U-Blog, Six Apart, and Their Angry Bloggers [en]

This very long post is, for the first time in English, a pretty complete account of what has been going on with U-blog and Loïc Le Meur in the French blogosphere for some time now. With the acquisition of Ublog by Six Apart, these problems are bound to take another dimension for the English-speaking blogosphere.

[fr] Ce très long billet expose en anglais l'histoire de U-blog et des problèmes s'y rapportant. J'ai déjà écrit à ce sujet en français (lire également les commentaires) -- pour une fois que la "barrière linguistique" empêche les anglophones de savoir certaines choses, plutôt que le contraire!

So, why on earth are U-bloggers so angry?

I’m often concerned that the language divide makes non-English-speaking people miss out on a whole lot of interesting stuff. These past few days, I’ve been concerned that the language divide may be preventing English-speaking people from knowing about certain things. U-bloggers are angry, and they also have the sympathy of others in the franco-blogosphere, but all that is happening in French.

How aware is Six Apart that they have a bunch of angry french customers, who were encouraged to sign up for a paying version before the end of last year under promise of new features, which weren’t developed and seemingly never will? Edit 06.01.05: see note.

Let’s rewind a bit, shall we? I always think that history explains a lot. Many of the dates here are taken from Laurent’s short history of the franco-blogosphere, a work in progress. Other information comes from my regular trips around the blogosphere and my conversations with people — in particularly, here, with Stéphane, the creator of the U-blog weblogging platform. This is the story to the best of my knowledge. If there are any factual mistakes, I’ll be glad to correct them.

In November 2002, Stéphane Le Solliec starts working on a blogging platform he calls Meta-blog. A few months later, in December, U-blog (the new name for the platform) already has a few hundreds of users.

The interface is good, U-blog is pretty zippy, and it has a great community. Also, it’s French. Setting aside any primal xenophobia or anti-americanism, a great product designed in your language by a fellow countryman is not the same thing as another great product translated and adapted from English. (Ask somebody who lives in a country where most of the important stuff is “imported” from the German-speaking part…) And let’s face it, one does like to support a local product, whether one is French, Swiss, or American. I actually considered U-blog the best hosted solution for French-speakers, at some point, and recommended it to a few friends, who started weblogs. Joueb.com is a native French weblogging platform which has been around for far longer than U-blog, but for some reason it isn’t quite as popular.

About a year later, Stéphane is thinking about abandoning the platform. He’s doing it on his free time, he has a baby, and U-blog takes up a lot of time. He stalls development, and stops allowing the creation of new free blogs. (It will again be possible to create free blogs a few weeks later.) Existing free blogs remain in place, but lose visibility (pinging and home page) compared to paying blogs. (Paying U-blog customers pay 1€ per month.)

Around that time, Loïc, whose interest in weblogs has been sparked by meeting Joi at the World Economic Forum, and who has unsuccessfully approached the founder of Joueb.com, Stéphane Gigandet (yes! another Stéphane!), gets in touch with Stéphane Le Solliec in September (2003). As a result, he acquires the platform and user-base, and founds the company Ublog.com. Loïc really wants Stéphane to stay on board, and he does, before leaving a couple of months later (company-life isn’t really his cup of tea).

Loïc does a great job getting the French press (and later, politicians) interested in weblogs. He calls up journalists, educates them, and before long Loïc, fondateur de Ublog regularly appears in articles about weblogging. Inevitably, he starts appearing as “the guy who introduced weblogs in France”, and the expression “founder of Ublog” entertains a confusion between the blogging platform and the company (“founder” being at times replaced by “creator”). Loïc founded the company, but he in no way created the blogging platform U-blog.

You can imagine that the U-bloggers, who already weren’t very excited about having been “bought” (particularly by a guy who had the bad taste to start blogging in English), didn’t really like seeing Loïc shine so bright and Stéphane slowly fade into oblivion. Some long-standing French-speaking webloggers external to U-blog will start keeping a suspicious eye on this newcomer that so many are talking about, and who seems to be (God forbid!) making weblogs into a business (complete with press pack).

End October, when Stéphane announces the changes at Ublog following the association with Loïc, the following structure is presented (as an aside, the fact that this page seems to have been taken down doesn’t make Ublog look good. If it’s a mistake, they should put it back up again):

Free U-blog
The basic offer, with an advertising banner.
U-blog Plus
The paying offer, with a few more bells and whistles than the free one (ping, home page listing) and lots of exciting new features (for 4€ per month instead of the actual 1€)
U-blog Pro
More advanced, with own domain name, multi-author, etc… to be defined

In a smart move, existing U-bloggers were given the chance to sign up for the second offer for 1€ instead of 4€ for the coming year, starting January 1st (date at which the new tariff would become active). It sounded attractive, and quite a few went for it. The future seemed bright, with promise of dynamic future development, despite the complaints about the increase in pricing (but which did not impact existing users that much).

