Monday, November 30, 2009

Hello, Video Professor? This is Barbara Streisand calling.

Even after all my years in tech, there are still a few things that surprise me. One of them is how supposedly tech savvy people, and companies, will commit an utterly avoidable mistake, even after others before them have committed the same mistake, and often on a fairly spectacular scale.

If you follow tech news at all, you should be aware by now of the brouhaha stirred up by the TechCrunch exposé (among others) regarding "scammy" adverts in online social network games, with Facebook primarily profiled as the poster child. Even if you don't follow tech news, you've probably seen some reference to the whole sordid mess, as it got picked up by mainstream outlets like The Washington Post and Time, as well as the far geekier Slashdot. I'd love to write a post about it all myself, but so much has already been written, and so well, that anything I might have to add would likely be more noise than signal.

Amongst all the noise - and signal - was a brief reference to an ad for the "Video Professor". You've likely seen the TV commericals, where this guy who looks a bit like a cross between J. Jonah Jameson and the Monopoly Banker tells you he can make you a whiz-bang wizard with Microsoft Word, or Excel, or Powerpoint, or whatever, with his comprehensive, interactive lessons, all available on CDs with a free trial blah-blah-blah . Yeah, you can tell how those ads had me riveted. For one thing, I don't need to learn -->insert program here<--; of the stuff touted by the Video Professor, either I already know it or I don't use it. If I do need to learn a new trick in Microsoft Word (or whatever), there are plenty of available online resources, some from Microsoft themselves, and I don't have to check out these resources as a "free trial", they are just plain free. For another thing, I need more software CDs like I need a hole in the head (BTW, if anyone out there wants some nerdy drink coasters, drop me a line).

Since I never gave the venerable Video Prof more than a glance in passing, it never occurred to me to stop and take a hard look at him as a possible scammer. Not until now, that is. You'd think a company that claims to be in the business of teaching people how to use computers would be familar with the Streisand Effect, and would know better than to put themselves squarely on the map with it. Evidently the Video Professor missed this lesson, and has managed to get the undivided (and no doubt unwelcome) attention of the watchdogs at TechCrunch, going from being just a "side note" to a target on which TC (and MA in particular) is focused "like a laser". Oops.

Of course, the Streisamd Effect once set in motion generates its own self-perpetuating momentum, so naturally references to the "Video Professor Scam" are popping up on the 'net like mushrooms after a spring rain, ranging from side notes (that one's a single sentence mention following list item #5) to focused lasers. I'm sure more references will pop up, including this one as soon as I post it. For my own safety, I'm going to shield myself with that journalistic device Mike Arrington so hates (even though I Am Not A Journalist) and declare that the opinions expressed in any and all articles linked here are not necessarily my own. It is up to you, Gentle Reader, to judge the sources on their own merit and decide for yourself if the Video Professor's schtick does indeed qualify as a scam.

Now, I will go out on a bit of a limb here and state that at the very least, I think you could find a much better value for your money than the Video Professor's CDs, starting with a set of second hand dish towels and some macramé plant hangers from your local garage sale or flea market. That most definitely is my opinion, and it is, as always, absolutely free.

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