How Meetup Screwed Up

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The last 24 or so hours at Meetup.com is a good case study in how not to rollout a major site upgrade. Since the controversial upgrade, the only “official” response has been one lone representative in the organizer boards, who seems to spend more time locking threads than responding to issues. @Meetup has also posted the following tweet:

We don’t have any plans to roll back the design. :-/ Anything we can do to help? You can contact us here: http://meetu.ps/7JF2

Umm…yeah, is anything you can do to help, Meetup? How about: Roll back your design!

Into this leadership void, competitor Groupspaces.com has jumped in, by not only tweeting their info to the #newmeetup Twitter crowd, but with a full-on blog post:

In light of the recent updates to Meetup.com, we realise that many organizers have been left with a site that no longer satisfies their needs. In response to all your enquiries, we’d like to say hello, welcome and tell you more about how GroupSpaces can be used for running meetups with a quick guide to using our site.

[More here: http://blog.groupspaces.com/a-free-alternative-to-the-new-meetup]

They even found my blog here and posted a comment responding to my concern over lack of local search functionality. You can bet they are going to add that soon, making them an even more viable option to Meetup.

So here is a quick list of things of where Meetup went wrong:

1. Not getting their organizers and members on board to help with beta testing, feedback and QA on the new upgrade. And let’s get our terms clear here: It’s not just a new “design,” but a new functionality that drastically changes the core way Meetup works, by making it into more of  a “flashmob” style web application instead of a basic event calendar with social tools.

2. Not responding more proactively to the complaints when they came in. I emailed my complaint early yesterday and so far, I’ve only received a canned response. I’ve gotten no official email from Meetup explaining their position either way, and I would have expected by this time that they would have sent out a mass email saying something, even if it was to justify their mess. They also should have posted some sort of blog or announcement to the community that they were listening. Instead, they have stuck their heels in the sand, defensively trying to justify their choices and shutting off any suggestions to roll back to the previous design.

3. Completely misunderstanding their customers and audience. It’s clear from the lame attempts at casual lingo (“Count me in!” instead of “RSVP”) that Meetup is trying to go for trendy rather than functional. I’m wondering if they have anyone on their team who is older than 30. What they don’t get is that Meetup has been used by organizations and groups who are run by and frequented by adults. Some of them quite mature. Here’s a snippet from one comment by an organizer on the board:

Sudden, radical changes to functionality have to stop. My average member is 60 yrs old, and is not the type to “click around” the site to figure out how to do things the new way. They also become frustrated when they do not find functionality they used to have (e.g. Maybe) because they cant find it. They dont know that Meetup REMOVED it.

The human factor engineering is sadly lacking at Meetup. How many DESIGNERS and QA TESTERS do you have that can look thru the lens of a 50, 60, 70, or even 80 y.o.? Thats MY membership – 187 of them. I have retired from 40 YEARS as a designer, developer, tester, and customer advocate in the software industry. I look at your product’s usability and would fire you all for your lack of knowledge of your customer’s needs.

Any company that wants a big piece of the Internet pie and ignores aging baby boomers online is run by idiots.

Unfortunately, at this point, it’s not looking good that Meetup will respond to their customers and go back to the old Meetup. They seem to be driven by some sort of “vision” – and I’ll be it’s one of those egotistical, pie-in-the-sky things, like “We’re going to change the face of online to f2f community!!!!” – rather than getting down to business.

Now, there’s some history of Meetup pissing off its base. 37signals shares the following in an article called “Scott Heiferman Looks Back at Meetup’s Bet-the-Company Moment,” back when Meetup went from free to charging organizers:

Meetup wasn’t expecting the harsh response. “We were really naive,” says Scott Heiferman, founder of the site. “We figured that if people didn’t like it, they would just say, ‘OK, I’m not going to do this.’ As opposed to really taking it personally. Because this wasn’t like we were taking away their medicine. But people were so upset and we got such anger and such vitriol. The backlash was very bad. And we were surprised by that.”

