Tuesday, November 22, 2005

It's a Groovy day....

Thoughts from a former J~Lander.....   With permission, of course.  Thanks, Groovy :)

For My AOL J-Land Readers

Feeling: Tired, But Thanks For Asking ;)
Hearing: White Christmas -- The Lettermen


So. There's quite the controversy going on in AOL's J-Land Community these days over the recently added banner ads to AOL's subscriber's journals. Some of you have asked me for my opinion, having not only been a member of AOL's J-Land Community, but also being a former AOL employee. So I thought I'd give you all my take on it.

I don't typically use my blog for this kind of thing. In fact, I don't think I ever have. The purpose of this blog is completely different than that. But, you asked, so I'll tell. I really wanted to do this entry a few days ago, but I honestly have been just so busy. But, I figure better late than never. So here it is...

First of all, I feel the immediate need to voice this sentiment: I used the term "AOL's J-Land Community" above. That's almost a Catch-22 phrase in itself. A huge part of me doesn't want to call it AOL's Community. Because, let's face it. AOL provided the space, but all of us -- and yes, I'm including myself in this because I was a part of the community at one point -- made it the community that it now is. Or sadly, the community that it was until last week. A part of me truly feels that it is your community.

Having gotten that part out of my system, I want to give you some background on where I fit into all of this. Most of you know that I was an employee of AOL. But I'm not sure many of you know exactly what I did when I worked there.

I was on this wonderful team of people that was called the Community Management Team. There were about 150 of us from all over the country who worked from our homes to manage various communities on AOL. The four biggest areas on AOL are, in no particular order, News, Sports, Personal Finance, and Entertainment. There are many, many more areas on AOL (such as Parenting, Health, Education, etc.) that are fabulous areas, but the four largest ones are the ones I mentioned above. I was in one of those four areas.

I worked in my area from October of 2002 until February of this year. And I loved my job. When I began, our jobs were more diverse than they were towards the end. I did everything from creating message boards to writing content to customer service and a zillion other things. I was probably most proud of my work when I saw it featured on AOL Welcome Screens. I remember signing on one day, seeing the Welcome Screen linking to a feature that I built from scratch and thinking, "Oh my God! Millions of people will sign onto AOL today and the very first thing that they will see is a link to MY BABY!" One feature in particular that I did was heavily promoted throughout the entire AOL service -- even on the main Journals page. I can't tell you what a feeling that is. (Some of you may have seen some of my work, and although you don't know it was mine, I'm proud as hell that you've seen it.)

In December of 2004, AOL announced a very large lay-off. Unfortunately, all of us who worked from our homes (plus a very large number of people in the Corporate Offices) were laid off. It was an extremely difficult thing to get through, and I went through a real anger phase, but I can look at it now and know that it was a business decision. They were kind enough to give us two months' notice. A lot of companies don't give that.

By that time, my job had changed significantly. AOL had gone through a huge community re-structure, and my job had turned solely into community management. I was no longer providing content, but I was managing Community Leaders, managing Message Boards and Chat Rooms, and doing mostly Customer Service.

(I promise, this really does have something to do with the banner ads on the journals -- I'm getting there, really!)

My Customer Service position was a hard one. There were times that I absolutely dreaded signing onto my Customer Service screen names to check the mail. The reason? At one point, AOL changed Message Board formats. And many, many people weren't happy. People in general don't like change. And I can understand that. I was so used to the old boards myself, I knew everything about them -- from the user side and the back-end -- and looking at the new ones, having to learn all over again how to use them, figuring out how to navigate through them and all that jazz wasn't easy for me, and I worked for AOL. Meaning, I had to pretend to be knowledgeable on a subject that I was trying to learn myself. The members hated these boards.

I look at the boards on occasion now, and my personal opinion is that they're really nice, and ultimately, they're actually easier to use than the old format. But, man! What a transition!

I got some of the nastiest e-mails from members. Some asking me to change the boards back, some threatening me with account cancellations, and some asking me to do inappropriate things that weren't anatomically possible. With my mother. I can't tell you how many tears I shed over some of these nasty, hateful e-mails.


Of course, I couldn't do that. And when I was feeling the worst of the frustration (which, at that point, was several times a day), I had to walk away from my computer and remind myself that these members were paying members and were visibly upset about the changes. Without them, I wouldn't have a job. And they deserved to be heard.

I also had to remind myself that I was their front line. I was the one in my area whose e-mail address they were given to voice these complaints. They had nowhere else to turn. This was my job. My life-line. How I would feed and clothe my children. And, regardless of how I personally felt about these changes (and I hated them myself), it was my job to not only help these members in every way I could, but to continue to be loyal to my employer. It's the hardest position in the world at times, and finding that middle ground is often next to impossible.

