Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Bad Aunty. Good Aunty.

That last post (about getting a bit of grief from overseas visitors) we've traced to 'a' programme on the BBC World Service. I've asked if they can help narrow it down.

As mentioned, it is to be hoped that it was complimentary, in which case we have a lot to be thankful for. Though I would wish they just got in touch first to get the full story (like mentioning we do have some limitations to international visitors) and so's we can listen and get a copy.

Anyway, a bit of a year-end plus, on balance.

Speaking of which (balance that is), I guess I need to put to bed the whole Working Lunch episode, mentioned before (wouldn't it be great to have a way to quickly cross-reference to previous posts?).

Having told the complaints guys I didn't think 'we didn't mean anything by it, and anyway when we asked you a question we didn't bother to read the reply' quite cut it, I asked to go further up the chain.

That didn't happen. What I got was some guy call me who said he had thoroughly investigated, and 'we didn't mean anything by it, and anyway when we asked you a question we didn't bother to read the reply'.

This was looking like going in circles and, with 2007 beckoning, I reckoned one less minor fight for a fresh new year was the least worst option. So I accepted whatever it was, even though it was not an apology.

The BBC is not doing too well at the moment. There are some knives out, from other media to the political establishment. I'd say they needed all the mates they could get, and this process did/does not seem like the best way. It is no good having a complaints procedure if the intention is to make it go away rather than address it.

Anyway, Aunty is a vast and on the whole fine outfit, staffed with mostly dedicated, talented folk. I just hope I get to meet a few more of these guys in the next year's Junkk.com promotion efforts.

Sergey, Larry... and me

That sounds like the title of some critically-acclaimed, but financially doomed movie that was all the rage at an art festival in a mid-Western US (we'll come back to that country, and a few others, later) resort last year.

There is not much I have in common with the founders of Google. They are billionaires, atop a squillion-making media empire. They have each other, and oodles of staff. And I'm pretty sure there are a few munchkins in the mix to cop the flak, if and when it comes.

I do not.

But we do share a few similarities.

We have created websites (in their case Google and, more pertinently to this blog, Blogger). They did so hoping to make money (in their case... well... we'll leave that for now), but also made their service free. And if theirs can go 'a la direction d'une poire' on occasion, so can mine (it's more buggy than the Louisiana Bayou or Northern Queensland in mid-summer), and it frequently does. They just have a few more resources to make theirs work better, and fix them, and I don't.

Even so, despite the squillions and the staff, as it's all free, I find it hard to be too hard on them when it all does go not according to best plan, 'cos... it's free. So when I write in (as you will see I did recently on the blog thread below), it is with understanding and constructively critical feedback. Because I truly believe they have great products, don't really mind that they are using them to make some dough, 'do no evil', etc, because I know the score, read the FAQs, and voluntarily gave them my details because I believe that they are in sincere in trying to make them as good and useful as it all can be.

I sometimes wish that others cut me and Junkk.com the same slack.

But let's start with some good news. Sometime, over the last few days, it seems a BBC radio show beamed globally and told the world about us, I truly hope in glowing terms (why can't they tell us, or better yet ask a few questions first to make sure they understand us). I'm guessing so, because we have a lot of new sign-ups as a consequence. I mean A LOT.

Most are now sitting in our database, able to use most (we'll come back to this, too) of our facilities, and now capable (if they have tuned their SPAM filter) of getting our newsletter. Shame they missed the Xmas edition.

But a few had a poor experience, and for this I am truly sorry. And some wrote in, for which I am truly grateful, because they cared enough to do so. But though a few prefaced or ended their feedback with 'like what you are trying to do', a few were a little harsh for the Season of Goodwill, especially to be read by a lone guy who has returned to his humble home office PC early Boxing Day before the kids wake up, to keep his other 'baby' ticking over as near to 12/24, 345/365 (I'm getting a Blackberry soon, I hope, to make it 365/365).

Their grievances were/are legitimate, and I... we... (my poor, got-a-day-job-but-knows-some-HTML (I don't)-wife) are aware of all and try and address them as best we can.

But as we can't address them all... yet... and have still evidently not explained things well enough on the site (Notice: We're aware of some postcode changes lately that our system cannot yet accept. Please bear with us while we work on it, and if you get an error, pop in the closest that works... When you register, you will receive a confirmation email, usually instantly (or at least very soon), to the address you have entered above, to which you will need to reply to activate the account), I will try to do so here, all over the site and in the next newsletter in the hope of some understanding, cutting of slack and, maybe, with luck the offer of positive solutions.

