It has many names. The Digg effect, The Slashdot effect, Farked, Goon Rush, Wanged and so on. This is an alternate look at the behaviors of web users and the problems it can cause that go beyond your server getting pounded like a womp rat on Tatooine. Everyone has seen it, and many of us have fallen prey to it. Let me ask you a couple questions; Is Michael Arrington a smart guy who knows about the world of Web 2.0 and internet startups? Of course. Does Michael Arrington ever get anything wrong? Of course. Does Michael Arrington have too much influence over a company’s future? He sure as hell does. To illustrate this point, I’ll give you examples of what happens in the offline and online worlds in which we live.
First let’s take this into an offline example and talk restaurant reviews. The new seemingly high profile restaurant opens up and receives a poor review from the New York Times. They’re certainly going to lose some business and there will be mentions of the New York Times review in other publications, but other major publications will also review the place and give their well respected opinions as well. There will be some reviewers that will be biased based on the NY Times review, but that’s to be expected and is obviously a normal occurrence. However, this method is more controlled and generally results in a more fair distribution of opinions and will more accurately reflect the quality of the restaurant.
Now let’s jump back into the online world. Hypothetical Interweb 2.0 super widget search site launches. They work long and hard and spend lots of investment capital and finally the TechCrunch crew picks up on the scent. Of course they get the beta invite and go in a do some testing. So a few days later Michael comes out with a scathing post letting all 600,000 of his readers know that this site sucks donkey balls and will be a miserable failure. Here is where we break away from the offline model.
Out of those 600,000 readers many of them are bloggers and many don’t have much of a mind of their own (don’t start ranting, there are many good ones, but there are far more bad ones). Secondly, most haven’t even tried the new service since they’re not cool enough to get an invite. So in order to maintain their “consistent blogging” status they post a regurgitation of the TechCrunch post. This repeats itself many many many times and the stories get Dugg, Sphinned, Farked, MadHatted, and so forth. The reach of the original post combined with the additional reach of the thousands of regurgitated posts and social media mentions equals a PR nightmare for the hypothetical company. And keep in mind there has only been one “actual” review of it at this point. Forget the Digg effect. This is the “Michael Arrington Ten Minute Soul Crushing Effect”.
The only hope at this point is for a large majority of other “A-List” bloggers to come out with opposite and extremely positive reviews. Hopefully the hypothetical startup really does have a kick ass service and it just wasn’t much of a turn on for the TechCrunch group.
In rare cases they can make a recovery. MyBlogLog for example came back strong after an initial mob reaction of “this thing sucks” (I don’t really know what TechCrunch said about them). I jumped on the ban MyBlogLog bandwagon quickly partially because the other cool people were doing it (I was a n00b blogger back then, give me a break). I’ve since changed my mind and have returned to using some of their services after some upgrades. It’s still a little spammy and buggy, but I like the avatars and such. It brings a bit more personality to my site. BlogRush on the other hand? Well, the jury is still out on that one.
There are many many more variables to this equation so don’t start ranting about all of them. The point I’m trying to make to all you other wonderful bloggers: Form your own opinion that is as unbiased as possible before you go joining a mob of bloggers. You can certainly take the words of Michael Arrington and others into consideration, but that doesn’t mean you always have to agree. Think for yourselves and be free!
(Disclaimer: I’m using TechCrunch and Michael Arrington as an example in this post. There are others that have major influence and even more that have too much undue influence. I have a lot of respect for both Michael and the people at TechCrunch. Michael, please don’t crush me under the weight of your all powerful startup killing boot heel should I ever get involved in one!)