Apr 11

The case of the missing sweatshirt

I’m going to tell you a story. It’s long and meandering, goes into unnecessary detail to an absurd degree, and ultimately turns out to be pointless. You should skip it if you could spend the time doing something useful. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
A blog is born
When I first started this blog in October 2001, I used Blogger because it was simple, user-friendly, and free. At the time, Blogger was a financially-strapped one-man operation, and I wanted to contribute some money to help keep it operating. But, as I wrote in January 2002, there was no simple way to do so. Shortly after I posted those remarks, Blogger introduced a paid version of its service called Blogger Pro, which provided several extra features. (The ordinary version of Blogger didn’t change, and remained free). I signed up at once and paid the annual subscription fee.
Enter Google
In February 2003, Google acquired Blogger. The resulting infusion of funding and support staff not only ended my concerns about Blogger’s survival, but also produced numerous improvements in the service. Blogger’s servers were upgraded and a new and improved user interface was unveiled. Finally, in September 2003, Blogger announced that the Blogger Pro service was being discontinued — all of the extra Pro features were being rolled into the free version of Blogger! Every Blogger user was now effectively a Blogger Pro user whether they had paid or not.
To compensate them for having paid for features that were now free, Blogger offered to send each Pro subscriber a free hooded sweatshirt. You just had to go to a particular page on the Blogger site, log in with your Pro username and password, and fill out a form with your shirt size and mailing address. But when I tried to do this, I found that my login was not recognized. On September 11, 2003, I went to the Blogger customer support page, where you can report problems by filling out a form and clicking a Submit button. I used the form to describe what had happened when I tried to log in and claim my free shirt.
Dude, where’s my shirt?
The next day, I received an e-mail response from a support tech named Steve, who informed me that Blogger had no record of my Blogger Pro upgrade purchase. He asked me for the purchase date and the last four digits of the credit card I had used. I replied with that information on the 13th. I received no further response. A month went by.
On October 16, I went to the support page again and used the form to complain about the lack of response, attaching a copy of my correspondence with Steve up to that point. Steve replied that same day, saying that he never received my 9/13 note. I responded immediately, sending him another copy of the information he had asked for. I received no response. Another month went by.
At this point, I started to see a pattern. When I used the Web form to contact Blogger customer service, my messages were received. But when I tried to e-mail Steve directly, my messages did not reach him.
On November 13, I decided to try again. Thinking that perhaps the e-mails I had sent Steve from my home e-mail address were not reaching him, I tried sending a note from my work address. I received no response. Having run out of ideas, I gave up.
The free shirt wasn’t really all that important to me. (I don’t even like hooded sweatshirts.) What I wanted was to understand — and perhaps to solve — the strange problems I had encountered. Why was there no record of my Blogger Pro purchase? What was preventing my e-mail messages from reaching Steve? It didn’t make sense. But I had exhausted the available methods of pursuing the matter.
Cold case
Sixteen months passed. During this time, I converted my blog from Blogger to Movable Type, so I wasn’t even a Blogger user anymore. I completely forgot about the Blogger sweatshirt business.
On March 31, 2005, while filing and deleting old e-mail messages, I stumbled across my log of the correspondence with Steve. I decided to have another go at the problem. I sent a note to Steve’s address at Blogger, recapping everything that had happened in the fall of 2003, and asking for an update. My message was returned as undeliverable; Steve was no longer working for Blogger. I went to the Blogger customer support page and used the problem reporting form to describe the whole bizarre story, attaching a copy of my correspondence with Steve, and submitted it. I received no response.
On April 11, 2005, I went to the Blogger site and saw an announcement that the problem-report form was broken. Specifically, there was a field on the form where you were supposed to specify which of your blogs (you can have more than one) was affected by the problem you were reporting. My problem had nothing to do with any of my blogs, so I had been selecting “No blog in particular”. Blogger had now discovered that if you did that, your problem report didn’t go anywhere; it just disappeared. This explained why I had received no response to my March 31 report.
One last try
At this point it occurred to me that in the months since my last attempt to report the problem by e-mail, I had switched e-mail addresses. Instead of using my old Road Runner address, I was now using Gmail. Gmail is Google’s Web-based e-mail system, and Google owns Blogger. Surely, if I sent an e-mail query from my Gmail address, it would get through to Blogger customer support! I would be sending the message from one part of Google to another.
It seemed worth trying, so I composed an e-mail note that began with the words “Hi — I’m following up on a technical support issue that’s a couple of years old. No, really! I promise I’m not insane.” I went on to relate the entire story from September 2003 to the present. I included a copy of all of the previous correspondence. My message ended with the following summary:

At this point, we seem to have several unanswered questions:

  1. Were my e-mails to Steve from [my home address] and [my work address] blocked for some reason?
  2. If not, why didn’t they reach him?
  3. Why doesn’t the Blogger Pro database contain any record that I paid for a subscription?
  4. Am I still eligible for a free sweatshirt, or have I missed that particular boat? 🙂

If you get this note, please drop me a line and let me know what your thoughts are. Thanks!

I sent the note to support@blogger.com.
A response, but not an answer
To my utter astonishment, I received a reply on April 15. It read:

Hello Patrick,
Based on our records, all of your previous emails as noted in your email attachment (besides your most recent ones) had been received via your [home] email address. I also do notice that there was never any email correspondence received on our end from you back to Steve’s questions. Unfortunately, I would not know why emails you sent to us in reply were not received.
In addition, we’re unfortunately not sending hoodies out to our previously upgraded Pro folks anymore.
I apologize for the inconvenience.
Blogger Support

And that’s how the story ended. It wasn’t a very satisfactory resolution; it didn’t answer any of the questions except the last one (no, I wasn’t going to get my free sweatshirt). But at least I could finally let the matter drop.
What have we learned?
If there are any lessons to be learned from this, I suppose they are:

  • Sometimes computers just don’t work, and nobody knows why.
  • If I really want a Blogger sweatshirt, I should just go to the Google Store and buy it.
  • I told you this story was long and pointless.