This Salsa Sucks!

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Coca-Cola paved the way. When a company launches a new version of their product, and it sucks, they sheepishly re-offer the original version and call it “Classic”, as Coca-Cola did 31 years ago after customer backlash following the launch of New Coke.

I recently learned that Salsa has done the same with their online advocacy tools.

I’m not new to Salsa. I actually worked for a competing vendor, NGP VAN, for seven years. Since then, I have had extensive opportunities to use Salsa’s tools. I learned through that experience that they didn’t suck. Salsa had strengths and weaknesses when compared against what I was familiar with, but I came to learn and appreciate what was good about them, and to use them effectively.

When I recently started in a new job and sought online advocacy tools to use, I did a quick review of alternatives, but lazily went with Salsa as it was what I had used most recently. I had no reason to suspect that I was purchasing something different than the Salsa tools familiar to me. Their website describes simply “Online Advocacy Software”. So when I signed a contract purchasing “SalsaEngage”, I expected I was buying the familiar tools that I told their sales rep I had used for years. When I first launched and began to explore them, I found a different looking interface, but just assumed they had been upgraded (I’ve looked at that ‘I want the new interface’ login screen checkbox for a long time already).

Instead, over the course of two months, I found that SalsaEngage was a completely new product. And I found it to suck. From the very start, the most fundamental first step of importing new contact records and attempting to assign them to a group code (now called a segment) proved ridiculously challenging. Attempts to learn how to do this from Salsa’s support only compounded my frustration… “Yes, I have already read the online documentation that it took you two days to refer me to, and No, it still doesn’t answer the question I asked.”

That was only the beginning. I soon learned that the only batch option for making edits to multiple records was to DELETE THEM ALL (maybe adding a group code, or updating some other common field would be useful instead of deleting them all?). I also found that the reporting on A/B testing of emails in one view didn’t match the results shown in another view of Salsa’s interface (who clicked? who unsubscribed? If Salsa Engage has these answers, I couldn’t find them.)

My patience exhausted, I informed Salsa that I wished to terminate our contract and requested a refund for the remaining 10 months of unused service for the year that we had prepaid. And I received the following reply,

“Thank you for your message. Yes, we did receive your message and I was speaking with my supervisor before getting back to you. SalsaEngage is a stripped down, very on-rails tools that we offer for users who are not looking for a ton of customization or flexibility with their email, advocacy, and fundraising needs. After reviewing your concerns and frustrations, I believe that SalsaClassic would be a much better fit for you and your organization, and would be more than happy to setup a time to show you a demo of the tool to ensure that it can and will meet your needs. What’s more, after speaking to my supervisor, I can offer you SalsaClassic at the same price you were paying for SalsaEngage, which is at a discount.”

And there it was, Classic Coke! For the first time a distinction was made between the product I was given, SalsaEngage, and the product I believed I had purchased, Salsa “Classic”. Despite the fact that I had described myself as an experienced Salsa user, there had been no previous mention that I was buying a “stripped down” version of the tools I expected. Would I now like to receive what I had originally asked for? My response was simply, “No! Thanks for the offer, but NO! It’s too late.” To which I received the below reply from my Salsa “Client Success Agent”:

I completely understand the frustrations that you experienced and I want to apologize again that you were not shown the SalsaClassic tool initially when you were looking at our services. However, after speaking with the upper management team, because your organization signed a contract with Salsa for 12 months of service, we are not going to be able to cancel your account. We can, however, offer you the SalsaClassic platform, at the rate you’re currently paying for SalsaEngage – and, I got approval for us to credit your organization for the two months that you spent on SalsaEngage that you feel like was a waste.

Really Salsa? Is this how you do business?

Contractually, Salsa may be able enforce our 12-month contract. Ethically, they misled me into purchasing a product that was not what I had every reason to expect I was getting. Then only after I had wasted my time learning how badly SalsaEngage sucks, offered me their never before mentioned “Classic” version.

I let my Salsa “Client Success Agent” know that I wanted to speak with someone in their “upper management”, and after a week of silence, I repeated that request. I was contacted by Salsa’s “Director of Client Success”, and made clear that the only successful outcome for me would be a terminated contract with a refund of the unused amount. He said that would be a “heavy lift”, but that he’d see what he can do. That was a month ago, and I’ve heard nothing back.

I wish Salsa had done the right thing by offering me an apology and a refund. They chose instead to hold me hostage as a customer, bound either to an inadequate product or an outdated one. They can do that. My responsibility to our community is to share this story of my experience as a cautionary tale.

