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Commentary for: 23 March 1998
Last Week's edition

Look out, Big Planet is coming!
award logo "Multi Level Marketing", those words strike fear into the heart of most netiquette-abiding Internet users.

Why? Because 90% of all the junk email that arrives in our email boxes is from idiots trying to foist shonky MLM scams on the vast number of other idiots who don't know any better.

Well get ready for another big MLM organisation to start annoying the hell out of us. I refer to Big Planet.

Now I'm not suggesting that there's anything shonky or illegal about the Big Planet product or organisation. In fact, it is the creation of Nu SkinTM who are probably second only to Amway in terms of the scope of their operation.

What I am concerned about though is that MLMs, certainly those on the Net, tend to attract the very worst kind of people, people who think nothing of firing off millions of unsolicited commercial emails to all the email addresses they can find.

I've already had FIVE copies of a junk email associated with the Big Planet operation. These emails were telling me that I could now be financially secure for the rest of my life - reselling electricity and other essential services. Obviously this crap was completely untargeted - "excuse me - can I do this from New Zealand?", and the typical "get rich quick" mentality that MLM schemes attract.

Too late, they're here!
Already the "carefully disguised spamming" has appeared in nz.general, a local newsgroup that expressly prohibits the posting of commercial emails - here's the guts of that posting:

I was informed about yet another money making opportunity two days ago, but unlike many before, this one made some common sense, and ordinary New Zealanders might make some money by just knowing an American or two.

[lots of drivel snipped]

It makes good sense, as it does not appear that you would be selling an item that people don't want, and in all likelihood are probably using in some form at the moment, i.e. electricity.

Anyway for those interested check out the site at www.bigplanet.com.

I don't know any Americans, but you might, and this could be your thing.

Get back to me if you want to know more, so I can put you in touch with the people with the info.

Now it's possible that this was the result of someone posting in all innocence, thinking they were genuinely in possession of a great opportunity - that's that's another danger of these schemes. They sound just so damned good that too many people, who can't be bothered doing their homework, simply believe the sales-pitch at face value. These are the same people who probably believe that it's okay to send junk email or that every chain letter they receive is really from someone who has now retired with a condo in Hawaii and a Porsche - all because they put their name on the bottom of the message and set $5 to everyone else on the list.

I've also heard from a couple of local Net users who have been approached personally by individuals attempting to flog the Big Planet Internet Service. These "sales people" didn't seem to have much idea what the Net was - but they were damned sure that you had to be on it and that Big Planet was the only option you should consider - although they weren't able to explain why (could it have something to do with downstream commissions?).

It seems that work is currently underway on a New Zealand site for the local Big Planet victims (oops.. I mean evangelists).

Be afraid, be very afraid

Beware! Very, very slick marketing spin ahead.

Tell your friends and hide your children!
We've seen it all before
Big Planet are offering those who join its MLM scheme the chance to sell a range of services including Internet access, a WebTV-like ISP service using a set-top box and telephone calling cards.

Now be very, very careful if someone from Big Planet approaches you and tries to sell you anything - because they have nothing to sell here in New Zealand. This whole scenario has been played out before in the form of an ill-fated scam called 1st Family. At present, Big Planet has nothing they can sell here in New Zealand!

Regular Aardvark Weekly readers will recall the warnings I gave about 1st Family almost a year ago.

At that time they (and some local people silly enough to believe in their stupid MLM scheme and products) were claiming that you could sign up for an Internet service that would be available "real soon". A year later we're still waiting and I see that even the US division has gone back into "pre-release" mode.

Can anyone see the similarities between Big Planet and 1st Family? Multi-level, reselling Net access that doesn't exist yet (locally), running a business model that places an emphasis on the recruitment of new dealers to downline commissions.

If you're really in doubt as to how close the similarities are, just check Deja News for the words "Big Planet" and you'll see, just as was the case with 1st Family, the newsgroups have been bombarded with ads for this MLM scheme.

Believe me - the people at the head of this organisation are very, very clever. Just look at this page from the Big Planet site. They're making a very big deal about gaining "Industry Support" and announcing "strategic business relationships" with key players in the industry. Of course this sounds very important - but it means very little. When you read between the lines - Big Planet has bought some gear from some suppliers such as Sun and Netscape who have, in return, simply said words to the effect that "using our products will make your service much better". I think anyone could get that level of endorsement - money talks!

But I repeat - Big Planet has done a superb job of "spinning" this so as to look like a major endorsement of its company and products from some key players. The problem is that the vast majority of people will simply accept the apparent meaning rather than the reality behind of this kind of marketing.

The bottom line - avoid, avoid, avoid - and it might not be a bad idea to let your friends and relatives know the truth behind these MLM schemes before they're approached using the hard-sell, no-knowledge methods that seem to be surfacing locally.

Spread the word, tell a friend about Aardvark
Aardvark's popularity continues to grow steadily and I thank all my readers for their regular visits. I would like to take this moment however to ask you to mention Aardvark and give the URL to a friend or a work-mate this week. There are still tens of thousands of Net users who don't know about Aardvark - maybe you'd like to help them out (But please, no usenet postings or unsolicited emails or chain letters ;-)
Great minds think alike?
Remember my million dollar idea from last week? Well it seems that either someone reads Aardvark Weekly and thought it was a great idea or - great minds think alike. Check out this site to see what I'm talking about.


Even the best can be made better!
Online Banking done right
Ever since the ASB Bank launched its FastNet and Bank Direct products, they've been touted as world-shattering technology and models for the rest of the banking industry. Most of the people I've spoken to who use either of the ASB Bank sites are more than happy with the way the sites work - but that doesn't mean they can't be improved!

While cruising the Web the other day I found The Security First Network Bank which claims to be the world's first Internet bank.

This is a damned fine site - easy to use and feature-rich. Maybe our ground-breaking local boys could learn something from this.

For a start - it works nicely at standard VGA resolution (the demo for FastNet requires sideways scrolling on anything less than 800x600). There also seems to be a wider range of services available and the interface is nice and "flat" in terms of navigation. Finally, despite being hosted in the USA, the site is a whole lot faster than FastNet.

Best of all, it doesn't appear to require the download and installation of a 2MB update just to access the transactions if you're running IE4.01 or IE3.02 as the BankDirect site does.

This Week's Featured "Aardvark Enabled" Site

Chelsea Technologies

Aardvark Enable your own site and you too could appear here!

The I.C.B.I.T Award
I Can't Believe It's True!

First a word of warning for users who pay for their Net access by volume - the site I'm showcasing this week will cost you nearly 750Kbytes worth.

How much of a mess can you make with 3/4MB of graphics on a single page?

Click Here to find out

Would you entrust the largest purchase you're ever likely to make to a company that would be so ill-informed or "frugal" as consider something this bad as a viable marketing tool?

Right of Reply.

Yet again I've been too easy on the cowboys and idiots who populate the Net in increasing numbers.

There's no right of reply to publish this week!

Aardvark Weekly is a publication of, and is copyright 1998 to, Bruce Simpson, all rights reserved
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