I guess the reason that the recent “debate” over ugly websites has gotten so much attention is that it goes against common sense. In emotional design, Norman argues that people will go to great lengths to adapt to the requirements of products/services that meet their aesthetic preferences. This would indicate a kind of aesthetic primacy, especially for products/services whose markets are well established.
Now, in the peculiar case of these “ugly” websites, a different sort of mechanism is at work. In most cases, the winners of the web these days are sites that are able to draw and sustain vibrant communities and/or solicit interesting user-generated content. Whether it’s Craigslist, or MySpace or IMDB, by being the first in the space they were able to capture the community and the net result was that early success lead to later success.