FryUp: StoresOnline shown how it's done; Ethel the Aardvark logs off

Top Stories: - Rallying around StoresOnline - Ethel the Aardvark goes Quantity Surveying

Top Stories:

- Rallying around StoresOnline

- Ethel the Aardvark goes Quantity Surveying

- Rallying around StoresOnline

Hugh Webb wanted to get online. He'd started building a website for himself and was hard at work on that when he and his wife discovered a US company willing to help out. The US company was holding seminars in Auckland and Hugh and his wife went along and decided they liked the look of these guys, so they paid out some money to buy the software.

To cut a long story short, Hugh's forked out $14,000 for a site which he says he to build pretty much by himself after this company's online help dried up. He complains of problems with the support manuals, problems with contact numbers, problems, problems, problems ...

The US company is StoresOnline and Hugh and his wife attended their seminar this time last year. This year he went along to the StoresOnline roadshow to give them a piece of his mind.

For $14,000 the Webbs were supposed to have a fully-functioning e-commerce website built for them by StoresOnline. Webb says he's not sure if StoresOnline is fraudulent or merely incompetent but he's talking to the Commerce Commission about the company anyway.

The StoresOnline "success team" package was supposed to include ongoing help and support, mentoring, access to financial companies willing to set up your shopping cart and billing system and so on. It also included a guaranteed 8000 visitors to your site, although no time period seems to have been specified.

Unfortunately, the financial companies refused to do business with the Webbs because they don't live in the US so they had to find a local bank to help them out. The online support and ongoing mentoring disappeared after three months and Webb made over 40 phone calls to get StoresOnline to reconnect him.

Fortunately, two companies have stepped up to the plate. They are Dunedin-based e-Media, which designed a website, www.beersinmind.co.nz, that StoresOnline was so impressed with that it used it as an example during a seminar in Auckland this month (prompting a "passing off" complaint to the Commerce Commission), and Auckland company Synergy Software.

Karl Rohde at Synergy Software reckons a website with the kind of functionality the Webb's has would have cost around $60 to build and $25 a month to host with Synergy.

Sure, if you want fancier graphics or something a bit individual then it would cost a bit more, but I'm guessing it wouldn't be an additional $13,000 plus change.

E-Media's Brett Haugh has offered to help Webb build a site to get him on his feet again, if he's still interested in the e-commerce world. Brett makes sure that he offers no promise of riches and streets paved with gold.

Meanwhile, StoresOnline has been in contact with e-Media and offered an "apology, of sorts", according to Haugh, over any confusion about the real developers of beersinmind. But e-Media is going ahead with the complaint to the Commerce Commission.

Webb has also heard from someone at StoresOnline, who apologised for the problems he's faced and who told him the company is considering upgrading its manuals to include an advanced help facility. One of Webb's complaints is that the material included with the $14,000 website contradicts itself repeatedly, making it difficult to understand just what is supposed to happen.

My efforts to contact StoresOnline have drawn a blank, but the company is supposed to be paying a return visit to Auckland next week for a day-long seminar.

The Commerce Commission has yet to decide whether a full-on investigation is warranted so I'll keep you posted on that score. In the meantime, if you know anyone interested in getting online, point them at the local talent – these guys are all heart.

Kiwi livid over StoresOnline treatment - IDGNet

Help for StoresOnline victim - IDGNet

Synergy Software website

E-Media website

- Ethel the Aardvark goes Quantity Surveying

After seven years in the hot seat, Bruce Simpson - editor, writer, sub-editor, promotional manager, managing director and tea boy - at news and opinion site Aardvark, has decided to give it away in favour of making some money.

Aardvark, for those who don't know, consists of a series of links to other news stories and a rant by Simpson on whatever evil takes his fancy that day.

Honestly, where do people get these crazy ideas from?

Simpson has been keeping Aardvark going out of his own pocket and since his other passion – jet engines – is about to take off (sorry) he's running out of time and money to keep up with the daily news grind.

Interestingly, the story has taken something of a twist. A number of readers have proposed various ways of keeping the site going, including paid subscriptions ranging from $5 a month to $50 a year, to reverting to a weekly column instead of daily or, and to my eye this is most intriguing, setting up Aardvark as more of a Slashdot kind of site.

Slashdot, for those who have mercifully avoided the site all this time, is a news site that produces some of its own content but relies mostly on stories sent in by readers. You can send in a posting on any subject the site covers ("news for nerds, stuff that matters") and it may end up being posted to the site. Users can then comment on the story, add their own points of view or graffiti if they wish (and some do) and generally it devolves into a discussion forum on and around the topic in question.

The best part of the whole thing is that to avoid it deteriorating into a rant session (well, to try to avoid that) a number of readers are given moderator status – that is, they get to decide whether the comments are on topic, off topic, insightful or funny or simply flamebait. Comments are rated from 1 through to 5.

This means readers can choose to only read the comments marked "interesting" or above 3 or whatever they want.

Sadly, I don't see how that would free up Simpson's time and money as it sounds like a lot of hard work to me. But an online community centred around Aardvark would be a great thing (TM) to see and I would enjoy jumping in with both feet firmly in my mouth. If more readers are keen to take on some of the burden then that might just pan out.

Aardvark calls it a day - IDGNet

Aardvark website

Slashdot website

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