Lisa Shea and About . Com
Many people have asked me why I left About . com in October 2004. First, read Lisa Shea's History to get my background, and to know that I had some of the first wine notes on the web. In 1998, The Mining Company found me, said my notes were they best they'd seen and asked me to come write for them.
From 1998 to 2004, I worked extremely hard on my wine material as the company changed from the Mining Company to About. I organized a local gathering of "guides" in Boston, I had one of the first live pronunciation guide to wines on the web. I put up thousands of reviews, thousands of photos and of course helped countless individuals with their wine questions. I was often praised by management for my pages and other guides were pointed at my pages to learn how to do advanced things. I was thrilled by being able to help my visitors out with their questions. I actively set up radio interviews, newspaper interviews and even a TV show appearance to promote my wine site and About.
But About was bought out by Primedia, and things began to change. Pop-ups and intrusive ads filled the site. I still worked very hard on the site and on actively promoting it, tuning keywords and developing popular content. But I rarely heard from management. People would write me to ask about reprints, I'd forward the requests to management and never hear back. But my traffic kept growing and my site was in the top third of all sites at About traffic-wise. So I kept at it.
Then, in October of 2004 I received an emotionless note saying that they'd understand if I left. I was COMPLETELY baffled. My traffic was high. It was climbing. There were 2/3rds of other sites at About with less traffic. I was getting #1 results on Google. Why was I being targetted? The message seemed to indicate that they had another person who wanted my site. Given the time, energy and publicity I'd poured into the site over the years, I immediately asked to remain.
First, they asked me for a full site map and plan for the future. I put many hours into the effort and got it in before their deadline. It almost seemed that this was beside the point - that really they had hoped I wouldn't do it and could therefore be dropped at that point - because all they said in response was "only write wine reviews". Management said that they didn't care what was popular on my site - they wanted me to write wine reviews. I tried to discuss this with them and apparently there was no room for discussion on it. OK, I wanted to keep the site, I had to play by their rules. I bit the bullet and in short order wrote three multi-page reviews for them:
Merlot Review | Shiraz Review | Burgundy Review
The manager then reviewed my site. I knew they really had made up their mind when the review date was a Friday, and first thing Friday morning my email stopped working. I had to wait until around 4pm before they "decided" and sent me email (to my personal account). His response note to me had only these points:
* I should not have any disclaimers about "your mileage may vary"
* I should have listed the wines tasted from best to worst
* I should have told people which wine WAS best, and which was worst, in each tasting set
* thick and thin, water/cream as a mouthfeel description was too confusing; no mouthfeel references should have been included at all
And that was it, they asked me to leave.
I wrote back for more clarification but never heard anything else from anyone at About. Apparently this new writer "really" wanted my site and from that first message their only aim had been to get me out in a legally sound manner. In their final review, every point they mentioned was one I feel strongly was incorrect. There are very sound reasons for me doing each item the way I did. Not only that, but if they really wanted me to list the wines "best to worst", they could easily have told me that during the review period, where I was repeatedly asking for feedback.
My site has always been focussed on helping a wine drinker learn to develop his or her own palate, to trust in the wines they like and to then be able to taste wines and judge how they will suit them. It appears About wants instead to tell people which wines they SHOULD drink and not bother to educate them in why. Maybe this helps them market to the wineries chosen as the "top wines"? This is about as opposite of my aim as one could get. Honestly, when I hold tastings with 6 people, there are MANY times that each person chooses a different favorite. There is no such thing as a "best Chardonnay" for all people.
To me, it very much feels like I spent over 6 years building up an anti-pornography site, putting my own money, time and energy into publicizing it - only to have a porn site buy it and use that traffic for their own reasons.
The situation both upsets and releases me. I am upset that after years and years of bending over backwards and putting my personal life on hold many times to meet their demands and deadlines, I am treated with such little respect. When they let me go on Oct 15th, they explicitly said my name and likeness would remain on the site until Oct 22nd. I thought I had time to say goodbye to my fellow guides with dignity. Instead they took down my name and photo (but not my content!) just an hour later, before I could even talk to anybody. The site always has a huge peak in traffic in December, thanks to the many radio shows and publicity efforts I have done over the years on the topic of Champagne. They are taking this action "just in time" to give all of that traffic spike to the new writer.
On the other hand, I have chafed for a while now at the direction About is taking in general. I haven't had personal feedback from anyone in management there in months, if not years. Us guides usually had to answer each others questions. The new article layout made it impossible for me to include even medium size photos, which were critical for many of my instructional pages. My visitors complained constantly about the pop-up ads and the ads stuck in the center of my content. It became hard to even read content as it threaded its way around and through various ads.
My goal has *always* been to provide free, useful wine content to people, to help them learn more about wine. At About, I was beginning to feel like a prostitute, forcing readers to wade through ads to find my words - and now they wanted me to tell people What to Drink.
So it definitely appears to have been time to take charge and run my own site again, as I had in the 80s and 90s. I hope you enjoy browsing here at WineIntro.com, and feel free to email me if you have any questions, comments or suggestions!
Dec 2004 Update
They did in fact put a new guide live. Her first few articles were:
* A list of toasts about Champagne
* A list of quotes about Champagne
* An article on Champagnes to buy
Note that the first two weren't even wine reviews, which About said was all they wanted. The third article was in essence what I did every year, a review of a variety of Champagnes to help people know what to choose for the new year. However, she didn't even review them. She just listed the names of the ones she wanted you to buy with NO information about which were fruity, which were toasty, which were dry, etc. Given the HUGE range of flavors in sparkling wine, this is critically important! Not only that, but she listed them in price order which was *exactly* what I was told not to do. She did NOT list which was best and which was worse in each group. She just put out a flat list of "buy these because I told you to".
It really proves that About's comments on my reviews were completely inane and meaningless. They had someone else they wanted to put into that spot, and they found a way to do it. In addition, I am the owner of BellaOnline.com, something which is EXPLICITLY allowed in the About contract. But it appears that About did not like having "another website owner" in their system, and wanted to make sure I was pushed out. So they did, in an extremely questionable manner.
Lisa Shea's History
Contact Lisa Shea
All content on the WineIntro website is personally written by author and wine enthusiast Lisa Shea. WineIntro explores the delicious variety and beautiful history which makes up our world of wine! Lisa loves supporting local wineries and encouraging people to drink whatever they like. We all have different taste buds, and that makes our world wonderful. Always drink responsibly.