[More here: http://37signals.com/svn/posts/2751-scott-heiferman-looks-back-at-meetups-bet-the-company-moment-]

You’d think Meetup would have learned from the first time around, but it looks like it may be the reverse. They’ve had more success after pissing people off the first time, so why not piss them off again? They must be thinking they’ll recover from this.

I’m not so sure. While there will be a lot of people who stay with Meetup out of inertia or entrenchment, I’ve seen more who are not already ready to go, but have packed their bags. See, the difference between then and now is that it’s one thing to take something you’ve gotten for free, and start charging for it. It’s quite another to mess up a product that people have been paying good money for and investing their heart and souls into. Meetup is not cheap and can end up costing around $200/year for organizers. That’s no chump change.

Many organizers, who have spent years nurturing their communities, feel absolutely betrayed by Meetup. And they’ve also lost trust in the company. Certainly, I would think twice about relying on Meetup at this point, simply because I can’t say for sure when they might pull the rug out yet again and totally change their functionality on a whim.

I have this sense that Meetup wants to go beyond just groups and become some sort of flashmob Twitter/Facebook hybrid. Well, that’s all good and dandy, but that’s not something I want to pay for. Heck, I wouldn’t even use it if it were free. But you know, I’m 40 and not interested in teeny-bopper stuff anymore. But Meetup doesn’t get that there’s an audience of people past 30 who go online….and believe it or not, we spend money too!

Into this gaping hole of opportunity rush hungry companies like Groupspaces, which has already proved it is a bit more on the ball in regards to responsiveness than Meetup. Hubvine is a new start-up shared by a now former Meetup organizer as a new and upcoming calendar/events application.

Will they learn from Meetup’s mistakes? Or get sidetracked by their own sense of self-importance. We shall see……

A Conversation With One of the Founders of Groupspaces (Watch Out, Meetup!)

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logo370-300x78I received an email from David Langer, one of the co-founders of Meetup competitor Groupspaces.com, the other day. In the wake of the exodus from Meetup.com after their almost universally-despised upgrade, he wanted my advice on what sorts of features former Meetup organizers wanted, so that they could improve Groupspaces and make it more appealing and useful. I had a nice informal chat with him this morning, and he was eager to get the word out that his company is committed to offering a groups service that really works for its members.

A little bit of background on David: He and his co-founder met at Oxford, where they were running student groups and needed a platform to help them organize events. Groupspaces was born out of that need, and he says they feel “passionately” about helping people manage their groups. It comes from a personal space of having done this themselves, which informs and drives what they do on the site.

Does this mean that Groupspaces may be a bit more responsive to their group organizers than Meetup? So far, the answer appears to be yes. Of course, this Meetup upgrade fiasco is a business opportunity for competitors, so if you are cynical, you might think Groupspaces responsiveness is all a bunch of PR. But considering that the leadership at “Meetup HQ” (as they are called by organizers) has been strangely silent about their upgrade and the backlash, I’d bet that most former Meetup organizers simply want a company that responds to their concerns – whether it’s just to make money or get PR or whatnot. But a company that responds! There’s nothing more frustrating than giving money to a company that is tone deaf and does not care.

My impression is that David does care and he is a very sharp guy who is really on top of what is going on. He has a vision of Groupspaces being a place where groups can connect worldwide, and that this goes beyond just one specific type of group. From what he told me, he sees Groupspaces as a hub where small local groups as well as large organizations can connect.

Groupspaces is already a great service, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s free for groups with fewer than 250 members. But of course, for people who were happy with Meetup’s old interface, Groupspaces has a few major areas they might improve. Groupspaces is aware of this and working overtime right now to add new features to the website. I might have misheard David what with the international call and his British accent, but I could have sworn he said his developers were right now in “Hackistan” to get things done quickly! (Update: David has since emailed me to clarify that he actually said they were in “Hackathon-mode” – though I kind of like the idea of a “Hackistan. :-) )

I’ve noticed that several issues come up fairly consistently with Meetup organizers who are contemplating a transition to Groupspaces, so I shared a few of these concerns with David.

