemetal and divisive?

2. Is the criticism based upon the critics personal expereince or opinion?

3. What do I know about the critic who has posted the information? Is it someone that I know and trust his or her opinions.

4. What is the critics statement of faith, religious affiliation or ministry position?

5. Is the critic an established authority in this area of ministry that he or she is criticising?

6. Is this critic criticizing other ministries I respect? If so, who and why?

7. Is the critic making a fair assessment of the primary sources provided by TPM or merely “parroting” secondhand opinions from what others have stated?

8. Is the criticism accurate in its understanding of TPM? Read “Healing Life’s Hurts” and a copy of the Theophostic Ministry Session Guidelines. Also see “Summary of what a Theophostic Prayer Ministry session should look like”.

9. Are negative ministry examples sited true TPM sessions or just “bad thereapy?”

Whew! With defences like that, how could any real criticism get through?

Individually, many of these questions are reasonable ones for evaluating online criticism but it’s the sheer force of the guidance which feels too much; too controlling – and too guilty. Far from assuring me of his trustworthiness, this approach just leaves me wanting to know exactly what it is he’s so keen to hide from his prospects.

I bring it to your attention because it’s another great example of how easy it is to over-control and end up drawing attention to the criticism you’re most uncomfortable with.