Jerking Our Chain
So our fearless blog editor gets an e-mail from a PR company about a new porno site called Red Light Center. Think "X-rated Second Life." He asks if I want to write anything up for this venerable blog, but then we decide there's not much left to say about spankin' it to the Interweb, even though PR maven Carrie Swint assures us this is groundbreaking stuff.
Anywho, fast forward a few days, and Mr. HouStoned Editor gets another e-mail from Carrie, who wants to remind us that she can summon the RedLightCenter gods to tell us about how we can create animated characters to boff other animated characters online. So we give in, and I call Carrie to hook me up with The Man. What do we get in return? An e-mail saying the RedLight boys are booked for weeks and don't have the time to talk to us pleebs. But she kindly attaches a generic press release touting the wonders of their Web site.
This made me wonder what was going on. Why do a PR blitz and then circle the wagons? Could it be because Brian Shuster, the CEO of RedLight's parent company, has a history with the Federal Trade Commission? Read here about how the FTC alleged that Xpics.com was ripping off customers, and how the company eventually agreed to offer refunds to qualifying customers. (As is SOP in these deals, Xpics did not admit any wrongdoing).
For more on Shuster, check out this profile in Business 2.0.
It could be argued that Shuster did nothing wrong here, that he was merely pioneering a new industry with an infrastructure that wasn't ready -- and that is, not surprisingly, precisely what he argues. He may be technically right, but such an argument is of a piece with Shuster's M.O. -- which former employees characterize as a tendency to do the bare minimum necessary to stay just on the right side of the law. As Ford Johnson, who served as a vice president for WebJump, another Shuster company, puts it, "Brian was a brilliant cash flow manager, but he had no filter saying, 'This isn't right, fair, ethical.'"