Pity the poor company that launches an awkward product these days.
Ten years ago you might have quietly withdrawn it from store shelves, letting it quickly fade from public memory.
These days no way ... you get ridiculed on the Internet.
The latest case is Nokia and its combination video game player, MP3 player and cell phone. As is the case with most of these all-in-one attempts, it looks great on paper, but turns out a little awkward in reality.
For you techno-savvy types, our game columnist, Chris Morris, did an in-depth review of this gadget, dubbed the N-Gage. All that nuts-and-bolts stuff about graphics rendering and gameplay typically goes over my head, but one thing in his review did sink in: Using the phone makes you look like a dork.
Apparently some other folks agreed and put together "Sidetalkin." It shows how people look talking into an N-Gage (something Nokia may have wanted to try). Then it goes on to show how folks look talking into other types of game players and electronic devices -- to the old Bee Gees tune of "Jive Talkin'." What a hoot!
"It's better to have some reaction than no reaction at all," said a good -humored spokesman for Nokia.
My buddy Chris Morris demonstrates the dorky look. Click for his review ...
And the jury is still out on whether or not the N-Gage is going to be a total loser. Nokia claims to have already sold more than 400,000 of the things since its early-October introduction. However, that number is how many Nokia sold to stores. How many stores have sold to consumers is unclear. The original $300 price has already been cut.
Regardless of whether N-Gage ultimately becomes a success, the episode points up something companies have to worry about now that they didn't used to not so long ago. The Internet provides an instant, widespread referendum on products. That's not to say you will always get one. Some products just don't capture interest. And the Net crowd, for obvious reasons, tends to eye high-tech products. But the things that do get interest, usually negative, watch out.
For instance, you can get some screamer "Gigli" reviews on the Web. My favorite is the site where a guy hopes he can solicit more in donations than the movie made.
Or the ubiquitous AOL disks that periodically show up in the mail. Those spawned several anti-AOL sites, like "nomoreaolcds.com" and "101 uses for AOL disks." (Hey, I'm in their corporate clan and use the service, but they STILL send me the disks too, so go figure.)
Of course, this is an offshoot of the crazes you periodically see spin through the Net. The Star Wars kid is probably the most recent example. If your corporate filters kept you immune from that one, it started with a video of a high-school kid doing some goofy Darth Maul imitations. Some of his classmates got hold of the video and uploaded it. Soon it was the most popular cyber-yuck around and dozens of tribute sites sprang up -- Disco Star Wars Kid, Matrix Star Wars Kid ... you get the idea.
For a corporation, how much this kind of ridicule affects the bottom line is questionable. It certainly can't help. Luckily, no corporation has done something so stupid that it is immediately measurable (but give them time).
In the meantime, corporate chiefs can take heart that the Internet memory is mercifully short. Anyone remember an early Internet celeb called The Turkish Stud?
Thought not, but "I Kiss You!!!" anyway.
Allen Wastler is Managing Editor of CNN/Money and a commentator on CNNfn.