The Daring Fireball Non-Experience

by Kieran Healy on February 25, 2007

This post is kind of a personal customer-service gripe, so feel free to skip it.

_Update_: Within an hour of posting this, I got an email renewing my DF membership and a note from John. Apparently the t-shirt gnomes are in the process of being re-engineered (I’m paraphrasing) and improved models will soon be managing his t-shirt delivery needs. Thanks to John for his quick response.

John Gruber writes “Daring Fireball”:, a blog focused on Apple Computer — sorry, Apple, Inc — in particular and internet stuff and the computing industry in general. He’s pretty good. I mean that, in comparison to the competition, he’s well-informed, he can write, and he has an intelligent point of view. You can “become a member”: by donating some money or buying a t-shirt. Since April or May of 2006 writing for Daring Fireball has been Gruber’s main job.

Gruber often writes about the relationship between software developers (or “content providers” like himself) and their users (or readers). He “makes”: a “big”: “deal”: “about”: this, and he usually makes sense. So as a long-time reader, just before the New Year I ponied up the $29 to buy a membership and t-shirt. Result: nada.

At first there wasn’t even any email confirmation of the sale or the membership key (to his full RSS feeds) that comes with it. So after waiting a while I emailed him. Members are encouraged to contact if there are any problems. No response was forthcoming. Then I waited a bit more and sent a second email. Still nothing. After Googling around a bit I found a “post of his”: from October of 2005 saying that membership confirmation emails often end up in Gmails spam folder. I looked and there it was.

So that was the first bit sorted out. A note on DF’s “membership sign-up page”: would have pre-empted this problem. Instead, in the great fuck-you tradition of bad user experience that Gruber himself tirelessly critiques, people who sign up are apparently expected to find this out for themselves.

Then it was just a question of waiting for the t-shirt to arrive. Seeing as DF is Gruber’s main gig, I figured it wouldn’t take too long — a couple of weeks, maybe. Presumably he has a closet full of them and just needs to put them in the mail. I thought maybe he’d do it once a fortnight or something. As you’ll have guessed by now, I’m still waiting. It’s getting on for two months, which worse than the “Please allow six weeks for shipping and handling” clause I remember accompanied anything I signed up for by post when I was a kid. I suppose I could keep emailing him once a week until he responded one way or the other, but I don’t think Gruber himself would see that as a reasonable course of action if he were on the same end of a similar transaction.

I’m wasting your time with this post because, to be honest, I’m disappointed in Gruber. (And secondarily because he might read this and send me the goddamn shirt.) He seems like a good guy. He has lots of credibility on the topic of mac nerdery. And the one of the major components of his identity as a commentator is stuff at the intersection of user experience, good design, not screwing your customers, and generally not taking people for granted. As he “says himself”:

My goal for Daring Fireball is not to attract the largest possible audience. Rather, I’m trying to attract the smartest possible audience.

When you create anything for public consumption, you must make assumptions regarding the audience. Regarding you, courteous reader of Daring Fireball, I assume the following. You are intelligent. You appreciate good design and careful writing. You use a modern web browser that supports reasonably established web standards. Your time is valuable. …

And so the question as to why I want to make money from Daring Fireball is backward. I say, why not? If I printed a book, you’d expect me to sell copies. Same if I were in a band and made my own CD, or if I produced a movie on DVD. But so why do so many people assume that with web sites, “independent” need be synonymous with “volunteer”?

On the one hand, it’s only a t-shirt. On the other, the main reason I signed up was that I was convinced by an argument Gruber himself was making about why membership was a good idea, and I thought he’d be the kind of guy who’d live up to his own standards. Oh well. Now I’m wondering whether a three or four month delay is par for the course for anyone who signs up as a member. Anyone?



otto 02.25.07 at 7:33 pm

This seems like a great post to ask when the Crooked Timber T-Shirts-n-Mugs will be available…


Kieran Healy 02.25.07 at 7:47 pm

In four to six weeks.


Aaron Swartz 02.25.07 at 7:58 pm

I got my shirt promptly in an elegantly typeset bag; the experience as smooth and glorious as the rest of the site. I’m sorry you’ve had so much poor luck.


ogged 02.25.07 at 8:01 pm

Perhaps this is also the post to complain that the tiny sans-serif font favored by user experience gurus like Gruber and Dean Allen makes for a pretty page, but is difficult to read.


Jackmormon 02.25.07 at 8:19 pm

At this point, if he sends you a t-shirt, would you wear it?


paul 02.25.07 at 8:25 pm

I find Gruber a good, if prickly, commentator, but his prickliness is part of his schtick. This cock-up is surprising, though. He seems like a straight-up guy. If I email him, something I do every few weeks or so, I get a reply within minutes.

It will be interesting to see how he handles this, since he is digging up your address and a shirt to get in tomorrow’s post. Will he send it along without acknowledging the delay? Or will he snark about how users, what we used to call customers, expect too much these days?

And Ogged, surely you know you can override their decisions, either by making the type larger for a given page without it being a persistent change or for all sites if you favor a specific font and color combination.


Kieran Healy 02.25.07 at 8:27 pm

Or will he snark about how users, what we used to call customers, expect too much these days?

Well, I hope not, because holding up my end was the whole point of buying the t-shirt in the first place. (It’s not like I was desperately in need of a new t-shirt.) Plus, I tried to make clear that I like the guy and tried more than once to contact him about this.


paul 02.25.07 at 10:03 pm

Well, three cheers for public shaming . . . ;-)


PZ Myers 02.25.07 at 10:07 pm

Perhaps the shirt is also in your gmail spam folder?


kb 02.25.07 at 10:24 pm

Sadly, I think “wade into your spam folder to see if your missing e-mail landed in there” is an integral part of e-commerce these days.


ogged 02.25.07 at 10:57 pm

surely you know you can override their decisions, either by making the type larger for a given page without it being a persistent change or for all sites if you favor a specific font and color combination

Sure, of course. I was just remarking on the popularity of a user-unfriendly style on user experience gurus’ sites.


Nat 02.25.07 at 11:58 pm

I had the same problem. I sent him my $29, got my feed keys, and then never got my t-shirt.

I sent email a couple times asking about it, but it just fell into a black hole.

Eventually I just gave up.

I don’t think I’ll be renewing my membership next year.


nicco 02.26.07 at 3:14 am

ogged: if you use Firefox, holding down the “ctrl” key and the “+” key at the same time makes the font a bit bigger, which is normally all an unreadable page needs (the default font size is too small).


Eszter 02.26.07 at 3:16 pm

How frustrating!

I like Jackmormon’s question. Oh, and the one by PZ Myers.

Regarding 4-6 weeks for delivery, gotta love that such delays continue even today even for things that don’t require any physical mailing (like getting yourself removed from an email list). Absurd.


Mark Bixby 03.01.07 at 3:10 pm

Yep yep. I ordered mine in Oct 2006. Have sent a couple (3) friendly inquiries. Done my best to empathize, and express to John that I know how much manual order fullfillment sucks. Finally got a reponse saying he’d “get to it Monday” (6 more Mondays ago).
Now, after 16 weeks, I’ve pretty much lost any interest in the shirt or the site.

A “Non-Experience” indeed.

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