Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Why Has Lost a Customer

Encounters with a Photo Forum Bozo

One of the downsides of posing queries to internet message board moderators is that you never know what kind of responses you'll get, no matter how courteous and "just the facts, ma'am" straightforward your questions may be. Most of the time, you’ll receive a polite and informative professional-caliber reply by someone you can take seriously.

The rest of the time, however, you’ll instead receive amateurish nincumpoopery or arrogant defensiveness or both by some arrested-adolescence jerk with a misplaced ego bigger than Bill Clinton's but with the same percentage of logic synapses functioning in Paris Hilton’s brain –say, around 2.3%.

A case in point is my own recent encounter with one Scott Sewell, who moderates the Buy & Sell forum at photographer and Photoshop plug-in developer Fred Miranda's website at

Miranda's site is dedicated to photography and its forums were set up to allow photographers to communicate with each other, including posting ads to buy or sell used photography equipment.

As an avid amateur and freelance photographer always on the lookout for bargains and/or has older or underutilized gear to sell, I had often utilized the Buy & Sell forum, along with four or five other similar venues, such as PhotoNet, PBase, and Craigslist.

I highly recommend all of them with the exception of Miranda's venue while it's still under its current moderator, who seems to know nothing about public relations and/or is utterly clueless about how to conduct himself with Mr. Miranda’s customers and subscribers.

Here’s why:

The problem began with the following message from Mr. Sewell informing me that I had "duplicated" one of my ads at the Buy & Sell forum:

[SEWELL, Sep 30, 2006 at 09:52 AM]

You made two identical posts on B&S. If these are two pieces of gear, please combine the listings. If it's a mispost, please delete misposts like that.

Of course, the above was a reasonable enough notice except that it provided no titles or dates or links for the alleged “identical posts,” nor any other clue as to which post was being referred to. Apparently, it never occurred to Sewell that forum members often have more than one ad on that forum --which was indeed the case here, as I explained to him:

"Whenever I post any FS or WTB ads to FM I do likewise at PhotoNet, Craigslist, and two or three photo websites. .... During the months of August and September, I had ads for four items for sale as well as two items to buy on most or all of the abovementioned venues."

Nevertheless, I conducted a search and could not find any duplicate posts. So I sent him the following replies:

"Can you be a little more specific, please? I looked on my list of posts under ‘posts’ in my profile and didn't see any duplicate ads there. Can you point them both out to me? Thanks!"


"Here is the list of posts appearing my profile: [URL snipped] As you can see, there are no duplicate posts for selling any gear on that list."

But apparently granting this simple request was waaaaaaay too much work for Sewell, for instead of providing clarification and information he shot back with this:

[SEWELL, Sep 30, 2006 at 05:13 PM]

More specific? You made two posts that appeared to be identical. Either it one was a mispost on your part or you had two pieces of gear that should have been combined into one listing. One post was deleted.

and this:

[SEWELL, Sep 30, 2006 at 05:15 PM]

Do you think I make up things to PM people about? You had two identical posts. I deleted one of them. In the future, misposts like that will BOTH be deleted (without notice) so there's no confusion like this.

Of course, I was quite taken aback by such bizarre non-sequitur responses:

Perhaps, I speculated, Mr. Sewell had a fight with his wife (God help her!) that morning. Or maybe, I suspected, he had forgotten to take his medication. Or, quite possibly, English is his second language. Or perhaps he just needs to take a remedial reading course.

But be that as it may, I replied as follows in the hope ( a vain one, it turned out) that he might wake up and smell the cognitive cappuccino:

"By 'more specific' I meant which ad you were referring to in your original notice. The meaning of the phrase 'more specific' should have been obvious from the context established by the rest of my query."


"[You said] 'Do you think I make up things to PM people about?'

"Oh, for crying out loud. How in the world did you manage to parse the above presumption out of what I said?

"All I told you was that I could not determine what you were referring to. That is why I asked you --TWICE-- to point out to me which post was duplicated so that I could take the appropriate action. Had you done so in the beginning I could have and would have taken care of the matter.

"Instead, you send me a nastygram in response to my query??? Sheesh."

Things went downhill from there.

Instead of going back, re-checking his facts, and replying with the information I requested --as any sane and civilized forum moderator would do-- Sewell just became more rude, and even resorted to thinly veiled threats:

[SEWELL, Sep 30, 2006 at 06:41 PM]

Yes, "sheesh" is right. I deleted only one of the two identical posts. They've BOTH been deleted now, so we can get past this matter.

