Missing the Point

The Web would be a hell of a place for lemmings. After all, most surfers find it easier to follow their leaders off cliffs of bad taste than head off to the left for a little experimenting. As arbiters ourselves, we try to be careful about where we send our readers -- it's our own reputation that gets maimed if we steer people to lame wastes of bandwidth. Obviously, it works the same for any other arbiter, but one company in particular seems to be forgoing this lesson in reputation- building in favor a little more exposure: It's called Pointcom.

If you haven't heard of the Point (http://www.pointcom.com"), you either have your graphics turned off or you're spending too much time looking only for sex sites (the Point is a G-rated service, after all). Pointcom isn't inherently evil; its reviews aren't bad, and the concept is worthwhile. The Point chooses about 20 new sites a day, rates them, and then sends people there via hyperlinks. The 5 percent is kind of randomly chosen. After all, measuring 5 percent of the 'net is like ranking the top 5 percent of fish in the ocean -- it's not exactly a static pool. Pointcom freely admits that, however, so we'll give it the benefit of the doubt on numbers.

We won't allow it leeway on some of its choices, however. The Point has gone from worthy service to merit badge Santa Claus, handing out Christmas GIFs to all the little kiddies. Nowadays, getting a Point badge is like getting an award for intramural soccer in seventh grade; sure, you can pin it up on your locker, but almost everyone has got one. Real awards don't come easily, and they can't be courted. No one campaigns for a MacArthur Fellowship, and there aren't enough to go around. That's what makes them special. Actually, the fact it comes with $100,000 makes it special, but the Point isn't that loaded. All it has is its integrity.

Don't think its integrity is in jeopardy? Check out some of the duds graced with the familiar blue logo. First comes Singles Web (http://www.ios.com/~hyson/singles/welcome.html), one of the poorest excuses for a dating service since Heidi Fleiss. The intent of this page isn't even subtly hidden; this is a slap-in-the-face appeal for a service that can't possibly do much good for anyone. ("Hey, I read your ad on the Internet. Want to get some coffee? Oh, you're in Prague. Sorry.") This page is boring, useless and asks for money. To top that off, the advice isn't even very good. Tip #10 for men: "Avoid calling your date Žstupid' unless absolutely necessary." When would that be necessary? When she slams your hand in the car door? A little quality control seems to be in order here.

A quick inspection of the assembly line might keep out sites like the Brown Curling Club (http://www.brown.edu/Students/Brown_Curling_Club/), a relatively attractive page, but a bit irrelevant, considering that visitors to the Point come from all over the world. Sure, there may be people out there who care about either Brown University or curling, but there aren't a heck of a lot who care about both. If looking good was all it took for something to be of general interest, Models Inc. would still be on the air.

The reason the Point does this is understandable; its badge links back to its site, so the more people that sport it, the more hits Pointcom gets. The more hits it gets, the easier it is to obtain online advertisers. It's a good deal. Letting a few dogs slip by doesn't really hurt anyone.

Except that everyone on the 'net knows that submitting an average site to the Point can mean extra hits, so now people are starting to campaign for the damn thing. Books for Children... and More (http://www.users.interport.net/~hdu/index.html), for example, blatantly beckons surfers to express their accolades: "If you find my site useful, please take a few minutes to tell the folks at Pointcom your opinion. They have appointed themselves the task of creating a list of the top 5 percent Web sites. I think the site belongs on their list; if you agree, please submit a review to them.Ó This is a site for kiddie books, for crying out loud. We hate to see such a pleasant resource prostituting itself. And the Point isn't doing anything to dissuade this kind of campaigning -- in fact, the consistent word amongst netizens is that a well- orchestrated assault usually results in a review. We know the feeling. We get handed sites by readers every day, and more often than not, we'll give them a glance. But there's a fine line between response and fawning. We wouldn't want Pointcom to become the Ron Brewington of the Web. You know, Ron Brewington -- the American Urban Radio reviewer who loves everything ("It just doesn't get any better than Gordy! Four stars!"). His recommendation doesn't mean much anymore. If it's not careful, neither will Point's.


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