There IS Such a Thing as Too Much Business

When that business is being conducted at a loss.

I’ve been deeply involved in the Groupon debate for the past few days.

Earlier in the summer, I’d bought a Groupon from a Twitter friend and had used it to buy some jewelry at half price. Later, in August, I was approached by a Groupon clone company and got the details on what they really cost a small business. I did some math, realized it would never work for my business, and blogged about it .

Only a week or two later, I heard a story on NPR about Groupon in which a friend of mine with a business similar to mine was interviewed. He seemed to say positive things in the interview. When I called him, he gave more concrete information that didn’t seem too positive. I spent half a day crunching the numbers again and still couldn’t see how Groupon could benefit me.

I put that aside and got on with my life.

Back into the Debate

Yesterday, my attention was captured by a story on Plagiarism Today about a photographer who had been caught apparently passing off professional photographers’ images as hers on her Web site. The whole thing blew up in her face when she offered a 1-hour portrait sitting with print and CD of images for $65 through Groupon. She’d sold over 1,000 of these — far more than any photographer could complete in a year — when someone pointed out that photos on her Web site belonged to other photographers. She attempted to say that her site was hacked, but it was pointed out that the same photos also appeared on her Facebook page. Then her site and Facebook page went down; when her site reappeared it had a collection of crap photos that my mother could have taken with a Kodak 110 camera. (My mother is a horrible photographer.)

If you’re interested in seeing how the situation developed, read the comments from the Groupon thread, which were preserved by Petapixel after Groupon cancelled the offer, refunded the money, and deleted the thread. (A little too late to put out that fire.)

This story was picked up by many other sites, including TechCrunch. Their focus was on the ability of a business to effectively service Groupon customers, Groupon’s apparent failure to properly vet the services it features, and the hardship incurred by at least one Groupon merchant, Posie’s Diner. Since I’ve always thought that the Groupon model could be potentially harmful to a small business merchant using their service to advertise, I went to the Posie’s Diner blog post and read the story. It’s an honest and rather sad account by the restaurant owner who wound up having difficulties meeting payroll expenses while accepting the Groupons she’d sold. Each one had a face value of $13 but she’d received only $3 for each one. That meant she’d have to sell $13,000 of product for only $3,000 in revenue. The blog post explains the other related problems, which are mostly customer related.

Some Commenters Are Jerks

To make it clear, Posie’s Diner does not blame Groupon. She admits she made a mistake and takes full responsibility for it. But that didn’t stop the usual bunch of jerks from making nasty comments on her blog post. This one really pissed me off:

Businesses that complain about too much business should not be in business.

Wow. This guy needs to get a clue. If every sale you make comes at a loss, then even one sale is “too much business.”

That’s the situation I would have faced if I went with the Groupon clone — or Groupon. My margins are so low that I’d lose money on every single sale. I didn’t need that kind of business. No business does.

Is Groupon a Problem?

I admit that I resent the idea of a company making money off my hard work while I lose money on deeply discounted sales. Posie’s might have made a mistake going with Groupon, but it’s a mistake they won’t make again. I just won’t make that mistake at all.

To be fair, I read both good and bad comments all over the Web about Groupon from both merchants and customers. Clearly, there are possibilities for using the service with success. I just can’t figure out what they could be for my business. But there’s also a lot of pain in the Groupon model: the financial hardship of businesses with too many Groupon sales, the difficulty for customers being able to redeem Groupon goods and services due to crowds and overbookings.

Back to the “Photographer”

The idiot “photographer” who unknowingly pulled me back into the Groupon debate is truly a fool. Not only did she commit fraud when attempting to use other photographers’ work as examples of her own to sell her services, but she sold far more Groupons than she could ever expect to accept. If she hadn’t been revealed as a scammer in time to cancel the sale, she likely would have been out of business before long. After all, she was making less than $35 on each hour-long session at a client’s home. Between transportation costs and materials costs, she would have been in the red from day one. Would 1,700 sales at only $35 each have been “too much business” for her? I think so.

Then, when customers starting seeing the dismal quality of her work, would Groupon have refunded their money? And what would they have done when the fraud claims starting coming in and Groupon was called out for not properly vetting the offer?

