My 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.