Meanwhile in Ring Three

Here’s the latest from the (a)Tension Convention.

3ringStowe Boyd, who never answered my very relevant question, says in a comment to Karl Martino’s excellent post on the topic that he doesn’t like being called a blowhard for no reason.  Dave Rogers then goes into great detail about why he thinks Stowe is a blowhard.  Does anyone really give a shit whether Stowe is a blowhard or not?  Or whether his hat is a backwards baseball cap or a beret or an Indian headdress?

Once again, bloggers are fighting about all sorts of stupid stuff while the issues that really matter, such as marketing, conflicts of interest and whether Web 2.0 amounts to a hill of beans, are ignored.  If you ever doubt that the blogosphere is more about building and defending personal brands than promoting reasoned discourse, all you have to do is look at what bloggers get mad about.  It’s the playground mentality, only semi-anonymous and remote.

The blogosphere is what we make it.

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Attention Convention

Dave Rogers has a post on the competition for attention in the blogosphere and the effects thereof.  Stowe Boyd responds.  To quote Kinky Friedman, it looks like we have a tension convention forming.

I tend to favor Stowe’s argument, but there is a little hole in it we need to plug.  Stowe says to Dave “I agree with you about trolls. There are people out there who are the enemies of the future (as Virginia Postrel styled it in her book of the same name), and they need to be outed whenever possible.”  I haven’t read that book, but my question to Stowe, and others, is this:  what defines an “enemy of the future?”  Stated another way, how do we distinguish a troll from someone who merely disagrees.  A troll from a skeptic?  And who gets to decide where those lines are drawn?  Debate and competition are key forces in innovation and efficiency.  I agree that there are those whose goal is not to debate and compete, but to condemn and destroy.  But I think there is potential danger in how we tell them apart.

I am on Stowe’s side of the line where the development of technical innovations, including social applications, is concerned.  Like songwriting, there is absolute beauty in the creation of something that has meaning beyond yourself.  But also like songwriting, when those who want to monetize that creation start calling the shots, there is potential for the artistic process to become corrupt.  Generally in one form or another of the greater fool theory.  If money is to be made, it has to come from somewhere.  It is in some of those situations that I occasionally step back across that line and join the so-called skeptics.

Does that make me a troll?  Of course not, and I’m sure Stowe will agree.  But the line between skeptic and troll is a hard one to draw brightly.  And some will use the troll label as a preemptive strike against a contrary opinion or skepticism that might stand between them and a dollar bill.

That’s where things get a little dicey.  No matter what kind of hat you’re wearing.

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The Sound of Mortar Fire in the Blogosphere

I have some advice for both Dave and Fred.  It won’t matter because I can’t ever get either one of them to talk to me, but here goes.

First, as is often the case in the blogosphere, everyone is so interested in being heard that they forget to listen.  It’s just mortar fire as each party lobs bombs blindly at the other, hoping to get close enough to the target to do a little damage.  And get rich and/or famous in the process.

sourgrapesDave, stop telling us how you invented everything.  Even if you did, people are tired of hearing it.  Don’t keep saying “I’m ready to do the really big ideas.”  Just go do it.  If you want to win an argument about age and innovation, either go invent something new and wonderful or, if that’s not feasible, at least attack the argument in general, not personal, terms.  It’s not about you.  It’s really not.  It’s about everyone over 30.  Your petulance undermines the truths you speak. Truths like this: “In every other creative field people are active into their sixties, seventies or eighties. For some reason in tech we assume people are washed up at 30? Based on what? Marc Andreessen’s experience. Hmm.”  The point is that there are so many people with skin in the game who want to extrapolate all sorts of earth shaking developments out of these little recycled science projects that we read about every day.  That there are so many logical and economic holes in the VC process, particularly as it relates to online stuff, that it’s hard not to fall into one.  That’s the point, not whether you’re getting the reverence you think you deserve.  Oh, and one last thing.  Fred’s post was really not a personal attack on you or anyone else.  So what if he wants to fund youngsters.  Maybe youngsters are the best ones to create things that other youngsters (the current and future target audience) want to use.

