The curse of anonymity

As much as I love the web and am incredibly thankful for the opportunities it has provided for me, days like today make me loathe its anonymity. The day started off with a nasty bout of comment spam, followed at midday by dealing with someone posting FeedDemon serial numbers (since disabled) to a warez site, then ended with a bizarre series of threats from a disgruntled Dreamweaver user. Before I continue, take a look at this Google Groups search for some background information.

As you can see, someone has made several posts to various Macromedia newsgroups claiming that TopStyle has hijacked Dreamweaver. His complaint is that every time he tries to open a CSS file in Dreamweaver, it opens in TopStyle instead. And since he installed the trial version of TopStyle, it’s asking him to register it. Now, the reason TopStyle keeps being opened is actually due to a bug in Dreamweaver. Every time you start Dreamweaver, it automatically detects TopStyle and sets it as the default CSS editor – even if you’ve removed it from the “File Types / Editors” list in Dreamweaver’s preferences. So no matter what you do, if you have TopStyle installed, Dreamweaver uses it as the external CSS editor.

Here’s the kicker: this same person has emailed me several times and threatened to start a class action lawsuit against my company unless I pay him $1,000.00 by September 9. Here’s a quote:

“I have an attorney on the staff of my company and we are going to be moving aggressively against companies using unscrupulous marketing practices such as yours. The time we lost today cost us about $1,000. That is the amount that will make us go away. Otherwise we are going to seek a class action lawsuit against you. We will start by finding others who have been damaged by your practices. This will be done with a Google Adwords ad that comes up each time someone enters topstyle or bradsoft into Google. Send the check for $1,000 to: [address removed]”

Now, obviously this guy has a loose wire, and his threat is laughable – if he ever tried to file suit, he would be in hot water for extortion. But being a one-man-show, it’s incredibly hard for me to spend time dealing with people like this – yet I have to, because their posts to public newsgroups show up in Google searches for my software.

Does anyone else have to deal with this kind of garbage, and if so, how do you handle it?

34 thoughts on “The curse of anonymity

  1. Sounds like a classic Cartooney, in other words, there is no attorney. If there were one they’d certainly advise this twit to shut up. IANAL, but it seems to me you have a far stronger case against him than he has of you.
    As for dealing with people like this. You did everything you could. You answered his emails (how he sent them when you’re an “anonymous company with no contact information on [your] site” is beyond me) and publicly responded to one of his many accusations. Your userbase, and the rest of the blogsphere will take care of the rest. It’s partly a shame, and mainly a testiment to your character, that you have refrained from this individual’s personal information. I hope you’ve at least taken the step to contact Macromedia and obtain this individual’s IP address as he used their Forums to start this smear campaign.

  2. What an asshole that guy is.
    I completely agree with what Bill said and I don’t think you really need to loose your sleep because of this. Believe me, Blog community and user base of your excellent software should take care of combating this bad mouthing by this guy. You concentrate on developing great software that we all love! All the best!

  3. LMFAO
    I sure hopped this was some joke.
    If this guy knew anything about windows, you know you can chance file type associations between programs. This company should recover the $1,000 from the techie they have working for them.
    And why would a company dealing with $1,000 days deal with trial software??

  4. I think anybody who’s made successful software has dealt with these people… I don’t know what you can do other than ignore them and wait them out. Sometimes I’ll try to “nice” them into silence, but that seems to just take a lot more energy for an equally unsatisfying result.

  5. If it’s a bug in a popular product like Dreamweaver that’s affecting your own product, it can’t hurt to do a little research for the benefit of others users who might be having the same problem and aren’t resorting to this guys means. You’re not giving into him, you’re just helping other users.
    For starters, document the fact that this is a known bug on your TopStyle FAQ. It doesn’t take much time, and if worse comes to worst, you can always point to the FAQ and honestly claim that you’ve been notifying people of the problem.
    Have you been in contact with Macromedia to comment on the bug and confirm it’s validity?

