Sarah Lacy wrote a response to the blogosphere's reaction over Cuil that I thought was very interesting. For those who don't know Cuil (pronounced "cool") is a new search engine founded in part by a high profile ex-google employee. When Cuil was ready to launch they briefed high-profile bloggers about the technology and how revolutionary it was but didn't give them an advanced look at it.
This led to a bunch of blogs writing glowing praise for the startup only to try it and realize the product...for lack of a better way to put it...stunk. The end result was that many blogs began the day with a post praising Cuil and ended the day with a post bashing it.
The question Ms. Lacy raises is "who is culpable for this PR disaster?"
So yeah, they screwed some things up. But doesn't part of the blame go to the blogosphere? I'm counting me in that too. I was probably too effusive. Like everyone else in the Valley, I find technology and new companies exciting and Cuil has a great story. But you don't make up for that by then eviscerating a company. It doesn't somehow balance out in the greater cosmic order. TechCrunch says the whole thing was Cuil's fault because they didn't let pre-briefed bloggers use the service. Ok, that was dumb, but take some responsibility!
This is probably the only place where I vehemently disagree with Ms. Lacy. This is entirely Cuil's fault and in fact they violated what may be the most cardinal rule of being successful which is that you should always try to set others up to succeed. Regardless of whether the blogosphere is right or wrong they were predictable and Cuil set up a situation in which they were very clearly going to come out looking foolish. That, to me, puts the blame completely on them.
Ms. Lacy goes on to say...
At some point, the tech blogosphere has to break itself from the junky-like addiction of having to get a story two seconds before the competitor. Can it really drive that much traffic when every other blogger got the same pre-brief? Isn't it better to wait a bit, use the service and write something smarter?
If we've got a 20-second hype cycle in the Valley, that's not Cuil's fault. And I don't think it's serving readers well either. If we write something is amazing in the morning and then total junk in the afternoon, does anyone looking to tech blogs for analysis keep coming back?
I don't really disagree with Ms. Lacy here as much as I think what she's saying is of little consequence.
In my experience, individuals can change how they react to the world but cultures really can't. A cultural reaction will persist no matter what. Society might become more enlightened in how they view the world but that only changes what they react to not how they react.
Let me see if I can make that clearer.
The colonies that eventually became the United States developed an aristocracy very quickly. These aristocrats largely treated the commoners with disdain because those commoners were seen as different and hence inferior. Then immigrants started flooding in and suddenly the native commoners weren't so strange anymore which led to the aristocrats and the native commoners treating the immigrants with disdain. Then people with different skin color came along and they were the different ones. and so on, and so on, and so on...
So what was considered "different" constantly changed but society's reaction to those who were different stayed the same (and has to this day). Because society's reactions don't change.
In that same sense, you can say (as Ms. Lacy did) that the blogosphere needs to break itself from "having to get a story two seconds before the competitor" but you have to accept that it never will. She might make that change in herself but the blogosphere will remain the same. Which brings me back to my point.
If you have a startup and you are getting ready to reveal it to the world you have to plan for the scenario as it is and not how you wish it would be. The fact that the blogosphere makes knee jerk reactions might be disheartening to an extent but it gives the situation predictability which is golden in PR.
In the end, the blogosphere's tendency to react is as much a gift as it is a curse.