Tag Archives: blogospats

Are We Talking Ethics or Grudges or Just Funny?

Let me begin by making two important points.  One, other than a brief handshake at a conference once or twice, I’ve never met any of the main players involved in this TechCrunch/Crunchgate thing.  Two, I have no personal knowledge about the facts, as they exist or as they have been described, other than what I’ve read online.

Having said that…

A Quick Recap

image TechCrunch, a very popular website, had an intern or part-time employee who may have asked for or been offered some manner of compensation from companies seeking coverage on TechCrunch.  Such an act would be bad mojo for a new media web site trying to be taken seriously, and make lots of money in the process.  Mike Arrington, the founder and presumably majority owner of TechCrunch, wrote an apology and sacked said intern.

Loren Feldman, of 1938media, wasn’t all that impressed with Mike’s mea culpa.  It was noted in Loren’s post, and may be relevant to the discussion, that Mike and Loren apparently had a falling out in the past.  I don’t know the details, and they don’t matter at this point.

All of which led me to wonder, as I read the posts discussed below, how much of this is ethical activism, how much is some inside joke between two of the popular geeks, how much is grudge-fighting, and how much is just good old fashioned humor.

It gets confusing.

And while we’re talking about confusion and disclosure, let me note that I have written negatively about a lot of stuff Mike has said and done.  On the other hand, I have written in support of other things he has said or done.  See, I’m fair and balanced and transparent and confused.

Back to Mike and Loren…

Some of the things Loren says are spot on:

Why is TechCrunch even covering Yazzem? As a commenter points out, talking about “M&A”, “advertising” and “premium features” as part of a $15,000 deal between two companies with no web traffic clearly isn’t news.

And much is hilarious:

The Gillmor Gang may or may not be a TechCrunch production. It consists of non-technical people yelling at each other about technology and runs for what feels like eleven hours. Visuals focus on odd angles of nostril hair, bad cell phone call-in audio, and lighting that makes them look like lizards. Their most popular video is a 90 second YouTube clip where keyboard cat plays jazz organ after Mike acts like an idiot, a Google employee throws his Skype headset down in disgust, and I roll my eyes uncomfortably.

There are good points, and there are funny lines.  There is also hostility and belittling.

Maybe there’s a topic here we should discuss.  If I could stop laughing.  And cringing.  And laughing.  And cringing.

I Know You Are, But What Am I

Before I read all about this latest blogospat (or whatever it truly is), I did note with some interest that TechCrunch was throwing rocks at InfoWorld for not being as quick or as good at apologizing.  Maybe this is the best defense is a good offense thing, but I would think that’s a story Mike could have let pass right by without comment.

And Now for Something Completely Similar

All of this led to a post yesterday by Loren in which he takes some more, admittedly generally funny, shots at TechCrunch and then provides a list of over 100 companies whose mentions at TechCruch were deleted.  Including such juggernauts as Microsoft, Facebook, Intel and Yazzem.  Thank God Bebo wasn’t on that list.

See, I can be funny too…

Which, Finally, Leads to My Point.  Hey Wake Up!

I love a good blogospat.  I’ve written about some of the best of them.  I’ve been involved in a few.

But beneath all the punches and humor, isn’t there an important issue here?

People talk about blogs.  They love ‘em or they hate ‘em.  They are either the evolution of journalism or the new neighborhood papers for persistent nerds.

All of that is wrong.  Well, except for the nerd part.  That’s sort of right.

Blogs don’t really exist.  Not in the way most people describe them. Blogging is merely a content creation and management platform- like WordPress or Blogger.  Content is still content, and media is still media.  If someone wants to be taken seriously, whether as a blogger, a musician or a chimneysweep, he or she has to respect the rules of the game, manage their brand and nurture their credibility.  Whether you publish on dead tress, blogging platforms, email or signs behind airplanes is irrelevant.

So I think it’s fair and appropriate to debate TechCruch’s (and InfoWorld’s) actions in the wake of material credibility issues.  But if what we are really doing is having some personal grudge-match or engaging in extreme and generally hilarious satire (Disclosure: I think the funniest move ever made is Idiocracy, so I love satire as least as much as the next geek), let’s just say so.

I’d like to either promote distributed media (my pre-owned cars word for what some erroneously call blogging) or bury it in absurdity.