During the next months, some new features are introduced. More are announced.

In March, Six Apart and Ublog SA sign an exclusive representation agreement in Europe. An announcement is made in the U-blog newsletter. April 29th, TypePad arrives on U-blog. The official Ublog weblog will publish another four or five brief posts related to TypePad before going quiet.

One can wonder: what sense does it make for a blogging platform like U-blog to sign an agreement with another, similar, hosted blogging platform like TypePad? Was the U-blog platform not good enough? Will development be stalled on the “old” platform, will it be abandoned? Overall, U-bloggers are worried and unhappy (I could add more, but those are two good starting-points and seem to sum it up pretty well). They are now offered three possibilities (as often, what is said in the comments is much more interesting than the post itself):

Free U-blog
The basic offer, same as before.
U-blog Plus
The paying offer for those who already have it, same as before, but no new features.
A more advanced platform, where the active development will take place. Approx. 15€, but discount prices for current U-bloggers.

In short, all new development efforts seem to be going towards TypePad, and U-blog Plus will stop evolving, unlike what had been promised end of October. Reactions are aggressive (we all know that end-users are not kind when they complain). When U-bloggers ask about the new features that had been promised to those of them with paying accounts, they are told that the features are on TypePad. Loïc, who has already ruffled a few feathers by demanding that a popular blogger remove a post about him, under threat of lawsuit, does not distinguish himself in the area of good customer relations. (In particular, his comment regarding the contents of Aurora’s weblog (bondage and S&M), in the middle of a thread about U-blog and TypePad, didn’t look very good.) U-bloggers (particularly the paying ones) feel a bit cheated.

There is no question for me that Loïc is being given a harder time than he deserves, but it is pretty clear that he is not doing a very good job communicating with his unhappy customers.

TypePad.fr does not seem to be a howling success. I have heard complaints of people who find it slow (slower than U-blog, in particular) and not intuitive. Jean-Luc Raymond, the blogger who runs MediaTIC, publishes a critical post about TypePad.fr. Now, JLR isn’t the blogger I respect the most. He doesn’t always verify his sources, and has been known to remove embarrassing comments and posts with little ceremony. However, if his article on TypePad is over the top (as I suspect it might), it would in my opinion deserve more precise refutation than this dismissive comment of Loïc’s.

So, what is going on today? Basically, a continuation of what was already going wrong. Now that Six Apart has bought Ublog, the U-blog platform and communitydefinitely seem doomed.

No official announcement of the transaction has been made on the U-blog site (as I mentioned, the official “corporate” weblog is dead). Loïc’s answer to my post raising the point is that U-bloggers who want information can contact him on his blog. Worse, in my opinion, Loïc withheld the announcement on his blog until it was published by the media. So in the franco-blogosphere, we learnt about it through the press rather than through Loïc’s weblog (the de facto official source of information for U-blog, as the company site has not been communicating anything these last months).

Aurora goes to war, and other U-bloggers are following suit. One can disapprove of their virulence, but calling them “Aurora’s fan-club” (in the comments to my post) does not get anybody anywhere, and mocking Aurora’s sexual preferences in response to her criticisms is distasteful, and unbecoming of the Director for Europe, Africa and the Middle-East and Executive VP of Six Apart.

Loïc may have a squeaky-clean image in the anglo-blogosphere, but it is far from being the case in the franco-blogosphere, particularly when you start digging around in comment threads. I find it especially disturbing that there seems to be a discrepancy in attitude between Loïc’s discourse on his weblog and his comments on other people’s weblogs.

I personally do not think Loïc is a bad person, or has bad intentions. He’s interested in “the business side of weblogs” (and in that we differ), and that of course will make him unsympathetic to some, but I do believe he is genuinely interested in what he’s doing. However, I think he does not understand his customers very well, and does not communicate with them well either. His ambition as a businessman, excited by the challenge of managing an American company, leader in its domain, does at times seem to overshadow his concern about his end-users well-being.

This has been a long post. If you’ve read it, thank you. If you’ve just skimmed it, let me briefly come back on my main points:

  • U-bloggers have been promised features for their pay-version, which will not come.
  • The acquisition of Ublog by Six Apart seems to point to a near death of the old blogging platform, and more dramatically for its users, of the very strong community built around it. (Typepad doesn’t really have this “community” thing to it.)
  • Ublog (and now, Six Apart Europe) is demonstrating pretty poor communication with its unhappy users

Update, 24.07.04: a brief update after some comments I’ve received about this article.

  • I have now learnt that Six Apart did know about the problems at Ublog (since before the acquisition).
  • Although I considered it a possibility that they might not know, my main motivation for writing this article was that there was more to the Ublog story than what the English blogosphere in general was getting.
  • Of course, not all U-bloggers are unhappy. We’re talking about a bunch of very vocal and very angry people, not about the whole community. But in my opinion, the fact they are a minority does not mean they should not be taken seriously.

