Eliciting emotion


I have a bot that emails me new Hacker News comments about DuckDuckGo. While I was sleeping the bot lit up with these comments, which collectively are the most vitriolic I've seen under a single story (about us) [1]. There are some counteracting comments as well, which I of course appreciate.

However, this post isn't about us. Over the years I've developed a very thick skin and I've tried to convey that to our team. These comments just prompted me to reflect a bit on emotion.

In marketing people like to look at the net promoter score and similar metrics. Underlying high scores are usually some kind of emotional connection with the company, the brand or the people behind them (or some combination thereof).
There are a lot of ways to engender lasting emotional reactions, e.g. customer service, personal engagement, compelling user experience, the feel of the UI, standing up for something, brand exclusivity, brand coolness, etc.

The presence of strong negative reactions often, though not always, means that there exists an opposing group of strong positive reactors. And that's what a lot of investors are looking for because it is a leading indicator of eventual success. It reminds me of USV in 140 characters: "invest in large networks of engaged users, differentiated by user experience, and defensible through network effects."

For DuckDuckGo, I've said as often as people have asked that our goal is not to topple Google. Our industry premise is the search engine market is opening up (for reasons beyond the scope of this post) and like the Web browser market there is increasingly room for multiple players that have different takes on search.

I get that our take isn't for everyone, or even most people. But I believe in our market premises and product vision of more answers, less spam/clutter and real privacy.

As an example, from the very beginning in the tech crowd we've taken flack on our logo and name. However, outside the tech crowd, the branding has proved extremely memorable for groups like middle-aged women. Go figure.

No one likes to see negative comments about their work--it's at the very least demotivating. But if you're eliciting emotion, you're usually on to something.

Update: some nice meta-discussion on HN.

Update2: I feel I've been a bit misinterpreted. I love feedback of all kinds, including negative. And I am listening to and appreciate it all. What I was trying to get at is for other people (who have less thick skins), it can really get them down. But it shouldn't since if they're eliciting emotion that's great.

[1] After getting these bot comments for a long time, I've noticed various trends that more or less predict the tone of the comment thread (on average). The story (especially the title since not all the commenters read the story) often frame the thread tone. There is a natural tendency to want to contradict the story, and do it first. And the first few comments have a lot to do with the overall comment tone. So if you have a hugely outlandish title (like this one) you'd expect the comments to take a counteracting balance to the extreme. There are also secondary effects like time of day a story is posted, which is a proxy for which people in the world are seeing it first.


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I'm the Founder & CEO of DuckDuckGo, the search engine that doesn't track you. I'm also the co-author of Traction, the book that helps you get customer growth. More about me.