Fred, don’t confuse the little high school science projects we call Web 2.0 with true innovation.  According to a National Bureau of Economic Research study on Nobel Prize winners in physics, chemistry, medicine and economics over the past 100 years and on outstanding technological innovations over the same period, 42 percent of innovations were created by people in their 30s, 40 percent occurred when the inventors were in their 40s and 14 percent appeared when the inventors were over 50.  There were no great achievements produced by innovators before the age of 19, and only 7 percent were produced by innovators at or before the age of 26 (Einstein’s age when he performed his prize winning work).  Hanging out in AOL chat rooms, IMing and joining Facebook has about as much to do with becoming an innovator as taking a shower has to do with winning the 100 meter freestyle.  These kids may be creating some cool little projects, but cool does not equate to revolutionary, profitable or necessary.  It’s the brain not the birthday that matters.

Carry on.

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The Podcaster that Roared

Dave Winer, who is probably just in a pouty mood since he got dropped from my Twitter list, aims his longbow at Valleywag, all because Valleywag had the gall to say that the podcasting boom is over and Apple won.

Are you kidding me?  Nobody won podcasting, because nobody outside of the blogosphere cares a whit about podcasting.  Does anyone who doesn’t do a podcast listen to them?  There are geometrically more people getting rich by playing in the NBA than there are getting anywhere close to rich by podcasting.  And Dave wonders if the VC money will bet on podcasting?  Sure, as soon as they take a few street musicians public.  Get your Shakin’ Jake Woods bonds here!

Apple won podcasting on the way to claim the bigger mobile audio prize- the same way Sherman won Kennesaw Mountain on the way to Atlanta.

The podcasting boom, such as it was, is over for me.  I tried it for a while and actually got some props for the one I did.  But the effort/reward ratio for podcasting is about as out of whack as it can be.  Fred Wilson, another of my Twitter exiles, tried it and gave it up too, for many of the same reasons.  To be worth the effort, a podcast must have a big audience.  But it’s harder by far to create a popular podcast than it is to create a popular blog.  It’s a recipe for abandonment.

But anyone who doesn’t believe that Apple, via the iPod and its conjoined twin iTunes, has won the battle for the mind of North America (name the movie that quote came from for extra credit) as far as audio to go goes is in denial.  I know a lot of people in the real world who use iTunes.  I know no one in the real world who regularly listens to podcasts.  Yes I know about the northeast and mass transit and commute times and all that.  But what percentage of those folks choose a podcast over music?

So what if Dave invented or thinks he invented podcasting.  Put all the podcasters on one end of a room and the guy who invented Webkinz on the other end.  Set Fred down in the middle and see who he goes to.  VCs are great when it comes to cheerleading- it’s the way they seed the fields.  But they get a little pickier at harvest time.  I bet more revenue has been generated from the sale of those stuffed animals in the last month than has been generated by podcasting in the last year- or maybe ever.

There will always be some popular podcasts, just like there will always be some Tim Duncans and Steve Nashes.  But it’s not the place to go looking for an easy buck.

Buying a soon to be retired Webkinz is a much better bet.

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Oh, the Irony

ironyI think it is hugely ironic that a company that makes its money running fan message boards is threatening to sue Mike Arrington partly because of what some commenters said at the end of one of his posts.

I know a lot about message boards.  I know a lot about sports message boards.  I know that the last thing I would ever do as a message board owner is take the position that an interactive site operator is responsible for content posted by its users.

I wonder if anyone ever said anything nasty about someone else on one of Rivals’ message boards?

All of this, of course, is only my (constitutionally protected) opinion.

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More on the Nick Douglas/Valleywag Thing

I mentioned the other day that I thought we’d be hearing more about Nick Douglas’s departure from Valleywag, and now we have.

I got an email from 10 Zen Monkeys today pointing me to a very interesting post.  It seems that the New York Times has published an internal email from Gawker Media’s Lockhart Steele (who, with a name like that, has a second career waiting for him in the WWF), explaining why Nick was sacked.

