Fool me once, shame on you.

Neighbour cat.

In recent days I’ve become enamoured of the Hipstamatic iPhone app. It’s a camera app that let’s you combine ‘films’ and ‘lenses’ to get some really interesting looks that approximate a plastic camera. While I love the way the photos look, there are some there are some nice touches that kind of give you a bit of the mystery and magic you get with analogue. You can shake the iPhone to get a random combination of film and lens so you have no idea what your image will look like when its done. And it’s not an exactly instant thing. After you take your photo, there’s about three seconds of ‘developing’ and a few more seconds of ‘printing’. Lights flash and glow, showing you that progress is being made, and it adds to the anticipation enough to make it fun without taking so long it makes you impatient.

The Hipstamatic is one of those things I just fell in love with. And when I fall in love with something, I want to know more. So as I am want to do, I turned to teh interwebz to find out if the Hipstamatic was a real camera, like the Holga or Lomo, with an eye to buying one if they were.

I quickly found the ‘backstory‘ for the Hipstamatic. The story goes that the real Hipstamatic was the creation of two brothers, Bruce and Winston Dorbowski, in the early 80s. They wanted to create an inexpensive plastic camera that was accessible to anyone of any age who wanted to take a photo. They made 157 cameras and sold about 154 of them before they were tragically killed by a drunk driver on the way home from signing the lease on a new production facility. No more Hipstamatics were ever made and most everything related to the camera was destroyed in a house fire in 1993. The older brother, Richard Dorbowski, was eventually approached by some developers to create an iPhone app and thus it became so.

I was so touched – I thought it was amazingly awesome that the vision of these two brothers carried on decades later. I teared up. I Tweeted about it. But there was something under the surface that didn’t quite feel right. The photo of the ‘original’ Hipstamatic didn’t look real at all. It didn’t even look like something from the 80s. And it just seemed too convenient that everything was destroyed in that house fire, thus explaining why there were no images made with the camera, why there were no pictures of the original cameras being made.

The 'original' Hipstamatic, at least according to the file name. On one website the 'photo' (erm, CG much?) is credited to 'Master Donut' who, conveniently, is also listed as the creator of the now-deleted Hipstamatic Wikipedia page.

So I did a little bit of digging and didn’t find all that much. Pretty much every story on the web mentioning the Hipstamatic backstory took it at face value and repeated what was on the Hipstamatic ‘tribute’ site that Richard supposedly ran. There was one interview with the guys behind the company who made the app, Synthetic, but they stuck to the story. They even claimed to have used one of the few remaining cameras, but “sadly” they didn’t get to keep it.

Wait. You had an original Hipstamatic in your hands and never thought to take a picture of it?

The credibility pretty much falls to zero right there. A few commenters here and there expressed their cynicism about the story, but pretty much everyone just sucked it up. I decided to do a bit more digging and nothing I’ve found makes me think anything other than this is a story created as part of the marketing efforts.

  • No Wikipedia page for the Hipstamatic currently exists. It looks like it had issues when it was originally created in October 2009, when it was proposed for deletion: no sources, no evidence or assertion of notability; may be a hoax, may be an ad for new iPhone app, may be both”. The page was deleted in September 2010 for using copyrighted material taken from hipstamatic.com (ironic, no?).
  • A cursory search shows that Richard Dorbowski has a Facebook page and a Linked In page. Both use the same photo of an older, overweight man with a receding hairline shoving food in his face. Both say he’s Chief Comptroller of Neenah Paper in Wisconsin. (There are three manufacturing facilities in Wisconsin, but I don’t think I’m quite motivated enough to call from Australia.)
  • The Facebook page doesn’t have that many posts on it, and they’re either by Richard or by Hipstamatic. No one else. Ironically, Richard installed the Facebook for Android application so I’m thinking he’s not a big user of the Hipstamatic app.
  • The few people searches I’ve done show no ‘Richard Dorbowski’ in the United States, let alone Wisconsin.

A whois on hipstamatic.com shows a creation date of 2 October 2009 (five days before the first Wikipedia entry was created), but the posts on the blog start in June 2007. The discrepancy is ‘explained’ in that interview with the guys from Synthetic who said, “His blog went offline just after we reached out through email, and we didn’t hear back until we finally got a phone number, which was over the summer (we have since helped him put the blog back online).” Great, except that while there’s a two-year gap at one point, when he returns in June 2009 Richard apologises for not having posted for so long. One month later (29 July 2009) he posts that on that day he met with some guys about a Hipstamatic app. So it doesn’t appear that Richard’s blog was offline during his hiatus or immediately around the time he is supposed to have initially met with Synthetic. There’s only been one post after the domain name registration was created. To me it looks like it was all created after the fact.

So my verdict? Fake. Fake fake fake fake fake. You might have gathered at this point that I’m really bothered by this and you might be wondering why. I loved the whole Blair Witch Project thing when it first came out, and I’ve loved other viral marketing initiatives like what they did with the movie AI. But this is different. In this one, they are using my emotions and my sympathies to hook me into the brand and champion their story. They are using me, and I don’t like to be used. Especially by marketers (and I am one!). I think I’d have less of a problem with this approach if it was a bit more obvious that it was fake. If I didn’t feel slightly stupid when I realised I’d been had.

