DirtyPhoneBook.com

by Chris Silver Smith

DirtyPhoneBook.comMy piece on “Making Businesses of Negativity” apparently caught the attention of one of the businesses that I criticized, DirtyPhoneBook.com, since they forwarded a Tweet to me this morning of a followup article over on Silicon Alley Business Insider where their CEO had provided a rebuttal letter. SAI had posted an article earlier about them, dubbing them the “Horrifying New Startup Of The Day“.

In the apologetics letter, Peter Green compared Dirty Phone Book with other, better-known social media services, Facebook and MySpace, and he says it’s all about freedom of speech. He goes into further comparison, pointing out hate groups active in Facebook, and tries to say that Facebook is actually worse than DirtyPhoneBook.com. Finally, he suggests that DirtyPhoneBook is treated worse by the press than sites Chatrouleette and Facebook because people have some sort of prejudice against he and his cofounders because they are a “stripper”, a “degenerate gambler”, and a “washed-up Las Vegas comedian” instead of being young whiz-kids from Harvard or Moscow.

While he makes a very well-worded case for the business, I’m sorry but it isn’t sufficiently convincing.

What Mr. Green disingenuously misses as being major differentiating factors between his site and other popular social media sites is that his site was on the face of it engineered to encourage negativity.

The name first says it all, “Dirty Phone Book” – evoking a tawdry image of something a bit sleazy before you even see their mascot which further grinds in the point: it’s a cartoon cockroach. So, they’re represented by what is widely considered the basest of the base here in America – the most despised of pests which invades people’s homes, uninvited.

The “dirty” part of the name further calls to mind obscene associations, attracting people to post all sorts of coarse material about others, as evidenced by a sampling of postings I saw on DirtyPhoneBook’s own Facebook page. So, the service was engineered to appeal to people’s more prurient nature.

All this is combined with a format where people can make any unqualified statements about anyone and hide behind anonymity. In this universe, no one has any accountability for anything which they might say — which is not at all part of the wonderful concepts that comprise Freedom of Speech.

He is correct in one thing: the concept of a reverse directory based upon phone numbers is pretty good. There’s definitely consumer interest in this. When I worked for a major online yellow pages, we were highly conscious of the desire for reverse lookups by phone numbers, and we provided it for businesses. Also, there’s loads of searches out there by people who want to know who’s behind a particular phone number. So, the technical concept is pretty good in some ways — I just really hate their choice to execute it in a way that’s intended to focus upon people’s basest impulses and meanness.

I think Peter Green is being disingenuous when he tries to make the outraged claim that no one’s treating them as well as other Silicon Valley insiders and whiz-kid startups because of who the founders are. He knows full well that those other businesses are different in tone and focus than DirtyPhoneBook. Perhaps he’s even being facetious.

In fact, DirtyPhoneBook’s About Us history section outlining their stripper/gambler/comedian founders is so jocular and self-deprecating that it makes one seriously wonder if the entire website itself isn’t some sort of grand joke — that later on down the road the real founders might emerge in order to make a point about the extents of freedom of speech or about society’s moral bankruptcy.

In sum, Green’s rebuttal letter at SAI, with it’s outraged air of persecution, is so obviously and purposefully artificial that it can only be interpreted as trolling in order to whip up more commentary and attention for the dirty little startup. In this business, even bad PR is good PR, since controversy tends to be viral and can help build in-links. They’ll need to keep the uproar going if they want it to help their PR.

I apologize to my readers for playing into their little game – no more is likely to come from me about this one.

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11 Responses to “DirtyPhoneBook.com”

  1. Mike Martin says:

    I’m a technical person and a reader of the dirtyphonebook website on a daily basis. The content on the site (when you let users comment anonymously and uncensored) is hysterical and something that I have not seen from any recent start-ups. None of the technical blogs are writing about the entertainment value of the site. It’s fresh, witty and funny and to me that has value. As technical people we should stop looking for all the baby blue colored sites, with fancy algorithms, that don’t do anything but “make my Facebook better”. We should give a golf clap to them for their original concept (social profiles based on phone numbers), and just admit that it’s a good idea that makes you laugh.

  2. Silver says:

    Mike, I’m not really big on cruel humor. If you had to work on some of the online harassment and reputation issues I’ve worked upon for friends, acquaintances and clients, you’d probably not be so quick to laugh, either.

    It doesn’t take any real cleverness to do insult humor or to use utterly foul language to talk about someone. But, it does take us all down a notch as a society.

    I’m not humorless – I find FAIL Blog pretty funny (by the people who did I Can Has Cheezburger) – but, I think the difference is that it’s not presented as a site for the express purpose of attacking and denigrating individuals. There’s certainly humor at the expense of others, but it’s not insulting nor specific — it’s not tied to personally-identifiable info like people’s phone numbers. It’s not really cruel.

  3. David Gibson says:

    I think you’re both sort of right. Silver is right that the comments can definitely hurt some people. Mike is right that the comments are hilarious and there’s real entertainment value in this.

