Webconsuls Blog

Monday, May 31, 2010

Bystander Effect on Broken Blogs and Websites

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the bystander effect (syndrome) and how it can be applied to the Internet. I am not referring to the darker side of the Internet, I am talking about a typical website/blog that is designed for commercial e-commerce or business to business (B2B), personal/informational blog, news, government or a non-profit organization promotional site. Our society has been talking about the bystander effect for almost 50 years, and yes I know it is usually applied to life and death emergency situations, not unlike the good Samaritan that died in New York City on April 18th.

But back to the Internet and the bystander effect. I started down this path about six weeks ago when I saw a tweet from Chris Brogan which said basically: "People of earth, I know my site has been hacked." I think this was Chris' urgent way of telling his 135,000+ Twitter followers to stop sending him messages. I am almost positive that Chris really appreciated the first few tweets or emails from his followers, because one might be a fluke but multiple messages validate the condition, and besides I think Chris would do the same if he came across something that was broken (my assumption, but his stated principle to "be helpful"). I think Chris is lucky that so many people want to help him. More often than not, a site viewer will see or come across something that is broken or obviously incorrect and yet they won't take the time to tell the site owner, whose very livelihood might depend on this "head's up."

Let me give you two current examples, both involve $1,000,000:
  1. On May 21, Zappos.com announced that their sister site 6pm.com's pricing engine capped all prices at $49.95 for six hours. It cost them a loss of $1.6 million dollars. Is it possible that over the course of six hours not one regular returning customer of 6pm.com took the time to send a message to say "Hey, something looks screwy on your site!"? I hope you will read the whole article, because you will see that it was a programming error that resulted from bad code. Read all the comments about pricing engines, 6pm.com took the high road, but I would love to know if they received that one email that alerted them. (I learned about this story from Jodi Henderson's blog )
  2. On May 29th, I read a tweet from Jorja at Beyond the Pale that said: "RT the lonely world of blogging, comment anyone, anyone, buehler? comment, anyone?" and it linked to Savor the Ride (be sure to read all the eventual comments on this post, it will allow you to see how the story unfolded). I decided to see what this blog was all about. Guess what? The blogger, Ridgely Johnson, was offering $1,000,000 to the first commenter, as her last 20 blogs had received not one comment. A few tweets went back and forth between Jorja and me, finally I sent an email to Ridgely which said: "I happened over to your blog because @beyondpalegal (Jorja) tweeted about you. Not that I expected to win $1,000,000, but I cannot figure out how to leave a comment on any of your posts. I tried in IE8 and FF...no place to comment. Am I missing something, maybe this is why no one is commenting?"

    Today is Memorial Day. It is a solemn day, but I thought that maybe I could leave you with a scene from the wonderful 1986-1993 television series "Designing Women." This YouTube video is dedicated to Dixie Carter (Julia) who passed away April 10, 2010. Julia asks the proverbial question: "Why didn't somebody tell me?" Watch the whole episode, you won't be disappointed.

Designing women season 3 episode 15 by Mixedseries12
If you are having trouble viewing Season 3, Episode 15 "Full Moon," you can view it here.

Over this Memorial Day weekend, Chris Brogan and Julien Smith have been writing about "frames and assumptions." The stand out message is this from Julien: "Always be testing. Never stop questioning things you think are true, no matter how solid they may seem." This, of course, applies to all aspects of our lives, but particularly to our websites/blogs. Things happen, hacking occurs, links break, you hit a wrong button and you disable comments, no one tests your site in varied browsers (can look great on an Apple in Safari, and scream "Help" in IE8). Many bloggers are not technical and they cannot afford on-going technical assistance, so don't assume they know about a problem with their site. Don't be a bystander, speak up! Remember this is social media. Be social. Help a "friend."

I would love to hear your thoughts about all of this.


  1. For whatever reason, the idea of blogs without comments stood out to me. Sounds unfortunate, but then your follow-on that it was downright impossible to comment pointed to the technology issue.

    Yes, I think there are lots of people who could use just a smidge of tech help.

    I currently have a superhero fixing my hacking. She's kept me hack free for a little over a week, and suddenly, today, it looks like something came back. So, on a holiday (for the US, at least), she and I are fixing that.

    Without her help? I'd just stay hacked.

    It's great to point out that we need to get help to those who need it. A great message.

    Thanks for your thoughtful post, Judy.

  2. Chris, Your comment is important. This is a cause of mine, I know over the past few months I have been able to help some people out with my QA background.

  3. Judy, among my "mom" friends and my family, I am a techie hero, but in the blogging world, I am an idiot for all practical purposes and taking the time to learn these things leaves me little time to write or learn the other things about social media I need to learn. I so appreciated hearing from you that my links were screwed-up. You are so right, we all could use a little help from our friends. Thanks.

  4. Jorja,
    You are not an idiot...testing is a full time job, but sometimes we can help each other and ask a question. Because what if? Thanks for writing.

  5. Hi Judy,

    What a wonderful post on being helpful and treating others the way you wish to be treated.

    A few months ago I was tweeting with Chris Garrett on Twitter about being inundated with direct message SPAM. Chris made a great comment, he said "some of the folks I have DM'ed because I think innocent mistake and good people". Since then I have taken the time to communicate with people about certain messages and I can't tell you how thankful the majority of them are. Many times their Twitter accounts have been hacked into. Point is, a small helpful action goes a long way.

