Go forth but don’t Multiply

THE message was as clear as a biblical command.

Millions of bloggers who have made Multiply their home on the Web will have to move out by Dec. 1 this year, when the company closes the door on its blogging and photo-sharing services to concentrate on online buying and selling.

“From December 1st, we will unfortunately no longer be able to support Multiply in its current form—notably we will be removing the social networking and content sharing part of Multiply (photos, videos, blogs, social messaging, etc.),” said the company’s newly minted chief executive, Stephan Magdalinski, in a blog post earlier this month.

Indicating the kind of upheaval in store, Magdalinski posted the announcement from the company’s new headquarters in Jakarta, after relocating from Boca Raton, Florida, to be nearer its biggest markets, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Ironically, the basis for Multiply’s latest move was an acknowledgement that people were violating the company’s original terms of use by selling their wares through the social network. So while Multiply, with 11 million registered users worldwide, fell far behind the likes of Facebook (1 billion users), Twitter (500 million users) and LinkedIn (175 million users) in recent years, a vibrant online market had developed inside it, with Indonesians and Filipinos being particularly active. Now the company hopes to cash in on this phenomenon, bring some order to its defacto bazaar—and evict tenants who do not fit its new mandate.

For users who still have blogs in Multiply, Magdalinski promised “easy ways” to download their photos, blogs and content or to migrate them to other online services. He also said users who paid for premium accounts would be refunded.

“I am aware of how disruptive this news may be, and understand the disappointment that it may cause. Ultimately this was a business decision, critical to our to success moving forward,” Magdalinski said. “We are excited to pursue our own mission to give the 350 million consumers in Indonesia and the Philippines a great way to buy and sell items online. Our singular focus now is for Multiply to retain its status as a vibrant e-commerce destination in Southeast Asia in the years ahead.”

The new CEO was right on at least one score: his announcement drew more than 3,500 comments, many of them from angry users who clearly felt they were being unceremoniously evicted.

In the Philippines, the announcement was met with less rancor, but astute users pointed out what should have been obvious to Multiply’s owners and managers.

“Most of our buyers use Multiply as a social networking site, so what will happen if they’re gone?” said one user, designercentral. “In all honesty, I see a lot of sellers already moving their business to Facebook with the recent changes made by Multiply and I honestly believe that removing the social networking side of Multiply will force sellers to abandon their Multiply stores altogether.

“Like most Multiply sellers, I also ‘advertise’ my products through photo albums as I find it easier than using the product listing, so removing that will really affect my site.

“I understand that Multiply would like to concentrate on e-commerce more, but who will purchase items in Multiply if only sellers remain?”

A video interview with the company’s country manager, Jack Madrid, on TNM  seemed to stir up even more resentment from Multiply users.

“What a load of drivel from Jack. Just about as bad as Stefan, really,” said changethechannel, in one blog.

Other users even criticized the wine collection in the background.

“Note the wine collection behind him. He even stops to sip a bit. Fat cat liar,” said bennett1.

“Yeah, the wine collection,” added dnoakes. “That’s rich, ain’t it? Right out of the faux ‘I got Taste’ School of the Visual Arts.”

He added: Typical corporate type—you have to read between the lines on everything he says. I been at store meetings where bozos like this are supposed to tell the regular staff something encouraging when changes come up. But they wind up nicely saying in 20 different ways, ‘Forget it, you’re all screwed’…. I wouldn’t let this guy wash my dog if I still had a dog.”

Can an online company survive and prosper by alienating and evicting a good chunk of its loyal user base? And will sellers who thrived in an informal environment stick it out when more rules are put in place? Multiply will certainly be an interesting case study in business re-engineering in months to come.

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