Trinity Mirror have announced the closure of their People.co.uk website and the departure of Sue Douglas who oversaw it. That's sad for her and anyone who worked on it.
I don't care whether it was a good, bad or indifferent idea. The way they went about it was wrong in one key respect.
In November, which was when it launched, Sue Douglas was on The Media Show talking it up. The interview, which starts here at 2:56, reminded me of Siobhan Sharpe's flights of fingers-crossed positivity in the Olympic comedy Twenty Twelve. Steve Hewlett didn't have to be particularly tough to expose the fact that she seemed to be making it up as she went along.
And that shouldn't matter because in the world of the internet that's what people do - they start with a small idea, look at how people use it and then build it up from there. They literally make it up as they go along. What Sue Douglas was doing on the The Media Show was not demonstrating something, which might have been powerful. Instead she was promising something, which was what people used to do in the old media world.
The worst thing you can do nowadays is promise something. Nobody believes you. As my friends in the music business say, you can't hype people any more. You can't predict something is going to be the case. The only thing you can do is point out what is already the position and build from there. The only hype that matters is the hype the users provide themselves.
Large companies with web initiatives should rejoice in the fact that they don't have to get the permission of advertisers or distributors before they start. In the words of that well-known manufacturer of gym pumps, Just Do It.