While companies, especially computer makers, have been eager to promote the Internet as a global bazaar and amusement park rolled into one, they are quickly learning that there's a little more to it than that. The tools that are supposed to help the customer are the same ones that can empower the unhappy consumer. Likewise, a slick new Web site can do a lot for customer relations, but if the support/complaint department isn't up to snuff, the damage is already done.

Companies are discovering that not only are there customers who are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, but also that it isn't that difficult for them to air damaging claims in public. A well-presented complaint site can be the equivalent of a flaming arrow sailing over the ramparts.

As the number of consumer complaint Web sites multiplies, some companies are taking action by either addressing the problems in-house or battling online complainers via legal channels.