You kept questioning me like I didn't even deleted a I was just making up the PM to you. If you hadn't made two identical posts to begin with we wouldn't be having this PM exchange. And then you keep questioning me..."which post did you delete"? [Of course, that's not what I asked him. I asked him --twice-- to tell me which of my ads I, MYSELF had DUPLICATED, not which ads he had deleted. His response here seems to support my theory that either (a) English is a second language for Sewell or (b) he needs to take that remedial reading course. --JE]

I deleted BOTH of the posts in question. That must be what you wanted? There will be no notices of future edits/deletions of any misposts or off topic posts, and there is no reason to continue this PM exchange. [Apparently, merely questioning him is a crime in Herr Sewell's world.--JE]

At this point, I'd about had it with this obstinate dunderhead. So on Oct. 1, I demanded an apology from Sewell for his disgraceful attitude and conduct.

I also informed him that I would take this matter up with Fred Miranda himself (the owner of the web site and therefore, presumably, Sewell's superior) directly. In addition, I said, I would demand assurance from both that neither I nor any other customer and subscriber would be subjected to such mistreatment again.

I immediately informed Miranda of the situation via email, which I cc'd to Sewell.

In response, Sewell deleted all my ads. The next day, my account was locked. That's right: It appears that for having the temerity to register a complaint about Miranda's abusive forum moderator, I was banned.

As much as I've enjoyed using Miranda's Photoshop plug-ins and actions and other photo-editing programs over the past 3 years --I have over half-a-dozen-- I will not purchase another license from him ever again.

Fred Miranda has lost a customer.

[UPDATE: 10/09/06]

[1] At the time of publication on 10/04, a link to the above article was sent to both Sewell and Miranda for review and comment. Both were invited to refute it here. So far, neither has done so.

[2] It has been over a full week since I first emailed Fred Miranda on this matter, three days before publishing this blog. I have yet to receive a reply from him. In the closing of my fourth and final e-mail to Miranda, dated 10/03, I posed the following question about Scott Sewell's treatment of Miranda's customers:

"Is this the kind of conduct you allow on the part of your associates or employees?"

It seems that he does. At least he hasn't said otherwise.


Blogger Joe Random said...

A perfect example of thin skin on both sides escalating a minor event in an online setting. If you had wanted to end this in a civil manner, then when he sent the mail saying that he had deleted one of the postings, you should have just said "Sorry; I was looking for the duplicate and didn't realize you had already delete it. I apologize for the trouble."

7:40 AM  
Blogger John said...

Point taken, Joe. I should have thought of such a response myself to begin with.

But IMO it would've made no difference in this case: After all, my first two initial queries to him were *already* both civil and reasonable, so he should have responded in kind instead of getting into a snit about it. I gave him three opportunities to do so, but he refused.

IMHO, the more important issue here is how forum moderators treat posters/customers, and whether or not posters/customers should tolerate bad treatment. Obviously, I don't think we should.

8:18 AM  
Blogger Joe Random said...

Of course, he should have taken a more civil tone initially; it takes two to tango in all of these misunderstandings. My guess is that he thought "Some guy is posting dupes and then trying to play innocent after I caught him at it." That annoyed him, and he sent back the curt reply which then snowballed. I don't think it's really anyone's fault (or maybe it's everyone's fault). With online interactions, my philosophy is to apologize at the first sign of trouble. I often look back and find that there's something I wrote that the recipient may have misinterpreted.

1:04 PM  
Blogger John said...

Excellent points, Joe, although since I wasn't trying to "snowball" the guy it never occurred to me that he might have misinterpreted my initial queries in that manner. If that was the case, he should've said so plainly --or at the very least asked me what I meant. But he never did. After all, I'm not psychic, nor is it my responsibility to try to be. I can only go by what is written.

Moreover, as I pointed out in the blog, I tried to communicate to him the specific reasons I couldn't identify the post in question (i.e., I had several there and at other venues within the same time period). But he simply chose to ignore the facts I presented to him, and instead announced (in a reply which I didn't quote in the blog) his refusal to discuss the matter any further.

1:57 PM  
Blogger Anonymers said...

Just stumbled across your post here. You're absolutely right - I had a similar exchange with him, where he pulled out random accusations (You're a repeat offender! More of this will get you banned!)

I sent a retort, and got an even nastier response back and then... I decided to drop it. Sometimes it's just easier that way; just try to avoid the moderator and enjoy what are otherwise great forums.

1:10 PM  

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