Number one is the issue of a local group search function. Especially for someone with a young Meetup that is not connecting to an existing organization, having new ready-made “eyeballs” is a very important feature. So the good news is: If you would like this functionality at Groupspaces, they are working on it!

Related to this issue is the concern over whether Groupspaces has enough “critical mass” to attract members to the site. David told me that they currently have about one million memberships, and they are doubling their userbase approximately every 4-5 months. They launched about five years after Meetup, so they do have a little catch up to do. But given the exodus from Meetup, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Groupspaces become a go-to site in the near future, provided they make it easier to find groups.

The second issue is the ability to have a photo gallery. David told me that just today one of their developers showed off a prototype photo gallery. David says this is the #3 most requested feature so you should expect to see this launched on the site soon, once it’s been tested.

On RSVPs and waiting lists: I let him know that Meetup organizers would like waiting lists, and that a few seemed to miss the “Maybe” RSVP option that Meetup used to have. David told me that they already have a “Maybe” option, and some of their organizers have requested the removal of “Maybe,” so there was some discussion over making “Maybe” optional.  Mostly, I think with these sorts of issues, if you let Groupspaces know your concern, they will be responsive if enough people request something.

On site design: We also talked a bit about the how some organizers would like a more colorful Meetup style site design. While Groupspaces does offer a lot of page customization, I felt that a lot of people just checking the site out don’t understand that upon first glance. If you are expecting Meetup’s colorful templates, you won’t see that when you first join Groupspaces. But as we discussed on the phone, some folks might enjoy Groupspaces more “Google” style minimal starter design, and you can’t please everyone when it comes to graphics. This is not something that might initially be overhauled, but I did let David know it might be helpful in the least to provide some sample sites with different looks to let people know what they can do with the platform. Groupspaces is highly customizable, and you can do a lot with it already design-wise.

On Meetup’s “immaturity”: I take it from David’s personal timeline that he’s a fairly young guy himself, and I made a faux pas of commenting that some folks felt that Meetup was run by “20somethings.” He did remind me that 20somethings also created Yahoo and Facebook – oops, he’s probably a 20something – and so we discussed the “immature” way it appeared Meetup was being run. I told him about the new Meetup “welcome” email text that has many organizers in an uproar, which emphatically tells users in MTV language that they are “expected” to do certain things, such as suggest Meetups and share photos, and that they should not be “flakes.” (One Meetup organizer described this message as being “Hard-coded by a semi-literate sociopathic coder.”) I can tell that David is fairly mature, no matter what his age, so I doubt you’ll be seeing such juvenile language on Groupspaces any time soon.

And the big one – Meetup’s lack of concern: It seems clear to me that Groupspaces is much more eager to respond to what their customers want than Meetup at this time. I don’t know whether this is by design or not, but it is very odd that Meetup HQ is not trying to work with their organizers more. Some are speculating that Meetup wants to go to a corporate “perks” model and phase out organizers altogether, except to be the pawn of the corporate sponsors. I’m not sure what this means, but it seems to be sort of a company flashmob buzz model that the Meetup conspiracy theorists are talking about.

Meetup CEO Scott Heiferman did finally post a response to all the brouhaha today, but it’s probably too little too late. He allowed too much time and now Meetup organizers have spent an entire weekend researching and testing out alternatives. You have to move fast on the Internet. He also tried to diminish the upset organizers by claiming that “less than 2% of Organizers have posted here.” Ahhh…Scott, you do understand the old Internet adage that there are 10 lurkers for every one poster? So there are probably 10 disgruntled organizers for every one posting there.

Groupspaces has the jump on Meetup in all this. The very fact that one of the founders of Groupspaces contacted me at all is a far cry from Meetup and their days of silence. But Groupspaces appears to have a philosophy of putting the needs of the users first.

