Thursday, April 23, 2009

I was also locked out of my Today.com blogs

Hi. I'm Ms Terri, and like many people here, I was locked out of my Today.com blogs without any notice on Friday, April 17, 2009.

I used to have two blogs there, "LOST fan" and "Free Things to Do in San Francisco." I started in October, and by around the end of the year, I was starting, dimly, to see the writing on the wall. Then things got worse. I woke up one day to find that my blog layout, which I had worked hard on, had been scrambled overnight. I posted on the forum asking for help, sure that it was a bug, and got no response. Other people posted that they had the same problem too, and still no response. It was only later that I found out that Today's tech people had intentionally changed the layout, that everyone had been affected, and that no one in management seemed to think that we needed to know what happened when we asked, much less to have told us in advance. Any objection, no matter how mild, to stunts such as that were met by a chorus of bloggers who were company cheerleaders, saying we had no right to object, as if being paid a fraction of a penny a word was a princely sum that bought the company a vow of complete silence.

Another time the company ran a referral promotion to encourage us to bring in new bloggers. I signed up on Project Wonderful, a low-cost ad network, and was able to run tens of thousands of ad impressions on a budget. The statistics on the Project Wonderful site showed me that over 600 people had clicked through on my ads to the Today.com sign-up page. But Today.com gave me credit for only five sign-ups. Those five either never posted anything, or made only one or two posts, so I never got paid any referral fees at all.

I thought it was strange that out of 600 unique click-throughs directly to the sign-up form, only five people got as far as filling out the form, and I thought there might have been a bug, that somehow my referral number hadn't been credited correctly. That sort of thing does happen. I tried to find out from Today.com, but no one answered my email, and when I then posted in the forum, I was given a perfunctory "there is no problem" answer by somebody who didn't even check.

It's possible that less than one percent of the click-throughs had signed up, but I was disturbed because nobody would even check to see if there had been an error. They may have had nothing to hide, but they weren't acting that way.

And it got worse. People were starting to get suspended from the forum for expressing polite disagreement. There was a strong hint that we needed to buy ads to curry favor with the management. By the end of February, the situation was becoming intolerable, and after an incident where I was (in an eerie foreshadowing of what happened last week) accidentally locked out of the site -- and immediately started worrying I had been kicked out for real -- I realized I didn't need that kind of stress.

So I started a self-hosted blog, LOST for a reason. But I couldn't quite bring myself to take the plunge completely. My blogs at Today, especially my "LOST fan" blog, had built up an audience. I thought that I would not be able to duplicate the attention and the traffic that the Today.com blogs had achieved, and so I hung on.

And my worries, at first, seemed to be justified. I was getting almost no traffic on my new blog -- maybe ten hits one day, and two hits the next.

And then, a few days before Today gave me the boot, the traffic on my self-hosted blog started to rise. And it's been rising ever since. Yesterday, I got 629 (non-unique) views, which I think is more than I've ever gotten in a single day at Today. I'm not positive though, and I would like to go check, except of course I can't ... because I've been locked out.

I had more things I intended to write, but this turned out to be longer than I expected. Maybe later, if anyone is interested, I can write about what I've been able to find out about this company which tries to keep so many secrets.

23 comments:

flit April 23, 2009 at 10:09 PM  

Oh, I think we'd all like to know more, Ms Terri

I'm pretty much convinced that they disabled Google Analytics because they figured out that so many people were SO alert to discrepancies in stats that there was no way they could continue to rip us off if they left it - what do you think?

Eeek April 23, 2009 at 10:18 PM  

I don't know. There were SO many bugs in the blogs that they never got around to fixing, that I have no idea if the Anlytics tracking was broken because they didn't know how to fix it, or because they wanted it to be broken.

Either way seems plausible. ;)

Ms Terri April 23, 2009 at 10:32 PM  

Oh, "Eeek" is me. I forgot I was still on my Google account.

In Plain English April 24, 2009 at 6:10 AM  

So many, many of those things ring true about today.com. I think if we continue to tell our stories, eventually we will bring them down. I see that a newer blogger was contacted and pointed here and said "thanks, but really no thanks" believeing that we are just a bunch of pissed off people who couldn't make it on today. What they aren't understanding is that most of us have received awards at today.com for various reasons.

