Groupon Public Voice Guide Fail


Deal-of-the-day website Groupon might have passed on Google?s multi-billion dollar acquisition offer but it hasn?t forgone using the online search engine and advertising empire?s document hosting services for a memorandum entitled the ?Public Groupon Voice Guide,? which details, with embarrassing clarity, ?principles? apparently ?intended to help new and applying writers learn Groupon?s signature writing style.? No doubt, all commerce sites need web-copy but Groupon needs its copy to adhere to a house-style so purple it suggests a necrotizing soft tissue infection.

Consider this write-up for a discounted stay at Sonoma?s tony bed and breakfast MacArthur Place:

?Statistically, the home is the place you’re most likely to fall asleep under a running lawn mower, get sexually harassed by a pet, or suffer a heart attack while trying to fit into a heated oven. Escape that horrible deathtrap with today?s Groupon for a stay for two at MacArthur Place in Sonoma.?

Groupon, a portmanteau that grafts ?group? and ?coupon,? operates as its name suggests ? it partners with local retailers to offer the subscribers discounted fees when a predetermined number of people sign-up for the deal. It?s a form of assurance contract whereby all participants benefit, which, theoretically, mitigates the risk for the retailer who can leverage the coupon as a quantity discount. And, of course, Groupon takes a cut of resulting sales. What differentiates Groupon from the horde of copycats in this sector is its deft branding and user-friendly interface, which has attracted over 40 million users and as well as a salivating Google, who 30-year-old Groupon CEO Andrew Mason (a recent Forbes Magazine poster-child) famously rebuffed this month.

So how is it that Mason felt confident in turning down $6 billion dollars after a mere two years in business? Perhaps the answer lays in the glib lingo his company prefers over the more sober corporate-speak that defines the parlance of Silicon Valley. According to the document, Groupon has a sense of humor, or, at least, something it believes is humor. Under the title ?Humor Devices that work well in Groupon Voice? are such axioms as ?absurd images,? ?sweeping, dramatic nonsense,? and ?the absurd narrator.? These are buttressed by examples like ?Humankind has been playing with fire for years; now we can harness the bronzing essence of the fiery sun in a gentle mist, proving once and for all our dominance over the weak, inanimate solar system.? Why? Because one person?s absurdity is another?s marketing copy and Groupon has diligently codified their secret sauce of lest applying writers misinterpret the meaning of ?absurd.? Others include ?hypothetical worlds/outcomes? such as this chestnut, ?Without goals, no one would unicycle the Appalachian Trail or train a flock of carrier pidgins to deliver meat pies to unsuspecting haberdashers.?

Though Groupon?s ?signature writing style? might challenge one?s definition of both ?writing? and ?style? its fake proverbs, mixed metaphors and intentionally errant take on history (?When strongmen of the past wanted to show their superhuman brawn, they coddled kettlebells or other, potentially stronger strongmen?) are arguably ?signature? if not downright annoying to other online scribes.

On her blog The Conical Glass, Bay Area indie record label owner Sue Trowbridge has rued the ?Grouponese? as nausea-inducing and ?yucky.? In a post entitled ?The Worst Writing Job in the World,? Trowbridge recounts researching the genesis of Groupon?s tortured prose only to discover a help-wanted ad on its site that invites applicants to submit a sample write-up for a shot at a $40,000 salary and possible relocation to its Chicago headquarters. Ever game, Trowbridge even attempted her own Groupon-styled translation of a favorite restaurant newsletter but gave up after some twisted verbiage to sign-off ?Ugh, I feel dirty now. I think I?d rather make my living writing those fake letters to Penthouse.?

For some, including Trowbridge, penning garrulous crap for a web discounter might epitomize the death of modern prose. For others, it might be a dream job with full-benefits. Though Andrew Mason?s business might be changing the face of local commerce its colorful product plugs likely won?t affect the world of letters anymore than jingles have affected music. That said, if Mason added stock options to his benefit package and courted another multibillion dollar acquisition deal, be assured more than a few professional writers might consider tossing his salad with the croutons of capital whilst forging phonemes on the velveteen anvil of loathsome lingo.

‘Twas a Wine Country Christmas

Ho no.

Dear Santa –

Forgive the delay as I’ve been meaning to write you this “thank you” letter for, well, about a year now. Suffice it to say, I was distracted from my intention to put pen to paper and express my gratitude to you by the very gift you left for me last year. Coal is an interesting sedimentary rock isn’t it? Yeah, thanks, man. This year, however, I hope that you might be a bit more environmentally-conscious and consider bringing, say, a hybrid car or even a windmill if you’re still on this energy jag or whatever.

