In October 2010, I had an idea to improve Piehole. Little did I know that two years later, that ‘idea’ would lead to us receiving a torrent of angry emails and threats of legal action. This blog post is aimed at explaining what happened, what mistakes we made, the effect those mistakes had and what we are doing about it to rectify the situation.
So what was this ‘idea’ that caused all the problems? Members leave and join Piehole all the time. Sometimes they didn’t get enough work from their listing, sometimes they moved country or changed jobs. Whatever the reason, we were getting calls from sound studios looking for contact details of voice actors that used to be on our books but no longer appeared on the site.
My bright idea was to present people with voices that were similar to the old member. It is a feature I had seen on hotel websites where if a desired hotel was not available on the site, they would suggest other options. The aim was to provide an alternative and hopefully get more work for our existing customers plus avoiding disappointment for the client.
About 3 years before that feature (roughly 5 years ago), when we launched piehole.co.uk. While we were established in Ireland, the UK market was brand new to us. We didn’t have local contacts like those in Dublin so we needed a different strategy to get going. What we did was we created profiles for voiceovers we found online and then called them up to see if they would like to stay on the site for free.
If someone didn’t want to be on the site, no problem, we just removed their profile. The intention was to make it super simple to just say yes. We’d already created the profile and there was no work to do. In hindsight, this tactic was a little amateur. We were so small, we didn’t think anyone would care. We called or emailed everyone personally. A couple of people opted out, but most didn’t. Some agents consented to leaving their talent on our books. In some cases this meant that individual actors might not have known they were listed on Piehole.
Fast forward to October 2010 when I was having my flash of inspiration. I ‘pushed’ out the code as we say in the trade, admired my handywork and moved on. What happened then was, people who we had previously removed from the site started popping up via Google. There was no way to reach these pages while actually using Piehole, and we didn’t google ourselves that often, so this effect went un-noticed. We did of course know that previous members were appearing in the search results, but those people who had expressely declined to be on Piehole slipped our mind. For that, we are sorry.
So what was the effect?
Overall, this feature accounted for 0.7% of our site traffic. As a whole, it wasn’t a huge success as a means of promoting talent.
More importantly, a couple of people have contacted us concerned about the fact that they may have lost work due to someone searching for their name, finding similar voices and hiring them instead. Thankfully, we have been tracking our usage carefully over that time and we can illustrate that this has not been the case. We are contacting these individuals directly to share the data that we have and we hope, along with our apology, that it will go some way to reassuring them.
What are we doing about it?
The feature has caused a lot of upset. Not least to our team here who don’t want to feel like the bad guys. We’ve pulled the feature completely. It will take a few days for the search results to change on Google, but as of today, the only references on our site are to currently subscribed customers.