David told me very emphatically: “All product development is driven by the users.” He said they had a very large spreadsheet where they organize all the priorities for improving the site. These priorities are determined by the feedback they get from their customers. He wanted me to let people know that if anyone had any concerns, issues, or requests, that they should get in touch with the company. He said they are “very passionate” about responding to their customers’ needs.

One thing that you’ll be seeing soon on Groupspaces is a special new pricing plan that is being designed specifically for ex-Meetup organizers. I don’t know the specifics, but it’s designed to offer an affordable option for large groups that might want the ability to turn off advertising on their group pages, because Meetup users are used to not having ads.

For those who really like Groupspaces “free” account level – not to fear, this is not going away any time soon. “We feel very strongly about a free plan for local groups,” David told me.

Overall, I am very impressed with David’s attitude and felt confident after speaking to him that Groupspaces was committed to helping local organizers do what they do best – organize groups. It also seems that their platform is designed for larger and even non-local groups as well. With a user-focused commitment and an obvious eagerness to step up to the plate, I think Meetup is going to have a run for their money with Groupspaces.

Now I can only hope that Groupspaces doesn’t get bought out by Google or something. I’m so sick of Google owning everything. But that’s another story. :-)

How (and Why) to Shut Down Your Meetup Group – For Good

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I’ve waited to post the following information until I saw a response from “Meetup HQ” about their fiasco of an upgrade. It seems clear from the messages from CEO Scott Heiferman that Meetup has no intention of rolling back the changes they made or restoring functionality that has been lost. They are making a few adjustments here and there – apparently, they finally removed the much-reviled admonition not to “flake” appended to the end of welcome emails – but the main changes will remain.

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It seems that CEO Scott, or “Heif” as he’s called on Twitter, has some grand visions he wants to achieve. Some Meetup organizers have concluded, after analyzing his writings, that he wants to create a platform for “personal democracy.” He seems inspired by the uprising in Egypt. Well, that’s all fine and dandy, but that’s certainly not what I paid for. From-the-ground flashmobs are all well and good, but don’t ask me to foot the bill!

Heif’s cry for “democracy” does not seem to be going over well with Meetup organizers, who feel that Heif himself acted pretty unilaterally and dare we say, as a dictator, in pushing his vision on his customers.

An organizer labeled simply “G” wrote the following:

After reading Scott’s response, I do not think any rational arguments are going to work. His response has made me more confident that moving away is the best decision. I don’t want my group to be at the mercy of someone suffering from delusions of grandeur. The best we can hope for is a mutiny by his staff (my heart goes out to you, btw). I think this pretty much sums up how I feel about ithttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5R_pS0h5Qk

(Do click on that YouTube link. It’s pretty funny in this context.)

A Meetup organizer named Linda articulated her frustration with the “member-organized” model Meetup seems to evolving towards:

It’s so sad they don’t get it. It’s so sad they think they will be the next Twitter. They want members to be able to just post “Let’s all meet at whatever bar to hang out”. They don’t see that they were something much more, much better, meeting a need for so many more of all ages. Instead they want to trash a growing business, to try to become the latest passing fancy. As an Organizer of a group for singles over fifty, a thriving active group. I have 10 to 12 events a month turning out an average of 9 to 10% of my membership to each event. If it was about money, I would have gladly paid twice as much to keep the old format. This new format will never work for my group. Thank you for the Meetup that was. I have canceled my payment info, am now shop for a new site and am mourning the loss of a great site for building a strong community. REST IN PEACE….

So…here’s the bottom line. Why should you cancel Meetup? Well, unless you want to be paying for a group that ultimately ends up being member-run, it might be time to cut your losses and move on. Meetup HQ seems to be more interested in democracy than organizer-led groups. Which is great. But that is not the same thing as offering a platform for organizers to create, nourish and direct their own groups. It’s probably extremely optimistic (if not naive at this point) to think that Meetup is going to move back into being the type of service that gives more control and options to the organizers, when Heif himself says that “we do not believe in the “lone-ranger” model of organizing.”

