YOGATRAIL: On Trial

YOGATRAIL is a directory of web pages claiming 170,000 people have signed up already.

If these statistics are true, it would mean a tiny team have already achieved one of their main aims in just a few years in becoming the most popular yoga network in the world.

Image credit: Asian Entrepreneur

…we are particularly concerned that the Yoga Alliance (and the 20 or so other credentialing organisations) essentially are a racket of individuals and groups who sell certificates and credentials that have little actual merit. YogaTrail aspires to be very different: we don’t credential anyone, and we don’t endorse any particular style of yoga, or credentialing organization, etc. Alex Klein, CEO (YOGATRAIL)

Ouch!

YOGATRAIL is based on the familiar model of social networks. Anyone who registers can add and share personal data and information about their activities without paying, in the hope they will build an audience large enough to to sell advertising to.

In comparison, pay-to-play sites like YOGA ALLIANCE and IYENGAR demand expensive fees for the initial credentials as well as other financial commitments to continuing professional development and recurring membership subscriptions before they can publish their personal data on their sites.

YOGATRAIL users get access to a fully functional website, but must add more personal data or pay to access more benefits. It is based on a model that creates a platform off of the platforms of the teachers and centers.

Lots of teachers feel that there may be an advantage to listing if there is going to be traffic generated that does not originate from their own properties. But the model only works if the teachers can be convinced to give up their individual platform to serve YOGATRAIL with the idea their work will be more visible online.

But who stands to benefit the most? Is it the gatekeepers or the teachers and centers?

THE PROS

The YOGATRAIL project is built on the aspirations of its developers with a keen understanding that if you are going to pin your future on making money from individuals, then you had better address the issues they care about most if you want to keep the money rolling in.

It does a great job of providing practitioners with contemporary ways to connect, a kind of cash register style of representation, clearly wanting to compete with directories like YOGA ALLIANCE that are linked to their own, self-styled credentialling program.

  1. The user interface is very good, it's very contemporary, user-friendly and delivers very good user experience using a number of sophisticated, and seductive tech gizmos and fancy licks so people will be more attracted to it
  2. It's pretty quick to register and carry out basic tasks too, and with timely nudges to encourage users to make the most of all the features, many people will find the design appealing
  3. The tone of the site is kept very light, bright and breezy so this is an improvement for anyone who prefers this rather than the slings and arrows of twitter or a facebook group.
  4. Many people involved with yoga are very sensitive and the internet is not generally kind to sensitive people who often prefer to stay within the boundaries of a network of friends they can team up to care and support what they are doing. Even if your profile won't ever get to the top of search listings because of the payment structure YOGATRAIL feels better than some of the more pompous places where it feels like it's a competition just to get your stuff seen.
  5. Social relationships and a welcoming tone are important and YOGATRAIL does better at this than most of the other sites I've visited, (shame the CEO didn't read the memo though).

THE CONS

1. Privacy

  1. Having to provide so much personal data on the same system as independently verifiable, geospatial data and other facts about the locations (such as who's responsible for the activities and contact data) to fully benefit from all the YOGATRAIL features means any security vulnerabilities and breaches could result in large amounts of personal data getting into the wrong hands… and this kind of thing is real.
  2. Storing personal data on a single database with no clear self-service links either to change privacy settings or delete account information makes it difficult to separate out the facts from the puffery and to switch to other services in the future
  3. Some people are not aware that their information is used by YOGATRAIL for targeted advertising right from the outset, so in the event of a change in management, it could all end up in the hands of an entirely different company.

2. Trust and security

It's very hard to find out the sorts of risks YOGATRAIL subscribers might be exposed to.

Public information about the nature of profits, loses, assets and liabilities and so forth is hard to come by:

  • there's no physical mailing address (only a post box located in the main post office building in San Francisco, California)
  • the database systems are located in Germany
  • the domain name is linked to an address in Richmond, Virginia
  • Team YogaTrail is based in Chiang Mai1)

So, it's really hard to know where to even begin a search for verifiable business information - is it California, Germany, Thailand or Richmond?

Reviewing financial information about the company, or the remuneration of the highest paid staff, main shareholders or the risks the company may be exposed to is also obstructed by the confusion around who's ultimately responsible if things go badly wrong or who stands to benefit if things go well.

Some practitioners I am sure would love to know how vulnerable YOGATRAIL is to simply closing down and perhaps the chances of thousands of people losing money - as well as who stands to profit most if it does do as well as the owners want it to.

YOGATRAIL doesn't seem to be either a registered charity or a registered community company with the IRS and so whereas YOGA ALLIANCE and other companies of that type all do publish lots of company information, YOGATRAIL is competing against them while expecting visitors to excuse it from the normal obligations to publish data like many of their competitors do.

Without being able to find any information on the website or from any other sources, visitors might want to assume that profits are distributed to private shareholders rather than reinvested for community benefit, so the system appears to be run for the benefit of a few individuals.

