Back in 2004 all was well in the new world of Web 2.0. The virtual sun was shining, the purple cows were mooing and the peoples rejoiced as they freely shared their opinion with the world on anything from foaming toothpaste to Sony malware software.

They expressed themselves as freely as Simon Cowell on amateur night, without fear of insult or attack. In some cases, people listened and applauded their assertiveness, their bravery in standing up to the man while mimicking a classic Twisted Sister song.

But then dark clouds started forming in the happy land known as Web 2.0 world.

First along came the troll. A repulsive smelly beast who wasn’t familiar with the golden rule of ‘attacking the problem, not the person’ and like any other coward, happily insulted and vilified innocent citizens of Web 2.0 from the comfort of their own lounge (although it was more likely their mother’s basement, a more common habitation of the modern troll). In some ways, Web 2.0 had brought it on themselves. By inviting one and all to share their free-spirited rainbow community, they had opened the door to darker elements they had no control over. As painful as it was for the sensitive souls of Web 2.0 to have their feelings hurt and their opinions crushed, in time they came to accept trolls as the price of freedom. And henceforth they received their punishment in the form of being assigned the nomenclature – trolls.

But netizens of Web 2.0 were in for a rude shock. Their democratic world of free-spirited opinion-making was in danger from a new enemy – The Man.

Corporations were beginning to realise that the voice of Web 2.0 was starting to get a little too loud for their liking. Shock horror, these hopeless layabout bloggers were starting to get noticed. People of notable repute, people who had real jobs (well mostly), were even getting in on the act like Michael Moore, Alec Baldwin and Britney Spears. No longer content to get a grubbing while watching helplessly from the sidelines, The Man fought back.

He employed the casino-equivalent of a knee-breaker, a consultant. The consultant is a cunning animal who makes up for any lack of actual skill in a unerring sense of smell that sniffs out any weakness in the opposition and pounces without mercy or conscience. While drafting up large invoices they suggested to The Man to fight back they would need to infiltrate the Web 2.0 community, posing as just another innocent villager. And the internet made it easy for them. Before long companies like Sony, McDonalds and Walmart had all been exposed writing fake blogs, or flogs. Fake reviews, sponsored articles and brand mention software that monitored everything from Twitter to the most inconspicuous blog for anything that might put them in a bad light, and turn the PR hoses on it before it got out of hand (i.e. noticed). Or even worse, employ overpaid consultants to turn it around and convert it into an opportunity to spin some grade-A marketing baloney.

Which leads me to what sparked this post. I won’t mention the company because I’ve said what I wanted to say and, like I’ve mentioned, they’re out there and they’re listening ;p. Recently I’d requested a company offering free website audits to do one on a site I had recently adopted. I wanted to see if they could suggest anything I couldn’t do myself. As it turned out they needed to actually talk to me for 45 minutes, time I didn’t have (and to be honest I’m not sure why they couldn’t review the site without talking to me but obviously it’s just a way for them to collect leads so chewing your ear for three quarters of an hour perhaps increases their chances). So I wanted to either just get the report or I’d leave it. The next thing I know I get an email saying they’d made contact with my client and ‘thanks for the referral’. Now I’m grumpy – and possibly made worse by the aftershock-induced sleep deprivation and that my dog had died two days before. So I made my complaint to a popular NZ forum, because that’s what Web 2.0 is all about right? Being able to vent? What ensued was interesting.

Of all the comments made, only two were mildly critical of the actions taken by the company (who IMHO should have left the ‘sales lead’ where I left it rather than contacting the client directly). The rest seemed to quite happily avoid the actual issue and instead talked about how grand the company was, even mentioning how they had been helping take down chimneys in earthquake-struck Christchurch. Not only were they far off the original topic but they were using the recent earthquake to promote just how wonderful they were. Don’t even get me started on that. To make it worse, trolls (or possibly the company’s own fanboys) referred to me as a ‘whining upstart’ and naive. My legitimate complaint had become more an opportunity to have a go at me and create some nice publicity for the company concerned (they even tweeted about it).

I had to admire how they’d twisted things around but it got me thinking that perhaps Web 2.0 is no longer the voice of the customer. What do you think? Has the world of forums, blogs and other social media platforms become too corporatised? Is marketing on the web out of control? Or perhaps I’m just trying to sell you something. Don’t think about it too much.

Is Web 2.0 no longer the voice of the people?
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