I’m happy either way.  Let’s just pick one.

Free Pre: Baby x Baby in the Gillmor Nursery

I used to love the Gillmor Gang, but I don’t listen to it much anymore, because I have come full circle and once again think that too many of the core participants are intentionally non-inclusive.  I’m not talking about on the podcast; I’m talking about on the internet.  Too many of those guys treat the social networks as a stage where they can engage in dramatic dialog with one another, while the great audience watches in admiration.

And I have said over and over that Mike Arrington needs a lesson in personal brand maintenance.  Petulant jerk is not the image I’d go for.

And I have not and probably won’t watch the rest of the latest Gillmor Gang podcast, so there may be things leading up to this brouhaha that I don’t know about.

And, finally, I don’t have and have no plans to get a Palm Pre.

Having said all that, unless there’s a lot more to the story, Leo Laporte was a massive baby for throwing a gigantic temper tantrum just because Mike asked him if he paid for his Pre.  It’s a fair and legitimate question.  A simple yes or no would have sufficed.

When I have been asked to preview phones and other mobile devices in the past, I have never been required to return them.  Generally, after the review period expires, you can keep the device, but you have to pay for a calling plan, etc. if you want to use it.  It’s probably different for high profile devices like the iPhone and the Pre.  Maybe you do have to return it.  I don’t know anything about some “wink and nod” deal where you get a letter requiring that you return it, with no one actually expecting that you will.  If that happens, it’s even worse, in my opinion, than getting one completely free.  Once someone in that situation says he or she didn’t get the device for free, it takes the issue from the realm of an omission to the realm of a lie.

Again, I know nothing about this practice, and I certainly know nothing of the terms under which Leo got his Pre.  I’ll assume he got a review unit and always intended to and will return it.

In other words, I’m not examining Leo’s integrity, because I don’t really know him and have no personal basis to doubt it (or vouch for it).  What I am interested in is the epic meltdown he had on this podcast.

There is some evidence in the comments to the TechCrunch post that Mike may have been poking at Leo for some time.  I don’t know if that’s right or not, but it’s certainly possible given the way Mike relates to most people.  But I’m pretty sure that no one forces Leo to do those podcasts.  And I’m pretty sure the fact that Mike can be a jerk is not a secret.

And, ignoring for a moment the source, it was a relevant question.  Not that Mike was necessarily looking out for truth and justice.

There is another question- about what Mike was worried about at the beginning: journalistic standards or that Leo got a free Pre and he didn’t.  Questioning someone’s integrity is serious business, which is probably what set Leo off.  But, again, a better response would have been “no, I didn’t get it free.  What are you implying.”  In all likelihood Mike would have hung himself with some tirade, while Leo sat back and watched.

But then again, what do I know.  I’m not smart enough to converse with these dudes.  I’m just in the audience, watching a couple of babies fight.

Can anyone spare a pacifier?

Fatherly Advice, Spoken in Perfect Irony

When I see a La Quinta, I have been conditioned to look for a Denny’s.  When I see Batman, I know Robin is nearby.  And when I see a ridiculous post by Dave Winer, I know a smack-down by Rogers Cadenhead will soon follow.  Today was no exception.

I long ago made the journey from interested, to annoyed, back to interested and ultimately to apathetic about Dave, but this is just too good not to mention.

sourgrapesThis time, Rogers puts a beat-down on Dave for disguising another self-embrace as a fatherly warning to Twitter about launching people who aren’t part of Dave’s inner circle into the Twitosphere via Twitter’s Suggested Users list.  Oh, that and allegedly failing to mention that he previously did the same thing with Radio UserLand- one of the millions of things Dave apparently invented eons ago.  I don’t think Thomas Edison got the run for the light bulb or the record player that Dave gets for whatever it was he did back then, but that’s another story.

I don’t know or particularly care whether or not someone got paid to put a former MTV veejay’s feed (you know the story is dated, since I don’t think MTV has played a music video this century) in the default Radio UserLand (whatever that is or was) subscriptions.  But I am tremendously entertained by a couple of the things Dave said in his post.