Something’s gone very wrong in the Labs. And I want you to know, in my humble opinion, this Salsa Sucks.

Tell Chris to Walk the Dog!

Hey Friends,

I’m playing around with some online advocacy tools and I created this petition as an experiment. If you’re reading this, help me out and sign the petition.

Thanks!

Chris (and yes, I’ll walk the dog, I promise)

UPDATE: I walked the dog.

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Rep. Traficant’s Bangin’ GIF

Rep. Traficant - Bangin' Away in DCWay  back in May 2001, I spoke at a forum hosted by American University on the topic of Congress on the Internet. For my remarks, I humbly submitted my suggesgtion for what I believed to have been the  Top Ten Milestones for Congress on the Internet up to that point.

And #4 on my list was “Animations Abound: Waving flags, flying letters, & Rep. Traficant ‘Bangin’ Away’”. The Traficant reference came from this blurb I wrote in a March 1997 online update to my book, The Hill on the NetHere’s what I wrote;

THE ANIMATED REPRESENTATIVE
I wondered who would do it first. Which member of Congress would go beyond the standard official portrait on their home page and use animation to show themselves in action; smiling widely, giving a thumbs up, or offering a virtual handshake. I guess it should come as no surprise that a member who is well known for his animated floor speeches would not be happy with a gif that sat still. Representative James Traficant of Ohio has the first animated photo that I’ve seen on a member of Congress’ home page, and it’s a hoot.

The animation, shown at right, shows Rep. Traficant wielding a piece of 2×4, like a batter warming up to swing. On the board is his motto, “Bangin’ Away in DC’. He was well known for his outrageous one-minute speeches, which often included his appeal to ‘beam me up’. He was also well known for his uniquely difficult to describe hairstyle. (You can find some of his finest moments here and here).

Traficant was expelled from Congress in 2002, only the second member of Congress to suffer that fate since the Civil War, following his conviction for accepting bribes, making congressional staff work on his farm and boat, witness tampering, destroying evidence, and filing false tax returns. He served seven years in prison for these crimes. He died yesterday following a tractor accident on his Ohio farm.

Rest in Peace Rep. Traficant, and a hat tip to whomever it was on your staff that created that bangin’ animated GIF when they weren’t cleaning your boat.

Dancing Janet RenoIt was in 2002, when I was working on Janet Reno’s gubernatorial campaign, that I produced my most memorable political animated GIF (and for the record, count me in the ‘Hard G Pronunciation’ camp). The campaign had smartly embraced the SNL spoof of Reno, a bit titled ‘Janet Reno’s Dance Party’. The Reno campaign hosted fundraisers under the same name, and agreed to my suggestion that we animate a dancing Janet for our website’s promotion of the events. Somehow, it seems to me anyway, that my jerky attempt at animation mimicked well how most might imagine Janet Reno awkwardly dancing. (Coincidentally, Traficant was no Reno fan, having once belittled her as “a good prospect to run for governor of Beijing“)

And another hat tip the humble animated GIF, which fell out of use, but is now enjoying a wonderful resurgence. If you’re interested in learning more, this history from PBS titled Animated GIFs: The Birth of a Medium is well worth the seven minutes. Enjoy!

20 Years Ago Today – Sen. Kennedy Announces 1st Congressional Website

At it’s current rate of growth it is expected at at some point this month, June of 2014, the number of websites on the Internet will surpass the one billion mark. The first website was launched on August 6, 1991 by the inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners Lee.  By mid-1994 there were 2,738 websites on the Web. And by the end of that year there were more than 10,000.

On June 2, 1994, the office of Senator Kennedy released a press release announcing the launch of their official website, the first for any member of Congress. It was developed and hosted by the Artificial Intelligence Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The same release shared a public email address for the Senator, joining just a handful of Senators accepting email from the public by that point. And it also detailed the Senator’s previous means of online outreach to his constituents, including a network of dial up bulletin boards, ftp and gopher servers, and postings in Usenet newsgroups.

Press release announcing the launch of Sen. Kennedy’s website, June 2, 1994.
The June 2, 1994 press release announcing the launch of Sen. Kennedy's website. 940602_emk_web_pr-page-002

Being old enough to remember, and being able to remember, are two different things. And it’s truly difficult to recall the World Wide Web in mid-1994. Before Amazon.com, craigslist and eBay. Before Netflix, Google or PayPal. Before Whitehouse.gov, and only shortly after Yahoo. Every baby born since is arriving into a much more webbed world than their parents ever imagined. Every minute of the day approximately 255 babies are born world wide. And in that same minute on the World Wide Web, approximately 571 new websites are created.