Given the amount of money, energy, time, grief, and love that goes into nurturing a group, I’d be hard-pressed to recommend putting all your eggs into the Meetup basket from this time forward.

If Meetup eventually gets rid of organizer fees, then fine. That would seem to be the fair thing to do, if they truly want to make Meetup into a ground-up democratic platform where members are “empowered” to self-organize. I simply do not think it is fair of Meetup to keep taking money from organizers if they have no intention of actually serving organizer’s needs or desires. It’s bad enough they allowed their organizers to pay for the “privilege” of growing and nurturing their user base by managing these groups, only to turn around and take the power and control away from these organizers. To ask for the organizers to continue paying from this point forward, when Heif clearly seems to want to create a non-hierarchical member-driven platform, is disingenuous at best, fraudulent at worst.

If you continue to pay money into Meetup, don’t be surprised if they don’t pull another bait and switch on you and completely turn the platform upside down in the pursuit of Heif’s vision. This is as good a reason as any to move now, or at least get other options going.

Where to Move Your Meetup Groups

I am moving my groups off of Meetup as soon as my current plan runs out. Thank the heavens that I have only paid them $36 (ever) for an introductory organizer membership on sale. Meetup has given me a mailing list, which is worth $36 I suppose, and I will let those folks know that they can keep up with the groups elsewhere. I am going to host my groups on both BigTent and Groupspaces. I like both services for a variety of reasons, and both seem responsive to former Meetup organizers. Groupspaces seems to be slightly preferred by Meetup organizers, and I am impressed after talking to one of the co-founders, so they may end up being the big player here. But I’ve also seen a lot of Meetup organizers move to BigTent.

A few other options include Spruz and Grouply, both of which I’ve heard decent things about, though Spruz is apparently light on calendar options. Meetup organizers who want a full-fledged custom experience have also been going to Ning and paying for the privilege, but for my needs I see no reason to pay when Groupspaces is free for groups under 250 and BigTent is entirely supported by advertising.

A lot of people are also moving their groups to Facebook, but I am leery of giving Facebook too much power, so I’m staying away from that for now. Plus, believe it or not, I know people who absolutely refuse to get a Facebook account. So I don’t see Facebook-only as an option personally.

Each organizer has different things that are important. Some organizers really don’t want advertising, and are willing to pay to remove it. Some organizers really need a strong event calendar. I would recommend trying out a few places and seeing how they work. None will give you exactly what Meetup was just yet, but consider that you are saving $144 (or more) per year and so a few compromises won’t kill you (or your group).

Some organizers are planning on using multiple services (like I am), since for some of us, we want the ability to advertise events to a wider audience. One thing I am grateful to Meetup for is inspiring me to look for other options – not only to help me reach new people, but ultimately to help me save on Meetup fees. So thanks for screwing up, Meetup!

For a list of Meetup alternatives and links to their group search functions, check out http://www.ex-meet-up.com.

How to Shut Off Your Meetup Group

One of the unfortunate “features” of Meetup is that if you just let your organizer dues lapse, Meetup will announce to your group members that your group is missing a leader and anyone can “step up” by paying organizer dues.

The problem with this is that you could end up having your group hijacked by someone else. When this happens, there is no recourse.

Meetup, of course, wants to keep the organizer dues flowing, so why would they shut off a group of 200 members when they can get a new person to take the helm?

The problem is, if you are running a group that is connected to your off-line organization or business, you absolutely do not want someone else taking over your group once you leave. If you are running the “Daughters of Liberty Vegetarian Group” that is the online face of your offline “Daughters of Liberty Vegetarian Society,” you absolutely do not want someone stealing your name and your members.

Now, supposedly, you can contact Meetup to shut your group down completely, but some folks are dubious as to whether Meetup will help with this what with the big exodus going on right now.

Here is how you can destroy your group completely so that there will be nothing to take over once you’ve left. This information was originally posted by Neal Wiseman, who said I could share it on my blog.