I also find it interesting that Mike Arrington took the time to comment on Rogers’ post and remind everyone that Dave sent traffic to TechCrunch back in its infancy and that secret deals happen all the time.  Mike’s attempt to defend Dave while reminding everyone else that they are above the contempt of commoners doesn’t strike me as all that helpful to Dave’s case.

When I first read Dave’s post, it was clear to me that Dave’s latent complaint is that he wasn’t on Twitter’s suggested users list.  Oh, and that some little people supplanted some of his buddies who feel entitled to be at the top of the Twitter heap, even if they have to pay to get there.  If that sounds familiar, it’s because these people guarded the blogosphere with the same zeal, until they abandoned it in a fit of Facebook/Twitter lust.

But the best part of Dave’s post is this glorious nugget:

Bottom-line: This isn’t the way the Internet works. The guys at Twitter should know this. I think they’re living in a bubble, and creating one at the same time. No one likes someone who pops the bubble while it’s still building. So be it. We need to get that power out of their hands, or they need to disclaim it.

For Dave, probably the least inclusive of the blogosphere insiders, to tell Twitter that this is not how it works and that Twitter needs to give up the power to control online influence may be the single most ironic (and hilarious) thing I have read in months.

Here’s a further irony.  I actually agree that Twitter should not select and promote suggested users.  It’s another form of the sort of gatekeeping that I have consistently criticized.  But the need to disagree with the self-and-crony-serving way Dave makes his point is greater than the desire to agree with his manifest, if not latent, point.  In other words, saying the right thing the wrong way is a sure way to convince no one.

I can’t tell if Dave believes all this crap or if he thinks people are so dumb or sycophantic they’ll just take whatever he says at face value.

Either way, it’s priceless.

Sins of Omission: The No Jerks, No Assholes Rule

People are pretty cool in small numbers.

But put a bunch of them together and some of them will invariably start to act like jerks.  In young people, this jerkage often manifests itself in one or more acts of exclusion.  Sometimes it’s sitting apart from one designated outcast or another at lunch.  Sometimes it’s the issuance of semi-secret invitations to “I Hate So and So” clubs designed to create an sense of inclusion for some at the expense of others.  Sometimes what starts out as exclusion evolves into outright harassment or physical assault.

Some people just aren’t satisfied being a face in the crowd.  They need to be special.  And they will go to great measures to appear so.  Sometimes these actions have tragic results.  There is no debating that they cause unnecessary harm.  All in the name of being different.

Who gives a crap about being different?  And even if you do, acting like an asshole is a really stupid way to try be different.  Assholes are the white sheep of the herd.  They are a dime a dozen.  It reminds me of a joke I heard at the Safari Room in Winston-Salem back in the seventies.  Do you know why you see more white sheep than black sheep?  Because there are more of ‘em.  In my inebriated state, I thought that was the funniest joke ever.

But it turns out it wasn’t.  And neither is unkindness towards others.

nojerks This age old desire to be different manifests itself in various ways.  Sometimes in positive ways, like hard work, good deeds, etc.  Other times it manifests itself in hurtful ways.  If you knock someone down, you have created a sense of separation.  They are down, you are still up.  It’s not as noble as separation via positive actions, but it’s also not as hard to accomplish.  Obviously, we should denounce those who knock others down to create this false sense of separation, but shouldn’t we also denounce those who stand by and let it happen without taking a stand against it?  These silent conspirators think they are benefitting from the system, but in reality they are pawns too.

There is an irresistible impulse for a crowd to rank itself based on one criteria or another.  The allegedly powerful rank themselves near the top of the list.  The truly powerful pick the criteria on which the list is based.  It’s a messed up system where a few benefit at the expense of many.

People who let others be assholes are like those who wear sunglasses indoors.  They either have vision problems or are assholes themselves.

And this problem isn’t limited to the school yard.  The internet is full of new playgrounds.

The school yard bullies grow old, if not up, and some of them migrate to the various online applications, where the world wild web and perceived sense of anonymity further emboldens them by increasing the victim pool and making all the victims seem faceless.  But they aren’t faceless, and those of us who witness this sort of behavior online and do nothing are just as culpable as those who stand idly by while it happens at recess.