When the Senate’s own website was launched almost a year and a half later in October 1995, Senator John Warner of Virginia, then chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, thanked the many staff of the Rules Committee and Sergeant at Arms and Secretary’s offices involved in the effort. And he also included, “Additional thanks to many of those Senators and their high-technology staff members who were early adopters of this emerging technology, and who indeed gave us the impetus to move forward to this day.”

Twenty years ago today I was 28 years old, and working for Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts as his Systems Administrator. I was excited by the possibilities of exploring the intersection of technology and politics, and I was very fortunate to collaborate with others much smarter than myself to push the boundaries of what had yet been done. Jeff Hecker, Jock Gill, John Mallery, Eric Loeb, and Laura Quinn were the firsts among so many others I’ve been able to work with over more than 20 years in online politics, and I’m very grateful to each of them.

The first long distance telegraph message from the U.S. Capitol was sent by its inventor Samuel Morse, asking his recipient the deep question, “What hath God wrought?”. He didn’t get an answer, but a question in reply, “What is the news from Washington?”. Today, much of the news from Washington comes from our modern telegraph, the Internet. How will it arrive in another 20 years, or another 100?

When Senator Kennedy passed away in 2009, I wrote this remembrance about his impact on online politics. If he had not become the first member of Congress on the web 20 years ago, some other member would eventually have been some time later. But Kennedy was, and among the very many much larger accomplishments in his long career in public service, it’s still one worth remembering.

Binder Clip iPhone Stand

A simple, cheap and functional stand for your phone.

A simple, cheap and functional stand for your phone.

The alarm clock on my dresser seems to be getting farther away. In the middle of the night, or first thing in the morning, without my glasses on, I have absolutely zero chance of decoding the greenish blur that I see into anything that resembles numbers. I need a clock closer to my bed. And I already have one! My iPhone, which is always at home on my nightstand as I sleep, recharging for the day ahead. But with the phone laying flat, a quick glance at the time with head on pillow ain’t easy. I needed a stand.

Search online and you’ll find you can easily spend from $5 to $25 for one. Happily I found an easier option for the price of two large binder clips from my desk. My thanks to this guy for showing me the way!

Tracking Beers with Untappd

Chris on UntappdI will be the first to admit that I frequently demonstrate symptoms of OCD. It’s not crippling, or anything weird, but I frequently like to count and categorize things. In some cases it can be useful, for example it has added to my success and enjoyment of constructing my family tree. Other times, it serves no purpose at all other than to satisfy my own curiousity. That was the case when I spent a day  counting and categorizing my t-shirts, just so I could understand the big picture of my t-shirt collection. Or when I  took a photo of myself (almost) everyday for a year in order to make a short movie..

I also love technology and gadgets. And in the age of the iPhone, I’m a fan of many apps that allow me to check-into locations, track my runs, sort my music, and find my friends.

For the last two years, one app in particular has especially caught my imagination, bringing my love of tracking the mundaneness of daily life crashing into my love of gadgets, with another of my loves, beer. That app is called Untappd, and it’s a must have for any curious beer lover with a smart phone. For me, using Untappd has greatly enhanced my appreciation of beer. It has driven me to explore a broader variety of styles, visit breweries, bars and other places to imbibe, seek out new ‘distinct beers’ that I’ve never had before (at least since I started tracking them), to enjoy all of that socially with other beer loving friends on Untappd. Sometimes this quest for unique beers can be daunting. My wife rolls her eyes at me at every restaurant visit, as I quickly compare their beer offerings with my history on Untappd, looking for something new. And she has spent countless extra hours waiting for me as I peruse the beer section of the grocery store, like an indecisive kid at a candy counter. Once, when I brought home a six-pack of some very sub-par beer from the store, she asked, “I thought you loved good beer, why would you buy that?”. And she again rolled eyes as I explained that I needed to drink bad beer in order to be able to appreciate good beer, and besides, it was one that I had yet to check into on Untappd.

When Untapped added the ability to post photos with your beer check-ins, my worlds collided again. I’m well known for being my own favorite photo subject, and what better to join me in a picture than the beer I’m currently drinking and checking in? And having recently collected 500 such beer self-portraits, the occasion called for another movie starring me, straightforwardly titled 500 Beers.