  6. A few things to consider:
    1. Pass the buck to Macromedia’s legal dept, as it is their bug after all and they can deal with the implied threat “appropriately”… :-)
    2. Speak to the police or FBI – if they do consider the matter extortion they will take care of it – even if it’s just a “friendly” visit from a local officer/agent.
    3. Unfortunately you cannot ignore it.

  7. Nick,
    I’m not programmer, just satisfied FeedDemon/TopStyle user. In our local (Croatia) webdesign forum we had a few cases of threatings directed toward moderators and/or administrators. Something very similar to this case of yours—“Send me xxx amount of money and i’ll give up on suiting you.”
    Our experience is that those are mostly angry adolescents, who wouldn’t behave like that in a real life. Our solution to that kind of problem was to politely talk to their parents : ) and ask them if they know their kid is threating by a law suits around the Internet. Usually, that puts them down to the ground.

  8. This is a joke.
    The guy who emailed Nick doesnt have a case or a techie that knows anything about Windows file type associations.
    If he used a 30day eval of DWMX2004 im sure he would find the same problem with the next HTML editor he installs & then attempts to extort Macromedia.

  9. woops
    I just say you should put a post up, a notice of somesort and make it clearly visable in the topstype trial page so others who use topstyle in a commercial setting, are not able to claim you for any damages.
    And put a link to here so they can crack up laughing…

  10. Joost: thanks for the link to Penny Arcade, it’s not natural for me to laugh that hard :o)
    – PaulWeston

  11. What I love is that 4 of the 5 hits returned by google are now to posts defending topstyle and/or calling this guy an idiot :)

  12. Anil, I know what you mean about being nice – in cases like this, it rarely solves the problem. Posting here about this guy just might solve the problem, though :)

  13. Just to clarify, I don’t take this guy seriously. As Marko suggests – and as past experience has shown – these people are usually kids with an underdeveloped sense of ethics.

  14. Bill, JD: thanks for the kind remarks – they’re appreciated :)
    Johan, as a former UT2004 player, I loved the Penny Arcade cartoon. Right on the mark.

  15. I know what you fill, because in somehow i’ve passed the same.
    The best way to handle this is how you’re handle it. just ignore it!
    good luck!

  16. Can’t you send some friends with steel pipes over to his house? Sometimes that solves a lot of problems. Of course the police need not know about that.

  17. There is no attorney. It’s a bluff. A real attorney would not allow his client to try to extort money from you. It is doubtful local law enforcement would respond to your complaint unless you had a paper trail and name / address of the extortionist. Even so, they might still see it as a civil matter. You do need to have an attorney make sure your disclaimer of liability for end-user implementation the software is bulletproof. The point is to insure you cannot be held liable for what end-users do with the software nor can you be held liable for bugs from other software products. What works for gun manufacturers ought to work just fine for software developers. I am not an attorney. This email comment is not legal advice.

  18. This guy lost $1000 when all he had to do is right-click/ctrl+click the style sheet in the CSS Styles panel of Dreamweaver and uncheck “Use external editor”?? I’m sorry, but the first thing *any* semi-conscious computer user does when they need more options is right-click/ctrl+click. If this guy was too stupid to even do that, he’s not worth 1000 pesos.
    I emailed this bozo, too, and told him to right-click and read, but got no reply. I am just amazed that such a pathetic little puke can cause so much trouble.
    This has *got* to be a kid and I wish I were his mom! When my daughter is old enough to be internet savvy I swear I will throw privacy crap right out the window and review every little thing she does. No kid of mine is going to behave like this in a global forum.
    Sorry for your grief over this, Nick. I have and will continue to support TS over Dreamweaver’s CSS editing in the forums/newsgroups and hope that crap like this doesn’t distract you too much from your work.

