Keep the online vocal minority happy?

By May 30, 2007

The Pronet blog has a good, quick piece on a subject that’s of great personal interest to me. I’ve always been fascinated by social news/bookmarking sites like Digg and the regular displays of the mob mentality that often accompany some of these sites. But it goes beyond just Digg. You typically hear more from the vocal minority at either extreme when you venture online.

In this instance, a relatively small, but dedicated group of Linux fans used Dell’s new IdeaStorm area for customer feedback (complete with Digg-like voting) as an opportunity to flood the site with requests for Linux as an operating system choice.

What’s wrong with this you might ask? Nothing really. I’ve used Ubuntu Linux before (still have it running on an older machine actually) and it’s a great operating system. But I’m also not the average user. For the average joe, it’s still a far cry from Windows when it comes to compatibility, third-party software offerings and (for most basic users reared on Windows) ease of use if you ever have to dig your way past the desktop. Still, it’s definitely light years ahead of the Linux of old.

But when you consider that the average Linux user (at least the average, vocal, online Linux user who participated in this) is also the type of person who usually scoffs at the idea of buying pre-built systems from companies like Dell and instead prefers to build their own computer, then you see the great hypocrisy. They want a company to do something and are EXTREMELY vocal about it online, but most of them likely won’t ever actually buy the product they requested (with the expected adoption rate from the general public far lower than that.)

But as the Pronet article points out, even if the new Linux offerings don’t sell well, the fallout in the form of massive online publicity and (mostly) goodwill that will come from just offering the product could be worth it to Dell. Ethically it’s a potentially ominous trend – some might just call that highly-targeted public relations. But it might also reflect the greater reality that companies will increasingly have to deal with in an era when consumer opinion (vocal minority in particular) can be more easily heard.

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