SluggoBear (sluggobear) wrote,

Defending Bear411 for a moment

In this great firestorm that is the anti-Bear411 movement, I think there have been some valid complaints... but also some unreasonable ones.  For this reason, I want to analyze some of the claims... and today I am actually going to defend Bear411.  (On this week's episode of "Sluggo's Point/Counterpoint!")

But first, more info, defectors and conversation on the topic:
http://sultmhoor.livejournal.com/437805.html
http://thickslab.com/blog/post/2007/02/04/bear-411-continued
http://excalibear.livejournal.com/364119.html
http://martini-tim.livejournal.com/101162.html

If you haven't seen it yet, Greg has published a love note about the site:
www.bear411.com/ilovebear411.php

A bit shady?
Enter "www.bearww.com" (note the two W's) into your browser.  So if you misspell the competitor's website, it redirects you to BearWorld.com instead.  (Still the same service as Bear411, but marketed at the international community.)  Hmmm...

How many profiles are there REALLY?
If you do a search for all active profiles on Bear411, it returns about 8,600 hits.  But on the front page, Bear411 claims about 100,000 "membears."  That number seemed quite high to me.  Looking at the code of the site, that counter is actually provided by StatCounter.com.  I seriously doubt that StatCounter is going to know how many actual Bear411 profiles exist.  Clearly the 100,000 number is coming from some kind of hit counter, and not an accurate description of actual registered members.

So, pray tell: what exactly constitutes a hit?  A visit to the front page?  Viewing a profile page?  And when did that counter begin?  Because I'm certain they've gotten more than 100,000 hits since inception.  Perhaps it's simply a count of how many unique user visits?

Still, it appears to me that Bear411 only has about 8,600 active profiles.  Anyone have any more information on this?


Update: looks like the 100,000 number (worldwide)... is about right.

OK, let's get to the part where SluggoBear defends Bear411
Warning: long article.

First let me say, I'm not changing sides.  I originally posted some Bear411 grievances on LJ, and I still stand by them.  And I am still planning to delete my profile on Feb 14.

But, since I love good, logical debate, I'm going to counterpoint some of the complaints I've been hearing.  I'm open to any comments you may have on these.

Statement: "Greg is charging money because he is greedy."
Greg runs a small business.  The purpose of a business is to turn a profit.  This is not greed, this is capitalism at work.  Many other bear sites are also businesses, even if their profits are made in a different way.

Statement: "Greg is seizing an opportunity to screw the bear community out of their money."  (I've also seen this one used on businesses that sell bear merchandise, or run bear events.)
This cracks me up.  Nearly all businesses, whether run by gay or straight people, exist to make a profit.  To do this, they identify a target audience, learn what they want, then market accordingly.  Running a business is not a crime.

Greg presents the website in a way that suggests he provides the service as a labor of love to the bear community.  While this may be true, it probably clouds this issue somewhat.  Perhaps there was a time when he did it just for the satisfaction of helping people connect.  But over time he's obviously learned he could make a profit.  I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

By paying for services like this, we are actually helping gay-owned small businesses succeed.

I'm a firm believer in the "invisible hand" principle of supply and demand.  If people will pay for it, there's nothing wrong with charging for it.

If you have a problem with businesses making a profit, your issue is not with Greg... it's with market economy.

Statement: "Greg rejected advertising for my bear event" (or bear club or business or website, or whatever.)
As a businessman, Greg has the right to accept or reject advertising for any reason.  Since I've not been affected by this situation personally, I can't use this as a basis for discontinuing use.  Still, I don't blame you if you're going to take your business elsewhere.

Statement: "Greg censors messages, and that is wrong" and "Greg says the message censoring is to prevent Spam, what bullshit!"
Actually I think Greg has genuine intentions here.  We all get Spam and advertising everywhere else: e-mail, postal mail, phone calls, faxes... and now even on IM's and TXT messages.  Wouldn't it suck if you started getting spam in your 411 messages?  I think he is right to try to prevent it.

Where I have a real problem is 1) that legitimate messages are deleted without any notification and 2) that the website doesn't explicitly tell you that messages are filtered.  Deleting messages with certain keywords might actually be effective here.  In fact, that's one way E-mail Spam filters work... by evaluating keywords.  But Goddammit, the site should flash a message or something so the sender knows his message isn't going anywhere.  That way he can know he has to re-word it.

On the same topic.  One of the blacklisted words is (was?) "ugly."  I wonder if this was included to prevent people from calling others ugly?  In any case, there are legitimate times when you just need to use the word "ugly," even though it's not directed at another person.