I see this crap happening all over the internet, in one form or another.  There are minor-jerks who work tirelessly to create some sort of caste system within the various online locales.  There are those who want to create false measures of value and watch as others fight for a place in their self-serving hierarchy.  There are medium-jerks who want to dominate the so-called social networks with their private conversations like actors in some theater of the ego.  And there are major jerks who are simply rude and hateful to others.  I have noted many examples of all of the foregoing, as has anyone who has spent significant time online.

And it’s wrong.  And it should not be tolerated.  I say we enact and communally enforce a no jerks, no assholes rule.

Who’s with me?

Blessed are Those Who are Unoffended

easily offendedIt’s no secret that I’m no fan of Mike Arrington.  I’ve been critical of him on several occasions, generally about some online temper tantrum he is having over some slight or perceived slight.  But this latest brouhaha over his response to a blog comment is ridiculous.  Some of it is, as usual, Mike’s own doing- gratuitously using the F word in a comment is unnecessary and reflects very poorly on Mike.  In some alternate universe somewhere, Mike didn’t capture lightning in a bottle with TechCruch and has been forced to learn how to act like a grownup.

But that’s not my point today.

I continue to be amazed over the number of people who seem to be standing around impatiently waiting for something to become outraged about.  Everyone’s a dealer, just waiting to toss out a winning (or losing) card.

First, a little background.  I don’t know anything about Lane Hartwell, and no one but her knows what’s truly inside her head with respect to the use of her photo in the Richter Scales “Here Comes Another Bubble” video.  Having said that, it seems a bit much to wage an offensive over the use of an image in a video, or two or three.  I certainly wouldn’t do that if one of my songs got sampled, but we have to assume she is genuinely concerned about her rights and not just after the mountain of publicity this issue has received.  What is without question is that people have a right, and should be expected, to question her decision and argue contrary positions.  Without going into the boring legalities of it all, the various commenters are basically arguing one of two points: what she ought to do or what constitutes fair use.  The point is that there are logical and likely heartfelt arguments on both sides of the debate.

So amid all the flutter and sway, Mike crosses paths with Shelley Powers.  Rightly or wrongly, Mike thinks Shelley (and I quote) “is a person who trolls TechCrunch about once per week accusing me of all sort of things, very often of being sexist. In my opinion she shifts her opinions regularly on issues to ensure that she supports the woman in any dispute.”   I have no gripe with Shelley and I have no idea whether she’s mean to Mike or not.  Though I appreciate the monumental irony in the mere asking of that question, it doesn’t really matter.   Mike can think whatever he wants, including this (and again I quote):

Lane’s attorney is abusing the DMCA for his/her own goals. And copyright has nothing to do with “giving credit.” It has to do with being forced to license work unless it falls under fair use, which this clearly does. *** But since Lane is a woman, it really doesn’t matter what she did as far as you are concerned. She’s a woman, so she’s right.

It seems, however, that some people (exactly how many is open to debate) have taken up torches and want to burn Mike at the stake and TechCrunch to the ground in the name of gender equality or some other noble cause.  Only that’s neither equality-producing nor noble, by any definition I’ve ever heard.  It’s just another knee-jerk reaction that will succeed only in conscripting the gender issue to some lesser purpose- publicity and traffic perhaps?  Ego-building?  The need for conflict?

This far too common rabid, demonizing, verbal vigilante reaction is the very reason I am profoundly apolitical and go out of my way to avoid political discussion.  Staunch Democrats and Republicans are so bound to their spoon-fed positions and so focused on demonizing the other party that it is impossible to have a meaningful debate on any political issue.  No wonder voter turnout is so low.  Both sides have lost credibility with the great middle.  When I read the so-called discussion surrounding Mike’s statement, I don’t see rational discussion.  I see name calling and conclusion jumping on both sides, along with a few opportunists along for the attention ride.

I’m all about political correctness.  But when someone – even someone as self-absorbed as Mike Arrington – can’t engage in a spirited debate without getting branded a sexist (or more accurately, accused of branding someone else one), we have gone too far.  When people mine prose for flammable content at the expense of addressing the issue, we have lost our way.  If all we do is move from one verbal skirmish to another, we are not making progress.  Mike tries to paint himself as the victim here, but he’s not.  Progress and the chance for understanding are the victims.  The wasted minutes of those who have to read all the inimical words to find the insightful ones are collateral damage.