Or maybe she was a true scammer who never planned to do any Groupon work. Perhaps she planned to just take the money and run.

Clearly, there’s some kind of problem with Groupon that needs attention. I’ll continue to watch from the sidelines. But I certainly won’t be giving Groupon any business in any form.

Connect with Facebook?

Think twice before clicking that button.

This morning, I followed a link from one of my Twitter friends to an article on about the growing popularity of ebooks. The article made a statement I didn’t agree with and I wanted to comment. The comment area had two options:

    Two Choices

  • Sign in to the PCWorld Web site. This requires an account on the PCWorld Web site, which I did not have or want.
  • Connect with Facebook. After a long internal debate, I have begun using Facebook again.

Facebook Request for PermissionI clicked the Connect with Facebook button. A window like this one popped up in my Web browser. Since this was the first time I’d tried to connect to a site with Facebook, I decided to actually read what was in the window.

And I was appalled by what I read.

Here it is, just in case you can’t read it in the screenshot:

PCWorld is requesting permission to do the following:
Access my basic information
Includes name, profile picture, gender, networks, user ID, list of friends, and any other information I’ve shared with everyone.

In other words, not only does PCWorld get access to my name, but it also gets access to quite a bit of personal information, including my gender, affiliations, user ID (for tracking, I wonder?), and list of friends. It can also access “any other information I’ve shared with everyone,” which could include hobbies, interests, favorite books and movies, etc. In other words, I’d be giving PCWorld a wealth of information about me.

Whoa. Exactly why would I want to give PCWorld access to this information? Certainly not for the privilege of entering a comment on its Web site.

I clicked the Don’t Allow button to get out of there, then attempted to set up an account. Apparently, it’s impossible to set up an account on PCWorld without subscribing to one of its electronic magazines. It has over a dozen of them and none of them interest me in the least.

That got me wondering why I was wasting precious time from my day to add content to PCWorld’s Web site.

So I closed the window and got on with my life.

At least it gave me something to blog about.

What I hope readers come away with from this story is this: think twice before “Connecting with Facebook.” You may be sharing your private Facebook information with organizations that really don’t need it.

I Love Blog Comments Here

But I hate spammers.

There’s nothing I find more rewarding about this blog than to check the comments held for moderation and find some comments from a reader that really add value to what I’ve written. These reactions are part of why I blog. I want to start a dialog with my readers, I want to learn from them and see their points of view.

Often, I find interesting blogs or Twitter friends among my commenters. I’ve even built relationships with commenters — fellow author Miraz Jordan is a good example — I met her when she commented on my blog years ago. We’ve been friends since then and even co-authored a book together.

I see the comment feature as a way of opening my world to my reader’s worlds. What they say gives me an idea of what they’re thinking, what they’re all about.

Sadly, Comment Moderation is Required

Comments on this site are moderated. There are two main reasons for that:

  • Spam happens. I use automated spam filters, but spam gets through. Spam, in a blog’s comments, are unslightly and unprofessional. They indicate that the blogger isn’t taking care of his or her blog. I take care of my blog. I approve every single comment before it appear on this blog.
  • Some people are abusive jerks. As I wrote a while back in “Why Forums Suck…,” common courtesy appears to be a thing of the past. Online, people say whatever they want to whoever they want, sometimes rudely and abusively. I do not tolerate that behavior here*. Rude personal attacks on me or another commenter will not see the light of day. (And, for the record, I didn’t want to use the word jerk at the beginning of this bullet point. The word I wanted to use was a bit stronger and far less ladylike. I’m trying hard to keep my language more civil these days.)

When I’m in my office or have access to the Internet on my iPad, I check comments throughout the day. I almost always approve or reject a comment within 24 hours and, if I’m sitting at my desk, it could be within minutes. So although moderation doe slow down the dialog, it does not bring it to a screeching halt.

Don’t Think You Can Fool Me

I should elaborate a bit on the spam issue. I also don’t tolerate spam masquerading as a real comment. I’m talking about comments that are obviously hand-written (as opposed to bot-posted) and do add something of value to the original post. But instead of entering his name, the commenter enters his company name. And, of course, there’s a URL in the appropriate field, pointing to the company Web site.

