Online Suicide and Anderson

Two points that were discussed last class especially got my attention. The first concerned the negative effects of networks and the second was Chris Anderson’s comparison between bricks and mortar and online retailers.

I was surprised by the shock of some class members when someone brought up the example of online suicides as a negative network effect. It has already happened in Brazil, not only in Japan. Two years ago a 16-year old boy committed online suicide in Porto Alegre, the city where I used to live. He used a method called “barbecue”, asphyxiating himself with the inhalation of carbon monoxide. He told his parents he was going to have a barbecue with his friends, asked them to leave the apartment, and fired the charcoal in the bathroom. He asked for instructions online, posted a picture of the bathroom, and left a letter for his parents. A retired American fireman in Chicago gave him instructions to pass out, because the boy complained that it was too hot in the bathroom in an online forum about suicide. A Canadian virtual friend of his became extremely worried when she saw the posts and called the police in Porto Alegre from Toronto. It was too late.

I was also interested in a question asked by one of my classmates concerning Anderson’s comparison between bricks and mortar and online retailers. In the beginning of chapter nine in The Long Tail (page 147), Anderson explains that less than 10% of American retail volume is online. I believe that he wrote about the traditional retailers because this business still retains an ample majority of sales volume even though it only offers the “head” of the curve. Anderson should have clarified this point in the beginning of the book because consumers accustomed to buy online (and perhaps MCDM students) tend to believe it is common.

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