    I see it a little bit like chatroulette. Chatroulette is 95% older men exposing themselves to teens yet I still think the concept of chatting with anybody randomly has immense value. I don’t think chatroulette will be covered in penises forever.

    I think the DirtyPhonebook has potential to be valuable down the road. What if you could use it to expose scammers on craigslist or figure out if your girlfriend is cheating on you? You can’t really use anything like facebook to do that.

    Like Wayne Gretzky said, look at where the puck is going, not where it is right now.

  4. Mike Stewart says:

    Wow. First time ever on DirtyPhoneBooks.com. I must say that I really don’t like the intent of the site. It is the worst of the worst bathroom wall. No community of moderators or concern for innocent victims. Horrible if you ask me. The worst of the worst.

    I also have seen iAccuse.com and feel that if validated by an admin or community, it has merit since the accuser has to include identity and info. The point is that the accused need to be able to respond. If not given the opportunity to respond the site becomes as DIRTY as DirtyPhoneBook.com

    That being said. I like the idea of a forum to discuss reviews, recommendations and fraud. I do not like the ability for the accused to not respond or find the information.

    Maybe it is time to create a directory for people linking them to all the ratings and review sites with information on people and companies?

    You can only push so much off the first page in reputation management before you consider why the reputation is so terrible.

    Honesty hurts those who are not honest.

    My 2 cents.

  5. [...] the other hand, I’ve complained before about intentionally negative directories such as DirtyPhoneBook. Such websites encourage people to beat up on businesses — sometimes unfairly. In one case I [...]

  6. sky says:

    Dirty Phone Book is a terrible website, it is not a “creative” venture nor does foster social networking or good humor in any way. The only thing that’s funny about the website is how sad it all is, that this is what our culture is about now. My number was somehow put on the website, along with my full name and a url for my faebook profile, without consent obviously. Apparently some other people have attempted to get there numbers removed to no avail because dirtyphonebook.com simply does not respond to such requests. Is there a way to get my number removed permanently from there database?

  7. Erin says:

    About four months ago, someone anonymous hacked my old hotmail account, got access to my personal information, and posted my full name and phone number and my now defunct email address to Dirty Phonebook – along with some very explicitly sexual remarks. As a result, I received thousands (yes, thousands) of unwanted texts (some containing “anthony weiner” photos) and phone calls. I had to change my number. Someone tried to break into my house at the height of it.

    The site won’t take my information down despite a police report for harassment caused by their site. It’s now the first hit when you google my name – and I’m the only “me” in the United States – which is horrible professionally considering what the post says about me.

    None of the info posted was true. I have no idea who did it.

    If that’s what some of you would call humorous, well….

  8. o says:

    Please leave here info on any lawyers who can sue Peter Green and his website

  9. Jill says:

    DirtyPhoneBook.Com is irresponsible and potentially dangerous. I did a search on my 14 year old daughter and found her cell phone number and facebook information. Although there were no comments, anyone can contact her on facebook or call her, and I’ve been unsuccessful in removing her information. Now isn’t that scary?

  10. Gregory says:

    DirtyPhoneBook.com is truly a piece of trash and Mr. Green is pond scum of the first order, but sorry to report this to all of you ‘good intentioned parents’, in this time of supposedly heighten anti-bullying, little Johnny and cute little Jane are probably little bully trolls when out of your sight sight. My daughter was recently sexually text abused by one of her friends. I traced the number back to a known friend, spoke to his parents who were ‘shocked’, only later to find out Johnny’s phone had fallen into the hands of another friend who thought it would be funny. Oh, and his parents were equally ‘schocked’. All of these kids were ‘good, clean cut, upstanding, over achievers’ at a local Catholic Prep School. You see folks, we (us parents) are raising a generation of cowards, liars, super-bullies and snotty little brats and DirtyPhoneBook.com is just another manifestation of this plight. Oh, I know, your Johnny or Jane is different. Bovine excrement! The sad thing for me, after all I went through to protect my daughters ‘dignity’, she was mad at ME for making a ‘big deal’ over something they do all the time. Think about it my fellow parents, when you are sitting around the boob tube watching “American Dad”, “The First 48 Hours”, “The Hills”, “Big Brother”, “One Tree Hill”, “Jersey Shores” – the list goes on and on, you’re teaching your kids that low life behavior, bullying, petty and serious crime, drinking, drugs, corruption, lying, cheating, etc. are all things to be chasing after. Parents in this country need to grow up even more than our children do. It’s time that parents snap out of their self induced technology coma. Your kids know more than you do about the Internet and they are playing you (us) for fools – no matter how boo-boo lipped they get when they get ‘hurt’ by something posted on the Internet.

  11. Linda says:

    When someone winds up being hurt or God forbid killed by some psycho who got their private info off the site..perhaps they’ll shut it down…they are the scum of the earth…and it should be illegal to have PERSONAL information posted on some website for the express reason of opening that person up to being harassed or stalked!

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