I had so many members ask me how I could work for such a horrible company. How could I work for someone who treated their members so terribly? The answer was simple: It's not easy to find a job that pays relatively well that allows me to work from my home so that I could be here for my children. Prior to my AOL job, I worked for an AOL Partner site. I started that job when Princess was 4 months old, and eventually had Spiderson while working there. How many other jobs can you bring a 23-month old and a newborn to? How many other jobs can you return to 48 hours after you've had a C-section?

Did I agree with every business decision that AOL made? No, of course not. But I've never, ever worked for a company where I was in 100% agreement with everything they've done -- even now, and I'm self-employed. But I continued working for AOL because I couldn't imagine finding another job that allowed me to be here when my children needed me. I felt like I missed out on so much with Goth Daughter because I worked outside of the home. And I was lucky enough to be able to make money and still be home with my children. Does this lower my professional integrity? Working for a company that sometimes makes unpopular decisions with their customers? Maybe. But my personal integrity meant more to me. There were many people, though, who faulted me for staying at my job. I still don't understand that.

So, fast-forward to last Tuesday. Which, by the way, I have seen mention of the day actually being referred to as Black Tuesday.

So everyone gets up in the morning and goes to update their journals. To their surprise, they're greeted by Bank of America trying to give them a loan at the top of their journals, when all they want to do is update them.

Then comes Surprise Number Two. The Save Entry buttons aren't working.

I saw a couple of New Entry alerts in my e-mail alerting me to the issue. Y'know what my first thought was? I thought, "I would hate to be John Scalzi and Joe the Journals Editor right now." So I took a little hike over to their journals.

<FONTFACE=VERDANA size="3" color="#a6a6d2">Oh my God, you guys are vocal! But, rightfully so.

I saw some comments in these guys' journals that ranked right up there with the ones I'd gotten myself. Luckily, the really bad ones were from screen names that I'm not familiar with. I'm so glad that my friends are showing some class with this. Don't get me wrong -- I never, ever thought any of you would be anything less than mature and rational. I just know that even the person with the most class in the world can lose it when they feel like they've been wronged.

I was glad to see that everyone is expressing how they feel about this. I really admire you guys for standing up for what you feel is right. I mean that.

One thing that is bothering me is that the comments are still trickling into Joe's and John's journals. There has been an e-mail address set up specifically for complaints about these banner ads. But, Joe and John are still getting nasty comments. Most of them have begun to die off, but there are some persistent little buggers.

Let me interject here that I have never met John Scalzi, nor have I ever had any direct contact with him. I occasionally read his journal. I don't even have him on Alerts. That's the extent of my relationship with him. Joe, I think I met in passing one time at an AOL conference a couple of years ago. If he's who I'm thinking of, he seemed like a nice guy. But I've never spent more than maybe 20 seconds with him.

I'm stressing that because I don't want anyone to think that I'm just saying what I'm saying because I'm sticking up for friends. I don't know these guys. I've simply been in their shoes. And those shoes may as well be three sizes too small with 8-inch stiletto heels and no arch support. They hurt that much.

Anyway, my point is this: I feel so badly for them, because they are catching the heat from a decision that I suspect they had no part in making. I know many of you are aware of that because I've read several comments in their j's to that effect. And I'm seeing more and more like that every time I read their comments. Thank you for realizing that.

If youhaven't already, please write an e-mail to the address they've provided. That is the appropriate measure to take. I can assure you that when I was manning an e-mail complaint box, I copied and pasted every last email into a Word Document and forwarded it to my boss, who forwarded it to her boss, who forwarded it to her boss, who forwarded it to her boss, who forwarded it to her boss, and I am confident that it got forwarded beyond that. They did get passed up the chain.

Whether or not that will get those ads removed from the AOL Journals, I don't know. And I don't want to speculate on this one. I just want to do my part to get people barking up the right tree.

On a similar note, I do feel a need to stand up for John Scalzi on another issue. He's taking a lot of heat for making a statement back in May. He said then that AIM members would be able to start journals, and that the difference between AIM and AOL-paid journals was that AIM journals would have banner ads.

Scalzi wasn't "lying" then, as some people have accused him of doing. At the time, that was the difference. And I'd be willing to bet that he had no idea that this would change when he made that statement. I strongly feel that neither Scalzi nor Joe has misrepresented AOL. 'Nuff said there.

The biggest issue that I'm having with this whole thing, though, is that I'm seeing the community being divided. I'm seeing friends turn against friends. I'm seeing name-calling and fighting. And I don't like that.