You should know, I gave last year’s coal to my junky neighbor who mistook it for the fabled Springs “black crack.” She smoked it and now she has black lung. So, good work, dude. Maybe you could bring her a respirator.

In the meantime, I’ve dug up my annual holiday column, which you will recall is a riff on Clement Clarke Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” a.k.a. “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” You will note it depicts you in a mostly-positive light, which, if you remember correctly, was not how it went down on the night in question. If your gift-giving doesn’t improve this year, be assured, Santa, next year I’ll print the truth. Just say’n.

Your Pal

* * *

‘Twas a wine country Christmas and all through his cellar
Were stowed bottles of vino and this lucky feller;
His name was St. Nick and Sonoma his pride
As his schedule permitted he’d come here to hide

My host remarked “Now, don’t judge a wine by its label”
Which made me afraid of ending up under the table
“All things in moderation,” he said with glee
As he began opening bottles – one, two and three!

“Now, Ledson! now, Landmark! now, Kamen and Castle!
On, Gundlach! on, Bundschu! on Haywood and Hanzell!
Let’s pop some corks and fill up our cups
We’ll drink upside down just to say “Bottom’s up!”

Champagne gushed like geysers, merlot poured like rain
Zins went straight to my head and the cabs to my brain
He said “Every bottle’s a vacation, every sip a holiday!”
As he washed down pinot with a fine chardonnay

My teeth had turned purple, my cheeks had gone red
I’d say “Just a taste” but a carafe came instead
Now the cellar was spinning and my view was a blur
An eloquent drunk, I made poetry of slurs

“Damn, you drunken elf, I’m going to bed,”
as visions of cirrhosis danced through my head
I crawled on my knees, for I’d forgotten my swagger
I’d decline a straight line but would be happy to stagger

As I lumbered and lurched toward the cellar door
he brandished a corkscrew and simply said “More.”
He throttled a bottle and commanded me “Drink”
“‘Tis the season,” I reasoned, as I drank to the brink

His generosity proved as grand as his cellar was vast
But who will drive the sleigh after our vintner’s repast?
He tugged at his beard, his sparkling eye winked
“That’s why I’ve got elves, why what did you think?”

Embarrassed as I was at my implied accusation
He guffawed from his belly and poured another libation

Now, I’m not one to moralize, especially in carol
But the fact remains when one’s over the barrel
Designate a driver or a get a taxi on the line
And Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good wine!

Take Myspace, please


My Identity Crisis,

For sale: Social network, recently renovated, barely used. $580 million OBO.

In 2005, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation acquired the beleaguered Myspace for over half a billion dollars to complement a media empire comprising newspapers, a film studio and TV channels, including Fox News. News Corporation continued to spend millions on Myspace to capture a finicky youth market, only to find itself groping for relevancy as Facebook came to dominate the social space.

One shouldn’t expect Murdoch to understand kids these days, seeing as he hasn’t been a teenager since 1950, which not only predates the notion of a mass “youth culture,” but its original soundtrack, rock ‘n’ roll. But the site’s current woes go beyond bridging a simple generation gap, and not for lack of trying.

These days on Myspace, one is presently greeted by a video of the Black Eyed Peas pontificating about how they would “rock it” if they “hijacked” Myspace (Fergie is apparently into rainbows). This attempt by Myspace to lease some cred from the band diminishes both the reenvisioning of the site and the musicians themselves, who do their best to inject enthusiasm into the prospect of a “social entertainment” destination with little more substance than their own lyrics.

The whole premise seems nebulous, which is underscored by the fact that the site doesn’t even have its own name in the masthead. Rather, the page is helmed by “my_____,” which invites the user to fill in the blank. You know, like Mad Libs. Perhaps Rupert’s reads “my $580 Million Write-Off.”

With its “we beat Friendster” sheen long worn away by Murdoch’s fretting fingerprints, Myspace, some speculate, is headed to the bargain bin. An acquisition, however, likely won’t make much noise in a social space dominated by Facebook and Twitter. Big spenders like Google come to mind, though it’s already in the social space (Orkut, right? No, wait, Google Wave? Um, Google Buzz?). Still smarting after being left at the altar by Microsoft, Yahoo isn’t in a shopping mood but is working on its own Twitter clone, Yahoo! Meme. Theoretically, Microsoft could graft Myspace into its search initiative Bing so one could search for friends and find them, well, on Facebook.