The critiques are falling into these areas:


A lady in the US successfully sued McDonalds because the coffee she stuck between her thighs to drive away with was not labeled as hot, and it was a surprise when it scalded her when she braked (it's surprising that she didn't get the car maker for not advising that things move internally when you apply them).

We can't afford such litigation. And we won't attract sponsor data or ideas if they can run a similar risk.

Plus, on top of everything, our content is user-generated, so we cannot be on top of it all, all of the time (especially as we're low on munchkin support). We rely on being told of an abuse, and getting to it asap.

So when a Junkk user emulates a reuse concept with a Coke can and tin snips, that's between them and the A&E surgeon's skill in getting the pinky sown back on. But we have tried wherever possible to put in warnings.

We have also tried to comply with all the very latest data protection stuff. Opt-ins, rather than outs. We can't see what more we can do. The site is free, the options to use it are clear and voluntary (not coming back being one). We would hope that those who do see our value would support us by allowing our commercial model to kick in using their traffic and eyeballs. We don't see an occasional ad or better yet offer about some green product/service being too onerous. And there is always the unsubscribe button.


The site was dreamt up in the UK. It was created here. It is run here. One nifty feature we put in from the outset was a localisation feature, so we could matchmake information from one area with folk who may be interested in that same area - JunkkYard, news, products, services.

No way of knowing where you are... no can do.

We specified the site, and to an extent designed it. But in so doing also took a lot of (very expensive) advice from consultants in doing so. Guys who work for eBay, Amazon, etc.

Our registration is based on these systems. A few key facts are asked, and then a very common security system kicks in.

An email goes back to 'your' email to make sure 'you' are 'you'. Which you then confirm, with a password. That way we know who we are dealing with (no spammers trying to access our system) and you know we are looking after your best interests.

Sometimes firewalls and filters intercept this and there's not much we can do to help that. So we have polite reminder to find out if you really did want to register or not. 999 out of 1000 say 'yes'.



Money to pay for the postcode (we looking at £1000 to upgrade the UK alone)/zipcode/ozcode/bundescode/barcode data for the countries. Money to handle the admin of coordinating the flood of issues that would result (imagine getting a question from Tulsa or Woolagong or Narita asking where the local blue glass collection is? We do, still, try to answer), though we are trying to make this all as community and self-help based as we can. But country/county/state coordinators are in the plan and if anyone wants to volunteer... (for now, we do believe in re:ward for re:use, so if you make us money, we'll happily share, once it kicks in). Or, if you do know of any like-minded folks in your country who might be interested in partnering/franchising this project, we would be most delighted to be in touch with them.

And money to evolve the site to cope. Servers. Finding stuff out. Calling people to check. Buying things to review. And uploading it all.

Professional programmers are not cheap. They hire Linda Evangelista to get them out of bed (which she famously claimed she would not do for less than £10k) to tweak some code. And between the bugs, the glitches, the odd new feature I really, really want, and things like making our registration system international, for now the cheque Mum gave me for Xmas ain't going to cover one keystroke.

But, one day, it will. Because, one day, a major marketer - or two, or three... - will take out a dirty great big banner ad on our site, or sponsor our newsletter to reach you, our audience, to sell their second use pack, hybrid car, rechargeable battery, etc. And on that day, I will pay our family back for 8 years' investment, pay me a salary for the first time in 10, and if there's any left over pay the Royal Mail, the US Postal Service, Deutsche Post, etc for their codes, and get Linda E to stop hitting the snooze button and roust the SQL whizz from his or her slumbers.



Coincidentally, after posting this, I have had a missive from another, not exactly poor, fairly well staffed, 'tell us a bit about you and click accept here', free online outfit, MySpace:

Hey folks – should I say mates? – We just launched the UK version of MySpace. We're featuring more UK music and some of the features should work better with local postal codes, etc.

As a result, my lawyers told ME what I have to tell YOU: now that MySpace is looking more UK-ish, you should know that we are still running our site from the US, all your data still resides in the US, and that MySpace's data management practices are still governed by US laws.

Click HERE to show me you read this.

We can't afford lawyers at the 'mo either. So with luck the money we spent on them at the outset is still a good investment