That’s spam.

I handle that kind of comment one of two ways:

  • If it has no real value to the post, I simply mark it as spam and delete it.
  • If it has some value to the post, I remove the company name and URL and approve the comment.

What am I getting at here? Well, if you want to use the comments feature on my blog to get people to visit your site or blog, you need to enter your name (not your company name) in the Name field and compose a real comment that adds value for other readers. Then, when you put your site or blog URL in the URL field, it’s likely to remain and you’ll get the link you want so badly. Consider it a cost of advertising.

I’ve disabled the CommentLuv plugin because it was attracting so many spammers.

June 30, 2014 Update
I’ve finally gotten around to writing up the site comment policy on a regular page (rather than post) on this site. You can find it here: Comment Policy.

You can read my complete comment policy here.

Got something to say? I hope so! Use the Comments link or form for this post to share your thoughts.

Note: In the past, I have tolerated abusive behavior and it quickly got out of hand. Do you want to see how nasty some people can get? Check out this post‘s comments. And those commenters are supposed to be “good Christians” (whatever that means). And please don’t think you can comment on that post here. You can’t.

How Some Bloggers Abuse Commenters

And why this ruins things for the rest of us.

This morning, I got a junk e-mail message from a blogger I’d met on Twitter. And I’m pissed off about it.

How I Was Violated and What I Did about It

I followed this guy on Twitter for a short time and wound up on his blog, where I posted a comment. As anyone who comments on blogs knows, an e-mail address is required to comment, so I entered mine, as I’ve been doing without problems (or spam) for the past five or so years.

This blogger, however, was different. He evidently harvests the e-mail addresses from blog comments and uses it to feed his self-promotional e-mail list. The spam e-mail message from him arrived this morning when I collected my e-mail.

To say I was furious is an understatement. In my opinion, this blogger has violated my trust — and likely the trust of all other commenters on his blog. He’s used my e-mail address without my permission in a way that’s unacceptable. He’s a spammer, pure and simple, and should be subject to the same penalties as any other spammer.

(As if anyone’s actually enforcing the new anti-spam laws.)

Here’s the message he sent; I XXXed out the identifying information so I don’t send any customers his way:

Did you enjoy the free video on the 6 ways to make money on the internet?

How would you like to win the entire XXX System absolutely free?

All you have to do is recommend the system to a friend via a twitter to enter.

We will be giving away 20 full XXX system accounts between now and January 20th.

Click here to enter!

XXX Media Group | XXX | Lincoln, NE 68516 | US
Unsubscribe from future marketing messages from XXX Media Group

Call me an idiot, but I clicked the unsubscribe link. (They say that doing that often just confirms your address and spreads it.) The link sent me to the Bronto Web site, which is evidently the software this jerk uses to send his spam. It supposedly unsubscribed me. But it went a step further — it offered a complaint link. So I clicked that and filled out the form.

I also forwarded the message to, which is something I’ll be doing with ALL spam I receive from now on.

Then I went to Twitter and reported the jerk as a spammer there.

Why This Hurts Legitimate Bloggers

I’ve been blogging since October 2003. That’s six years now. My blog has accumulated thousands of comments from readers. All of them entered what looks like legitimate e-mail addresses. Are they? I don’t know. Other than a few notable exceptions when I wanted to network with a specific person — Miraz Jordan, who wound up co-authoring a book with me, comes to mind — I haven’t tried using them.

I don’t spam my commenters. I appreciate their input; they make my blog better. Why would I violate their trust and start spamming them via e-mail? Why would I make them less likely to contribute their comments to my blog?

So you can get an idea of how annoyed I am about this asshole.

Imagine a first-time commenter who happens to comment on this jerk’s blog. He feels good about adding to the conversation and is ready to do it again elsewhere. But then he gets spam from this jerk. He realizes that putting his e-mail address out there on the Internet can get him all kinds of spam. So he doesn’t do it. Maybe he starts putting fake e-mail addresses in his comments — making him impossible to contact if the blogger wants to for a legitimate, non-spam reason. Or maybe he simply stops commenting at all.

All because one jerk is harvesting commenter e-mail for spam purposes.

What You Can Do about It

The best thing anyone can do about spam is to report it to the authorities.

