[Update: My response to Foxwordy’s response.]
This one begs the question, What are they hiding?
Turns out bloggers are not welcome at the legal networking site Foxwordy. In fact, bloggers are banned from membership — or at least any blogger is banned who might write about Foxwordy. So are members of the media. In my case, Foxwordy went so far as to revoke my membership after I wrote about it.
I found this out straight from Foxwordy’s founder and CEO, Monica Zent. She said the ban was imposed by request of her members. Surely it can’t be because I wrote negatively about the site last year.
Let me recap how I came to learn about this.
I’ve written two posts about Foxwordy. In the first, posted when it launched in February 2014, I gave it some grief for claiming to be “the first private social network for lawyers.” It wasn’t and it struck me as a bad move for it to claim to be something it wasn’t.
It still makes that claim, by the way.
For the second post, published in June 2014, I actually registered as a member of Foxwordy and wrote a review. It certainly was not a glowing review. I was critical of several aspects of it. My bottom-line conclusion was that I was “not bowled over” by it.
Since then, I hadn’t given Foxwordy much thought. Then on Tuesday, Kevin O’Keefe tweeted a link to an article on Law Insider titled, How Foxwordy Became a Top Social Network for Lawyers.
Given my less-than-stellar review a year earlier, the title intrigued me. I did not know that it had become a top social network for lawyers and was curious to read what the author had to say.
Turns out, said author was none other than the aforementioned Monica Zent, Foxwordy’s founder. And there was absolutely nothing in the article to substantiate the title’s claim that it had become a top network. No membership numbers. No usage statistics. Just marketing fluff to promote the site.
But curious still about what had become of Foxwordy in the year since my review, I dusted off my user name and password and attempted to log on. Rather than get in, I got this message: “Your account was not activated yet.”
Strange. It certainly had been activated when I initially joined. I tried resetting my password. It let me do that, but when I tried again to log on, I got the same message.
So I clicked on Foxwordy’s feedback link and sent a message explaining my predicament. About 90 minutes later, I heard back — not from a support person but from the CEO herself. Here is what she wrote:
I received your message via our support team regarding your login issue on Foxwordy.
Thank you for your interest in being a part of the Foxwordy community.
Since our launch, we have experienced significant growth and feedback from the legal community.
To ensure the highest level of participation amongst our members, we are not currently including press as members of the Foxwordy community.
We are very close to unveiling the latest version of Foxwordy and would be honored to walk through the new version with you once it is set to be announced.
All the best,
Note her fourth paragraph: “To ensure the highest level of participation amongst our members, we are not currently including press as members of the Foxwordy community.”
My initial reaction was that maybe she did not realize that I am a practicing lawyer. So I wrote back explaining that fact:
I am a practicing lawyer as well as a blogger. I was previously a registered member of Foxwordy. Was my membership discontinued? Can I not join as a lawyer, even if I’m also a blogger?
In any event, I would be happy to take you up on a walk through once it is up.
When she did not respond by this morning, I wrote a follow-up email. It occurred to me that maybe she was banning the “press” out of concern that journalists would eavesdrop on lawyers’ conversations in search of a scoop. Since my journalistic interest is technology, not gossip, I thought I’d make that clear to her.
I was hoping you might provide a further explanation. As I wrote yesterday, I am a practicing lawyer. I am even president of my state’s Bar Foundation. As such, I would think I would be entitled to membership. As I noted, I did previously have membership, which indicates that my membership was revoked.
As for excluding members of the press to ensure participation by your members, I do not understand your concern. If you think that I will be snooping on members’ conversations in order to report them, you are way off. I write about technology and the Web. My interest is in your platform, not in your members’ conversations.
Zent responded last evening. In her response, she stated: “[W]e have placed those members who have used Foxwordy for the purpose of blogging about the Foxwordy product on hold based on the requests of users.”
Here is her full message:
Thanks for your note, and your interest in the Foxwordy platform, which is greatly appreciated.
As you know with any beta software, Foxwordy is an evolving product and we continue to evolve the platform to provide the best possible experience for our members.
To focus on what our user community needs and to direct our efforts to assessing user feedback and ongoing product redevelopment, we have placed those members who have used Foxwordy for the purpose of blogging about the Foxwordy product on hold based on the requests of users.
I reiterate that we appreciate your ongoing interest in Foxwordy and at such time that we are ready to unveil Foxwordy’s new look and features, we can step you through those via a demo.
If we are to believe what Zent says, then it is her members who have asked her to ban any bloggers who want to write about the product. This confuses me. I would think lawyers would welcome independent reviews of technology platforms they might use. It strikes me as counter-intuitive that lawyers would expressly ask her to prevent bloggers from writing reviews.
In fact, if you are one of those Foxwordy members who has asked Zent to block bloggers, I would love to hear from you.
On top of that, if her goal truly is to “provide the best possible experience for our members,” she should welcome constructive criticism, not block it.
In my day job as a lobbyist and lawyer for the news media, I fight against secrecy in government and business. In my experience, when a company blocks access by the media, it is because it has something to hide. This seems particularly true when a supposed social network for lawyers blocks membership by lawyers who might write critically about it.
That article by Zent that I referenced above said this:
The goal with Foxwordy is to create the only truly private network for the entire legal market on which they can discuss topics and best practices related to the law, the legal industry, law practice, exchange clauses, resources and referrals, connect with their most relevant legal colleagues and get answers to legal questions.
Apparently, Foxwordy’s interest in fostering discussions stops at discussions that may be critical of Foxwordy.