The other day I went over to Authonomy to check out the site. I read a book excerpt that knocked my socks off. I'll not pitch the book just yet. I've got a few words about Authonomy first.
The principle of the site is simple and elegant. Get a group of writers, throw them together and find out which books rise to the top of the slush pile. Review the best five, if something is salable buy if, if nothing looks good, wait a month and repeat.
For the writers: get all your friends to join up to promote your book. Otherwise, get enough writers (already members) to 'shelf' your book and you can rise to the top. Best five every month are reviewed by Harper Collins Editors. Occasionally a book is purchased, but getting the review is a one-shot deal.
The idea for writers is that 'agents and editors' cruise the site (cue 'Jaws' music) for new talent that didn't make the HC cut. My impression is that the site was obscure except for a handful of writers slowly passing the word around.
That appears to be the catch: The site is small, the users less than 1000. All was well until - Kaboom - someone from a "Mainstream" site (YouTube) with a big backing hit the site and blew it all to hell and back. The servers crashed and crashed and crashed, making it impossible for the site-junkies to get online. (I'll bet the server-elves have been jacked up on coffee, babysitting the thrashing servers and (rightfully)screaming for more bandwidth.)
With hundreds of new users pounding the site the old way of doing business was completely trashed. The writer's went absolutely nuts when the status quo changed. (Thanks to a faulty algorithm.) The poor writers started screaming bloody murder when this guy shot up the ranks. They took their frustration out on the newbies, who snapped back, the flame wars started making otherwise perfectly nice people morph into trolls.
The site is now having its "15 minutes of fame." as the writer's agonized screaming spilled from Authonomy to Amazon/ABNA, word spread to YouTube, TeamLiquid and some Starcraft gaming sites, so more and more people (like me) have gone to rubber neck.
Harper Collins has done the right thing, as of this afternoon, the site had a "updating to better serve you" sign up. Last I looked the updated bandwidth appeared to be handling the traffic like a charm.
I'm more than a bit freaked out by the messages I've gotten offering me everything from read/review swaps to low-level bribes for shelf space. It is all very interesting, frankly in a 'bug watching' way. I will watch to see if any of the "Swarm" stay and how all the dynamics change.
Human nature is really fascinating.