RapidShare Changes Confusing Users
Although I am, among other things, a freelance technology writer today, I was once a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, aka MCSE and a pretty high-level systems administrator. As such, computers have always been pretty easy for me. For most software, I don’t read the instruction manual or any of the program’s help files. If I can’t figure it out, it probably isn’t worth figuring out.
At least that has been my thought regarding new software programs, operating system upgrades, and even most online services or web-based programs that have come across my radar in past decade or so. This has served me pretty well even though I long ago left the computer industry to spend some time (maybe too much time) in the financial industry where I was a Certified Financial Planner — which comes in handy when I put on my freelance financial writer hat.
Lately, however, some programs have begun to elude me and my intuitive grasp. A large part of that comes from how the computing paradigm is changing from Windows-based programs, with “versions” for other platforms, and the increasing complexity possible with online services or cloud-based programs. I have reluctantly had to hit the books on some programs.
That being said, I usually get the gist of most new software and computer programs pretty quickly. While I may no longer be able to anticipate their functionality on a consistent basis, I am seldom left scratching my head and wondering where to even start.
And this brings me to Rapid Share. For those of you who are not familiar with RapidShare, it is one of the first, and biggest, of the online file storage and sharing websites. Unlike online storage products primarily designed for you to store your own files to be retrieved primarily by you and your friends and family, RapidShare is setup to allow you to store files and then let anyone download them. No login or permission is needed (if you choose to store your files in that way). All that someone needs to get your files is to know what the address to them is, which is often provided by a link on a website or in a forum.
As you might expect, this method of distribution can, and is, used to enable illegal file sharing. However, RapidShare avoids any shutdown threat by quickly and efficiently removing any file reported as a copyright violation almost immediately. As such, some pirates and hackers have moved on to greener pastures.
Paying for RapidShare Premium Account or RapidShare Pro
If this sound like the kind of thing that just about anyone can do, you are not wrong. RapidShare has flourished by being one of the first movers in this space. Once someone learns to use RapidShare as their go-to file sharing service, they stick with it, because not only is RapidShare easy to copy, there isn’t really anything to be added or improved either. Thus, whenever someone finds a new file hosting service, there really isn’t any reason to switch, so they don’t.
The basic model of all file host sharing services is that you allow users to download files for free. Otherwise, it makes it not worth the uploader using the service because not everyone they want to share the file with is going to pay for the service. However, in order to make money, the file hosting service restricts how many files you can download or how much traffic you can use before you have to wait for some time period. Furthermore, you have to use the “slow” download instead of downloading as fast as your computer can suck down data.
For most casual users this is acceptable because they only download one or two files anyway, and the difference between getting the file in three minutes and downloading the file in eight minutes is moot. Obviously, for users downloading a lot more files, or bigger files, this won’t do. To get around the restrictions, they pay for a “premium account” or a “pro account.”
I’ve been paying for a RapidShare Premium account for a long time, mostly out of habit. The JDownloader utility largely makes paying for premium accounts a waste, but there are just enough times when I need the extra speed and ability offered by a Premium Rapidshare account that I keep renewing.
One cool thing is that you get points when people download your files and every so often, I earn enough RapidShare points to get a free RapidShare premium account for a month or two.
Lately, however, the service has changed how it looks and how it works. They made some changes a while back that were very unpopular with most users of the service. The company backtracked and fixed whatever those issues were before I even became aware of them. I guess I wasn’t a power enough user to notice. Recently, instead of my RapidShare files just downloading automatically once I was logged in and a cookie was set on my computer, I started having to pick “Fast Download” every time I downloaded a file even though I was logged in. Apparently, this was a new setting that was part of some other upgrade or service update.
I don’t even recognize the RapidShare website anymore. I did find my settings and change it to stop displaying the RapidShare screen every time I tried to download a file. This seems pretty suspect. After all, what possible reason could ANY paid user have for selecting whether to use fast or slow downloads? Wouldn’t you always want to choose fast?
While changing the download setting, I noticed two others. These settings really rub me the wrong way. They are set to automatically renew your RapidShare Pro account and to buy more traffic when you run out. I HATE THAT!
I think it is fine to offer, but it should ALWAYS be an OPT-IN thing, not an opt out. Crap like that is why I use temporary disposable credit card numbers that are offered on some of the best credit cards like my Citibank rewards Elite Mastercard that I have. I stopped bothering to generate a temp number for RapidShare because it was always on the up and up. That will be changing.
Even more infuriating, in order to change those settings to “do not charge me whenever you feel like it, I’ll decide if the service you provide is worth sending you more money or not, thank you”, I had to first “Unlock” my account. The Lock feature of RapidShare is actually a good security move. It keeps people from messing with your account even if they manage to get your username and password as is prone to happen by phishing scams. But, I find it VERY hard to believe that anyone who compromises my account will turn off my auto-renewal feature. What would the motive be? The might want to turn it ON so that they can keep using my account, but I doubt they would try and turn it off.
Finally, I guess I need to go read the manual or RapidShare FAQ, or something, because I really do not understand what is going on any more. I paid for a Pro account, or so I thought. Now, it looks like I am actually paying for Rapids which are points that I can use for a Pro account. Seems like an extra step, but if it is a transparent one, then who cares. On the other hand, maybe things don’t work the way they used to and I won’t like the new way.
Also, I can’t help but wonder what the auto-buy more traffic option was about? I’m pretty sure my old RapidShare Premium account had no traffic limits, which was kind of the point of the premium account. Now, it looks like that might not be the case and I need to start budgeting my traffic.
Actually, if that is the case, it looks like I’ll need to buy a Hotfile or Fileshare premium account instead, because I’m pretty sure that they haven’t changed the rules on their paying customers.
Grandfathering For Existing Customers
A very important consideration for companies to look into is the viability of grandfathering your existing users under the old rules of your service. Some times, this business strategy is the only way to keep a loyal customer base from abandoning your product in droves.
As I pointed out above, there are many competitors to RapidShare that are just as fast, just as stable, and just as cheap. There is little to keep a user from jumping ship at anytime. However, an established enterprise like RapidShare has a certain number of customers on auto-pilot. Like me — until today — these customers are likely to keep renewing and keep paying without comparison shopping with your competition. However, that only stays true if you don’t change too much on them. Draw too much attention to yourself with updates, features, and limits that weren’t there before and your loyal customers will suddenly wonder if they are not so much loyal, as dupes who were asleep at the switch.
When that happens, you better have the best service out there, because you better believe that they will go looking to find out, and what they will be looking for is not the newest, the latest, and the greatest, but rather what they had before.
Better make sure no one else is offering that before you pull the plug.