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Category: Online

The Food Babe is the Fox News of Food Bloggers

The Food Babe is Full of Shit

My “profession” has slowly become the 21st century snake oil sellers. Give a charlatan a slick design, pretty pictures and a “telling it like it is” attitude and watch as they profit on fear and misinformation. The Food Babe is the Fox News of food bloggers and far more bloggers are like her than you think.

Credentials. Sources. Facts. These things matter, not pretty websites.

Two Approaches to Customer Service

I recently had some interactions with two online companies, Livefyre and Reinvigorate. Try and guess which company adopted the Zappos model and turned me into a customer for life.

Reinvigorate Customer Support

One of the things that I’m always toying around with on my sites is traffic tracking software. Google Analytics is king, mainly because it’s free and has a million features, but there are other companies that track a bit more than Google does. Clicky is my personal favorite and I’m currently testing out Chartbeat, but last year I gave Reinvigorate a try.

Do yourself a favor and stay away from Reinvigorate.net.

Their statistics were okay, at best. I paid for a year-long account in October 2010 because I wanted to try their heatmapping. I found it lacking and decided the limited information wasn’t worth the cost or extra time it took people to load the javascripts, so I deleted the tracking code and thought that was it.

You can imagine my surprise when my credit card was automatically renewed in October 2011 for another $100 year long subscription with nary a warning, email, or a notification in my user dashboard.

I promptly contacted their customer support, explaining that I had no idea that all accounts were automatically enrolled in auto-renewing subscriptions and that I didn’t even use the service anymore.

My credit card was charged in late October for a yearly plan, however I didn’t intent to continue using Reinvigorate. I never received a notification or reminder that my account would be auto-renewed as the date approached. However, I canceled my account on November 18.

Is there any way I can receive a prorated refund for the 11 months I won’t be using Reinvigorate?

Their response:

Unfortunately, our system don’t know how to do prorating. You are entitled to continue using our service till the end of what you paid for.

Oh, well that’s nice that I’m entitled to continue using something that I unwillingly paid for. I’m glad that option is still on the table.

When I replied stating that it seemed silly to blame the lack of a refund on “the system” instead of a decision that somebody in the company obviously made, I was told:

I Empathize with your situation. Unfortunately the system does not allow for this kind of refund. Your complaint has been noted. I am going to suggest that we send out emails a week or so before renewal in the future.

A suggestion. I can’t even get a guarantee that other schmucks like me won’t get screwed in the future. Instead I get my complaint noted and a suggestion. Awesome.

I first heard of Livefyre last summer while mindlessly surfing the Internet during chemo. For the uninitiated, it’s a comment-serving company that basically takes over a websites commenting system and ramps it up. It had all sorts of bells and whistles, but the biggest thing that caught my eye was the fact that all comments were stored on both my local server as well as theirs. This was a huge difference between most of their competitors and what it meant was that you were free to leave at any time. Not many companies make it easy to stop using their services.

Flash forward to a few months ago. Guest comments were now available, further features were added, and so I made the leap on Hey, It’s Free. Almost immediately there were problems. I guess that’s bound to happen when you have close to 70,000 comments to import. I sent a message to @Livefyre on Twitter and almost immediately received a reply asking me to email them. What followed was a series of emails between myself and Jeremy, a Livefyre employee, that give Moby-Dick a run for its money in terms of word count. At one point even a few of their engineers got onboard to fix the problem.

And I haven’t paid Livefyre a dime.

It’s a free service they offer. They do have a professional version, but that looks to be aimed at large clients and websites. Folks like you and me are offered their service, and their support, free of charge.

I wish I could force Reinvigorate to forward that $100 of mine over to Livefyre. If Livefyre ever releases a mid-level package, I’ll be the first guy to sign up. The amount of time and headaches they saved me, not to mention all the features they now bring to HIF, are almost incalculable and yet they not only offered their service for free, but thanked me for my patience, joked around with me in emails, and responded to my questions with such a speed typically reserved for those on their deathbeds.

One company takes money and tells me to fuck off. Another offers a boatload of support and then thanks me for using their free product. Guess who’s doing it right.

I Question Your Choice of Questions

We’re all too familiar with a generic online signup form. Step 1: Figure out an unused screen name without resorting to creative curse words. Step 2: Pick a password with at least one uppercase letter, number, and Chinese symbol (even though it’s far more secure to make it an easy-to-remember phrase). Step 3: The “security question” portion that has been made alarmingly unsafe thanks to social media.

Security Questions

I started blogging on Shyzer in 2002 at the age of 19. I created a Facebook account in 2004. I started Twit Twattering in 2008. And I’m fairly certain I covered each of the questions above at least once online.