If you receive spam on Twitter, use the Report For Spam link on the user’s profile page. Do it every time you receive Twitter spam.

OnGuard OnlineIf you receive e-mail spam, forward it to You can also visit the FTC’s Spam Site to learn more about how you can reduce the amount of spam you get. And while you’re surfing out on Government sites, visit OnGuard Online for real information about how to protect yourself and your computer from Internet fraud.

But whatever you do, don’t stop commenting on blogs. Most bloggers appreciate your contributions and won’t betray your trust.

Best Comments for July 2009

Highlighting what other people have to say here.

I thought I’d try something new this month — a blog post that features excellent comments from blog readers. These are comments that really add something to the blog — or set me straight when I needed it.

You see, a blog is made good, in part, by the comments people share for the blog posts. Oddly, many folks tend to skip over the comments when they read a blog’s post. But in some cases, they’re missing out on some of the best content. My ever-popular post, “The Helicopter Job Market,” is a good example. It has over 100 comments that form an excellent discussion among helicopter pilots. Anyone who reads the post but skips the comments is losing out.

Anyway, I thought I’d highlight some of the best comments that have come in over the past month and include links to both the post and the comment. Here goes.

On July 10 and 11, Mark and Crispian Jago commented on my post, “Some Skeptic Resources on the Web.” Both of them provided links to other podcasts I wasn’t aware of, thus expanding my knowledge of these things.

On July 15, Jodene commented on my post, “Indian Eyes,” which included a video of a weird animated indian face atop a building in Wenatchee. She explained what indian was all about:

There used to be a Skookum apple packing shed where the Office Depot is today. The big Indian with the rotating eyes was their mega-mascot and it became a town mascot as well over the years. I know the shed existed into the late 70’s or early 80’s. I believe when the Skookum shed was torn down and replaced w/ the Office Depot a deal must have been made to keep the sign. (Kind of like the Citgo sign in Boston.)

Rene also provided some information about the Skookum apple packing plant.

On July 17, Jonathan commented on my post, “Please Don’t Drag Me Into Your Life.” The post was a rant and it was very cynical and a bit mean. Jonathan gently pointed out that the person I was criticizing may had a perfectly good excuse to be fully participating in Twitter when her mother might be on her deathbed. He took me down a notch, which I deserved, but he did it in a completely inoffensive way. In part:

I guess there’s an off chance her mother was asleep and this woman couldn’t sleep, but was still at the hospital. So to kill some time she’s surfing around the net maybe? I mean, we’ve all surfed aimlessly in the midnight and early hours right?

Maybe she just needed a relief from all the drama and she was using the net as an outlet….

On July 23, Fred B commented on the post, “Alfalfa Field.” His comment shared a wealth of information about alfalfa production and baling, including a direct reply to another commenter’s question. Here’s part of what he had to say:

Alfalfa is a very productive crop (often yielding 3-4 cuttings a season, and is rich in nutrients). The flip side is that it requires a lot of irrigation and removes a lot of nutrients from the soil. In order to give the soil a break, alfalfa is usually rotated every 5-6 years with a different crop (wheat, red clover, corn, various grasses, etc.), hence the observed switch from wheat to alfalfa. I imagine the owner will stick with the perennial alfalfa crop for a few years now before switching back to wheat….

These aren’t the only comments for this month. There were quite a few more. My post, “Fraud Alert: East Coast Mobile Style” continues to get many hits and comments every week. It’s interesting to read the experiences of the victims and how their credit card companies are (or aren’t) helping them.

I urge regular (and new) readers here to participate by posting comments on posts whenever they have something to add. I’m one person and I don’t know everything. It’s great to get additional information, feedback, and input from readers.

In addition, if you’re really interested in a topic, you can use the check box under your comment to subscribe to future comments. This doesn’t add you to any list I use for anything. It’s all handled internally by a WordPress plugin. There’s no spam. The only time you’ll get e-mail is when there’s a new comment. It’s easy to turn off, too; there are instructions in the e-mail you receive.

In the meantime, if you have any comments about this new feature here, please use the Comment link or form to let me know.

And thanks for helping me make my blog more interesting than I could make it on my own.