Today I received an interesting phone call from ADVFN.
If you don’t already know, ADVFN bought Fotothing.com off me a couple of years ago. They’ve done an OK job of taking the site to over 135,000 users, but they haven’t really developed it further, and there has been a few “disagreements” with users over changes in the site over the last couple of years.
A year ago, I started another photo sharing site, Fotonomy. This is aimed more at people with a serious interest in amateur phtoography. Fotothing is more of a photo blog / photo diary. I don’t run Fotonomy as a business – it’s a small, friendly place, and I use it to develop my programming skills as much as anything. (I checked my contract with ADVFN to make sure this was OK before starting another site.)
Last week, out of the blue, Fotothing started serving Google ads to paying (Pro) members. Many of these members had specifically paid not to see ads, as it was listed as the one of the main benefits.Now, I still love Fotothing and have a lot of friends there. People who really helped out during the initial development. So when I read the discussions on the ads in their forums, I posted my own opinion. People who have paid not to see ads should not see ads. Period.
But I also posted saying people should not leave Fotothing.Anyway. Back to the phone call…”Hi Dom. Long time no see. How are you? I was just calling to give you a final warning.”
Yup, they’re threatening me. Threatening legal action. I have been told in no uncertain terms never to mention Fotonomy on Fotothing again. And to not say anything bad about them in general either.Apparently I’m stealing their users. Yes, my site with 460 users is stealing people from their site with 135,000 users and I’m a threat.
Yes, there are some Fotothing users who have joined Fotonomy, but as far as I’m aware none of them has actually left Fotothing – or wants to. They’re very different sites. And I have never initiated any conversation on the Fotothing forums about Fotonomy. I’m certainly not advertising it.
But for me, the really interesting part of the phone call was the person who called me. He’s a really nice guy and was nice about the whole thing. But as far as I know, he’s not directly involved in the day to day running of Fotothing. I can only assume he was asked to call me because we were friends. If that’s the case, then it’s as unfair on him as it is on me.
Now if senior management (you know who you are) had called me and just asked me politely if I could be a little less outspoken in the forums, I probably would have agreed – and even offered assistance if they needed it. But getting an old friend to do the dirty work (which is how it appears to me – I could be wrong), is a little underhanded.
Of course, this isn’t about me at all. It’s about Fotothing and the users that make the site what it is. What ADVFN don’t seem to realise is that I’m incredibly proud of what I – and they – have achieved with it. And the way to deal with pissed off customers is not to send threats, but to listen to them and address their concerns.
Will I be sued? Will I have my Fotothing account pulled for posting this on my own blog? Who knows. But I will continue to stand up for users. Because without users, nobody in the web development business would have a job.