Monday, December 16, 2013

My, What a Lovely Tangent You Have There: The Internet Discussion Group Mindset

I haven't gone off on a true rant in this blog lately, and this is going to be a relatively minor rant--something the kids are calling "first world problems" these days. But it's something that's starting to annoy the heck out of me lately. Let me provide an example:

Last week we had one of our products reviewed on an audio/video website. The reviewer then went onto a well-known discussion forum and promoted the product. His angle on the thread focused on the fact that our product could be the center of a great $1500 audio system. Instead of commenting on the product in question or asking questions about what made the product so special, hundreds of forum members started chiming in with their choices for the perfect $1500 music system. Pages and pages and pages of recommendations were made--and not one single response addressed the reviewer's original recommendation.

Now I know that's me being sensitive about my product, and lamenting a marketing opportunity gone to waste. But let me give you another example. The very next day I posted a link on my Facebook page. It was a YouTube clip of the opening credit sequence for the 2000 film Shadow of the Vampire with John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe. It's a great film that too few people have seen. The opening credit sequence is truly one-of-a-kind--it starts off with a panorama of a rather Gothic mural and slowly moves in to reveal all of the amazing and very creepy details, all to a powerful musical score. I saw this film in the theater, and the opening credit sequence was so intense and beautiful that it made quite the impression.

So when the film was shown on HBO on Halloween, I was reminded of the wonderful opening. A few weeks later I found it on YouTube and decided to post it on Facebook with the caption, "My favorite opening credit sequence of all time." I truly wanted to turn people onto this very cool clip and have them comment on it as well. But--you guessed it--it only inspired people to post their favorite opening credit sequences of all time. One guy said he preferred The Player, another mentioned that he'd vote for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. That's all fine and dandy--but I really was trying to share something with people and not have it dismissed like that. Delete, delete, delete.

I've been guilty of this mindset as well. Once a relative of mine made a couple of R&B recommendations on her Facebook page, and I felt compelled to call her on a couple of omissions to her list. Her rather terse response was, "Why does it always have to be a competition?" Her comment pissed me off at the time, but she was right. Why do we always feel compelled to bring our own tastes and experiences to someone else's observations? Why can't we let these comments stand as is, or perhaps offer a little encouragement?

This all reminds me of a talk show host who worked in LA in the late '90s. His name was Ed Tyll and he was obnoxious and irascible. He would introduce a topic, state his opinion on it and then ask people to call in and talk about it. The next twenty minutes of the show would consist of Ed yelling at people and hanging up on them--because they simply couldn't stick to the topic. They'd elaborate, extrapolate and go off on weird tangents, and it would piss off Ed to no end. "Just answer the question!" "Just stick to the topic!" "Stop trying to change the subject!"

It made for bad radio--Ed wasn't around LA for more than a year or two--but I'm starting to think Ed had a good point. When someone asks us a question, or shows us a YouTube clip, or makes a specific recommendation for something they like, they're not asking you to tell them your life story. They're not asking you to best them. They want to know what you think about what they just said, or what they just showed you. What the "Internet Discussion Group Mindset" shows us is that we're still far better talkers than listeners. Maybe we need a few more Ed Tylls in the world, keeping us relevant and on topic.

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