Until the day I die, I will think that everyone has the right to their opinion about anything. I think that people have every right to speak out on it, if it's done appropriately. I think that no one has the right to make something like banner ads in journals personal and to fault someone else for doing what they feel is right.

I'm seeing people calling other people names because they're leaving AOL's J-Land, and I'm seeing people calling other people names because they're staying. And, I'm seeing people blaming AOL for causing it.

I'm sorry, but AOL is not responsible for someone calling someone else an "ad-whore". That is the immaturity of the name-caller. If anyone truly thinks that AOL is causing all this animosity, then it's only because J-Land (as a whole -- not anyone in particular) is letting it. Seems to me that no one is happy with these banner ads. Yet somehow, people aren't sticking together. It takes an army to battle a giant. I think that army should be on the same side and not bickering amongst themselves.

I truly hate that this once-strong community is now divided. I hate that friendships are being destroyed over something as silly as an advertisement. Honestly -- is your friendship with someone seriously less important than the 1-inch space it takes to put up an ad? If anyone is faulting someone over 1 little inch, then I don't know that they're that much of a friend to begin with.

I know. It's the principle. But if the old saying is right, that you have to choose your battles, then choose the right battle. I think that your battle should be with AOL. Not with each other.

I wish that everyone in J-Land would call a truce. This is silly to fight each other over something that you're all mad at AOL for. Personally, I don't fault anyone for staying at AOL, and I don't fault anyone for leaving. This is an individual decision, but there is no unilaterally right or wrong decision to make. It's a personal one, and what's right for one person might be wrong for someone else.

*EDITED TO ADD:  Ya know, I've had a few hours to think about this some more, and something just occurred to me.  People are upset about having these banner ads because they detract from the content in their journals.  But the more that I think about it, the more I think that this uproar is causing even more attention to the ads themselves.  Doesn't that defeat the purpose?

I might be off-base, but I want to add that little bit of food for thought.

OK, having gone through all of that, I do have a personal opinion on the banner ads. They suck. I chose not to put banner ads on my blog. I paid extra not to have banner ads on my company's web site.

However, I don't not visit particular web sites simply because they have banner ads. They just aren't that big of a deal to me. It takes me a lot less time to scroll past a banner ad than it does to sit through a commercial on TV. And I haven't stopped watching TV either.

I don't think that everyone who has a Kodak ad on their journal necessarily endorses Kodak. That, to me, is like saying that everyone who pays to get on the subway endorses Company X because Company X advertises on the subway.

I know it was a shock to see these ads suddenly appear on journals, but I seriously doubt many people are clicking on them or even paying attention to them. My opinion is that this shouldn't be taken personally.

I've just re-read this entry and realized that it sounds very pro-AOL. I can't get into particulars, but I can assure you that I'm not pro-AOL. Nor am I anti-AOL. It just is what it is.

When I parted ways with AOL being my employer, I certainly had the opportunity to keep an AOL or AIM journal. I didn't do that. I still have the opportunity to open another AOL or AIM journal. I won't be doing that either. I have my reasons for keeping my blog off AOL. I'm not going into the whys, but I hope everyone can respect my decision, just as I respect everyone else for the decisions they have made.

This is the only entry in my blog that I plan on devoting to this subject. (Never say never, ya know.) However, I don't mind talking about it in e-mail, should anyone want even more of my opinion on it.


billandnae said...

Groovy...she's quite a gal!

This was by far the most sensible thing I have read on this issue.

Ya know, if you scroll an inch down from the top of the journal, you don't even see them anymore :)~


I miss you so!  I miss seeing pictures of your hair traumas, your cakes, and the kids!


quartrlyfecrysis said...

Well said Groovy!

Thanks for posting this Kitty :)


onecrazymomto5 said...

I once read groovy's journal when I first got AOL!  I was just checking it out and too scared to leave a comment for the fear of being an intruder in someone else's space!  
I for some reason never got back there!
That was the most well put and enlightening thing I have seen about this whole ad thing!  I have joined the groups and sent the e-mail but haven't said anything to John or Joe because I knew it wasn't their fault and if they could really do anything they were already on it!  
Thanks Cat for posting this.  It opened my eyes and I hope that it opened everyone else's too.  Can't we all just get along!!??
Oh yeah my alerts from change notes are working!!  

nighterror5 said...

Hey Cat... Stopping in to say I hope your Thanksgiving is a good one, hope u enjoy the day and have fun =) Happy Thanksgiving


redbaranjj said...

Very well said!!


delela1 said...

Yup, gotta pick your battles.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

verypinkinside said...

Interesting isn't it? Here's a source for more info: