Zephoria Inc.: About to find out how social media really works

Dramatis Personae

Zephoria Inc.: An “internet marketing consulting company based in New York focused on helping companies maximize their online exposure through search engine optimization, web analytics, and marketing focused web development” who don’t have a clue about how social media actually works.

Zephoria: danah boyd’s online nickname which she has been using since 1998.

Tumblr: A sort-of blogging platform with staff who have really put their foot in it this time.

The Chorus: Bloggers, Twitterers and other random persons who will show Zephoria Inc and Tumblr just how social media really works.

The Story

danah blogged this evening about how she had been using Tumblr as a place to collect random bits of stuff, with the URL zephoria.tumblr.com. Zephoria has been her ID online for ages:

I’ve been using the handle “zephoria” online since around 1998 when I started signing messages with that handle while still at Brown. It’s actually a funny blurring of two things: zephyr and euphoria. Zephyr was the name of the instant messaging service at Brown and the name of the dog that I lived with in 1997, two things that I loved dearly. And talking about euphoria was a personal joke between me and a friend.

But suddenly, her Tumblr blog has been moved to zephoria1.tumblr.com, seemingly without any discussion or permission given on her part. Her original zephoria.tumblr.com is now used by Zephoria Inc, whose main home is Zephoria.com (compare and contrast to danah’s Zephoria.org).

Zephoria Inc say that they named themselves after “Greek mythology’s west wind”, though they seem to just have a problem spelling ‘Zephyr’:

zephyr | ?zef?r |

1 poetic/literary a soft gentle breeze.
2 historical a fine cotton gingham.
• a very light article of clothing.

ORIGIN late Old English zefferus, denoting a personification of the west wind, via Latin from Greek zephuros ‘(god of) the west wind.’ Sense 1 dates from the late 17th cent.

So they can’t even get their name right.

It seems that Zephoria Inc asked Tumblr to release danah’s subdomain, and Tumblr did just that. danah says she didn’t get any sort of notice from Tumblr, although David Karp, who appears to be in some way related to Tumblr although his Twitter profile doesn’t state as much, said on Twitter:

Hi Danah. We never reassign domains w/o notifying users first. Our support team reached out two weeks ago and didn’t hear back.

Per your last msg, your login/account are NOT dead. It looks likes you registered with a secondary email address?

Our team sent over the details. Please let me know if there’s absolutely anything I can do to help. I’m sorry for the trouble. 🙁

So it’s unclear exactly what went down… however, given that Tumblr have pulled this kind of stunt before it isn’t entirely clear that Tumblr actually did go to what one might call reasonable lengths to get in touch with danah.

Furthermore, Zephyr Inc… sorry, Zephoria Inc, have not been playing nice regarding other usernames/URLs according to danah:

A few years ago, I learned that there is a technology consulting company called Zephoria.com. And apparently, they’ve become a social media consulting company. In recent years, I’ve found that they work hard to block me from using the handle of zephoria on various social media sites. Even before the midnite land grab on Facebook, they squatted the name zephoria, probably through some payment to the company.

The irony is that Zephoria Inc not only does SEO (hm, how does “Zephoria Inc are a bunch of bullying fucktards” work for you guys?) and web dev, they also say that they do social media. Well, here’s a tip for you: If you stomp on one of social media’s most intelligent, dedicated, beloved people, you can expect to get stomped on back. Not just by danah, but by all her friends and everyone who holds her in high esteem.

A search for ‘zephoria‘ on Twitter right now shows just how much people resent bullying fucktards who think they have a right to a username just because they want it. (Hint: you don’t). More people will have heard of Zephoria Inc now than ever would have without this kerfuffle, and they all think that it’s a company that they would never do business with because they don’t play fair. It’s like a variant of the Streisand Effect, where a company does something utterly stupid which serves only to draw attention to its own stupidity.

Hopefully, Tumblr will come to their senses and give danah her URL back. And hopefully Zephoria Inc will either apologise and mend their ways, or go out of business. I’m hoping for the latter, because I just don’t need yet more fuckwits bringing social media into disrepute.

But there are two main lessons here:

1. If you are a service providing users with username-based URLs, be very, very careful how you handle requests to free up usernames even if they are dormant. You need dialogue and to come to a fair agreement which isn’t simply based on “Biggest bully wins”.

2. If you are a business and someone else has your username, suck it up (unless they are username squatting). If you are starting a business, do make sure that your business name isn’t already in use by someone else, or be willing to use a variant. if you’re going to rely on your ability to bully others into submission, you may find out that you have bitten off more than you can chew.

Zephoria Inc. have made a major error in bullying danah, as the very social media they purport to understand will now ensure that their Google search page turns up lots of content that discusses just what a bunch of dishonest, bullying charlatans they really are. Well done, chaps. Couldn’t have done better SEO if you’d tried.

UPDATE: Some more info via Betabeat.

UPDATE 2: danah has updated her blog with what has now happened. This is the key excerpt from that update:

10:39PM: I just got off the phone with John Maloney [President of Tumblr]. We had a lovely conversation which began with him apologizing for what he described as a human error in customer service and saying that he looked into the issue and has reinstated my account. He explicitly stated that they are working hard to have strong customer service processes where things like this don’t happen and that he feels terrible that it did happen. He said that Tumblr has only had four issues like this in the past and that they are committed to making certain that legitimate active users do not face these issues. He did say that they work hard to not allow squatting (and he argued that the Pitchfork case was one of squatting, not active use by the individual).

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