Keeping everything secret is the norm for privately owned companies, while giving an impression of being open, transparent and community minded fits in with the free market economy with a social conscience idea, albeit with very little idea about what people working in the public and non-profit sectors usually expect in terms of practical measures to be taken to ensure either openness or transparency.

The SSL certificate2) on the YOGATRAIL server also doesn't supply any ownership information, even though the site does collect customers credit card details.

In an email, CEO, Alex Klein talks about some of these issues (highlights added):

An email from the CEO

Dear Mr. Wits [sic],

…Let me just simply tell you that YogaTrail doesn’t “fail to meet expectations that community-minded people like you might have”. We’re completely community minded, as well as open and transparent about pretty much everything.

…We’re not based in California, and are not interested nor obligated to list with the secretary of state in California.

…Our financial information, particularly the renumeration of staff is not the business for the general public, and certainly not hostile individuals such as yourself. Shareholders and Stakeholders in YogaTrail is public information, and you may do your research.

…Lastly, I would like to tell you that I find the tone and content of your emails …outlandish and offensive. I’m not sure what you’re fishing for, but please direct questions and complaints about YogaTrail to me directly in the future.

Kindly,

Alex Klein Cofounder/CEO

The email is fairly emphatic about what YOGATRAIL isn't and what it therefore doesn't need to do, but neither does it inform me or leave me with much confidence. I have since emailed Mr Klein twice asking for factual information about the structure and management of the company, and for some basic assurances and clarification about the nature of it's operations, but the last email I received simply stated: No further comments..

NOTE: (from the terms and conditions)3) This Website is operated by a US entity and this Agreement is governed by the laws of the state of California, USA. You hereby consent to the exclusive jurisdiction and venue of courts in California, and stipulate to the fairness and convenience of proceedings in such courts for all disputes arising out of or relating to the use of this Website. You agree that all claims you may have against YogaTrail arising from or relating to the Website must be heard and resolved in a court of competent subject matter jurisdiction located in California.

3. Escalation / personal over-commitment

  1. If YOGATRAIL goes bankrupt, it can leave practitioners vulnerable to recovery costs. All the data is stored with on one system, so they may lose access to webmail, personalized news feeds, calendars and all the other services all at once.
  2. Certain features are only available with a subscription, so some practitioners will gain a significant advantage over those who don't pay, so it's competitive - on that level
  3. The tendency is to nudge practitioners into providing more and more personal information or buy extra features
    • Unless individuals verify their email, their data is invisible and won't show up in searches
    • Unless individuals link their personal data to a location, their visibility in some searches by location is compromised
    • Unless extra features are paid for, data may not appear:
      1. in local listings
      2. from many parts of the website and mobile apps
      3. with a link back to the individuals own website
      4. with links to social pages
      5. to improve Google ranking for individuals own website
      6. in widgets to display schedules
      7. in emails to students and clients
      8. to show stats and views of YogaTrail profile
      9. in workshops, teacher trainings and other events promoted to local yogis in emails & newsletters

4. Systemic bias

Finally, if you visit YOGATRAIL you'll see much more of the kind of yoga from mainly, physically able, white, middle aged women who are comfortable (or naive perhaps?) about posting images and videos of themselves (almost always) demonstrating impressive feats of fine postural balance, stamina, endurance and demonstrating unusually high tolerance to joint pain, like this. Competitive yoga? hmmm….

5. What of the future?

With YOGATRAIL gaining in popularity and coming out so hard against YOGA ALLIANCE, does it matter if the non-profit 200/500hr credentialing model becomes a thing of the past?

The hardest problem for YOGATRAIL will be un-skewing it's tailor-made system that has been designed specifically, (or perhaps even cynically?) to meet the preferences of what is a ready-made audience - an audience made by companies like YOGA ALLIANCE over decades.

In coming out so hard against the competition though, YOGATRAIL could be accused of biting off the hand that's feeding it, and also suffer despondency from practitioners who have put so much time into their existing credentialling arrangements]] and thus, have much more at stake than those that haven't, and simply sign up to the YOGATRAIL platform for free.

Pressing ahead with credentials in their search results using their competitors credentiallng programs is not only inconsistent with the benefits they want to deliver (ie. cutting costs by bypassing credentialling completely), it's hypocritical and passing on these costs to non-profts seems somewhat parasitic.

A 'free' listing on YOGATRAIL might be the right thing to do for thousands of people, but such short term gains are overshadowed by the anguish haunting most practitioners that they are being played for the benefit of private shareholders in a profit-seeking tech company.

YOGATRAIL in some ways is one of the better opportunities for some folk that want to connect with each other online in what is a saturated market of trade directories and social networks, but is it really offering anything that Facebook can't do or isn't already doing?.

Without some finer attention to some crucial details, the opportunities to benefit from YOGATRAIL seem to be weighed heavily in favour of the owner of the system - whoever that might be. If anyone knows, or manages to find out more about who stands to gain the most from YOGATRAIL's success - please do get in touch.


CC Attribution 4.0 International Unless otherwise stated, all content is licensed under: CC Attribution 4.0 International