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If meetup.com does not expediantly reverse all of their changes, or at least give organizers the option to change things back, then I anticipate a large exodus. It will be a huge pain in the butt, and a heartbreak, but I plan on leaving myself if meetup does not make a prompt action to reverse this large error in judgement. Please read the following and post a reply with any additional suggestions you may have for organizers thinking about leaving meetup.If an organizer steps down without nominating a new organizer, the entire organization team is bumped out as well. Meetup.com then sends out an automatic e-mail to the membership, giving them an option to step up as the new organizer. If you don’t mind doing this, then go ahead. If you want to move your group to another page, or if you don’t want meetup.com to benefit from all of the work you have done, then you may consider the following options.

1. Change the group’s name. Change it to something completely irrelevant, or change it to the web address that you want to redirect people to.

2. E-mail the membership that you will be shutting down the group and state why. Advise the membership of where else to go.

3. Remove all of the group members. Copy and paste an explanation e-mail to each one of them.

4. Change the group headline to reflect where to go, or change to an irrelevant message.

5. Go into “optional features”, shut down your message board and hide it.

6. Cancel your subscription, but don’t step down until meetup removes you for non payment. Take advantage of leaving up your information until your dues run out.

7. (Added by another organizer:) Also, make sure to close your Meetup group to new members.

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Well, that’s it. Of course, you’ll want to have your other groups set up first so you can tell your members where you are moving to and give them as much warning as you can. I’ve seen some Meetup organizers say they have embedded the BigTent sign-up widget directly into their Meetup page!

If you have any other tips, please share them in the comments.…

Austin’s Recent Energy Crisis

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This is my first winter in Austin, Texas, and lucky me, it’s one of the coldest Austin has had in a while. Last week, the United States experienced a 2,000 mile long storm that stretched across the country. Here in Texas we experienced freezing rain and some light snow. But it was the cold that knocked out the power grid. Some in Austin had to endure rolling blackouts that ended up leaving them with less power on than off – for hours on end.

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I lucked out – I had checked the blackout zone on the Austin Energy website and my apartment complex had just missed a major outage possibly by feet.

Two pipes froze and broke at a power station. This curtailed the energy from that station, putting a load on other power plants. Then, the natural gas pressure in some supply lines dropped due to the low temperatures. The outages in Texas led to outages in New Mexico and a chain reaction of energy problems across the Southwest. Econoblogger Chris Martenson wrote the following in a Martenson Insider report about the “lessons” he learned from watching the energy fiasco:

The first is that complex systems behave in unpredictable ways. Nobody knew that a little bit of cold would lead to the set of behaviors exhibited by the highly interconnected energy production and distribution system in the southwest.

The second is that our national energy grid is not ready to handle the dreams of those promoting the idea that we can just run our country on the immense natural gas finds of recent years. If the pipeline system in the southwest couldn’t handle a couple of cold days, imagine trying to plug 30,000,000 vehicles into the system. Certainly someday we could do that, but not right now. There is an incredible number of infrastructure upgrades to be done first.

He may be right. What’s interesting to me is how much people seem to disagree on how to handle our future energy needs. In scanning through various comments on news articles during the blackouts, it seems a lot of people want to bash the push towards alternative energy as causing these problems. One common scapegoat was a Dallas mayor, who was blamed for blocking new power plants over environmental concerns. It also seems to be a go-to to mock solar power and wind power.

It may well be that in order to feed the energy needs of future Americans we’d have to make some horrible environmental concessions to do so and use “clean” coal or nuclear power. On the other hand, I don’t understand why some people are so down on alternatives. It’s almost like, because environmentalists don’t like coal, people who are against environmentalists will be against anything smacking of “alternative energy” just to be contrary.

Yet, driving from El Paso to Austin, I saw an incredible amount of wind turbines. Set up in areas that would otherwise not have much else except tumbleweeds. They apparently have problems when it freezes, but most of the year they do contribute quite a bit of power. I also continually wonder how much power would be generated if every American house that had any sunlight coming to it had solar panels on the roof.

