Dell learned recently about the growing power of the blogosphere when it recalled 4.1m laptop batteries after a video that showed one of its computers bursting into flames was posted on the internet. The brief clip zig-zagged through cyberspace and went from cult viewing to national television.

Dell's spokesman Jess Blackburn insists that the company had been working to address that particular problem long before the bloggers got hold of it. He adds, though, that Dell has begun keeping tabs the blogosphere.

"We began a concerted effort in the springtime," says Mr Blackburn. "We do try to stay alert to what's being posted out there about Dell - although we only respond when we think there are completely inaccurate reports and misinformation."

Many firms have started to pay attention as a rapidly expanding slice of cyberspace is devoted to vitriolic, often obsessive blogs listing the shortcomings of well-known companies.

Among the longest standing is Untied Airlines, a blog on the woes of America's second largest carrier, United. Its recent highlights include an account of an unaccompanied minor who was delayed twice, re-routed and not given anything to eat or drink all day. The staff member looking after him uttered the memorable words: "I can't talk to your mom - it's not in my job description."

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