The Web Developers Association of New Zealand (WDANZ) is off to a shaky start after CEO Dennis Smith revealed he has employed notorious US spammer Brendan Battles to help sell the service.
Smith says he is standing by Battles, who at one point is reported to have sent as many as 50 million unsolicited emails per day.
“Many untruths have been told about Brendan and I’ve had the opportunity to hear the other side of it all”.
He says Battles is trying to put his past behind him.
Battles arrived in New Zealand around 18 months ago and worked for fixed-wireless network operator Wired Country. A Computerworld investigation (March 13) revealed he had been sending unsolicited email in New Zealand and, after Wired Country was purchased by Auckland-based ISP Compass Communications, his contract was not renewed. Battles and Smith claim Compass managing director Karim Hussona lied about Battles’ role at Compass, claiming he was simply doing what was asked of him. Hussona flatly refutes this.
“He was sending out unsolicited email, something we challenged him on, and he told us he’d never done it before, that he was just being overzealous. When the truth about his past came out we declined to renew his contract.”
Battles says most of what has been reported about him is untrue and he is considering legal action. Battles attended a meeting at Computerworld’s request, but called off the interview, refusing to allow it to be recorded.
A number of web developers contacted by Computerworld have expressed their concern over WDANZ and its employment of Battles.
One developer, who did not wish to be named, questioned why Battles is even on the payroll.
“If [Smith] is willing to hire someone like that then he deserves not to survive.”
Several developers have questioned why WDANZ is set up as a company rather than an incorporated society.
“I can understand the need to take charge and not be bogged down with meetings and all the rest of it, but how can he claim to represent the industry if he takes on anyone who wants to pay? What are the criteria for joining? Can we vote for a new leader?”, the developer says.
Smith says he approached several developers about the best model to adopt and was told “unanimously” that a not-for-profit society was a bad idea.
“They all said they wanted a company that wouldn’t just be another talk fest with committees and an annual conference that nobody wants to attend.”
Smith says WDANZ is not supposed to represent the industry and is simply a vehicle for networking, sales opportunities and training.
“If they don’t like what we offer, they don’t have to join.”
Auckland-based web designer Dave Blyth says he is reluctant to knock someone who is trying to set up a developers’ association — he knows how hard it is because he tried to do it a decade ago.
Web Designers New Zealand launched in 1996 and includes a code of practice for designers. It was set up to help “raise the standard” of web design in New Zealand. Blyth says commitments elsewhere led to the organisation being placed on hold, but that current events may prove there is a demand for such a service.
“I haven’t ruled out the possibility of rekindling the organisation should the need arise.”
At least one other group is also canvassing support for a new web developers’ association. After the announcement that WDANZ would be a commercial operation, a number of developers on the PHP user group decided the time would be right to also look into setting up an association to represent the industry.
Smith himself has not had a smooth road through the industry either. Smith was the owner and sole employee of domain name registrar Domain Name Management Services (DNMS) which remains the only registrar in New Zealand ever to be de-authorised by the Domain Name Commissioner, Debbie Monahan.
DNMS was found to have breached domain name rules by “registering customers’ domain names to a company closely related to DNMS and allowing that company to speculate in domain names, despite also being a DNMS reseller” says Monahan. She says she worked closely with Smith, who was also the owner and sole employee of GoKiwi, the “company closely related” to DNMS, but could not reach a workable solution.
“To give him his due, when we did de-authorise DNMS he did transfer the domain names to us and do all the things we asked to make sure the registrants were looked after.”