Some things never change. Some companies never change.

Remember 2008? Remember my post Beware, in which I shared AAG’s unhappy account of working for them and not getting paid the money she was due?

I’m fond of quoting J. P. Morgan: “A man I do not trust could not get money from me on all the bonds in Christendom.” A person (or a company) which has acted in an untrustworthy fashion on one occasion, will (inevitably in my experience) do so again in the future. If you know they’ve screwed somebody, don’t give them a chance to screw you. Simple rule for living.

So, I took them off my list of people to do business with. And when I take somebody of my list, I take them the hell off the list. No links, no free attention, no affiliate traffic, no advertising, nothing. (Well, I might or might not cancel prepaid advertising purchased through one of my ad brokers, depending on who it is. My business relationships with my brokers might constrain me.)

So, for example, when EdenFantasys sent me a spammy form-letter solicitation at one of my email addresses in late 2008 seeking link exchanges and inviting me to join the hordes of people who write for them for beads and trinkets, I responded thusly:

Chris, as a rule I am not interested in pursuing business with companies that are unable to resolve their business disputes with other bloggers. It’s especially hilarious that you are seeking paid writers and reviewers — how do you hope to find any when your boss has a public history of not paying them for work performed?

You might consider telling Fred that he’s wasting his time employing you to spam other bloggers, until such time as he pays his bills and does whatever else he can do to repair his damaged reputation in the blogging community.

Your form letter could also use some work. True, adding one blog-specific keyword to prove you visited is better than the usual link exchange robots manage; but if you hope to be successful, you’ll need to learn to craft an opening paragraph that is genuinely specific to the blogger you are approaching. We get too many form-letter PR and link exchange requests for them to be truly effective, without at least a bit of personalization.

Good luck with Eden Fantasys, I hope you have better luck getting paid than AAG did.

A few months later, when I got a solicitation to join their affiliate program, this is what I told them:

Hi. Your company has a bad reputation in the blogging community. Perhaps if you paid the money you owe to other bloggers, I could consider doing business; until then, I have zero interest.

But I go further than that. In the Bible it says “As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.” Since at least 2008 it’s been clear (as a professor of my acquaintance says) “to the meanest intelligence” that EF is not a good outfit to do business with. And thus, I’ve got to wonder about people who continue to work closely with them. I don’t understand such people and they make me nervous. And so, as a rule, I don’t link to them, either.

I miss some things that way; it has a cost. EF runs a pretty nice web magazine (called “Sexis”) that publishes interesting stuff sometimes. And I can think of two or three blogs I’d have on my blogroll if they weren’t so deeply involved in EF business and reviews. But at the end of the day, people on the other end of the internet are (practically speaking) immune to most forms of social, legal, and political censure. Shunning them, denying them traffic and attention, is the only power against them that we have. If you want the good companies to flourish and the bad ones to wither, you have to starve the bad ones at every opportunity.

But other people don’t see it that way. You can see it on their blogs and in their blog comments. “They’ve changed, they aren’t like that any more.” “I don’t know about her problem, but they’ve always treated me just fine.” Endlessly.

But of course it’s like a game of musical chairs. From time to time, the music stops and somebody else gets thrown out of the game. I’ve seen an “I got shat on by EF” thread every couple of month, it seems like. Recently and by way of example, it was one of their loyal reviewers named Epiphora. For reasons unclear, she suddenly got thrown out of the treehouse and told she was too mean to play with the cool kids: “Please be advised we have disabled your contributor account at” As she says, it was “an unnecessary move by a company that has proven time and again to be manipulative and malicious.”

AAG, of course, was on hand to provide some helpful context:

For anyone considering associating themselves with this company, let me make clear to you what you should expect. Your progress will go through seven distinct stages:

1. Romance: “We love your work so much. Come work with us. You’ll be awesome! In fact you’ll be so much better than everyone else.”

2. Honeymoon: “You are amazing. Your predecessor never did this kind of work. We want you with us forever and ever and ever and you’ll make so much money and have so much responsibility.”

3. Danger: “We have some problems with your work. This is not what we expected from you. You must do more, and better, and faster.”

4. Threats: “If you can’t do better we will cut your payment rate/ban you.”

5. Divorce: “You’ve not lived up to our expectations. You’re fired/banned. This is final. We will not discuss it with you.”

6. Condemnation: “That person was awful for the community because of this issue which we will explain in painful, humiliating (and largely fictitious) detail, as well as whole bunch of stuff you couldn’t possibly understand. But we wanted to tell everyone all about it because we are transparent! And we love everyone! Except for the increasingly long list of people we’ve banned/fired/not paid. Everyone! Really!”