40 thoughts on “U-Blog, Six Apart, and Their Angry Bloggers [en]

  1. Doing an English write-up of the whole situation is in my opinion a great idea, thank you Stephanie.
    I sure hope this will get some reactions from the staff at SixApart (both the US and Europe sides), particularly from Loïc who, as you said, has proven himself to be unable to clear the situation once and for all (wether it’s on Ublog homepage, his own blog or in comments elsewhere), while worsening his franco-reputation by literally mocking his paying customers and critics.
    Your post does a good job at summing up the situation, while not going the alt.kill.loiclemeur way some Ublog customers have unfortunately gone. Great post.
    Now let’s see if it gets someone to move…

  2. Thank you so much for sharing the whole story and taking the time to write it down!!!!
    Really interesting. I won’t go into personal opinion here. Just appreciating the chance you gave me and others to access “french side” of the blogosphere too.

    Take care,

  3. Xavier > About the “alt.kill.loiclemeur way” : As someone said, it’s hard for Ublog customers (like me) not to become furious, because of these repeated silences, unanswered questions and so on…

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  5. 21/07/2004 – The Angry Bloggers
    Stephanie Booth, alias Climb To The Stars, publie une synthèse documentée de l'aventure U-blog : U-Blog, Six Apart, and Their Angry Bloggers. Un commentaire intéressant (de nombreux autres devraient suivre) : The Aardvark Speaks, From community to bus…

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  7. Thanks for blogging about this, Stephanie. I think it’s a pretty relevant happening in the blogosphere, and it only makes me wish I could read and understand French to better understand what’s going on.

  8. Pretty good explanation of what’s happening. Amazing how the news spread in all directions in the world of blogs.

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    Vous ne le saviez peut-être pas encore, mais on vit vraiment dans un monde de merde.
    Il semblerait que Daniel n'ait pas spécialement apprécié l'appel de Sharon à  quitter la France, Tristan lui rajoute qu'en plus d'êt…

  11. Hi Stéphanie, thank you for the last update on your post that takes out any doubt readers of Jeff’s blog may have about me hiding the issue to Six Apart which would be quite stupid from me, here are some notes about the story that I have also posted on Jeff Jarvis’ blog.

    About the fact that there are only a few angry U-blog users on 22000 I agree that they should be taken care of and that is what I believe I have been doing since it started and I also spend hours answering comments on my last post in French.

    The problem has started to happen as early as we announced the Typepad exclusive representation partnership in Europe, months ago.

    Six Apart US has known about it since the very first day (and even before as we all thought there were risks that it would happen and difficult to avoid it by introducing Typepad on Ublog) and therefore months before the acquisition of Ublog, it is not really my style in business to hide anything to my partners, Stephanie may check that with any partner I have worked with in the last 8 years of business.

    I had written a post immediately about it in French here (http://www.loiclemeur.com/france/2004/05/merci_tous_les_.html) and discussed with the angry Ubloggers immediately, with tens of comments on this post and a discussion that started with my clients.

    Some users offered me to organize a chat with me which I gladly accepted and just before the hour chosen for the chat, nobody showed up, so I also think we tried to discuss as much as we could with our users.

    Anyway, this has been an issue for a while, limited to a few number of U-blog users as most of them are obviously happy, some moved obviously to Typepad too. The number of blogs created on Ublog went from 2000 when I acquired it to more than 22 000 with a strong growth, I think this shows that we have a few happy users too…

    I have posted again about it on my French blog and there are tens of comments so the discussion is going on again and I am trying to understand the issue better and solve it as much as I can with my team. Here is the url: http://www.loiclemeur.com/france/2004/07/lavenir_dublog.html

    If you are interested in this issue, stay tuned for a post on my side soon. Thanks.

  12. hi stephanie, some comments from my side, as a french blogger who’s posting in english 😉 i find your summary very good and factual. let me add some impressions:

    – i think that this story is a typical french one. why? we are confronted here with some strong but existing and real french stereotypes: french people do not like entrepreneurs, they do not like successful managers, they do not like (and/or trust) people who are communicating in english, the level of understanding of the business reality is incredibly low…and french people do not care! our remaining arrogance?

    – nothing, i mean – really – nothing can excuse impoliteness, impropriety, or libels in a discussion such like this one. i find personally loic very patient in this field with some of his clients.

    – we see here clearly a side effect of using the blogs as a base for business communication. a few unsatisfied people can have a huge impact on the overall customer community and its feeling. some posts are acting as “unguided missiles” in the blogosphere. on the other hand, is the propagation of information really working in another way in the “real” world?