When people get offended because someone wishes them a Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah or Blessed Ramadan, we’ve gone too far.  At some point, we have to leave the semantics aside and deal with the important stuff that lies beneath.  When someone takes the time to wish me happiness at a time that’s important to him or her, I consider it a great honor.  It’s not whether I happen to celebrate the same holiday that matters.  It’s the gesture.

So if Mike thinks that someone is biased towards women, why isn’t that a valid arguing point, the same way the fact that someone may be biased against women is, and should be, fair game?  All the political correctness in the world shouldn’t support a position that you can have it both ways.  Rather than vilify Mike for making that point, show him where he’s wrong.  Either because his premise is flawed or because it doesn’t matter if it isn’t.

Shelley herself, who continues to address the real issue as opposed to the manufactured one as the world around her descends into chaos, notes the fact that people rushed in to spout their opinions without taking the time to look at the underlying issue:

My name is Shelley Powers. I have a weblog, Burningbird. I’ve weblogged for seven years. I write regularly on issues important to women.

I am a real person, though Michael has done his best to dehumanize me. What I don’t understand is why one of you didn’t think to ask him who I really am. You just all gave your opinions.

Why can’t we work as hard at not being offended as some people do to be offended?  Are our morals, philosophies and opinions so fragile that disagreement, even ridicule, can shake them?  Mine aren’t.  And I suspect yours aren’t either.  And if we really want to reach out to people and show them that we’re right, we have to do two things: stop yelling at them and give them the opportunity to change our minds.

Sometimes we need to just get over it.  Anybody with me?

Fear and Loathing in the Blogosphere

First my old buddy Mathew Ingram links to me, and then goes back and removes the link.  Even though I challenge you to find anyone who took a more even-handed approach than I did to the Federated Media/Microsoft discussion.

Now, Louis Gray (who I have linked to at least six times in the past month)  calls me a cheater.  Says I and those like me are ruining Technorati’s credibility by participating in viral tag link arounds.  He says my Technorati count is bogus.  Implies that I am a fraud who engages in a sultry practice.  He suggests that I lead by example and renounce my wicked ways.

Those are pretty strong words, particularly since Louis doesn’t know the first thing about me, including how to spell my name.  Apparently he doesn’t know much about the blogosphere either.

The blogsphere is not a level playing field.  Louis said as much the other day.  We’ve been talking about the gatekeeper thing for years.  There are a hundred theories about the cause, but there is only one effect: that there are those on the inside, where the blogosphere is all warm and chummy, and there are those on the outside looking in.  Personally, I think a lot of it boils down to three factors: (1) people blog for a lot of different reasons and blogs often have cross-purposes; (2) those who have proximity in career or geography can more easily create relationships that transcend the blogosphere, resulting in more shared attention; and (3) human nature.  It’s the human nature part that creates the walls that are the hardest to scale.

In other words, the walls may be naturally formed without malice.  But there are walls.

Those on the outside looking in can either accept it and move on (thus the high rate of blog attrition), pander to the A-Listers (take a look at Louis’s blog roll on the right side of his blog page for a great example of that) and hope you’ll one day get invited to the club (with the chance of success being roughly equal to the chance a high school basketball player has of making the NBA), or take the blogosphere for what it is and play the game with everyone else.  I have tried the first two and found them lacking.  I have tried the latter exactly twice.  Once here, which generated virtually no links, and once here, which generated quite a few.

Do those posts add value for the reader?  Of course not.  Do the ads we suffer through in feeds and on blog pages add value for the reader, of course not.  The latter are designed to line the pockets of those who see the blogosphere as a way to make money.  For me, the former is a small attempt to end run around the fact that, despite writing hard for years, I simply cannot get many of the popular bloggers to allow me into the conversation.  If bloggers like Dave Winer, Fred Wilson, Guy Kawasaki, Om Malik, Steve Rubel and others won’t let me join their conversations, what am I do to?  If waiting patiently doesn’t work?  If giving blogging up isn’t appealing?  If I am truly the hardest working man in the blogosphere and have so little to show for it, what is left?

I could write away in obscurity and support the machine for the benefit of the empowered.  I could establish some artificial moral standard that no one would know or care about- that would only apply to me, since almost everyone else is gaming the system in one way (ads, products or services to sell) or another (linking mostly to those in their circle of friends).  Or I could keep writing hard every day and try to find another way up blogger’s hill.  Try, as in two posts out of 1,262 posts.  That’s .002%.  I get far more “bogus” content than that every single day when I see all the ads my feeds.