All this beer drinking has also led me to revisit the hobby of home-brewing that I dabbled in for a few years in the mid-90s. The enjoyment of sharing your own home brew with friends is better still when it can be shared via Untappd. So get to know me, and if I have any to spare I will happy share with you a truly unique beer check-in courtesy of Casey’s Brews.

What Gowalla Got Wrong

Last week Gowalla released the newest version of their location-based application, and they ruined it.  These aren’t easy words coming from me.  I have been an avid user and evangelist of Gowalla for over a year.  I would be more precise with that info, but the new Gowalla no longer lets me view my own check-in history.  Accumulating those check-ins was one of the primary points of using Gowalla, I was somewhere around 1,220 unique places that I had checked-into since I first started using Gowalla, but now neither the website or iPhone application display this information to me.  So where I have been and when, information I have saved one thumb tap at a time at locations both exciting and mundane (mostly the latter) is now lost to me.  Why did I bother?

Check-ins vs. Stories

The new Gowalla has abandoned the concept of the ‘check-in’ and replaced it with the ‘story’.  Originally conceived as a digital passport, Gowalla’s distinctive stamps could be collected by globetrotters and homebody’s alike.  I loved the opportunity to look for trips and featured stamps to collect wherever my travels took me, when such opportunities occurred.  Sharing photos and comments with my friends and family on Gowalla was wonderful.  But day to day my check-ins were for myself; my neighborhood, the park on the way to work, the grocery store, my office. I’m not so egotistical that I think anyone but myself gave a crap where I was, but I still checked-in, for myself.

But with the new Gowalla I’m not just ‘checking-in’, I’m telling a ‘story’.  Guess what Gowalla, the huge majority of my check-ins don’t amount to a good story, I was only interested in knowing how often I’ve been to that grocery store.  And it’s not just my own numbers I’m missing.  As I look at different spots on Gowalla, I can no longer tell how often anyone has been there.  Is this spot popular, or a one-off joke? Gowalla no longer lets me know.

Badges and Items

One of the motivating reasons to bother checking-in to new locations on Gowalla was to earn badges for doing so.  Badges were earned for a wide variety of reasons, sometimes just for where you were such as a state badge, or for the type of location you were at such as a coffee shop, or for completing a ‘trip’ or pre-defined collection of locations.  In the new Gowalla, all but the state badges are apparently gone.  I feel like the medals have been stripped off my chest!

Another distinguishing factor about Gowalla was items, virtual collectible knick-knacks to be gathered, dropped, hunted, swapped and hoarded.  Items made Gowalla a virtual treasure hunt, and while I expect many users enjoyed Gowalla without ever understanding or embracing the point of items, many others enjoyed the hunt and the fun of moving items in this quirky virtual world.  Well kiss them goodbye.  Your hard earned collection of items is gone. Sorry.

Guides

Why did Gowalla seemingly work to take all of the fun out of their app? I believe they are admitting defeat in the battle of the check-in vs. Foursquare, and seeking to re-invent themselves.  To me the appeal of Gowalla over Foursquare has always been their superior interface, custom stamps and unique user experience. Gowalla was to Foursquare as Macs are to PC’s, not as widely adopted but WAY cooler. But cool isn’t always enough, numbers count, and Foursquare has the numbers. So Gowalla had to abandon the ‘check-in’ and create a new justification for existing, as a travel guide.

With content provided by major entertainment and travel resources, as well as their own users, Gowalla is well equipped to be a wonderful digital travel guide, suggesting spots for me to ‘check-in’, no wait ‘start a story’ at that I might otherwise have overlooked.  But my commuter lot and grocery story aren’t worthy of a travel guide, or a story, and any reason I ever had for checking into them before has been taken away.

I remain hopeful that some of these features that have made Gowalla such a pleasure for me to use will return.  I understand that technology companies much strive to innovate, improve, and be profitable.  But they should also recognize when they’ve made a mistake and damaged their product or business and attempt to recover.  I hope that Gowalla can do so and bring me back, but for right now they have lost me and I’m ‘checking-out’.

 

April Fools or Real Life?

Excerpted from The Hill on The Net: Congress Enters The Information Age

In March 1994, an acquaintance forwarded to me an E-mail message he had received from a mailing list to which he subscribed.  The message referred to a column by John C. Dvorak that appeared in the April 1994 issue of PC Computing magazine, and described a legislative effort under way in the United States Senate.

