Recently I told you how smart the guys at amazon.com are. Today, another smart Internet site: www.reference.com. It is to news groups and forums and “mailing list” discussions what Lexis-Nexis or AltaVista or somebody is to searching newspapers and magazines. And it’s free.

  • It lets you store your queries (so if you are interested in what people are saying about Presley Industries, you can just click the previously stored “PRESLEY NOT ELVIS” search you stored, along with other criteria you used to define the search).
  • It lets you instruct it to search automatically at regular intervals (you tell it how often), gather up the messages that mention Presley Industries (if there is such a company) and then e-mail them all to you in a single file. So it’s like a cyber-clipping service.
  • It’s a good way to find news groups and forums and discussion groups on topics of interest to you.

Of course, we are not talking “the media” here. Reference.com won’t turn up neatly edited articles from Fortune or the New York Times. But if you’re the brand manager for Sugar Frosted Flakes, it gives you a way to see what real people, unedited, have been saying about your product.

I just picked that topic off the top of my head, but then figured I should go see if Reference.com would pick up anything. Sure enough, on August 31 (for example), Chris Clarke and Peggy M. had this exchange:

Chris (responding to a guy named rabbit who had announced he doesn’t eat Brussels sprouts): “You don’t eat Brussels sprouts?” I think of them as another reason to stay childfree: I like them, and I don’t want my choice of them as dinner blocked by someone whose palate hasn’t evolved past the Sugar Frosted Flakes level.

Peggy: On the other hand, if I want to eat Sugar Frosted Flakes, or chocolate cookies, or a whole quart of ice cream, for breakfast, I can, because I don’t have to Set An Example. (My digestive system is another matter.) My stepson was remarking the other day how he’d like to be able to eat stuff that’s really bad for you nutritionally when he wants to but he can’t because they don’t let the kids eat junk food so he can’t either.

Now you never know. Maybe in that exchange is the kernel of a new ad campaign idea. Or a new insight for the brand manager. (And there were other references to Sugar Frosted Flakes for him to peruse, as well.)

If you’re, say, an author with a giant ego, you might search to see what people are saying about you. Remember: it’s unedited, un-fact-checked, and, for better or worse — real. I did a little search and found a couple of people extolling my humorous definition of IPO (initial public offering) — It’s Probably Overpriced. Now, to my knowledge, I never wrote this. I was getting credit for a clever phrase I had nothing to do with. But there it was ricocheting around cyberspace, everybody agreeing it was me.

(Actually, if the underwriter does his job perfectly — impossible in an imperfect world — it’s probably underpriced. At least if it’s a top-quality underwriter. A good investment bank will want to bring a company public at a price close to but lower than what the market would be willing to pay so that there’s a little bounce, and it gets off to a good start — and so that people continue to buy its offerings. Of course, there are periods when the market is so hot for new issues, they’re all overpriced — and jump up anyway. And it’s also true that not all IPOs are underwritten by quality firms. So this definition, whoever came up with it, ain’t half bad.)

 

 

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