Looking To Monetize Consumer Comments? Here's A <i>Really</i> Bad Idea For How To Do It

With thousands of customer comments being posted on products on many of the largest retail sites, the temptation can be quite strong to try and find a way to monetize that information, beyond merely enjoying stronger product sales. But one very popular news community—called Topix—tried an impressively horrible idea and got slapped down for it by the attorneys general of 23 states and U.S. territories.

What Topix did was tell its users that it would remove abusive or inappropriate posts. So far, so good. But it then started to charge $19.99 to perform a "priority review," to make the removals happen sooner.

Anyone else get the feeling that a non-priority removal is going to take an awfully long time? Maybe the police should adopt a similar approach? "We'll respond to all crimes. But for an extra $20, your violent-crime-in-progress complaint will be prioritized."

"We are calling on Topix to abandon its outrageous pay-to-police policy and I urge consumers to join us in telling Topix to stop exploiting pain and abuse on its site,” said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. "Forcing victims to pay in exchange for promptly stopping abusive, obscene and harassing Internet posts is exploitive financial bullying. The perpetrators, not victims, should be charged this unconscionable fee for making false or abusive posts."

Blumenthal was joined by the AGs for Kentucky, Arizona, Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington. It was also supported by the AGs representing Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

The issue here is not really what Topix did as much as how it reflects the desperation of online sites today to monetize Web activity however it can. We've heard some far-fetched ideas—albeit not as offensive as what Topix is accused of doing—from some substantial retailers about ways to leverage an audience.

Some e-tail sites attract substantial numbers of visitors who have no interest in buying but instead come for the entertainment the site offers. In difficult economic times, few revenue ideas are rejected out-of-hand. Let's hope the Topix situation reminds many that there do have to be limits.