In Plain English April 24, 2009 at 6:13 AM  

I'm waiting to leave, but I know that eventually someone from today will read this blog here and try to put it together who I am. I know that I'll go to the forum one day and be completely locked out, that I'll try to update my blog and not be able to. I know that I'll never reap the passive income from the google traffic my blog gets.

Phyl April 24, 2009 at 12:43 PM  

Terri, I really want to know what you've found out about the company.

Meanwhile, a very good summary! Thanks for posting your story.

Ms Terri April 24, 2009 at 6:45 PM  

Thanks.

My computer is on the fritz, and I'm on a library computer, and I can only get limited time here, so I'll have to be quick. Also, my notes were on my computer, and I can't get to them. So this is from memory. Maybe someone can pick it up from here ....

The domain name Today.com was registered by a company named Amosely Corp, which may be based in Canada and the Netherlands, from, about a few years ago until about March of this year. (I don't remember the exact dates). At that time, a company named Domain Capital took over the registration.

(I got that info from one of the whois lookup sites -- it was one that had a menu with several tabs across the top)

Amosely Corp has registered many websites, including many p--n sites. You can get a list in Google. Today.com also has a subsidiary named (IIRC) dailydollar.com which itself had many subsidiary p--n sites. (This info was from the same whois lookup site I mentioned above. I don't remember the URL, but it wasn't Network Solutions, and it had a fairly long name, with whois as part of the name. Maybe try Googling "today.com amosely domain capital")

Domain Capital, among other things, lends money to companies that want to buy domain names. They have a website, and you can also get more info on them by googling their name. They have a much greater public presence than most of the companies associated with Today, so you should be able to find stuff about them fairly easily.

It's possible that this all means that Today.com is for sale, or may even have already been sold, but I can't verify that without looking up some more stuff, and I don't have the computer access at the moment.

Speaking of which, does anyone know if there is anything I can do to salvage my computer that won't boot up? It went to a screen where it said: Checking file system on C: The volume is dirty, then it started doing CHKDSK, and it hung at Step 2 (verifying indexes) at 3 percent -- wouldn't budge from that.

Gotta run ... later!

Valerie David April 24, 2009 at 8:11 PM  

Hey guys, I poked around a bit and found this article on About.com about Today.com:

http://freelancewrite.about.com/b/2008/05/05/jurys-out-on-todaycom.htm

Which led me to this About Us link that had a bio of the company founders:

http://www.aboutus.org/CyberFuse.com

Which led me to look up Dave Sichel and I found this abstract:

http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P1-79379419.html

Interesting stuff, eh?

And MsTerri, I hope your computer problems can be fixed...that is not any sort of problem I've ever heard of. Ack!

Ms Terri April 24, 2009 at 11:58 PM  

I got back into my computer! Yay! And Whew! :)

Interesting stuff, Val.

Now I can fill in some of the details of what I had been writing, in a big rush, in the comment above:

Go to this page:

www.who.is for Today.com information pageLook at "Owned Domains." (Last line in the CONTENT DATA box)

Click on "dailydollar.com"

Look at *that* URLs "Owned Domains" -- a couple of dozen p--n sites!

On the same page, click on "Archive" in the tab menu at the top.

Go back to the Information page for Today.com. Click on "Archive" in the menu on the top. (Or direct link hereScroll down a bit.

It looks like the Registrant from 5/12/07 to 2/12/09 was Amosely Corporation of Toronto, and then the Registrant from 2/12/09 on is Domain Capital of Fort Lee, NJ.

Amosely also has a lot of sites registered in its name, some p---n, some not: list here (I had a better list before, but can't remember how I generated it)

Domain Capital has a website.. I'm really not sure what's going on with them -- maybe someone else can figure that out. As far as I can tell, they lend money to people who want to buy domain names (and then initially register the domain in their own name) -- which would suggest that the domain name Today.com might have been sold -- but it looks like they also lend money to existing domain owners, using the domain name as collateral, in which case it wouldn't be about a sale at all, just a loan. So I don't which it is (or if it's something else entirely).

Also, while I've never been able to find an address for Today.com, poking around the various related sites keeps on bringing up the same PO Box in Morrisville, PA, so that's probably their address.

