Thursday, July 19, 2007

Whole Wild Forums

By this time, you've probably heard about the fiasco with John Mackey's forum posting on Yahoo! Finance and other message boards. Using the pseudonym Rahodeb (backwards for his wife Deborah), he posted positive things about not only Whole Foods but about himself and negative things about Wild Oats (the company that they are purchasing). The SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt says that its "bizarre and ill-advised, even if it isn't illegal."

I'm sure this isn't the only time that a CEO has jumped onto the message boards to pump up their stock but I think the bigger issue is one that has plagued the Internet since its existence, Anonymity. As that famous cartoon said, "No one on the Internet knows that you're a dog." Anyone can be anyone else. And that I think was not only frustrating for someone like Mackey but a way to fight fire with fire. I'm sure he encountered many anonymous posters that said negative things about his company that had no basis.

What can we do about this? I think within a year a social network like MySpace will have dropped in value significantly because of all of the anonymous bands, movies, porn cameras, and fake profiles on it. On the other hand, Facebook will continue to grow because of the verification standards that it has and the networks that you have to join. (Don't change this, Mark!) If I recall correctly, eBay has immense value because it is difficult for you to change your screen name (so I can't go rip someone off and then re-open and then rip another person off, etc).

If you realize, the networks with the most value that people come back to time and again are the ones where you can really verify who you are. This minimizes spam, threats, violence, anything that will detract from the true goal of the site! Perhaps this means linking a credit card to your site (even if you are not charged!). This is a tactic that eBay employs. Have other people vouch for you (like LinkedIn or Facebook). But I really believe that the anonymity of the web has to be curbed otherwise the value there will really diminish. (I hope that I don't eat those words when I find an example otherwise!)

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