Wednesday, December 08, 2010

No such thing as bad search algorithm gaming? Guess again.

In what will have to be the greatest excuse for the inexcusable since Dan White’s “Twinkie Defense”, a Brooklyn online eyewear retailer claims that he:

…mistreated customers because he thought their online complaints raised the profile of his business in Google searches.

Hey, I was a waitress at Durgin-Park, a venerable Boston institution that specialized in rude waitresses and, when I was there lo these many years, insane management.

“The Boss” during my tenure knew absolutely how to abuse a customer.

One time, I was serving two women who had ordered the “Poor Man’s Roast Beef” lunch special, which featured a thin slice of rump roast, au jus.  When I went to pick my order up, it was clear that one of the two women was going to refuse delivery.

One slice of Poor Man’s was pink, fat free, and appetizing looking. The other was pieced together from four stray end cuts: the rinds was charred, the meat itself a not-so-tempting gray and marbled with gristle.

I told the cook that this was going to be trouble.

“I know,” he told me. “Just try to sell it. If she refuses it, I’ll give you another piece.”

Out I trotted with the two plates.

As predicted, the customer who I placed the burnt gristle in front of refused delivery.

I started back towards the kitchen when I was accosted by The Boss.

“Where do you think you’re going with that?”

When I explained the situation to him, he grabbed the offending plate out of my hand and asked me where my station was.

He then proceeded to march over to the two women, slam the plate down, tell them there was nothing wrong with the meal, and to get the hell out of his restaurant and don’t come back.

He then turned to me and said, “And make sure you charge them for the cornbread.”

The price of the entire meal was 99 cents, and I most assuredly didn’t charge them for the cornbread.

While the situation was ridiculous and embarrassing, I must say it was almost worth it to see the shock and awe look of WTF on the faces of those two ex-patrons as they gathered their belongings and exited the premises.

Would that there had been an Internet on which they could have posted a review! (By the way, when you google “Boston tourist trap”, Durgin comes up, as does Union Oyster House, another t-trap where I worked.)

Naturally, I doubt the two women with the Poor Man’s Roast Beef ever returned.

But The Boss didn’t care.  He hated complainers, even when they had a legitimate point, and he just wanted those two gone, baby, gone.

But the world has moved on, and, at least in the eyes and mind of Vitaly Borker, ticking your customers off is a good business model.

For Borker, however, ticking the customer off was no ordinary, get-lost-and-don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-arse-on-the-way-out customer mistreatment.

According to the article I saw on him in yesterday’s NY Times, he had engaged in a “campaign of intimidation against a woman who had bought a pair of glasses from DecorMyEyes over the summer.”

When she tried to return the glasses, which she believed were fakes, he threatened to sexually assault her and later sent her a photograph of the front of her apartment building. He also sent menacing e-mails, one of which stated that she had put her “hand in fire. Now it’s time to get burned.”

In an interview with a reporter from The New York Times in October, Mr. Borker maintained that scaring Ms. [Clarabelle] Rodriguez — and dozens of other customers in the last three years — enhanced the standing of DecorMyEyes in Internet searches on Google.That was because Google’s algorithm, he claimed, was unable to distinguish between praise and complaints. All of the negative postings translated into buzz, he said, which helped push DecorMyEyes higher in search results and increased his sales.

Now he’s been charged with a number of different Federal counts, including mail fraud, making interstate threats, and cyberstalking. Some of the charges carry a possible penalty of 20 years in the stir. He also has local charges lodged against him; state charges a possibility as well. A crime trifecta, as it were. (If he had any international business, he’d probably have Interpol on his tail.)

In addition to Ms. Rodriguez, Borker has several other victims threatened.

The Feds found a number of weapons in Borker’s home, including a semi-automatic. His lawyer claims they’re stage props. (Somehow I don’t think that Laurie, my optician, has a real or fake semi-automatic in her possession.)


It is unclear if Mr. Borker was right about the cause of DecorMyEyes’ surprisingly strong showing in online searches. But last week, Google published a post on its official blog stating that it had changed its search formula so that companies were penalized if they provided customers with what it called “an extremely poor user experience.”

In DecorMyEyes “About” section, the company touts that:

By doing continual upgrades to the site, the shopping experience for each customer is an easy and enjoyable one.

Easy and enjoyable?  “I know where you live”, etc.?

And that, has been recognized by various media outlets several times over the years including press in Magazines, Newspapers, and on Television.

Bet they won’t be adding a link to anything written about them in The New York Times.  Then again, Borker may still believe that his behavior was good for the business, and that having a slew of online complaints is worthwhile.

Maybe he’s right, but I find it hard to believe that there are people who’ll bother to google a company and not proceed according to what they fine. I understand that you can have an occasional disgruntled customer, or bad commenters trying to sabotage your business.  But if I see that a company’s ratings are by and large terrible, and that their head-guy may be heading to jail for threatening customers, I would definitely pause and rethink whether 70% off on Burberry frames is quite worth it.


I’ll be sticking to Laurie.

Sure, she’s pricey, but unlike Vitaly Borker, she can pick out a pair of glasses that will actually look good on me.

Plus I can’t imagine anyone in her shop stalking a customer.

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