The dailydollar whois archive listing shows that the domain changed registrants on 1/7/09 to a company Main Stream Mails, which has an actual street address in Morrisville, but I don't know if that's another one of the Today.com companies, or if it's actually a separate company entirely that the site was sold to. I don't think I've come across that name before while following the trail of Today.com breadcrumbs.

By the way, if you go back to the main whois Today.com page, and scroll down, you can see how well your former blogs were doing!

P.S. The hits on my new website plummeted after "show day" -- back down to the low 2 digits -- so I spoke WAY too soon when I was crowing about how well it was doing. Oh well. I'm still enjoying it more doing it this way.

Ms Terri April 25, 2009 at 12:03 AM  

Oh, wait, it's not in the low 2 digits -- I forgot my stats program was on GMT, and the new "day" just started. Hah. Nev-ah mind. (It's still less than on "show day" though.)

Eeek April 25, 2009 at 12:23 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ms Terri April 25, 2009 at 12:25 AM  

In Plain English, I agree that someone from Today is probably reading this blog, and I'm sure they would kick out people who commented, if they could figure out who they were (which is a big if).

I just wanted to tell you that it's much nicer on this side anyway. ;)

And you have the advantage of not being taken by surprise the way we were. You can get ready.

BTW, as far as the blogger who said "thanks, but no thanks," you can only tell people the truth. What they do with it, whether they want to believe it or not, is up to them. You can't win them all. But I think this blog is providing a valuable service, and that some people, who might otherwise have been caught in Today's net, will be able to avoid that trap.

Onceandfuturefarmer April 25, 2009 at 5:02 AM  

Hmmm...as I mentioned in a thread elsewhere, Mainstream Mails LLC is who PayPal says paid me the one time I got paid.
http://www.manta.com/coms2/dnbcompany_6l2zvs

You must expect that Today.com staff is tracking and reading the blogs and comments. The public ones, at least.

Phyl April 25, 2009 at 8:54 AM  

Yes, I've been assuming that too.

Meanwhile -- even just skimming, I see that that's a lot of great info, Terri! I'll be back a bit later to read more in detail. Thanks for all the research you've done!

Ms Terri April 25, 2009 at 4:10 PM  

Phyl, thanks. Farmer -- great catch. I checked my PayPay email, and it was the same thing -- from MainStream Mails LLC .

So now we have a street address. (scroll down to bottom right.)

---------

I happened to see an interesting article today about how most blogs don't make much money. It's just the writer's opinion, but based on my own limited experience, I think she's probably right.

I never understood how Today.com hoped to make a profit. If you take one thing (in this case, a blog by a random blogger on a random topic) that loses money, and then you get a thousand more of them, you will just be losing a thousand times more money.

So maybe Today's original plan was flawed. That itself wouldn't have upset me. What did upset me was the way they turned around and blamed us, the bloggers, for their own lack of foresight, when all we did was accept the offer that they chose to extend.

It was the way they handled things, not the low pay, that upset me. Changing our work without telling us, banning people from the forum, telling us we "weren't doing our part," and, of course, locking us out of our blogs without any notice, all display a huge disrespect for us and for the good work that we did. That the work may not have been profitable was not our fault. It's the nature of blogging itself -- something that is hardly a secret, and that you'd expect someone building a blog network to check out in advance.

Profit aside, many of us poured heart and soul and time into our blogs, using them to entertain or teach or connect, and they are worth something, even if that something can't be measured in money or in toaster sales. I think that's what stings the most -- the contempt with which our work was treated.

Ms Terri April 25, 2009 at 6:39 PM  

I found something else that was interesting while following the trail of Today.com breadcrumbs.

CAT Internet Services is another one of Dave's company, and appears to be a parent company of Today.com.

This is from a court opinion in a lawsuit:

----- start quote --------

In February 2000 Magazines.com Inc. (The "Tennessee Plaintiff"), sued appellees, CAT Internet Services, Inc. ("CAT") and Internet Supply, Inc. ("INS"), charging that through the use of CAT's and INS's Internet domain name, MAGAZINE.COM, CAT and INS infringed the Tennessee Plaintiff's name and trademark, MAGAZINES.COM for the purpose and with the effect of diverting sales of magazines and other products to their own affiliates, some of which were competitors of the Tennessee Plaintiff. The complaint in the Tennessee action charged statutory and common law trademark and trade name infringement as well as injury to business reputation and common law unfair competition.