I still love the Hipstamatic app itself and will happily snap away, giving them my money for cool packs of ‘film’ and ‘lenses’. But I probably won’t go out and recommend it to my friends. I don’t have any particular warm feelings or affinity for the brand, and I should have. Not because it has some kind of tragic and yet inspiring history, but because it’s associated with a great product. The guys at Synthetic threw that away.

I don’t think any marketer today can underestimate the importance of being honest with their consumers. You need to let them in on the joke, not make them feel that the joke is on them.

In which I give Telstra the finger

Even as rumours of a new iPhone hitting the shelves in April came to my attention, I decided to break down and buy a new mobile phone today. Though not really in a place where I could commit to a two-year contract, and unable to hand over the cash to buy an iPhone 3GS or HTC Hero outright, I decided to get a Nokia e63 from Vodafone with a $49 prepaid ‘Flexi-Plan’. The phone looks like a Blackberry but costs $200 less than the baby Blackberry Curve 8250. Plus it has 3G where the 8250 does not. Throw in apps for things like Twitter, Facebook and of course Opera Mini and I was sold.

The first thing I wanted to do was port my existing number over from Telstra. I’ve had it for about three years and it’s based on my home phone from when I was growing up so I’m quite attached to it.

Unfortunately the pimple-faced geek at the Telstra Shop told me the computer said ‘no’.

I got the phone in my married name, which was only natural since I changed my name once CB and I got married. That would have been somewhere around April or May 2007. About a year ago, I got a call from a happy person at Telstra who suggested that I move my phone over to the home account for El Savings Massivo. I agreed and Tony Telstra moved it over to our home account in less than five minutes.

That was my first mistake.

No, wait. Getting married was my first mistake. This was my second mistake.

You see, while the original account was in my married name, my drivers license now has my maiden name on it. And Vodafone needed the name on my drivers license to be the same as on the account for the port to work.

So I scampered on over to the service counter at the Telstra Shop in the mall and explained the situation.

Timmy Telstra, the sting of ProActiv Solution still fresh in his eyes, squinted and blinked at me.

“I’m gonna need some documentation…”

Um, like what? All I did to change my license was to show my marriage certificate that had both names on it. I’m not divorced yet so there’s no paperwork there — and as I never changed my name with the Registry, legally I’m free to use my maiden name at will.

I laid out my driver’s license, which has the same address that’s on our home phone account.

I showed my credit card and atm card, both of which still bore my married name since Westpac never bothered to send me new cards.

Was that enough to prove who I was?

Timmy Telstra blinked twice and squinted again.

“I’m gonna need some documentation…”

Then he looked at the computer screen.

“But while you’re on the account as an authorised contact, and the mobile is in your name, the overall ‘One Bill’ account’s in your husband’s name – not yours. You’re going have problems trying to port your number.”

So while Telstra was happy to move the mobile account onto our home bill without so much as a peep from my husband, apparently I couldn’t regain ownership of the account (which I’d basically acquiesced with my actions) without CB’s approval. Once again I was hit by how much of myself I lost in this marriage and how I’d become dependent upon CB for so many things.

And with that, I was done. I was apparently a non-person to Telstra. And if I was a non-person I was also going to be a non-customer.

I scooped up my credit cards and license in a single move, and muttered something along the lines of “Fine. Whatever. I’ll just take all my business from Telstra.” I may or may not have used the F-word.

I went back to the Vodafone store where I informed them I had told Telstra to shove it and I would like a new phone number, thank you very much. I explained what had happened and the manager and clerk (both women) were kind and sympathetic. The girl who set up my account was so, so nice and willing to go the extra mile. After telling me that sadly I couldn’t pick my number on a prepaid account, she offered to go in the back and find a number I might like better. As I was unlikely to find something that matched my home phone number from when I was 12, I passed. But I was grateful for the offer and for the service (as opposed to the squinting, blinking and general apathy of Timmy Telstra … may his severe acne leave permanent scars).

Timmy Telstra didn’t just piss off a mobile customer who was already leaving. He pissed off a 13-year Foxtel subscriber. Thirteen years, paying at least $100 a month. That’s over $15,000. [And since my Foxtel account – which I got the first month I was in Australia – was also moved onto the home account, thanks to the solicitations of a Telstra sales call, I’m assuming that’s lost to me as well.] He pissed off a customer who makes 3–7 international calls a week. He made me so mad that I will never be a Telstra or Foxtel customer again.

I’m going to go Telstra free – I’ll skip getting a landline once I move to Sydne. I’ll use a mobile and naked adsl. I’ll buy a Mac Mini and hook it up to my TV, and buy shows off iTunes. I’ll buy DVDs of my favourite shows. I’ll watch content from teh internet. Hasta la vista, Telstra. I’d rather change my communications infrastructure and how I consume media than give you another penny to put towards funding Timmy’s ProActiv supply.