My sibling’s generation is worse. Most have been leading an on-line life since they could communicate. We teach them to be safe, to not reveal too much about themselves, and yet we wouldn’t bat an eye at revealing our favorite sport or childhood hero.

And why in the hell would you give an option that invariably changes. My preferred musical genre? I guarantee today’s answer differs from what I’ll give in 12 months.

It’s worse when you can’t even create your own question. Letting me enter something random like “baseball/wine/candles” and then putting the answer as the first words I associate with those would be far more secure. But no, I’m stuck trying to remember my grandmother’s first name then in 10 months remembering which grandmother I chose.

Websites, stop doing this shit.

How Does Free Internet Censorship Sound?

I want to keep my personal opinions here separate from work and HIF-related crap. But this is one of those situations that causes me to roll my eyes and scream “you’ve got to be f*%#ing kidding me!” Even worse, it’s one of those things that affects Hey, It’s Free! in that it could kill it. That’s why we need to stop SOPA now.

I’ve made companies mad before. Big companies. Apparently they get their little widdle feelings hurt when some random guy makes fun of them. And the way companies are turning into conglomerates, it’s fathomable that one of them may have ties to Internet providers and block HIF as retaliation. But that’s only IF we let Congress pass SOPA, or the Stop Online Piracy Act.

What does this bill do? It allows the entertainment industry to censor sites that allegedly “engage in, enable or facilitate” copyright infringement. It sounds vague because it was intended to. The theory is that the entertainment industry wants to kill online piracy. But what if I link to a coupon that a company didn’t intend to release and we HIF it? Instead of facing a PR backlash and trying to explain how they screwed, they could say what I did was a piracy-friendly act and have heyitsfree.net blocked. The next time you tried to visit HIF, it’d say I was a pirate and the loving entertainment industry was protecting you for your own good.

It’s no surprise that every major online company as well as Internet and First Amendment legal experts are against this. This isn’t a left vs. right thing. It’s a “once giant industry not knowing how to move into the 21st century so they decide to lobby Congress to help them kill anything new” thing. I looked around at some of the most liberal and conservative blogs and they’re all in agreement – this bill is moronically stupid and needs to be killed.

So what can you do? Call your local Congressman. This is especially important if you live in Texas, Michigan, Vermont, or Iowa. Send them an email. Or at the very least, tell your friends about this. Tweet, share, email it and let people know they need to do something.

Having the government make sure there isn’t lead in my toys or mercury in my food is nice. It’s cool when they tell companies to stop dumping sewage in my back yard. But we don’t need them or the entertainment industry “looking out for us” on the Internet. We can take care of ourselves on here, thank you very much. Don’t let them censor the Internet – I promise you won’t like it.

What’s The Deal With Drug Cards?

The images you see above are two examples of seemingly thousands of sites that offer free drug cards and trying to figure out what they’re all about has been a mini-quest of mine ever since I was first pitched in 2008 to advertise them on Hey, It’s Free! I’m afraid to even try to calculate how much brain power I’ve spent on these things. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, drug cards are things that you can print from online, for free, which entitle you to discount prices on a boatload of prescribed drugs. You merely give them your name and email address, hit submit, and then can print a “card” on the next page. Each card typically has your name, a Group#, a PCN#, a BIN#, and a Member#. What any of that means, I have no idea.

Somebody explain the following:

  1. Who publishes these offers?
  2. In what way, shape, or form are they benefiting from people using them?
  3. If you argue they don’t, then explain why there are affiliate companies that pay people to get other people to print and use the cards. (I can make like $0.25 for everybody I get to print one of these cards.)
  4. Why do pharmacies and/or drug companies give a discount on their products?
  5. Why does every Drug Card offer explicitly say (A) it’s not insurance and more importantly (B) you can’t use it in conjunction with insurance?

I finally broke down and decided to write this when my power company sent me a free card this week. When you start to Google for information, all you can find are a bevy of sites to print more cards. This is clearly a profitable venture for somebody out there. And again, these things work. They give the savings they promise. I’m not questioning if they’re a scam, but instead how in the hell they actually work.

I was able to find this discusion from 2009 where a few other people were curious as well. I could see it being a collaborative effort by the pharmaceutical industry, but I fail to understand how they can use the savings as a tax write-off. Deep in the thread there was a link to a 2009 NPR Planet Money segment “co-pay assistance cards”, but to me the story sounded like it was talking about specific drug coupons that pharmaceuticals offer (more on that in a minute). The final breadcrumb I was able to find was the second page of this thread. There was mention of actual company names and how they might be involved, but I’ll be honest – I didn’t comprehend much of it.