What’s especially interesting about the 10 Zen Monkeys post is that it was apparently an interview with that site that led to the sacking.  In the interview, Nick talks, obviously (at least to me) tongue in cheek, about trying to get sued.  Here is the question and answer that led to the current state of affairs:

RU: So what levels of outrage or prickliness have you run into?

ND: It’s usually just really uncomfortable conversations at parties. I’m learning that it’s a great art — defusing conversations. I never had that skill before. I was too passive-aggressive to actually have someone confront me at a party. But now I’m able to at least make someone like me for a half hour. And that’s all I really need.

We haven’t gotten a serious legal threat so far. Well, a couple of minor ones, but we’re still waiting for a good solid cease-and-desist and a good lawsuit. We’re really trying to get News Corp to sue us. They tried to stop the publication of some article [ed: originally intended for publication by someone else] calling MySpace a spam factory. And the author was revealing some of the background behind the company – that it wasn’t really started by these two guys in their basement. And, since News Corp went to such lengths to stop the original publisher from publishing the article, we were hoping that if I actually published it on Valleywag, we could finally get sued. (Sighs) It didn’t happen yet. I’m really disappointed about that.

The Steele email indicates that Gawker had “repeatedly spoke to and warned” Nick about whatever it was he was doing wrong, and there may be more to it than what is mentioned in the email.  As a commenter to the 10 Zen Monkeys post points out, “while this internal email might be closer to the truth, even this could be heavily sanitized, so only the firer and perhaps the firee know for sure.”

Regardless, the precipitating event seems a little suspect.  Combined with the stated desire to make Valleywag less about whatever it used to be about and more about traditional tech and money topics, it still looks to me like there is more going on than meets the eye.

The latest developments are certainly interesting, but I don’t think we’ve heard the final chapter in this story.

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Denton Does Douglas

I like Valleywag.  Partially because it’s often funny.  And partially because it makes fun of people when they take themselves a bit too seriously.

Today, Valleywag announced that Nick Douglas, its former editor, is leaving.  It’s not clear whether he’s leaving for a better gig, or leaving as in sacked.  Nick Denton, Gawker’s top dog and publisher, will step in for Nick Douglas until a permanent replacement is found.

There is always a lot more unknown than known when it comes to employment and business arrangements, but barring something very significant that we don’t know about, it was a mistake for Gawker to let Nick Douglas go (regardless of who initiated the movement).  He is a good and funny writer.  Based on a few email exchanges, he seems like a nice guy, too.  He was quick to reply with helpful information when I wrote him looking for background on a post I was working on.

One passage in the post announcing Nick Douglas’s departure sticks out like a flashing neon light in a pitch black room:

I suspect we’re going to tone down the personal coverage of civilians, because they haven’t done anything to seek out attention, and their personal lives aren’t that interesting. Unless they are. Anyway, more money, a little less sex: that is Valleywag’s new gossip mantra.

Hmmm.

As Thomas Hawk points out in his take on these developments, that’s a departure from Valleywag’s past, and probably not what most of its readers secretly want. 

It sounds to me like Gawker bending to the will of some unhappy industry insiders who don’t like to pop up on Valleywag.  I can tell you from first hand conversation and emails that there are a lot of established bloggers and tech industry names that don’t like Valleywag or Nick Douglas.

But isn’t that part of what made Valleywag popular?

Can it suddenly change course and become a part of the establishment that it previously poked fun at?  Is the money-obsessed crowd going to suddenly look to Valleywag for industry news?

More money inspired stories?

We don’t need Valleywag writing more about money.  The entire rest of the blogosphere, not to mention most of the old media, already obsesses on money.  Saying we need more focus on money is like saying we need more ads.  Or more root canals.

What we need is more fun.  There is a reason why Borat is kicking ass at the theaters.

And as far as gossip is concerned- I don’t think the true story of Nick Douglas’s departure will remain shrouded in mystery for very long.  I have a feeling we’ll be hearing more about this in the coming days.

Regardless, I can’t wait to see where Nick Douglas ends up.

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