I've written a handful of articles on weblogs (or "blogs") before mainly showing that blogs are an important part of the modern internet. You can see my posts about blogs here. I witnessed an interesting blogging phenomenon a few weeks ago that I want to share. What I witnessed is that the blogging community does indeed define itself as a community. When a blogger is threatened by mean people, other bloggers will come to rescue the threatened blogger, providing retribution and strong negative word-of-mouth if warranted.
Case in point... Blogger Thomas Hawk had an unsavory experience trying to buy a digital camera online from a NYC photo store called PriceRitePhoto. You can read the story itself on Thomas Hawk's blog in an article called "PriceRitePhoto: Abusive Bait and Switch Camera Store" but the short story is that the store was verbally abuse toward him and threatened to sue and send the police to arrest him because he rightfully told the store he was going to write about the store in his blog. His experience is indeed quite incredible:
At this point I thanked him and informed him that I would be writing an article about my experience with his company. It was at this point that he went ballistic. He first told me that if I did this that he would not cancel my order but just never fill it. If I cancelled it he said he'd charge me a 15% restocking fee. When I told him that that would be unethical he went nuts. He accused me of trying to "extort" him and said that he was going to have two local police officers come over and arrest me. He then went on to say that as a "professional photographer" I should have known better than to try and buy a camera this way and that he was an attorney and would sue me if I wrote an article about my experience.
He told me that I had no idea who I was dealing with and that as he had my work contact info that he was going to call both my immediate supervisor and the CEO of my company and tell them that I was trying to extort him. "I will take this very personally," he said. He claimed to have recorded our phone call and said that he would make sure that I would "never be able to order anything on the internet again."
Of course these threats only served to agitate me more. After about 20 minutes of this abuse I told him that I had to go and he refused to get off the line. He said that if I hung up that he would just charge me for the whole camera and never ship it. I hung up and he called me back. I left for my meeting and he called back asking to speak with my boss.
This is by far the most abusive situation I have ever encountered with any retailer on the internet.
But this is where the power of the blogging community sprang into action. Thomas Hawk posted a link to his article on a site called Digg.com, a site where users vote (or "digg") which articles are most newsworthy where the most newsworthy articles float to the top of all news stories. Thomas Hawk's article not only became the most popular article of the day, but within a 24 hour period had become the most "dugg" article on Digg for 2005. As of December 17, 2005, a total of 8176 people have dugg Thomas Hawk's post. More than 1000 people posted comments which you can read here (caution: includes some foul language induced by the anger created by the experience).
These 8176 people are the kind you do not want to upset if you are a retailer. They tend to be well-educated and technically-savvy and are among the most innovative and influential of all internet users. The biggest long-term impact of their involvement is that the name PriceRitePhoto will be forever associated with this scandal since many, many people (like me) have written about this. This causes the set of articles to float to the top of a Google search for PriceRitePhoto. Now about 50-80% of Google searches for the topic are links to Thomas Hawk's story.
Beyond linking, a number of Digg users went on a personal crusade aimed at putting the store out of business. Users discovered PriceRitePhoto has done this before many times and dug up BBB claims to prove it. Users also went out to all to post comments on all relevant sites like eBay and Yahoo. Some users even made prank phone calls, sent prank emails and tried to crash their computer servers. Users also discovered the company runs other business and has done what it can to discover and influence opinion about those locations as well.
This story obviously showcases the need to "do your homework" on who you may be buying from online, but also shows that bloggers do indeed form a defensive community.