The State of Affairs… part 1

Just off the plane back from the 2011 Sea Otter and there was plenty of things to ponder, after being on the front lines for 4 days.

As most know, I went over there on official business, doing the Mountain Cycle thing for the 4 days. It was a big event for us as a company, as it was the first time in somewhere around 10 years that Mountain Cycle fronted new bikes to a public audience. The reaction to the line was fully positive, especially when one considers that there are still some tweaks to be done to colours and details. Riders, press and even industry were all amped to see the line and many excited and good things were said, including the all important when and where can I buy. It’s somewhat gratifying after what has seemed a long period of being locked to a screen.

The same though can not be said for reactions of the infamous forums. While most of the online press guys we spoke to were, or at very least seemed to be, genuinely interested and showing a keen interest, the forum crowd took it on themselves to be judge, jury and executioner of our bikes. There are a number of things in what spouted forth that I find interesting and at the same time somewhat sad…

They say any PR is good PR. That is true. It is also accepted that for every one who feels it essential to hop online and spout negativity, there are at least 10 that are positive that never say anything. My own experiences with forums, both running and partaking in, over the past decade show that this is basically true. For some reason, it’s mostly those with negative things to say, that say. I’m not Freud, so I’m not going to analyse why this is so, I have my own theories but they are just that. On the Mountain Cycle side, the simple fact that so many felt he need to come out to say ‘something’ tells us that we have done something right, as most things in this over-saturated market elicit very little response. That so much of it was vitriolic is not only interesting but also says we’ve done something that challenges people. It’s been a while since I for one has seen this happen in the MTB world and it’s a good sign.

At a deeper level though, what’s unfolded on forums over the past days is unsettling; the unfounded, ignorant and uneducated rubbish about not only our but other’s lines is truly outstanding. As mentioned, I have been involved with forums since 2000 or so, the early days of mtb forums and before most that are big now even existed. Over that time, I as well as others have noticed a distinct change in the way people interact and even the sort of people that interact on them. Once forums were an avenue of open discourse on a common interest, now though they seem to be the places where mostly angry, negative people with self important views like to espouse them. That does not mean everyone who partakes is like this but over many forums, especially those that display very little form of regulation, this type of ‘we hate everything but know all’ frequenter has become the norm.

It’s very disappointing.

Online media is gaining ground (over traditional) and I for one am a big proponent of it, always have been. But there is much speculation about the ‘professionalism’ of the media, as it is generally viewed that any person with a hint of coding ability can put up a site and suddenly call themselves a media outlet. I’m not so sure, after all, media, any media, is a form of personal expression or personal views in one way or another, so therefore one could say that any one person’s opinion is as good as the next. What to me though destroys even the best website media is where the person running it thinks that just because they run a website, they suddenly know everything. The net result is that they then begin to think or feel they are suddenly ‘important’. That’s just farcical. The other ‘issue’ is the forum, or more specifically, an unregulated forum that is let run free and loose so users can say any rubbish that springs to their minds without any form of moderation. There is nothing more useful or friendly than a well managed, focused forum but those are now the exception more than the norm and that is what I view as a critical mistake.

Mountain Cycle itself has made it’s own mistakes. My predecessor made some outstanding blunders online that landed MC into all sorts of issues. At the same time, it highlighted that while forums are a great way to talk with your audience, unless that discussion channel is managed, it will create all sorts of problems for everyone involved.

Ultimately, from where I sit as someone who makes the calls about advertising spend, there is very little attraction to give money to any website that has what can best be described as a cathartic, vitriolic user base or even ‘owner’. What’s the point? Some might say that forums and websites in general are and should be places of ‘open voice’ but when that open voice is let run free, ultimately making a website come over as a juvenile school yard, it pulls the whole website down, making it an unattractive option for spending money.

Website owners and managers need to make the call, do they want to be regarded as serious mtb media outlets and command the same rates print magazines do for advertising, or do they want to remain the media that we all ‘entertain’ but only because they are cheap and ultimately disposable despite the apparent visitor rates? To me, the call is clear, I’ll entertain only online media that is either closed or at very least controlled. I have seen many big, successful, ‘targeted’ websites open comments or forums only to close them down due to the damage they create, so I don’t buy the idea that just because something’s online it needs to be open for all to espouse their views; it’s the equivalent of printing all the mumbles that come out when reading print magazines – can you imagine?

For me, and Mountain Cycle, we have decided to end any involvement in open public discussion forums. There is little point entering into cyclical arguments (in the guise of ‘discussion’) with an audience that wants to argue, or feel they know better than everyone else. It’s all too easy to ultimately loose one’s patience/temper no matter how good the intentions are at the start and to some extent, many get the feeling that that is all some people want to see. We have our forum, facebook page and twitter feed, more than enough scope to interact directly with our audience without needing to engage in endless public forums.

Sad but true but I know that I, and we as a company, are not the only ones coming to this same conclusion.