(UPDATE) There are clearly more effective ways to fight Spam on the site.

Statement: "Greg censors his competitors so they won't steal his customers."
As a businessman, Greg has the right to try and protect his customer base from competitors.  If he decides to filter certain keywords like BearWWW, I don't think there are any laws which prevent him from doing so.

I very much don't like the idea, but I think Greg is within his rights to do this.  (Again, I wish he would state that clearly.)

Statement: "Greg is an egomaniac because he publishes glowing customer reviews on the front page of the site" and "Greg is a total dick in person, he totally deserves this."
Though it's a bit tacky, the reviews on the front page are a legitimate marketing tool.  Many businesses market themselves by offering a "host," making their service feel more personal.  Many people prefer having an administrator that uses the site himself and chats with his own customers.

Is Greg a dick?  An egomaniac?  Some people have suggested this after meeting or chatting with him.  I can only speak for myself on this topic: I honestly really don't care.  All I'm concerned with are the grievances I originally posted.  If I was happy with the site, I wouldn't care if the webmaster was a devil or saint.

Statement: "Greg put up the I Love Bear411 page because he needs his ego stroked and knows he is losing customers."
When you learn you might be losing customers, you probably want to do damage control.  It's just something a businessman has to do in this situation.  Of course Greg is going to do everything he can to make his business succeed.  (Though perhaps he could've made the page a little less tacky.)

Statement: "Greg is e-mailing people with a hotmail account, purporting to be from BearCiti, alerting them that the service may charge a fee in the future."
This is totally plausable, but I don't think we can prove these came from Greg.  There are telltale clues, but no proof.  The e-mails could've come from a Bear411 fan.  Innocent until proven guilty.

Statement: "Greg is artificially inflating his membership numbers to make it look like it's still growing."
This is certainly plausable.  Then again, this might be done by any other chat site.  Does anyone know how we could definitively prove or disprove this?  (Can we call the MythBusters!?)

Statement: "Greg discriminates against certain races."
I personally believe it is absolutely wrong to discriminate because of race.  I'm can't defend Bear411 on this one.

While there may be discrimination laws for employers, landlords and public services... I'm not aware of any laws that prevent a webmaster from doing this.

(UPDATE) I should clarify... I'm no expert on law... especially not Canadian Law.  If anyone has more info on this topic, please post it.

I've heard some awful stories on this topic.  I can't confirm if they're true.  I don't really know of a way to prove this, other than the fact that we've been hearing many similar stories from people.

Statement: "Greg doesn't allow profiles for non-bears" (alternate... he doesn't allow guys he finds unattractive.)
The website doesn't appear to list any specific criteria to determine who exactly is allowed to be a member.  Would Greg reject someone simply because they weren't bear enough?  (I don't know, but there do seem to be at least some non-bearish profiles on the site.)  Would Greg reject someone because they were unattractive?  (I don't know of any way to prove or disprove this.)  (UPDATE) Should Greg prevent females from joining Bear411?

There's an interesting conversation on this topic going on here:
http://joemygod.blogspot.com/2007/02/animal-farm.html

(Whew.  That was exhausting.)

So am I changing my tune?  Absolutely not.  I stand by my original grievances.  I'm still planning to delete my profile on Feb 14.

So why did I write this?  Why give ammunition to the opposing viewpoint?

If you know me well, you'll know that I like to give people information.  I love to communicate, I love facts, and I actually do enjoy a spirited, mature, friendly debate.  By getting all the facts out, everyone can make informed decisions.

I think I also just wanted to clarify my stance: I believe in a person's right to run a business the way they see fit, as long as it complies with the law.  For anything else, we customers can simply express our dissatisfaction in three ways: 1) tell the business about our concerns, 2) take our business elsewhere, and 3) band-together with other users... raising awareness, and taking a stand against things we think are unfair.  Many of us are doing all three.

So the moral of the story: if you're going to diss Bear411, be somewhat reasonable.  It's easy to just start throwing criticism at the site.  In my opinion, Greg is not the Anti-Christ, he's simply exercising some very, very poor business practices.  It is my intention to continue to make people aware of them.  Information shall set us free.

If YOU feel that Bear411 is exercising poor or unfair business practices, I challenge you to do more than just switch to another service.  Instead, I suggest you express your dissatisfaction in the three ways mentioned above, then delete your Bear411 profile.  This will send a clear message.

For those of you who are going to keep your Bear411 profile for the time being, I don't blame you.  It's "where the party's at," at least for now.  Heck, I still chat on it, and I plan to continue doing so...

Until February 14th.
Tags: bear411
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