It never ceases to amaze me the evolution on the Internet. From its humble beginnings that allowed audiophiles to share their experience to today's scams, sock puppets, and gorilla marketing. Over a decade ago -- before Internet Explorer or Netscape 1.0 -- there was CompuServe and eventually came the Mosaic website browser. Back then newsgroups were few and quite informative and civil. A few of us on Joenet (Sound Practices magazine mailing list) also desired a vacuum tube audio newsgroup. Eventually we were able to get rec.audio.tubes approved. Today the online audiophile landscape has changed. It appears to be better in some ways, yet the near-deafening noise and questionable personalities (plus marketing techniques) has become a liability to us all. Yes, this concerns you!
From fake PayPal or eBay membership verification notice e-mails to online marketplace scams, there are many people looking to steal information and money from you! Odds are you have received one of those e-mails that seem to be from PayPal, yet are actually from someone looking to empty your account. Then there is the overpayment scam that usually goes like this:
Of course the scammer's forged check eventually bounces and you lose whatever funds you sent via Western Union (see more details by clicking here). Other scams involve identity theft while there have been some stories of robbers trying to get your address so they can break into your home. Many of us have quite an investment within our high-end audio system so please be careful!
Nearly a decade ago we audiophile had an online Bulletin Board System (BBS) called The Audiophile Network (TAN). Back then a certain popular new, and relatively young, audiophile personality harassed people while hidden under a certain loudspeaker manufacturer's account. Naturally he was found out and eventually ousted from the print magazine he then wrote for. He also harassed others in the same manner on CompuServe and there, too, his true identity was confirmed to me by the then moderator Dawn Gordon. Today it has become much easier for someone to hide his or her true identity behind a moniker (screen name). Worse still is when said person also has multiple monikers and uses them to further their agenda.
If someone had three monikers, Mr. X, Mr. Y, and Mr. Z, this person could easily participate for a month or so on a discussion board or newsgroup without much attention. Then one day this person decided to cause problems by spreading vicious lies/rumors. Mr. X could post the original message, and then wait a day and Mr. Y could validate the rumor. Mr. Z could chime in and claim to confirm things. Meanwhile others on the message board/newsgroup have asked questions and begin to wonder. Over the years this technique may have been used for merely entertainment. Personal attacks are but one of the ways this scenario plays out so that Mr. X/Y/Z could amuse himself! But it gets worse...
Imagine combining the Sock Puppet technique in hopes of selling a product, or even worse causing harm to someone else! Allow me to speculate a few scenarios.
You have a new product and want sales to climb. Naturally you have a website yet can not wait for reviews so you take on the three monikers. Mr. X will announce the product, then a week later Mr. Y will say he tried the product and it is everything Mr. X said it was. Remarkable how these things snowball on the Internet! A few days later, after other people have asked Mr. Y some questions, Mr. Z chimes in validating Mr. X. The plot unfolds as sales for the product roll in. This type of scam usually takes a few weeks to be discovered as perhaps the product is not what it is claimed to be. While this brings Mr. X many orders and financial gains, it is basically another way of stealing from others through this scam. By the way, these scams usually work best with products under $100 since it is a relative small amount of money. This scam does harm individual audiophiles worldwide, but there is far worse out there!
Imagine if Mr. X has a new vacuum tube manufacturing company. Well, actually he simply re-brands his tubes, but we'll ignore that fact for now. So Mr. X decides that one of his rivals needs to be removed to help further his sales. Mr. X decides that his moniker Mr. Y will say that there are quality control problems -- or worse still financial problems with the possibility of bankruptcy -- with his competitor. The rumors start to fly and a day or two later the moniker Mr. Z says he lives near the competitor's factory and yes there are indeed problems.
Naturally the company that is the subject of this rumor may not know about Mr. X's gorilla marketing techniques for a few weeks. A few weeks on the Internet is nearly a lifetime on the Internet. It could even take a month or two for the rumored about company to defend the vicious attack brought upon by Mr. X. To make a long story short the damage is done and Mr. X has succeeded in his goal of putting to question one of his competitor's products.
Summing This Up
The above are but a few examples of how audiophiles are the target of scams, sock puppets, and gorilla marketing. Feel free to substitute certain names/companies into any of the above examples. Over the years i have personally seen the above, and much worse, play out over the Internet. Many of the above could easily have been quickly dispelled from verification. Such verification could either be from searching the Internet (the overpayment Western Union scam) to calling/e-mailing the company under question. The hardest scam to discover is the under $100 new product. These things simply take time to develop as early adopters fall prey to such cons. Below is a great posting that appeared on a discussion board. While the posting involves other subject matter besides scams, i felt they also should be brought to the attention of our loyal readers. There are many truths below so pay attention!
Wake up and smell the coffee folks! If this article saves one person from falling prey to the Western Union con or dispels an attack on a company it has been well worth my efforts. Personal attacks are another matter not fully addressed here, but am sure you get the idea.
There is good news to report! Audiophiles, exotic car enthusiasts, and many other hobbyists are taking the high road and starting their own very private discussion boards! Tired of the high noise ratio with little signal, offensive sock puppets and the usual flamewars found on public boards, my friends in various hobbies have started their own extremely private discussion boards. These are strictly 'by invitation only' boards where the discussions are of very high quality. Each member has been personally hand chosen by a member(s) to ensure quality over quantity.
The problem, as i see it, with many public boards from the non-moderated rec.audio.___ and others is that they are a breeding ground for gorilla marketing and less than positive discussions mixed with the usual flamewars and attacks on very knowledgeable and respected members. Anonymous members of some of these open public boards will post something utterly stupid and then sit back and watch the ensuing fallout. Worse still, these anonymous people will attack well-established members just for fun. Yes, there are some very good public boards, though it seems they are getting more rare by the passing day. So i applaud those who are tired of public boards and start their own 'by invitation only' discussion group, as have been enjoying the very high signal without the need for spammers, flamethrowers, etc. Must admit, it feels great being free to post and help others as we all share some great hints, tips, and tweaks.
Note: Please do not ask me about these boards and where to find them. My position is to simply let readers know they do exist and it is possible to start your own if you so choose. Image a discussion board with very high signal where all members are really great people and everyone freely helps out others.
Of course in the end what really matters is that we all....