Schadenfreude is a word that loosely translates as ‘happiness in the face of another’s misfortune’. A good example would be when someone falls over into a muddy puddle and you can’t help but get a glimmer of enjoyment out of it. After all, it’s funny and it makes you feel better by comparison.
But while we might get some enjoyment out of the suffering of others, there is actually much more to be gained from the failure of others. More than being entertainment, we should try to learn from the failure of others and to avoid making the same mistakes they did.
Here we will look at five big websites that failed despite the best of intentions. In each case, we’ll discuss what went wrong, what they could have done differently and how you can avoid their fate.
Daily Rader was a website that dealt in gaming news. It launched in 2000 but unfortunately folded as soon as 2001 as a victim of the dot com bubble.
Fortunately the site managed to survive in spirit as it was re-launched in the UK under the name ‘GamesRadar‘ which has enjoyed much more success.
What went wrong with Daily Radar? Partly its failure can be attributed to its love of gimmicks and stunts. The site would often do things like smashing up consoles for link bait and was accused of being biased towards its coughers. It was a regular target for mocking by sites like Penny Arcade and ultimately a lack of journalistic integrity led to its downfall. The moral? Substance trumps over everything.
Nupedia was a site similar in many ways to Wikipedia but unfortunately lacked the public editing that made Wikipedia such a hit. Instead, all articles were extensively peer-reviewed. On paper this sounds great: ‘Wikipedia that you can trust!’. Unfortunately though, this led to very infrequent updates and by 2003 there were still only 24 articles. The moral? Content must be delivered consistently.
Even Google is not without its failures. Google Answers for instance, was a ‘knowledge market’ where users could pay other users to carry out searches for them and retrieve data. Unfortunately this created a breeding ground for plagiarism, uncertain legality and cheating on homework. All this led to the feature being shut down in 2006, four years after its introduction. Whenever you introduce a new online tool, make sure you consider all the ways it might be used!
Digg.com is still going, but is a shadow of its former success after a well-documented spiral into relative obscurity. Digg was originally a social site where users could share content they discovered online in a manner similar to Reddit. All was well until Digg introduced a huge update (with the aim of becoming more ‘Twitter like’) that removed many of the social elements that had previously made it such a success. Not only did this defeat the original objective of the site, but it incensed the existing fan-base so much that many of them jumped ship.
The lesson in this case is to know your audience and to stick to your mission statement. About turns will not be tolerated.
Again, MySpace is still around and in some ways it’s doing okay. There’s no question however that its glory days are behind it. In this case the failure can be summarized in one word: Facebook.
Unfortunately MySpace just couldn’t stand up to the competition presented by Facebook and looked slow, clunky and dated in comparison. Whereas Digg alienate viewers by changing too radically, it was MySpace’s reluctance to change that sealed their fate. There is a fine line to be walked there somewhere.