The viral tag links are not nearly as meaningful as a link from a blogger engaging in cross-blog conversation with me.  But are they that different from the hordes of links Scoble and others get when they post about arm farting and whatnot?  Is a link from some other blogger via viral tags that much worse than all those upstream “I agree” or “look at me, please” links from some pandering wannabe?  I think not.  At most, they are equally worthless.  So don’t condemn one unless you’re willing to condemn both.  Those who live in glass houses, and all that.

If ads designed to separate readers from their cash are perfectly OK.  If partial feeds are OK.  If undisclosed conflicts of interest are conveniently ignored…how can sharing links be the great evil that needs to be exposed and eradicated?  And if sharing links for the sake of links is a sin, why didn’t Louis call me a cheater and a fraud when I did this?  Or this?

Dave Sifry, who knows a little about Technorati, says that “in this new world of conversation, the hyperlink is becoming a new form of social gesture between people.  It’s something akin to a tap on the shoulder.”  Maybe these viral tags are the blogosphere equivalent of the mosh pit where the disenfranchised jump around wildly to the horror of the ruling class.  Maybe they’re the Boston Tea Party where terrorists-cum-revolutionaries toss the highly taxed authority count into the sea.  Whatever they are, those who engage in them do not deserve the condemnation that Louis espouses.

The blogosphere isn’t a perfect place, but it’s the only one we have.  Bloggers aren’t perfect either.  As Louis will tell you over and over, I’m not either.

But if we’re going change the nature of the blogosphere, then there are a lot better places to start than calling me out as the poster child for bad behavior.

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It's About Choices and Accountability

Nobody ever won an argument by simply saying “I’m mad at you” over and over.  If someone is already being critical of your words or actions, they probably don’t care if you’re mad at them.  They’re probably mad at you too.  Jumping up and down might make you feel better, but it doesn’t get you any closer to understanding and reconciliation.

Yet here comes Mike Arrington, once again, telling us that he’s “pissed off at every single person involved” in the Federated Media/Microsoft cacophony.  I would use John Battelle‘s favorite word “conversation,” but as Mathew Ingram points out, John’s definition of conversation is a little different than most.

The fact of the matter is this:

1) Some people are claiming this is a disclosure issue.  It’s not.  It’s a credibility issue.  I can see why Mike and others would react strongly to implications that there was something truly covert going on.  Maybe it wasn’t in flashing neon lights, but neither was it hidden.  Anyone who thought that Federated Media page was anything more than a collaborative billboard wasn’t paying attention.  For some reason, Mike chooses to go straight to attack mode, rather than present his argument rationally.  I guess when you own TechCrunch, that’s your prerogative, but it’s not likely to sway many fence sitters to your side.

2) Other people, mostly those who feel like they might have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar, are saying the ad campaign is a non-event.  That the whole business was dreamed up by Valleywag as a way to agitate in the name of traffic.  This mess wasn’t dreamed up by Valleywag- it was dreamed up by Microsoft and Federated Media.  In the name of making money.  While there is a distinction between the journalists and the prospectors, to claim that the prospectors have a license to shill is ludicrous on its face.  Credibility transcends all motivations, and a blogger who sells his or her services for blogomercials should realize that without it being plastered all over Techmeme.  As Jeff Jarvis puts it, if the prospectors want to type away without regard for journalistic standards, then we need to read away with that in mind.

It’s not an ethical transgression, it’s simply a bad choice.  There’s nothing evil about making a bad choice, and there’s nothing wicked about holding people accountable for bad choices.

I thought John did a reasonably good job of responding to this mess, without sounding combative or defensive.  On one hand, I can see why Mike says John threw them under the bus.  On the other hand, can you imagine the uproar if John had taken Mike’s “go pound sand” approach?  He had to walk a very fine line to minimize the lingering damage.  I don’t agree with his “conversation” spin, but all in all, he took the first important step in addressing this issue.

It will be interesting to see how this debate plays out.  There are certainly two camps.  But the journalists and the prospectors are mining for the same gold.  Gold in the form of readers who get to decide who they trust, and who they don’t.

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