7. Repeat: “Come work with us! It will be awesome.”

Every organization has a culture; unfortunately EF has demonstrated time and time again that theirs is anything but “positive.” Epiphora, I’m sorry you had this experience. I’m sorry that they chose to write ridiculous things on their site. I’m sorry that they closed your affiliate account with money still in it. None of these things should have happened.

Regardless of how many other wonderful things EF might have done, it has a long history of treating its employees and contributors poorly. Is this the kind of company to whom you want to give your money, your time, or your work? Are you comfortable having your name attached to them?

Do you think there is something so special about you that EF will not treat you the same way it has treated many others before?


For More Information:

from Epiphora: What the fuck, EdenFantasys?
from Britni: Bad Move, Eden Fantasys
from Essin’ Em: My Take on the EdenFantasys Drama
from That Toy Chick: A Tale of Intriguing Timing
from aag: Problems with EF
and Update on Problems
from Ask Garnet: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
from Sarah Sloane: Money, ethics, and real sex-positivity

As AAG so exhaustively documented last week, this cycle has grown common, and is well known. Result for me: I am running out of sympathy for the victims. I’m all like, you knew who you were dealing with, you knew they were flaky and manipulative and unreliable and likely to turn on you without warning like a rabid dog, and you did business with them anyway? Woof! Can I offer you a small serving of your own yummy vomit casserole that you baked yourself?

Thus I was enormously amused to discover the internet shitstorm that’s been brewing up since yesterday, when the Maybe Maimed blog posted this devastating analysis of the shady link practices that EdenFantasys uses. If you’ve read this far, you want to go read the post. It’s epic. It’s detailed. It’s devastating. And it’s hilarious, because it was triggered by a snotty note from EF trying to get more inbound links.

The technical details are complicated. I’m not going to get down in the technical weeds on this one like the linked post above does, but the short, non-technical version is this: the entire EdenFantasys empire of web sites is a roach motel for traffic and search engine influence. Traffic and search engine mojo checks in, but they don’t check out. Extremely complicated Javascript is used to obscure all external links, making them look like CSS elements to Google’s web spider. This is not entirely uncommon, and there are some legit reasons to do it, but EF is doing it to an extreme degree. It’s an extremely ungenerous practice, because it encourages other people share their search engine influence with EF, while stingily refusing to share any of EF’s search engine “authority” with anybody else.

The resulting shitstorm is currently ongoing on Twitter and a wide variety of blogs. You can get access to large chunks of that conversation if you follow #aagblog and maybe #WomanTribune; the links and retweets in their recent streams should get you everywhere else you need to go.

Predictably enough, the EF community (which is large) wanted to talk about this on the EF forum. WomanTribune has a post explaining how that thread got deleted, another thread talking about the deletion got closed, and finally an “explanation” of the link practices got posted by their president, the infamous Fred Petrenko. Of course there are screen shots everywhere (linked by WomenTribune) so all they’ve done is…

Well, let me tell you what they’ve done. I was reading a book the other day in which somebody said “Well, he’s shot himself in the foot, hasn’t he?” To which his interlocutor replied “Rather higher and closer to the centerline, I think.”

VioletBlue says it very professionally: “All things considered, I think they’re looking at a reputation crisis.”

Fred’s “explanation” itself, I’ll let you find by following some of the links above. No matter if you don’t; it’s a steaming pile of crap. I’m not going to get into that. You’ll believe me if you trust me, or you’ll go read it yourself and die laughing. Let me just paint you a word poem with a few selected phrases.

common practice on all user-driven websites
disastrous outbreaks of trojans
standard coding procedure
Web 2.0 technologies like AJAX with DotNET and JQuery frameworks
millions of sites who utilize this linking practice
allegations made by a few individuals
misguided, misinformed and surely confusing
highly experienced programmers
twist such information out of context
We care deeply about our community
a safe place to play and shop

There’s also a breathtakingly bald-faced claim that a bunch of other well-known web organizations “do the same JavaScript-based encapsulation.” Reality: it’s not the same. I’m out of energy to track down the links to the people who can explain it better than me, but I’m comfortable saying it. Not the same. Not the same roach-motel link coding. Not even close, in most cases.

What’s my takeaway message? Haven’t got one. Except, maybe this:

If you continue to do any kind of business with these people, you deserve what you get.