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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Multiply No More

(There's a bit of legacy to this post. I'll explain.

In 2005, Yahoo created a social-network/blogging site called Yahoo/360. It was there that I sharpened up the writing-teeth which had languished since college, and actually came to the attention of the people who ran the site - they made me a 'featured blogger', and all that.

In 2007, Yahoo announced they were closing 360, which finally happened in 2009. In between those times, several people took a long look at the social-blogging platforms and began a migration to Multiply.Com. I was one who joined them, albeit reluctantly - the place was funded by venture-capital and was not altogether stable. I raised some early concern about this.

In January of this year, Multiply was sold to a group in Indonesia, reflecting their decision to move from being a one-stop writing and media site to an eCommerce site. While the new owners affirmed their intent to retain the social-blogging and media aspects of Multiply, most of us had seen this movie all-too-recently, and made plans to move. In mid-year, they announced that they were closing the social-blogging part of Multiply in December; 2012.)

Do me a favor.

Don't tell me I didn't tell you so.

When that 'Baron' fellow told everyone on Y/360 that Multiply was the Promised Land, a lot of folks followed him. Hell; I took the offramp from the information and social-networking superhighway and created a Multiply acccount, too - but not because someone told me it was the last frontier and Paradise Found.

To hear 'em tell it, some folks got really emotional and partisan about it - there were Klingons, or Communists, or some sort of Booger-Man running things over on Yahoo - and anyone who didn't move over to Multiply was a damn fool - or so they thought.

Anyhow and for whatever reasons, we came - and while aspects of the place were good (they tinkered together a decent social platform which can, if you like, emphasize writing), it's not 'open' (just try to use Javascript, or search it) like WordPress or Google Blogger - that won't happen.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

When we all moved over and started writing, we were welcomed by Pete 'Pez' Pezaros, who told us all that Multiply was, indeed, the Promised Land. He told us that it was going to be the ultimate multimedia social networking platform - photos, videos, blogging - all in one.

He was even interviewed by one station or another down in Florida; he said that he was targeting 'digital moms' (soccer-moms who wanted a place to put their photos and kid-vids in a safe place online, visible only to those they wanted to see such things).

Yeah, there were a couple of ads - but you could get around that by giving him some scratch, and he'd set you up with a Premium Membership (where you could avoid the ads, and write a lot of your own code, making your site all pretty and stuff). A lot of people did just that.

Now, I'm not one to pay for something I don't need - and the way I saw it, allowing a CSS style-sheet and doing away with some ads wasn't worth even the $30 a year (or thereabouts) he was asking - besides, I had a sneaking suspicion that, with venture capital funding the place, we weren't exactly hearing or seeing everything behind the Wizard's Curtain.

Turns out I was right.

I installed AdBlock in my Firefox browser - which took care of the ads, with no decline in performance. When I pointed out that there was no way in hell they could make ends meet with two ads per view and $30/year from 10% of the users, I was shouted-down by a few folks, beginning with the kingpins of the Multiply User's Group.

Soon, they implemented another change - I noticed that my pages loaded slowly, and editing a new blog couldn't be done with Firefox. Yep - they were reading my screen - and I didn't like it.

So, I did some digging. That's when I found the TOS. And I sure didn't like what I read there - but more on that later.

Now, as my longtime friend Kennedy James pointed out the other day, there's a set of rules which apply to nearly everything - and you don't get a brand new bike for socking your younger sister in the eye.

As things developed, two things happened rather quickly - first, Multiply broke its own rules and started allowing people to sell things on the site - this, because they were not making any money.

Hello? Hello? Bueller? It's seventh-grade math - black numbers are good; red numbers are bad - and if you want to go ahead and actually make money from something, you'd best find a way to spend less than you take in. They figured (sort of like governments) - hey; if they want to do it bad enough, let's let 'em do it - and take a cut.