Certainly here in Austin, which has a tremendous amount of sun even in the winter, I see an appalling lack of solar panels on homes. And Austin is supposed to be more into that sort of thing.

We’ve got to find a way to reach out to average Americans and help them get behind the search for alternative energy. I’m not sure how to do that – it seems like there’s a bizarre resistance to it that is partly due to people being annoyed at environmentalists. Well yes, some environmentalists can get annoying in their preachiness, but no more so than some extremist holy rollers. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, I say.…

What Was Netflix Thinking?

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Wow, Netflix, wow.

A lot of people were angry at the Netflix price increase, enough so that at least 4% of subscribers quit in a very short period of time (and that’s a lot in business terms). But to add insult to injury with an already upset customer base? That takes some balls – or plain out stupidity.

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings published a blog post yesterday that was an apology – of sorts. Actually, it really wasn’t an apology at all. It was a very poor attempt to justify their price increase by saying what they really intended all along was to split the company in two! Yep, no one-stop-shop anymore…if you want DVDs, you’ll have a separate account at the poorly named “Qwikster,” which is a name that either brings unfortunate associations with Amway or chocolate milk and a bunny.

I have to wonder what PR person is giving this guy advice. The blog post as written was not only insincere but disingenuous. My thought was, when I was reading it, was something like this: “Oh, so what you are really saying is, you’ve been planning on splitting up the company all along. Only, you lied to us about it and are only now telling us. Either that, or you made a last-minute decision to split the company up, which is just plain stupid.”

Customers hate price increases, but I bet they hate being lied to even more. This feels like a bait and switch.

Judging from the comments on the blog post, the majority of customers are outraged. I have also been a customer, and the ironic thing was, I was actually OK with the price increase, and was going to pay it, but now that they’ve split the company, I am not only planning on dropping the DVD service, but thinking of canning Netflix altogether. In my view, the streaming service alone is not sufficient because the library is poor, and the DVD service on its own isn’t worth it, because as long as I have a separate account, I might as well go to Blockbuster where I can get a free DVD trade-in at my local store.

Here’s my own comment that I posted on the Netflix blog:

Funny how I was unable to find an email address to send my comment to…well, here’s my feedback. I have not been a long-time subscriber to Netflix. I previously used Blockbuster for DVDs and was very happy with them, but they did not offer a streaming subscription. But I was willing to pay the extra fee you recently announced for Netflix, in hopes that you would use that money to improve the streaming options.

Now that you are splitting your service – and announcing it with this smarmy and insensitive blog post – I am going to cut the Netflix (Qwikster) DVD service and then assess whether I want to continue Netflix streaming. Your streaming selection is poor and now with Starz going it will become even worse. As for DVDs, I will either go to RedBox or back to Blockbuster, where I can trade in my mail-in DVD for a free DVD at my local Blockbuster store.

I have Hulu Plus and I am already using that more than Netflix streaming. Amazon Prime doesn’t have a huge selection but they will give me other perks at Amazon, so I will be assessing that as an alternative to Netflix streaming.

I am constantly amazed at how so many companies make such massive missteps as to destroy a thriving business. Meetup recently did it with a poorly-implemented redesign that they had gotten no customer input on prior to launch. It appears that you are also not listening (or even asking for feedback from) your customers prior to making such monumental changes.

At any rate, I have no loyalty to you, and you don’t seem to have much loyalty to your existing customers. You obviously are so locked up in your little bubble that you think announcing the split-up of your business constitutes an “apology.” This is not an apology, it’s a slap in the face. You are reducing services and convenience in exchange for a higher fee – that you actually thought this was going to be well-received is astonishing.

And the funny thing is, my comment was relatively mild compared to some other ones. With so much outrage, Netflix may have just killed the company with this move, so even if you want to stay, whether you might want to look at alternatives. Netflix will be hemorrhaging customers left and right with this and they may not be able to recover.

