Experts-Exchange: We are all now locked out of the garden

May 3, 2009

Experts-Exchange has always been a more-closed-than-most professional forum. From the start, you’d have to pay a price in order to ask a question on the site, and then give the sum to whomever helped solve your problem. So by helping others out, and answering their questions, would earn you EE points, which were an indicator of your reputation, or whuffie, which you could then use for asking your own questions. The site was nice enough to offer you 5 free points a day, for every day you logged in. (Asking a question would cost between 50 to 200 points).

I stopped frequenting Experts-Exchange at some point, because their Business Objects community was rather small, and I found the way the site works detracted from my day job. I’m sure the site worked great for many people, who’d spend idle hours of their freelancer careers helping others, earning more whuffie, and creating more opportunities for themselves down the road. But it didn’t suit me.

A few months ago I started visiting the site again, because it would come up more frequently in my search queries, and seemed it might help me get my job done. By that point, you could no longer sign up to the site for free – the only type of membership they had was a paid one, and without it, all you got to see was the question someone asked, and tons of ads. If you wanted to find the solution to the problem, you’d have to pay experts-exchange. As a perk for giving them money, they’d stop harassing your subconscious mind with ads. Since I had a membership from days of yore, I could still Sign in and view full threads, answers and all. I guess there’s something to be said for working in the same field for over 5 years…

But all that has changed. I tried signing into Experts-Exchange today, and was greeted by the following message:

Hello ethan1701

Site access is now limited to Premium Service Members. Convert your account in just minutes and stay connected to the #1 resource for solving technology problems on the web.

Experts-Exchange locked

… Followed by a purchase interface, offering me many options for giving them money. All the links on the site seem to be broken, too: Contact us, Help, Home on the top of the site, as well as Site Map and (get this!) member Agreement on the bottom, all lead back to the same lockedLimitedMember.jsp page. If I want to see any of those, I need to log out of the site. So now a newbie has more access than a user with 5 years on the site.

Does Experts-Exchange have the right to do this – to close off access to parts of their site to paying members only? sure they do. Like any self-respecting porn site, they’re offering you just a taste of what they have to offer – the tip of the iceberg – and you need to pay if you want the stuff you really came to the site for. But what happens when closing off access means cutting people off of information that they contributed? whether it’s questions I asked or answers I offered, I now no longer have access to information I contributed to the site – a droplet of information that increased the site’s reputations just a bit more, toward being able to charge $12.95 a month.

I think the least the decision makers at EE should have done is send out an email to the site’s members, informing them of the change in policy. At the least, it would have allowed me to backup all the data that I contributed to the site. I’d like to keep my whuffie, please.

And the absurd irony is that now, being locked out of all the site’s features, I can’t modify my membership information. So if tomorrow EE decide that all but premium member accounts will be spammed with offers for the latest tech, software, counselling or what-have-you, I can’t even opt out without paying up!

Experts-Exchange is a rather small locked garden from my point of view, but I’m sure for others it’s a more valuable asset. And I’m sure some of those will pay the quart of blood the site is asking for, while others will just have to shrug it off.

But what happens when other sites that have your information on them – especially social networks – start locking out users who are not willing to pay a ransom to get access to their own information?
This is exactly what Richard Stallman was talking about 7 months ago:

Web-based programs… will force people to buy into locked, proprietary systems that will cost more and more over time

RMS was talking specifically about web-based services like gmail, but it’s just as true about social networks, blogs and forums. It seems like some executive at EE read that, and decided it wouldn’t at all be a bad business decision.

What do you think about this? Can you think of some solution to this problem? To what point will the market converge?

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10 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Mud
    June 5th, 2009 at 15:41 #

    This whole rant is so true. I occasionally have found EE marginally useful once a month or so but certainly not to the amount they are charging. It is disappointing that they went this route and more alarming that other sites may as well. Ahh well

  2. Ethan
    June 21st, 2009 at 02:46 #

    I’ve read elsewhere an opinion that Google should remove Experts-Exchange from its search results. I tend to agree, and have been doing what I can, by removing it manually from the results via the SearchWiki.
    If it’s not on Google, it’s not on the Internet, and frankly, I can’t see how a site that’s entirely subscribers-only is part of the public net.

  3. Colm
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:17 #

    Hello Ethan,

    I’ve just experienced the same thing this morning! I was puzzled, given I frequently get mails from EE but was not aware of any change to ‘old’ members. I googled the lockedLimitedMember jsp and found this page. As you say, they should at least have told us. Actually I found EE to be a valuable information source but not enough to become a paid subscriber. Pity. Bye-bye EE. Colm

  4. JungleCoder
    July 15th, 2009 at 22:03 #

    Boycott Experts Exchange! There is just as much free information out there. I signed up and was very unimpressed with the internal content. Plus, if you sign up for the “free” trial and forget to cancel in time, they will NOT give you a refund. I told the customer service rep that if I didn’t get a refund that I would post negative comments all over the net. I asked them to look at my usage, I only logged in once. Yes, I should have remembered to cancel in time, but remember this: the customer is always right. I can’t stand those tricky “free” memberships. Boycott Experts Exchange!

  5. Ethan
    July 15th, 2009 at 23:33 #

    Wow, I’m really surprised at this from them. Greed is one thing, but adding really poor customer service to that is even worse. If ever they had a chance of getting you to become a loyal customer, clearly they lost it.
    I don’t know what the people there are thinking, but it seems to be something along the lines of “how can we best drive this company and it’s reputation into the ground”…

  6. Champ_010
    September 17th, 2009 at 23:41 #

    I used EE for many years when I was in school and learning to code. I was very impressed with the answers and responses I received from Experts who contributed for free–I was absolutely willing to pay for points as I needed them. I happily spent a fair chunk of change on EE buying credits. I stopped visiting when they forced monthly memberships. Why limit the different ways people can throw money at your site? As for the complete access cutoff…a drop in site vistation and revenue will send the best and loudest message EE.

  7. Scott
    October 25th, 2010 at 21:37 #

    I answered 3 questions, and had my access back in one day.

    Then I wrote customer serviceand they extended the access.

    I suppose I’ll have to do so again next month. I guess they had to do to something about all the “lurkers”. Quite your whining and actually take an active part.

  8. Ethan
    October 25th, 2010 at 22:18 #

    Scott, I’m glad to see that ever since I posted about this, they changed their policy.
    A year ago, all you could do is see the questions. That’s it. For anything else, you had to pay.
    I think that my whining, along with that of others, helped to get them to change their attitude.

  9. pcsmitpra
    April 14th, 2011 at 10:33 #

    Same happened with me. I am working hard for them, In last few month I got my cert of Guru and today I got of Wizard. But what if i will stop responding them. It happened earlier as well. I would not have access to my own answers. So this time I am saving my all answers on my blog http://pcsmitpra.blogspot.com/ just for my reference. What they are giving just a T-shirt. Thats it. We all are doing it for free, atleast they should keep our access open forever and without advts.

    If you will search overthe net you will find many sites which are just replica of EE and they are serving same content with same paid pattern means EE running with other names as well. I want to leave it but there do not see any other method to survive my knowledge and grow it in IT industry.

  10. Ethan
    April 14th, 2011 at 10:39 #

    @pcsmitpra, I’ve found that stack overflow is a very good alternative to EE. I think it exceeds EE in quality and ease of use. And I relate much more to the founder’s vision.

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