I pointed this out at the time - and was roundly shouted-down on that one, too. Then, I had a couple of attorney-friends who frequented the site along with me take a look at the TOS document, comparing it to those of Google Blogger and WordPress. There was one glaring difference: Multiply owns your material.

I took this up privately with a couple of folks. One of 'em wrote me, "Yeah, Will - I had some t-shirts made using their 'service' (Multiply had a service which would make mugs, t-shirts, etc. from your uploaded photos) - and they all came back with a Multiply watermark."


That was that. I wrote a petition, in conjunction with my attorney-friends, which pointed out this rather-glaring misuse of posted material, and requested a change to the TOS - because hey; Pez and his buddies in the boiler-room changed things to remove the verbiage against commerce; why couldn't they protect our material? I got a rather condescending note from him, stating that if they did what I was asking, they couldn't afford to run the site and provide the free services they did.

Now hey - I'm accused of being pretty smart - but I didn't recall anything in college which says that anything I post on the school bulletin-board becoming the property of the school; in fact, I could take down that flyer looking for a roommate, or a used guitar, or whatever. Anytime. It was mine. The school provided the service.

Besides, there were people who were serializing novels on Multiply, along with other stuff. Much to risk, and all - they could be told by a publisher, "Nope. We read that TOS document over on Multiply where you validated the interest in your work - and they own it now. Sorry."

In the words of one of those attorneys - "If you want to retain ownership of something, don't post it on Multiply."

That was enough for me. I ran the petition.

Boy howdy - did I ever get taken down for that one!

Magically, after the 'Pez' communication, I found that Multiply - plus the petition site - were the collective recipients of a lot of unwanted attention by the 'user group'. Might say I was a reverse celebrity.

It took about ten days, and I threw in the sponge. Five hundred signatures - but the denial-of-service attacks and other decidedly-unlovely nonsense proved that Multiply was, if nothing else, very protective of its crown-jewel.

And that, dear readers, was the collective 'you' (if you're a former Multiply member, that is).

You see, there's no other reason to lay claim to your work unless it's part of their business plan - literally, part of the valuation of their site. Yep. Your work = part of their net value.

(There was a guy in California who decided he 'owned' the street in front of his house. He set up a toll booth. About ten minutes later the local police arrested him. Made CNN; though - but I digress.)

In the end, it didn't appear to do them much good; all of this 'ownership' - because their membership steadily declined here in the U.S. - for the last 18 months the majority of their users were in Indonesia and the Philippines. Early this year - likely due to a 'shotgun wedding' - Pez and the boys had to sell the place. The new CEO was a guy from Those Parts (and although Pez swore in the press release he was sticking around, that didn't last long, either.)

The new guy moved the whole operation to Indonesia; well out of the reach of U.S. law, ostensibly to 'be closer to their customer base' (I laughed at that one - what are these legions of trinket-hucksters going to do? Come knock on the door and say 'Hiyas, guys - howzit by you?')

The writing was on the wall in January - but I'd long ago deleted everything (although I'm sure it's on a backup server someplace); posted my own defiant copyright-notice on the front-page, and used the place to drive 'eyeballs' to my main writing site over on Google Blogger.

I'd noticed the aforementioned decline in users - to the point where six months ago I'd quit posting anything of any substance at all on Multiply (although I'll admit it was handy for article reviews and quotes).

The announcement that they were closing the social-networking aspect of the place in favor of full-time junk-commerce didn't surprise me in the least. They'll eventually become a low-end backwater eBay-type-substance, and glad for it. The venture-cap people will lick their wounds, and be the wiser; Pez probably made out like a bandit.

So much for that offramp.

I hate people who say, "I told you so." That said, I told you so. Way back when. We took the offramp - and as I said earlier; hell, I joined you. But I had reservations - and damned if they haven't come true.

So, what now?

Well - I'm hoping those of you I met on Multiply will stay in touch. Let me know if you find another place that feels like the front-room in a well-loved house; I'll join you there.

A place like - well - y'know - Y/360....
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