In his column Dvorak described Senate Bill 040194, a bill “designed to prohibit anyone from using a public computer network (Information Highway) while the computer user is intoxicated”, and also make it illegal to “discuss sexual matters”.  The bill, sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy and co-sponsored by Kennedy, was crafted by members of Congress who know so little about computer networks that they think the “Info Highway” is an actual road.  The column reported Senator Pat Moynihan asking “if you needed a driving permit to ‘drive’ a modem on the Information Highway!  He has no clue what a modem is, and neither does the rest of Congress”.

One ominous result of the bill was the FBI’s plans to conduct wiretaps “on any computer if there is any evidence that the owner uses or abuses alcohol and has access to a modem.”  A new law enforcement group called the Online Enforcement Agency was said to be placing want ads soliciting wiretap experts.

With strong support from Baptist Ministers and no member of Congress willing either able to understand technology or “come out and support drunkenness and computer sex”, the bill was on the fast track to passage.  Readers were told they could register their complaints with Ms. Lirpa Sloof in the Senate Legislative Analysts Office, whose “name spelled backwards says it all.”

I would have probably found the column to be more amusing had I not been frustrated at how it had chosen to pick Senator Kennedy as a target.  But the last thing I’d expected was that anybody could actually believe it to be true.  I did have the advantage of certainty.  I knew this story was not true.  And there were plenty of clues in the story itself to help reader reach that conclusion.  The title, “Lair of Slop”, is an anagram for April Fools.  At the end of the column, “Lirpa Sloof…Her name spelled backward says it all.”, April Fools.  And the bill number itself, 040194, a date, April Fools Day.  But even these clues did not prevent a large number of people from believing it.  It didn’t take long after PC Computing hit mailboxes and newsstands before the first calls and E-mails began arriving in Kennedy’s office, followed shortly by faxes and letters.  The offices of the other Senators mentioned in the article also started hearing from outraged constituents.

I was surprised that people could believe the story, but my surprise grew even more when people I knew personally and who knew of my efforts to put Senator Kennedy online told me of their concern over this bill.  Even Jonathan Gourd, sysop of North Shore Mac, the BBS on which Kennedy’s online efforts had begun, posted a message to his system encouraging readers to contact Congress and protest this bill.  The whole tale was taken as fact by an even wider audience after initial messages of alarm, posted by people who’d read and believed the article, convinced many others of the Senate’s evil intentions without them having had the opportunity to read the story and perhaps catch the clues for themselves.

It was apparent that this story had the potential to become an “urban legend” of the Net.  Just like other oft retold and wildly inaccurate stories such as the one about the proposed FCC modem tax or the dying boy who wanted Get Well cards, the Senate’s Information Highway Drunk Driving Bill was proving to be a tale with legs that could rapidly traverse the Net.

In an attempt to prevent Dvorak’s column from spawning another net legend, I posted an explanatory message (with the article included) to the ACE groups mailing list and encouraged readers to repost it where appropriate to help prevent the rumor’s spread.  This message did get around and was reprinted in the widely read RISKS-FORUM Digest among other places.  On March 30 a brief article about the hoax appeared in the Washington Post.  These efforts seemed to work, calls from concerned constituents decreased.

In late October I received an E-mail message from a gentlemen who described himself as a Ph.D. in physical chemistry and an Internet user.  He wrote that he had read the article and was concerned about this bill.  Explaining passionately why he felt the bill was wrong, he offered his own expertise to Senator Kennedy as a scientific consultant to help prevent such misguided legislation.  I e-mailed him an explanation and by that afternoon he’d sent a note expressing his own embarrassment at having missed the clues and believed the story.  He was the last person I heard from on the subject.

In the year following Dvorak’s April Fools stab at the Senate, the Senate passed the Digital Telephony or wiretap bill.  It’s purpose is to protect the government’s ability to eavesdrop on the Information Superhighway.  In June 1995 the Senate passed the Communications Decency Act, a bill sponsored by Senator Exon of Nebraska, an effort to “clean up” the dark alley’s of the Internet and make them safe for children.

I have a much better understanding now of the people who didn’t see the humor in John Dvorak’s April Fools joke.  Ironically, Senator Leahy has been the Senate’s most outspoken advocate for protecting the Net from misguided and damaging government intrusion, and not the sponsor of such as Dvorak’s column made him.  Kennedy and Moynihan, both made out as ignorant of the Net in the article, were actually both among the 16 Senators to oppose the Exon bill when it came to a vote in the Senate.

 

 

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