All the online assholes

July 2013

We launched Tomely a few weeks back. Almost everything people had to say about it was very nice. Of course, we also got a bunch of support requests and bug reports, but that’s all part of the fun of managing a fledgling web service.

One user took things to a level that wasn’t okay. The specifics aren’t important, but he filed a support ticket for a problem that we weren’t able to solve, and that went beyond the bounds of the service we were offering (broadly, the request was about as strange as a person walking into a supermarket and demanding the cashier teach them how to snorkel). The user, who was using our service for free, demanded we solve his issue – or else. Helpfully, he elaborated as to exactly what he meant by “or else” (he was a writer, after all!). It involved body parts being inserted into places they really didn’t belong. All this because we offered him a free service he didn’t even know existed thirty seconds ago and it didn’t do exactly what he wanted.

Crazy, right? We thought so. But it also made us feel really weird. This guy felt we owed him something because we let him use a tool we had created, for free. (Tomely makes money using a revenue-share model, meaning we only make money indirectly from users if and when they sell a title. This necessitates that we need to set clear limits regarding how much support we can offer: for example, we will always endeavour to squash bugs as quickly as possible, but we can’t help authors or publishers design or copy-edit their ebooks).

I’m not suggesting you should feel sorry for us. This kind of thing happens all the time. We’ve been pretty lucky so far, actually. We expect to encounter users like this again. We’ve heard horror stories from others.

It’s simply interesting that when you do something, anything, online, you automatically open yourself up to the wrath of all the online assholes. If you’re particularly unlucky, you might find them all piling on at once (I feel pretty bad for the living, breathing victims of 4Chan’s more unpleasant memes). You can’t do anything about it, either. As soon as you hit “publish”, as soon as you launch, as soon as somebody snaps a picture of you walking down the street and decides to upload it with a snarky caption, anybody with access to the internet can have at you. Of course, if you want to get anywhere, you need to publish and you need to launch (and you need to walk down the street!) but there’s always that voice wondering, “Is somebody going to be a total jerk about what I’m putting out there?” The answer is almost always, “Yeah.”

This is really why we procrastinate. We’re afraid of the assholes. We know that if we don’t hit “publish”, they won’t be able to find us. We’re afraid of showing the world what we’ve made because one troll we’ve never met, whose opinion we wouldn’t pay any attention to otherwise, might just see it and say, “That’s dumb“, or worse.

If it’s useful, keep this blog post handy. Bookmark it, and every time you encounter an asshole online, open it up, and know this: what you’re doing isn’t dumb. It’s probably pretty damn great. And for every asshole online, there are a million brilliant, reasonable people silently cheering you on.