Perhaps the best possibility for Myspace is to be acquired by Elon Musk, cofounder of PayPal, electric carmaker Tesla Motors and SpaceX, the independent aeronautics company. Call it “MyspaceX,” which would combine all of Musk’s business pursuits into the first off-world colony. Recruit the outer-space colonists on Myspace (yes, that’s why the sign-up is so damn inquisitive?they’re gauging your space-worthiness) and catch a ride on a SpaceX rocket. The colony itself would be powered by Telsa Motors technology since, in space, there are no countries to exploit for natural resources (yet).

Tickets would be paid for through Paypal, unless the underground hacker horde Anonymous launches another denial-of-service attack, which they unleashed upon the online payments site, as well as the respective sites of Visa and Mastercard, after the creditors rescinded service to Wikileaks in the wake of Cablegate.

What’s a denial-of-service attack? Ask the former chief security officer for News Corporation’s digital properties, Hemu Nigam, who once ridded Myspace of pedophiles and warded off other online miscreants before splitting six months ago to start his own internet security consultancy.

“If you are a home-computer user,” Nigam says, “the only way denial-of-service attacks succeed is if the consumers are allowing their computers to be used as a zombie so that it wakes up and turns it into an army soldier at the command of a hacker out there.”

To prevent you computer from joining the undead, Nigam suggests you actually click “OK” the next time your computer suggests a security update. “A hacker group like Anonymous will go out there and find computers that are not updated, drop a little code in there that basically owns the computer and that sits there waiting for a command from the mother ship to these zombie computers, thousands of them in all parts of the country or the world, that says ‘Wake up. It’s your time.'”

Perhaps this is Murdoch’s evil plan for Myspace?he’s using it to create an army of zombie machines to launch a massive attack on his many rivals. But isn’t that what his Fox News is for?

Originally published @

Holiday Tips for Sonomans

Due to a typo, Good Vibrations has hundreds of these "Cork Rings."

Every winter, a certain cadre of my brilliant readers clamor for advice on how to navigate the holiday season without getting fat or going broke. They remember arriving in Sonoma both thin and rich and now desire a Christmas just like the ones they used to know. Ha-ha-ha. I mean, Ho-ho-ho.

Here’s how to avoid holiday weight gain – forgo food entirely and subsist entirely on wine. The average human can survive 28 days without food, whereas the average Sonoman will last only a weekend without wine. Ergo, I suggest that Sonomans drink only wine for the next 28 days. This will keep you lean and mean (and drunk) through the New Year. Yes, this might lead to liver failure but chances are your liver is already failing, so buck up and uncork a slimmer you.

Also, you might consider that the Sonoma Diet franchise proffers its own wine brand, “The Sonoma Diet Wine Collection” produced by Windsor Vineyards, which, in my opinion, is both an offense to dieting and wine. I’d rather eat a cork, at least it would have some fiber. But a wine with the word “Diet” on the label? Look what’s being done in our name. If I wanted a “lite” wine, I’d pour myself a glass of water and wait for Jesus to show up and fix it.

Whenever a denizen of wine country is invited to a holiday party outside our borders, this is a subtle social cue to bring wine. Yes, everyone expects it and yes they have the errant notion that it’s somehow free for us as if we bottle it at the banks of the ever-flowing River O’Wine that wends through our backyards. Though this is true and we mustn’t ever let our secret be known things get awkward unless we oblige. Friends have a nasty habit of reminding that they paid for all the illicit substances one ingested back in the 80s so it’s only fitting we now pay for the wine. Hmm. Fortunately, Sonoma wine is becoming so ubiquitous, you can pop by your friend or relative’s local bottle shop minutes before arriving. When they ask how you managed to keep the sauvignon blanc chilled during your four-hour drive over the hills and through the woods, tell them Jack Frost kept it on his lap.

Anyone who has ever presented a bottle of wine as a gift knows it’s impossible to wrap. Several innovations in years past, from slender totes to boxes festooned with bows, have attempted to address the issue with limited success. The wine gift merely looks like a gussied up after-thought, which, let’s face it, it is. When you learned that so-and-so was going to be wherever it is you’re going, you ran to the wine fridge and plucked a bottle that was almost as good as the one that first came to mind. You’ve most assuredly both given and received such bottles, which invariably come with the proviso “Let this one lay down for a while, open it in a year or two and it will be excellent.” This is code for “Don’t bother drinking this plonk – re-gift at your earliest convenience – like I did.”