Given how volatile the Internet is, it’s always interesting to see how companies reach certain turning points in their lifespans. Some folks have likened this as the moment Netflix “jumped the shark.” Certainly, at this point, I’ll be surprised if Netflix is still its own company in five years. If they are lucky, Google will buy them out. Otherwise, I can see them entirely shutting their online doors. Oh well. It was nice while it lasted.…

Japan’s Nuclear Clusterf*ck

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Despite the rosy picture the media likes to portray of the crisis at Fukushima, I am unfortunately expecting a bad end to this nuclear crisis. No amount of happy Japanese cartoons portraying stricken nuclear power plants as a stinky poo creating “Nuclear Boy” will lessen the fact that the nuclear power plant disaster has been an ecological nightmare that may well end up making Tokyo uninhabitable should the very worst happen. Meanwhile, the people of Tokyo have been drinking nuclear water and will probably end up with long-term health consequences even if this situation ends up resolved “positively.”

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You know what? I know that coal is bad for the environement, and so is oil. But nuclear power, when it goes wrong, is downright catastrophic. Maybe we need to look at alternatives already. All of the pro-nuclear sentiment is based on the idea that the people running our nuclear power plants are ethical and have a freakin’ clue as to what they are doing. Fukushima should be a warning to us all.

Here’s a great comment on the situation I found at Zero Hedge, which was reposted from the New York Times:

Good readers comment here I am re-posting from the NYT (thanks to Old Curmudgeon, Akron, OH):

“It is depressing to read all these well-written (and sometimes even erudite) comments doing nothing but reinforcing pre-conceived political positions for lack of the faintest knowledge of facts and the faintest understanding of their significance. This comment thread is convincing empirical evidence of the fact that humans beings think by exciting their prejudices first and rationalizing later.

Here are the most salient facts of this sad situation, from which I hope the conclusions are obvious:

1. The situation is far from under control. There are twelve trouble spots: six reactors and six spent-fuel pools. All will remain dangerously radioactive for centuries, whether operating or not, whether shut down or not, whether damaged or not, and whether abandoned or not. Radioactivity doesn’t care whether a plant is running, let alone meeting design criteria. The salient task is containing radioactivity.

2. So far only five or six of these trouble spots have been stabilized, namely, the reactors and spent-fuel pools for Numbers 4, 5, and 6, which were never in serious trouble to begin with. The reactors and/or spent-fuel pools for Numbers 1, 2 and 3 are still in trouble. In the case of Numbers 1 and 2, we don’t even know what’s going on because the control room, which is heavily shielded and supposed to be safe, has no air conditioning and is presumed too radioactive to inhabit.

3. Every one of these twelve trouble spots is DESIGNED to require continuous cooling to stay safe, whether operating or “shut down,” whether attended or abandoned.

4. The “concrete sarcophagus” solution of Chernobyl is a last resort, not a preferred solution. The reason: concrete is porous and cracks, especially in climates like Northern Japan’s, where water has been known to freeze. Over years and decades—let alone the centuries of radioactivity—water passing through broken concrete puts dangerously radioactive elements in the surrounding environment, including the water table. Concrete just impedes further access in the event of follow-on disasters, such as a total meltdown.

5. It is possible to design nuclear power plants that have none of these drawbacks. Even some current designs (for example, French ones) have few or none.

These are the facts. I leave readers to draw their own conclusions, in accordance with their own prejudices.

But I can’t resist drawing one obvious intermediate conclusion. There is no “fix and forget” solution to this crisis. Whether on or off, damaged or fixed, generating power or not, abandoned or not, these obsolete reactors and their spent-fuel pools will remain dangerous for centuries unless continually cooled with careful attention, or unless properly decommissioned at considerable expense. Those reactors and pools not decommissioned but “off line” will be sinks, not sources, of electric power for the foreseeable future.

I leave it to readers to consider the wisdom of keeping about twenty plants of this same obsolete design running here in our own country.”