    On another note, thank you for your very thoughtful comment on my post, "What Will Happen to Your Business if Tragedy Strikes - My Personal Story" I appreciate your kindness!

  6. Holly,
    Thank you for your thoughts. Everything we do on the internet is a learning process, I like reading other's blogs, learning about them. At the same time, I have come to understand that if I don't join in the conversation, why should I expect other to do so.
    I hope you will stop by again. I don't blog everyday, as our clients are the priority.
    I have shared The Work At Home Woman site with my business partners.

  7. Judy, you've written about something I've never read or thought about before, specifically, the part that if you're a smaller blogger without a huge following and your site breaks, it's like being on a country road that only sees a few cars a day.

    Having said that, in the physical world, you'd be more likely to get help on a quite country road than a freeway. At least for Chris Brogan, that's where the web is different. Imagine a car breakdown on a big-city expressway where hundreds of cars stopped!

  8. John,
    I love your analogy of the country road. I am reminded of a few country roads that I traveled in New England. Many had multiple road #s. For example, the same road might be W112, N16/302, E25. You never knew for sure which way you were traveling. If you got lost or broke down you were more likely to have someone ask you "How'd you get here?" Frequently, I wanted to answer "if I knew that, I wouldn't need your help."
    Interstates/Freeways are also interesting. Many years ago California installed Emergency Call Boxes on the interstates. They were real lifesavers, pre cell phones. Now with cell phones other travelers will call 911 and report a breakdown.
    I guess the point of my post is that regardless of the type of road you are traveling, some time or another you might need help. And if you come across someone that needs help, offer a hand...map...link.
    Thanks for stopping by.

  9. Many, if not most, posts go by every day without comment. What I find memorable here is I am "the small town" blogger - but no different from Chris if nobody tells us something is wrong. I took care of the problem in 5 minutes-
    Judy will always be a special person to me because she knew something had to be wrong- I would rather have the panty hose version, can we go back? ;-?

  10. Ridgely,
    I think you are correct, so many really earnest bloggers do not receive comments. So sometimes, I think we need to reach out to our friends and ask them to read our blog post and really tour the site. As we used to say in the Information Technology (IT) department "Try to break it! If you don't, an end-user will, and it will take more time to find the pattern/path of the problem."
    "Designing Women" often offered powerful stories and storylines that we can still learn from today.
    I am happy to have met you, via Jorja.

  11. Hi Judy - I had your post open in my browser window to read when I saw you commented on my own post...quite the timing! :)

    I never really thought about this sort of thing much; I always assume someone else reported the problem so I never do. In fact, I was on movies.com this afternoon looking for showtimes for Sex and the City 2, when I clicked on the movie name and got the page for the newest Shrek movie instead. Ooops. I just shrugged my shoulders and said, "aw, they'll figure it out". After reading your post, I think I'll go tell them just in case nobody else has!

    And thanks very much for the link; it's much appreciated!

  12. Hi Jodi,
    I am glad you came by tonight. I know you are not alone about thinking someone else will report the problem. Sometimes problems, as you know from your post, can be very expensive for larger companies and relatively speaking "very expensive" for the individual blogger. If they never learn of a problem, then they can become discouraged.
    I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  13. Judy,

    Your recognition of the Bystander Effect in this type of case is so powerful and really hits home. Good for you for being the "Good Samaritan!"

    It's been such an honor and a pleasure getting to know you, Judy! I look forward to learning so much more from you. :)

  14. Lisa,
    Thanks for your comments. I really didn't write this to pat myself on the back, but more to use it as an example of what can happen to a site/blog without the owner realizing it. I remember when you first started to post on your blog, when you would respond to commenters your responses were not directly below the the original comment so it made it difficult for a reader to follow. But, my guess is, you realized this or someone pointed it out to you and you remedied the situation. You have a good size community following you and they want to see you to be successful. In the long run, each of our successes helps the next person.
    Talk to you soon.

  15. Love Julien's point to always be testing. He's right. I try to do this at least every week, if not every day with my blog. Do this differently, and see what else changes. Was there a direct connection between the two, or complete coincidence? Test it again in a slightly different way...

  16. Mack,
    You are correct about Julien's point. He is so succinct! He can say in one sentence what it takes me four paragraphs to address.
    As I said above, I spent a number of years as a Business Systems Analyst and QA supervisor. I hate test plans, but I know how important it is to execute a good one and how important testing your own site can be. Even if you have a webmaster, you must take responsibility for your asset. Stuff happens. There is a blog topic for you!
    Thanks for stopping by.

  17. Thanks for this! We're in beta with a new site and we're constantly testing stuff and our developers hate it for us. I say at least twice a day, "I don't care if it worked on your internal test, it needs to work externally." A lesson in patience, that's for sure.

  18. Gini,
    You are welcome. I do read your blog and I know that you are in the middle of a planned ecommerce product launch. As I have said many times in my IT life: "Try to break it! If you don't, an end-user will, and it will take more time to find the pattern/path of the problem."

    I wish you much luck with the new product. Let me know if I can be of service!!!



Thanks for your comment!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.