...I want you to really know how lucky I am to have the year I've had this year and, if you ever start to feel too good about yourself, they have this thing called the Internet! You can find a lot of people there who don't like you! I'd like to address some of them now! BabsonLacrosse, you can suck it. DianeFan, you can suck it. Cougar Letter, you can really suck it 'cause you've been after me all year...
I'd like to see a "True Confessions of a Hater" blog entry someday, myself. More specifically, I'd like to know what is so satisfying about nurturing an online hate obsession with somebody you've never met, or a product you wouldn't condescend to use.
Tina's right--message board anonymity is undoubtedly a factor. She's also right when she says the the moment you register to a comment board to respond, you've become even crazier than they are. Then there's the simple fact that, on the Internet, extreme voices get heard. I once read about something called the Howard Dean phenomenon. This was not a theory about Dean's popularity, but a theory on how Dean's popularity got overestimated. The theory is that the more extreme voices get all the Google mojo, whereas the majority audience falls into the more moderate and silent, "lurker" category.
Why do people get targeted? With "relative" degrees of finesse, the hater would respond "because you are an jerk and your product suckz." On a more thoughtful level, an Australian (who would one day happily betray us, himself) once told me about something called the "Tall Poppy Syndrome." The Tall Poppy Syndrome says that the desire to whack down to size any person or entity that tries to stand out from the crowd is human nature, as is the tendency to criticize them as being presumptuous, attention seeking, or without merit.
We had our fair share of these people in the JBoss days. The successful hater develops a respected position in the online community, coming to be viewed as a stand-up guy. He gets credibility for having no stake in the subject of his rants. He excels at strategies like writing about 10 flaws in your product. Of these 10 flaws, only one will have any real merit. Try in vain to point out that 9/10ths of Joe Hater's argument is patently false, he and his posse will hone in on the one weakness he has identified, with the rationale that if they were right about that, they must be right about everything else. Ignore the hater or engage him, it's a lose-lose proposition. Ignore him and he and his posse will declare victory: your failure to respond must mean that you are tacitly admitting everything he says is right. Engage him and he starts sharpening his teeth: ah ha, if you bother to respond this must because you are on the defensive.