Archive for April 1st, 2009

The newest Internet craze, “pico-blogging” may be over as soon as it started.  Lawyers representing two users of the popular pico-blogging site, www.a.com, filed a class action Wednesday accusing the site’s owners of fraud, copyright infringement, violations of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act, loss of consortium, and a variety of other legal transgressions.

According to the complaint, filed in the Eastern District of Colorado in Lamar, the site mislead users into paying for something that had no practical or artistic utility.  The case is Borradaile v. A.com, E.D. Colo., Case No 09-54313-AF.

Pico-blogging burst on the scene in late 2008 when www.a.com went online.  The idea is simple.  Users are challenged to express themselves using a single ASCII character.  The site generated an immediate buzz among marketing professionals, professional coaches, consultants and the blogging avant-garde.  More than a million users signed up within the first week.

But according to lawyers for the plaintiff, Taylor A. Borradaile, the site was little more than a scam.  According the complaint, “a.com’s founders perpetrated a fraudulent scheme through which users were tricked into spending their valuable time and money on an activity that, contrary to the false and misleading claims of its founders, had no social, artistic, or utilitarian value.”

Willy Shideler, Borradaile’s attorney, put it this way, 

The idea of pico-blogging is ridiculous, if you think about it.  What can you possibly communicate using a single character?  Nothing.  But the a.com folks generated such a frenzy over the site that everyone lost their heads.  Taylor got caught up in that.  He was given the promise of exponential growth in his client base and the opportunity for a new frontier of artistic expression.  He got neither.  In the end, the site didn’t let him do  anything except spew out a few pronouns and indefinite articles.

Shideler granted that some “artsy” types might find some arguable value in the minimalistic form of communication fostered by the site.  “We might not have filed the suit just because of the single letter issue, but on top of that, these guys pulled the bait-and-switch on folks.”  Shideler was referring to the so-called “*” memberships offered by a.com. Shideler’s client, Borradaile, signed up for the basic a.com account. It wasn’t long, however, that he realized that the basic account only allowed users to use the alphanumeric characters y, h, q, t, w, and 4.  Users must pay a $12.95 monthly membership to get “full functionality.”  Quipped Shideler, “we think that the selection of  letters for the free account is clear evidence of bad faith.  The basic account didn’t even include any true vowels.”

Attempts to contact the site’s Norwegian creators, brothers Ole and Olaf Odegard, were only partially successful.  The only contact information available for the Odegards was the a.com administator’s account. In response to our question (“?”) we received a rather terse response (“!”).

For anyone outraged either by a.com’s practices or the lawsuit itself, make sure you check the date of this entry.

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