Unless you’ve been living under Dwayne Johnson for the past 10 years or so, there’s a good chance you know what Comcast is: they’re the cable giant that wanted to charge me $70/month for cable Internet ((A service which, by many accounts, was governed by draconian usage rules and secret bandwidth limits that customer service representatives wouldn’t disclose to subscribers.)) because I don’t subscribe to cable television. Rather than pay what I felt was an exorbitant rate, I suffered with dial-up for six long years before Time-Warner came to my rescue, buying out Comcast and charging a much more reasonable $34.95/month for the same service. I still don’t subscribe to cable television; more on that in moment.
Comcast is also the company that gutted TechTV; they bought the home of The Screen Savers, merged it with their G4 network, and promptly fired pretty much everyone who made the geeky channel worth watching. The result is pretty much SpikeTV with more video games and I’ve removed it from my channel lineup so I don’t have to see the grossly inferior Attack of the Show sullying my on-screen guide. On the other hand, Leo Laporte and Patrick Norton went on to start This Week in Tech, one of the first podcasts I ever listened to, so maybe I owe Comcast a vote of thanks on that score.
So, that’s Comcast, but what the heck is Plaxo?
Well, it’s essentially an online address book. A sort of social network-cum-contact manager that combines the functionality of a Rolodex with the networking capabilities of Facebook or MySpace, but without all the auto-playing music, sparkling animated GIFs and vomitously bad page templates that make me want to toss the entirety of the Internet into a dumpster and run off to live in a cave. Unlike MySpace or Facebook, I can see how Plaxo might actually be useful, and I don’t feel like I’ll spontaneously develop ocular stigmata just from looking at the site.
Except now Comcast owns it. Comcast, the corporation that tarted up TechTV. Comcast, the corporation whose nigh-extortionary cable Internet pricing kept me on dial-up for half a dozen years, a period during which I commonly referred to the very idea of writing them a check each month “dealing with the devil”. Exaggerated? Probably. Irrational? Perhaps. But the idea of continuing to use Plaxo now gives me a bit of the heebie-jeebies. Not out of privacy concerns, which I know have given others pause, but just on general principle.
So I tweeted about it this morning. And Comcast’s human face, ((Perhaps one of many humans they employ.)) a VP named Scott Westerman tweeted right back at me. I’d heard of such things—megacorps monitoring Twitter and using it as sort of a public relations/customer service playground—but this was the first time I’d been the recipient of this new brand of personalized attention.
I wasn’t really sure how to respond. Ranting against a faceless corporation is one thing, but Westerman is, from all appearances, a flesh and blood human being! So I Googled “scott westerman comcast” and found that I’m not the only one who’s a bit unsure of how to handle this. In a blog post titled How Twitter is Humanizing Comcast and Why That’s a Terrible, Terrible Thing at goodCRIMETHINK, self-proclaimed “conscious comic and vigilante pundit” Baratunde Thurston wrote “CORPORATIONS DON’T LAUGH. THEY EXPLOIT. Stop acting like people! stop ‘talking’ to me!!”
I’m neither pundit nor activist, and I’m definitely not confrontational. I’m not used to telling people I think the company they work for is…well, “evil” is such a strong word.
See? That’s what I’m talking about, right there! Before there was a “Scott Westerman”, Comcast was evil! It was so easy to throw words like “draconian” and “devil” and, yes, “evil” around when it was just a logo, a website informing me that the company behind that logo wanted seventy dollars a month to provide me with high speed Internet service, and a couple hundred anonymous customers and former customers ranting about their horrible customer service experiences. Of course, it’s that last bit that Scott Westerman is trying to tackle, isn’t it?
My response to Scott’s tweet was truthful, but I felt like the righteous wind had been taken out of my indignant sails. My rants (large and small) are supposed to be answered by a handful of friends chiming in to agree, not by the source of my annoyance extending an offer to address my concerns. What’s next? Is Bill Gates going to respond the next time I bitch about Internet Explorer’s mangled handling of Cascading Style Sheets?
Is Westerman going to convince me to keep using Plaxo? Honestly, I don’t know if I really need convincing; the idea of trying to find a similar service and then transferring all of my contacts isn’t terribly appealing and the basic Plaxo service is free…for now. I don’t anticipate abandoning the service, nor do I expect I’ll be upgrading anytime soon. ((I understand that current Comcast customers get a complimentary upgrade.))
And it’s not like I can be talked into Comcast’s cable television or Internet service; Time-Warner owns their northeast Ohio network these days. But in a bit of irony, I placed a customer service call to DirecTV (my alternative to cable television lo, these many years) when I got home this evening. Seems I need my dish relocated because the trees behind the house have grown quite a bit over the past six years and are now occasionally blocking the satellite signal. At least Mother Nature continues to reaffirm my long-held belief that change and growth are bad.