    – stephanie, i must say that i don’t agree with you concerning one point: i don’t think that loic is not understanding his clients or that he is not communicating well. i personnaly think that he is investing too much time and energy with this little number of unsatisfied customers! Before taking them seriously, they have to have themselves realistic expectations. by staying on this very emotional, agressive und unconstructive level, it will be so or so impossible to find a solution. it is not possible to satisfy all the customers. by loosing the focus on serving the majority of your clients and investing time in trying to satisfy the unrealistic expectations of the minority, you could kill your business. The kind of motto “the client is – always – king” is quite dangerous to my mind.

    hope i was not boring.
    cheers, didier

    ps1: i know loic only from his blogs, i have nothing to do with U-Blog, Six Apart, MovableType or TypePad. i’m blogging with Blogger, my own hoster and blogkomm.

    ps2: see also my post.

  13. All, I don’t know if this is the place to say that I am a satisfied Typepad.fr customer but this is a fact and I know I am not the only one. I was a customer of Ublog Plus, ready to pay €4 for it, and now for the same price I have more: Typepad (pro), in French, witch is just great (by the way, since I switched to Typepad about four months ago, I have tripled the number of visits, pages views and comments. This is another fact. Thank you Typepad.fr).

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  21. Bonjour, je lis avec des mois de retard votre article sur l’affaire u-ublog. tout d’abord, je vous précise que je suis loin d’être une experte en anglais et qu’il y adonc des subtilités qui m’ont peut-être échappées. c’est aussi pour cela que je vous répond en français.
    Je trouve que votre papier est un bon résumé de ce qui s’est passé.
    Il manque peut-être une conclusion à  cette affaire. Les Ublog plus, c’est-à -dire les payants, ceux qui constituaient la communauté, ont fuit en masse. Certains effectivement ont émigré vers typePad. Mais un très grand nombre ont trouvé refuge sur d’autres plate-forme comme CanalBlog. Une grosse partie ont décidé de se lander dans le grand vide et ont leur propre blog sans plate forme. c’est ce qui laisse la plus grande part à  la créativité visuelle. Le Ublog de Stéphane Le Solliec nous permettait e faire ce que nous voulions visuellement de nos blogs. Il y en avait des vraiment magnifiques. Type-Pad est beaucoup moins souple. La commmunauté ne s’est pas dissoute pour autant puisque nous nous suivons d’une adresse l’autre. Et qu’à  la fin de mon blog payant, je vais les rejoindre dans la blogosphère libre.
    D’ailleurs, si vous allez sur la page d’accueil d’Ublog et que vous regardez les commentaire des blogs-plus, vous verrez qu’il sont en train de disparaître. cette page qui contenait des centaines et des centaines de notes publiées avant l’ère Loic le Meur n’en comptent plus qu’une vingtaine.
    C’est une exemple assez triste d’un talent créatif tué par une société. Ça aurait pu marcher, si le produit u-blog avait été développé, c’est ce que nous souhaitions tous, et si on n’avait pas voulu nous imposer pour fort cher un produit de moindre qualité. Il ne faut pas nous faire prendre des vessie pour des lanternes. Nous ne refusions pas le développement, le commercial, l’entreprise, mais en tant qu’utilisateur, nous avons considéré qu’on essayait de nous rouler. Et n’y voyez pas là  un réflexe anti aglais ou anti-américain. Nous n’allions tout de même pas accepter un produit bas de gamme juste pour prouver que nous aimions l’Amérique 🙂
    Cela dit, je n’en veux pas du tout à  Loïc Le Meur (ou juste un peu quand même). Il est normal que chacun joue sa partie. Je trouve cela dommage cependant et je crois qu’il est passé à  côté d’un truc qui aurait pu être formidable. les qualité du produit u-blog allié à  son génie communiquant. C’est ce que nous avons cru et c’est pour cela que nous avons signé et payé.
    En final de compte, je trouve cette histoire un peu pathétique. Ce n’est pas un sentiment commercial, c’est vrai…

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  23. Well done Stephany
    I’d prefer reading your findings and comments in french, but my knowledge of your languange is far too week. I’ll certainly try to better that fact some day. As I don’t know anyting about the story from other sources, I cannot judge as to the correctness of your summary. From the pure tune of your post, I’ll conclude that it is as factual as is possible.
    I’m sure happy to see someone tackle the language barrier to inform about things going on in the french speaking sphere.
    In any community spanning multiple nationalities and languages, there needs to be some lingua franca to bridge the babalian gap. Although Lingua Franca according to Encyclopedia Britanica is latin for “Frankish language” ( spoken by the Franks in old time ), the English language has become the de facto LF on the web.
    This follows the pattern of other multilingual communities, as sailors and pilots.
    Human translation of sites and blogs would be a vast undertaking and machine translation still leaves a lot to wish for.
    So we have a problem in making cooperation and understanding over language borders.
    Thanks for your cross language summary!

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