  19. Hi Nick, I’m sorry that you had this experience. I’ll flag it for my partners in Dreamweaver Technical Support after Monday’s holiday, to see if we can find some way to make such situations smoother in the future.
    (My thanks for responding in the source thread, and to the Team Macromedia volunteers too… the supporting info is now in the public record alongside the original complaint.)
    For what it’s worth, I’ve often seen such multiple, anonymous strongly-worded posting when the person feels caught between two situatioins (responsible to someone else, eg) and when they’re not sure of their own situation. I know that doesn’t take all the sting out of such comments, but it might help rationalize the disproportionate emotion…?
    btw, was it really TopStyle at the grassy knoll? I could’ve sworn it was holding one of those umbrellas instead… ;-)
    John Dowdell
    Macromedia Support

  20. Thanks for commenting in this thread, John – you lend some authority to the discussion :) When I first read this guys multiple complaints I have to admit to being more than a little angry, but once it dawned on me that the whole thing would blow over if I just blogged about it, I slept easily.
    Funny thing is, I have this guy’s email address, phone number, fax number and home address – so he’s perhaps the most inept extortionist I’ve ever heard of.

  21. I’d ignore him from now on. Sounds like a needy attention junkie who thrives on annoying techie celebrities like you. Withholding attention will probably make him go away. The puny sum of $ he is demanding is a clue. If he continues to bug you (gets scary-threatening or bombards you with messages), get your attorney to write him a stiff letter. That usually puts an end to it. But I’d give him the cold shoulder. I bet others have been pestered by this guy, too.

  22. As others have said, this is obviously someone, probably a kid, trying it on. Even if it were from a genuine business, it would be interesting to see how they arrived at the figure of $1000 for time lost in one day. How much are they paying their coders? Far too much, I’d say, if this sort of problem stumps them.

  23. What an idiot, really this is probably someone that was dropped as a baby or something but definatly has a few screws lose. Even with fuzzy math it is much better to spend $79 bucks with you than to lose $1000 in productivity at least he woulld have a great software program for his money.

  24. Now I’ve had the wonderful pleasure of being involved with these kinds of irrational discussions and threats in the past. I’ve learned the hard way that the best thing to do is not get all heated up about them, shake ’em off and ignore them, and hopefully it won’t take too long for them to go away. You deserve better. Just hang in there Nick, we have faith in the good guys.

  25. Hi, Nick.
    I sell a small niche program that sends SMTP mail via a command-line. Several years ago, a person accidentally spammed an entire mailing list of 12,000 people, attaching my mailer to the message.
    Many on the list performed a reply-to-all causing more messages to go to the list, still with my product attached.
    I received an e-mail that evening from one of the recipients, with no contact information. The author threatened me and littered the e-mail with expletives. He had double-clicked the attachment, a command-window opened, displayed my help screen, then closed. After he did this, something went awry on his system, so he blamed me and ordered me to fix his computer.
    Google wasn’t around at the time, but I managed to find his e-mail address in an Altavista search where his wife was registered in a national car club. Their phone number was listed.
    I phoned him.
    He was a lot more cordial once he figured out that he was no longer invisible.
    Working with him, I pieced together what had happened and tried to help him through whatever was wrong with his computer. I believe we figured out that it was an unrelated matter that occurred as a coincidence.
    He pointed me to the original message in the list.
    By the time I had begun to monitor the noise that had been generated, there were those quick to blame me for the maillist spam, accusing me of trying to blast ads for my product to 12,000 people.
    It took several attempts of several people ( including the originator ) to calm the list members down, pointing out that I wasn’t involved, but I still found my mailbox overflowing the next day due to some mailbombing ( that was much easier to do at the time. )
    I took my product off the market briefly to prevent a number of problems and returned it to market after the whole situation had cooled down.
    Take from this what you will, but I learned that these things have to be nipped in the bud. Someone can cause damage to your reputation ( either by intent or accidentally )… even if the truth is out there in plain sight. I also learned that removing anonymity can calm a person down really quickly.

  26. Boy I got this treatment a few years back and it sucks all day, all night. It’s usually a total nutjob who thinks you screwed him over or outfoxed him somehow. I even had a jerk create an entire website against me because he thought I was a woman from my name “Zaine” not “Zane”. I never responded, but still he posted to it for over two years.
    What a waste of energy and time on his part, but he reminded me of those republicans who chased Clinton for eight years, accusing him of murder and everything else under the sun. We have drugs for these compulsions now.

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