For those near and dear to me, a brown bag usually suffices since they generally want to twist-off the cap and get down to the Plaza before the spirit of Christmas passes (leaving a headache and regret in its wake). By far the most awesome wrapping for a wine gift is to acquire a three-mast ship and place the bottle in the hull – a grand gesture that reverses the “ship in a bottle” gag to the nth degree. Of course, the recipient will just tear the ship apart to get to the present, paying no heed to the wrapping.

But then, what counts is on the inside, right? No matter how fat and broke you are.

Sonoma or Busk

The busk stops here.

Stroll the streets of Sonoma and one can hear many sounds – the hustle and bustle of traffic, café chatter and caterwauling kids in the Plaza. But no tunes. Not a single note of live, outdoor music to warm one’s wintry ears.

Besides the occasional appearance of Arias Beardsely and his infernal fiddle, which haunt the vaulted hall of the Sebastiani Theatre, Sonoma hasn’t much of a street music scene. Is it illegal? Perhaps – most city legislatures are savvy enough to build a Blue Meanie-sized trapdoor into their noise ordinances to shoo away the strumming and bumming types should they prove a nuisance.

This occurs, I presume, when the “musician” in question is merely rattling a fistful of change in a paper cup and calling it a maraca. Is this any worse than the din produced by those poor souls with the bells and buckets outside the grocery store? Not nearly but neither are producing music. What I’m concerned about is our apparent lack of classically-trained instrumentalists and self-taught virtuosos who provide civic soundtracks in seemingly every city but ours.

Is it the cold weather or the often chillier reception such musicians receive? “Busking” as it’s called in every English-speaking country but ours, refers to all manner of public performance, including music, miming, sword swallowing and any other display of talent that might get money being thrown at you. There’s even an app for that – specifically, “Seline HD” for the iPad, which transforms the tablet device into a ready-made busking machine. And people do busk with it. And people give them money. Why isn’t WiredSonoma on top of this? We should have an iPad orchestra playing carols in the Plaza by now.

To remedy the situation, perhaps Sonoma should host a street music festival (paging J.M. Berry!); a loose, no-frills affair sans band-battles, recondite registration rituals and (gasp!) money. This is a forum for those who wish to hear or be heard. Should a musician’s hat brim with currency at the end of a set is a perquisite not a prerequisite.

Or, if there is an overwhelming desire to produce paperwork, I suggest Sonoma look east to New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which annually auditions musicians for its “Music Under New York” program subway troubadours. Given Sonoma’s glaring lack of public transportation (there are more tour busses than public busses – can’t we work a deal? Or would that just result in drunk commuters? I bet they’d sing.), we may have to substitute wine caves for subways. The acoustics might be similar but if the buskers are anything like the musicians with whom I’ve played, playing for tips will turn to “playing for tipsy” before you can hide the wine thief.

Of course, there should some tacit rules for Sonoma’s street musicians. For example, if you’re a soloist, stay solo. There’s nothing worse than divvying up tips after your “pitch” gets overrun with fellow noodlers. It’s like doing the bill after an evening at Maya’s, invariably, someone doesn’t fess up to the extra margaritas, then expect you to pay for Vern’s Taxi as well.

Percussionists – yes. Drum circles – no. Why? Drum circles are like malignant music tumors. Once they metastasize to, say, three-bearded guys reeking of weed and b.o., they continue to spread until entire public spaces get filled, at which point radical treatment is necessary. This usually comes in the form of cops, who bring their own drumsticks. And beat goes on.

Also, it should be posted somewhere that street musicians are not human jukeboxes. Constraint should be used when making “requests.” Otherwise, you’re simply reminding them about all the vastly more successful musicians whose music you prefer. Also, don’t smoke around horn players. In the abstract, they’re inhaling air to produce music by exhaling it through a pipe, which is far easier a notion to grasp than willfully polluting oneself and the surrounding airspace with the agents of cancer. If you want to die sooner, consider ashing in the bell of a horn player’s brass. It’ll come right quick, mate.

Musicians: Consider creating means of receiving tips other than cash. Who carries cash these days anyway? In this age when one can “text” donations to any cause du jour, might street musicians consider doing the same? There are plenty of turnkey solutions in this arena whereby someone can texts a code with their mobile phone and the charge appears on the phone bill while you pocket the cash. Receive payments via PayPal, all you need is an e-mail address, a bank account and a song in your heart. And possibly and iPad.