The complaint in the Tennessee action contained a number of allegations concerning the advertising activities of the parties and the damage that CAT's and INS's use of the domain name MAGAZINE.COM caused the Tennessee Plaintiff. It was alleged that the Tennessee Plaintiff's "MAGAZINE.COM web site has engaged in a number of advertising campaigns since its inception ..." (App. 22a). As to CAT and INS, the complaint charged that "[INS] is a close affiliate of CAT and is in the business of operating hardcore pornography web sites and related online services... and marketing `click-through advertising and marketing arrangements to the online adult and hardcore pornography industries. [INS] and CAT have made use of the MAGAZINE.COM domain name to redirect traffic to hardcore pornography sites.'" (App. 19a). One form of relief that the Tennessee Plaintiff sought was an order "enjoining any further use of the domain name and mark MAGAZINE.COM in connection with (a) the online sale or promotion of magazine subscriptions, and (b) pornographic or adult content not suitable for viewing by children or gambling." (App. 30a).

----------- end quote --------

From here, the court opinion goes on to discuss whether CAT's insurance company is required to defend them (which is the issue in this particular lawsuit), and doesn't say what happened, in the end, to Magazine.com's lawsuit against CAT. Maybe I can find that out later.

What's interesting is that Today, which likes to claim that we will be infringing their copyright unless we pay them a ridiculous fee, has itself appeared to have engaged in copyright infringement. Also interesting is the reference -- again! -- to the company's porn businesses.

Ms Terri April 25, 2009 at 6:41 PM  

oops -- another one of ... company (should be "companies").

Ms Terri April 26, 2009 at 4:18 PM  

Here's a shorter summary of that long blob of text I posted earlier:

About ten years ago, a company called "2000 Magazines.com Inc." sued one of Dave's companies (that would be Dave the owner of Today.com) for trademark infringement, because Dave's company was using the domain name magazines.com to send traffic to Dave's porn sites (and also to competitors of 2000 Magazines.com).

I haven't been able to find out the outcome of that case (if "2000 Magazines.com" or Dave's companies won), but this is something that makes you go hmmmmm ....

And I think it's clear that this is not a nice company we are dealing with, in ways that go beyond the way that they treat their bloggers.

Does anyone remember the time when the links on the profile pages were connecting to a porn ad? Someone posted about that in the forums, and they took it down, and I always assumed it had been a mistake. But now I wonder.

In Plain English April 26, 2009 at 7:47 PM  

Today.com owner Dave is a pornographer? Yuck.

Ms Terri April 26, 2009 at 11:22 PM  

I second that yuck.

As far as I can tell, they are involved mainly in three businesses: (1) Porn sites and porn-site marketing; (2) Domain name buying and selling; and (3) the blogging network that we all know (and don't love).

I don't know what, if any, connections there are among all these businesses. But the way that I first stumbled upon the porn businesses was when I found a tracking link from a porn site in my list of referrers on my Today.com blog. I soon found out that the porn site was registered by the same company as Today.com, and that's where the trail of breadcrumbs began.

This was the link:

http://www.today.com/?utm_medium=banner&utm_source=a**f***inghd.com

(but spelled out, without the asterisks)

(the "utm" code stuff indicates that it's tracking code for Google Analytics)

When I clicked on it, it took me to the today.com front page.

At first, I thought maybe it was some kind of spam thing or even a joke by the programmers, and I asked about it on the forum, in all innocence. But at the same time, I was looking things up, and posting them on the thread as I found them, and by the time I pretty much figured it out, they deleted the thread. No surprise there.

flit April 27, 2009 at 3:53 PM  

Nope... none at all.

You are very good at this detective business :)

Jen April 27, 2009 at 5:09 PM  

I'm sure you've already gone to http://www.blogscam.com but if not, it's worth a look...

Haven't done any research to see who put that one up...

Ms Terri April 27, 2009 at 6:13 PM  

Ha ha. When you click on that, it's like the punchline to a joke.

The domain name Blogscam.com is registered by Amosely Corp., our old friends in Toronto.

http://www.who.is/whois/blogscam.com/

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