One thing I’ll say is this: from what I can tell, these drug cards are completely different than the coupons that pharmaceutical companies give out. The coupons were what the Planet Money and a recent This American Life episode called Fine Print 2011 are reporting on. (If you’re interested, it’s Act One and titled “One Pill, Two Pill, Red Pill, Blue Pill.”) Those coupons basically cut to the heart of the invention of co-pays.

Long story short, you’ve got drug companies, insurance companies, and you. Everybody want money, specifically your money. The drug companies invent Pill X and charge $500. Pill Y later comes out, which is the generic version of Pill X, and it only costs $50. Now when you used to get your pills and you had insurance, chances are you went for the original pill. People like name brand stuff over generics, especially if they’re not paying, which you weren’t. Your insurance company was. So the drug company got your money and you got the drug. Both of you were happy.

But the insurance company had to pay $500! They weren’t happy. So they invented co-pays as an incentive for you to get the cheaper drug. Now you go to get your pills and are told the co-pay for Pill X is $50, but for Pill Y it’s only $10. Chances are you opt for Pill Y! Again, you get basically the same drug, but the insurance company is only paying $90 instead of $500. But now the drug company isn’t getting your money! So to ramp up the arms race, they recently started issuing coupons which would pretty much cover co-pays or at least knock them down to the same level as the generic. So again, the co-pays are $50 or $10, but now you’ve got a $40 coupon for Pill X. Chances are you again opt for the name brand and now the insurance company is again paying way more for pretty much the same drug.

But here’s the thing. These drugs cards that I’m obsessed with aren’t like those coupons, specifically because of bullet 5, part B in my list of questions above. Drug cards are only for people without health insurance. If you take the insurance companies out of the equation, the scenarios above become obsolet. I don’t understand why there are plenty of news stories on the coupons, or “co-pay assistance cards,” but not on these drug cards.

What’s really gnawing at me is that I know somebody makes a little bit of money whenever people use the cards. I just can’t tell who. It’s the only reason the cards would show up in certain affiliate programs that I work with. The reason somebody is willing to pay me a quarter every time I get people to print out the cards is because that same person is probably making a dollar every time somebody uses one of the cards. I just can’t tell where that dollar is coming from and who is collecting it.

Seriously, does anyone know anything about these things? When the hell were programs like these invented? Why? Who is using them? Who is running them? Why? I’m afraid this will one day become my Moby Dick and I’m plum out of coffins.

Don’t Worry, I Almost Don’t Care Either

I’m going to post 50 times over the next 50 days. Crap like this is the only thing that routinely gets me back in the habit of writing. So whatever I’m thinking about or doing over the next two-ish months, you’ll get a front row seat. I completely understand if you duck out after the first act to beat traffic.

And yes, this totally counts as today’s post.

Tumble On Down

When I started blogging, the platform of choice was called GreyMatter. Somewhere along the line I moved to MoveableType before eventually settling on WordPress. It’s been my blogging platform of choice for the past seven years, but now I can’t go ten feet without hearing about Tumblr.

I’m still debating if I want to stick with WordPress here or just take the dive into something new, but in the meantime I’m just going to post everything to this site and my Goob Is Goofy tumblr site. Because if there’s one thing I’m known for, it’s being able to eat an entire cake in 24 hours. Well, that, and for how accommodating I am.

Ringing In The New Year Nerd Style

I’m all for automating as much as possible in my life. I’d sign up for dropshipping new underwear if such a service existed. The sentiment hold doubly true when it comes to online tasks. “I need to manually reboot the server again?! I just did it last week! It’s a f*&king server, can’t it reboot itself?!”

However one digital task that I absolutely love to do is change the copyright date in the footer of all my websites. There’s something oddly rewarding about updating them each one by one. It’s as if by changing them, they’re announcing to the world “heck yeah, we survived yet another year!”

I hope everyone had a great Christmas and New Years!

People Forget About The Original Anyway

Don’t ever let “it’s been done before” stop you. Case in point? Don’t Even Reply. Within minutes of discovering the site, I had tears rolling down my face. Check out the top rated; my favorites are the Shaniqua Chronicles, Vintage Liquor, and Disguised Weapons.

This all reminds me of the fun I had with an old site of mine, Facebook Talk. I wish I had saved more of the emails before I sold the site as there were some gems. At least archive.org has a snapshot of the ones I posted, with this exchange being one of my favorites. Although, honestly, you can’t really beat the “VROOM VROOM VROOOOM!” one.

I think what I’m getting at here is that I miss making fun of people.

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