(This column appears in the September 05 issue of PC Advisor)
Devotees of TV Tome, a popular telly fan site, were shaking their remote controls angrily at CNET this month, when the sanctuary they'd built and nurtured was subsumed into the net behemoth's latest launch, TV.com.
TV Tome was the definitive place for small-screen obsessives, offering guides to more than 6,000 series and info on a quarter of a million actors and crew members. In addition to lists of personnel, TV Tome had detailed episode guides and vital trivia such as continuity mistakes and cultural references. The content was largely submitted by users of the site, with certain members assigned the job of maintaining specific show listings.
In addition to the reference area, frequent users of TV Tome would hang out in the site's forums and debate the latest plot twists, speculating about their favourite shows.
But then CNET purchased TV Tome for a reported $5m (about £2.7m) and set about incorporating it into its own network of sites. Conveniently, CNET already owned the TV.com domain and began testing its venture on 1 June. Less than two weeks later, visitors to the old TVTome.com domain were being redirected to a shiny new website.
The site may have received a bit of visual spit and polish, but not all TV Tome users were happy with the re-launched version.
"CNET took everything that was good about TV Tome and flushed it down the toilet. The only thing that was kept was the show information, which was crammed into an over-commercialised, hard-to-navigate site," complained one on the TV.com forums.
"People contributed to TV Tome because they liked the site. It was easy to use and had detailed information. No corporate-owned, ad-laden site is ever going to inspire that kind of loyalty."
Community-driven websites are a funny old game. After all, the majority of contributors spend hours adding to and maintaining them for the love of it, without any thought of financial return. If you upset the user on a site that depends on its visitors to be active participants in its success, then they will stop helping you keep it up to date. Lose the contributions and the site loses its appeal.
Mutiny has already reared its ugly head in TV Tome's case, with sites such as www.tvfansonline.com hastily cobbled together as a replacement hangout for disgruntled exiles.
While some people are never going to be happy with change, the success of TV.com will depend on whether the outspoken detractors are outnumbered by people that are prepared to contribute.
If CNET's not careful, though, the users may even go back to watching television instead of talking about it incessantly on the internet.