The Tyranny of the Foil Hatted

Anybody got a pen? Someone should mark this in the calendar as the day I agreed with Michael Arrington. Though he approaches it with his usual deft touch (‘Mice nuts,’ anyone?), he hits the nail squarely on the head regarding online privacy.

A quick re-cap of how we got here: you may remember Facebook changing its privacy settings a few weeks back. Tech geeks were horrified and began deleting their accounts, while your non-techie friends likely posted something in all caps in their status, then moved on. Over the past weekend, Arrington had a quickie Q&A with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and the ensuing headline – Privacy is Dead! – raised everyone’s hackles all over again. This morning, Arrington called us all Luddites for caring. And a good morning to *you* too!

I met with a company a few days ago that deals in data and one of the execs said something I had to scribble down immediately. “Why should your privacy fetish impinge on my need for data usefulness? There is a very real danger here of the tyranny of the minority.” Privacy fetish – I love it.

Arrington raises a very salient point in his post: if you’re a participant in the 21st-century modern world, your privacy has already been compromised past the point of hope. Unless you’re living off the grid in a mud hut – in which case you’re not reading this – ‘they’ know everything about you. So any personal campaigns you’re waging to protect your Facebook quiz results are, well, something of a fetish. Further, as the data exec points out, some very real benefits lie in the exploitation of said data. All the screaming we’re doing about making Google work better and ending the glut of information that’s thrown at us? Not going to be solved without using our personal data.

Now let me beat you to the punch: won’t someone please think of the children? Yes, there is a separate raft of concerns when it comes to kids online. But if you’re under any illusions that ‘they’ know less about your kids simply because they’re small – well you’re wrong about that too.

I realize that it’s out of character for me to say, essentially, “They’ve already won. Just give in.” But I’m afraid that’s the case here. While I’m not advocating you start taking naked pictures of yourself and using them as profile pics, I am saying that if you want to participate in technology as it stands today, you have to let go of a few illusions. And key among them is that you’re currently in control of your online data.

The Vortex: The Center Cannot Hold

News from the Social Media Vortex

–Someone broke the Interwebs yesterday morning, with a denial-of-service attack hitting Twitter, Facebook, Google, and LiveJournal. Twitter was the hardest hit (or the worst prepared), with the service going completely offline for a couple of hours. [And as of this writing, the site was down again this morning.] As expected, the universe folded in on itself as people tweeted about Twitter being down once Twitter was back up. Then John Hughes died and everyone shifted to Long Duck Dong.

–The other big story this week is so inside-baseball that you may fall asleep mid-paragraph. Robert Scoble “unfollowed” 106,000 people on Twitter. This proved to be a revelation for him – it cuts down on the noise! – which in turn engendered much discussion among people who monitor their audience with frightening acuity. Louis Gray parried with, “Wait, don’t do that!” saying:

“…to massively prune my list would introduce more problems, real and emotional, than it would present solutions.”

I think it’s safe to say that if Twitter ever causes emotional problems for you, it’s time to take a vacation.

–And though I’d love to ignore King Arrington for a week, the fact that he’s now battling the British judicial system is, well… I’m only human. He’s been found guilty of libel against Sam Sethi, charged with:

“a sustained campaign of character assassination against the Claimant… including threats to murder a business associate; of being psychotic; pathological; threatening; despicable; disreputable; deceitful; and a cheat.”

He should make that his Twitter bio. Anyway, Arrington says No Lawsuits Please; I’m Not British, which I’m sure will be a convincing argument to the UK courts.

Phew. Isn’t August supposed to be quiet? Let’s get to the fun stuff.

Apps on the Radar

–I so wish more developers were taking advantage of the iPhone’s push technology. The AP News app does a decent job but annoyingly doesn’t direct you to the related story. So I’m happy to hear that Breaking News Online is taking a stab at news alerts. I’ll be giving it a whirl this week to see if it’s worth two bucks.

Livestation has released an app for streaming live television to your iPhone. The selection is pretty thin right now but is sure to expand in the coming months.

Pitch of the Week

–If you’re a recipient of product pitches, add yourself to Jonathan Hirshon’s email distro.  The head of Horizon PR never fails to entertain and I find myself reading every one of his pitches, if only to reward his ingenuity. So in place of Tweet of the Week, I give you his intro to a pitch for Scenios:

A bonny Thursday to you, as the heat and humidity outside threaten to climb to levels unseen since my last Finnish Sauna experience (with an equal chance of cardiac lethality, I might add).  The economic climate is equally wilting,.…”

Now that’s a segue.

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The Vortex:The Jokes Just Write Themselves

The news this week needs no introduction. See for yourself.

News from the Social Media Vortex

–Chris Anderson, editor of Wired, briefly became the most annoying person in the technosphere this week (and that’s saying something) after an interview with Der Spiegel was published. Here’s how the conversation began:

SPIEGEL: Mr. Anderson, let’s talk about the future of journalism.

Anderson: This is going to be a very annoying interview. I don’t use the word journalism.

He then went on to say that the words ‘newspaper,’ ‘media,’ and ‘news’ are all so-last-century. As long as we’re talking about 20th-century words that have no meaning, can we extend the same logic to 20th-century tech publications? Just wondering.

–BlogHer held its annual conference last week and much of the ensuing coverage focused on the swag mania that took hold of some attendees. One power-mad blogger threatened to inflict libel on a marketer if he didn’t come through with a pair of Crocs. To thee I say, aim higher, self-righteous blogger! I’d have at least gone for a pair of Nikes.

–Steve Rubel gave praise to Kara Swisher’s blog, saying that she raises the game for bloggers by… using pictures. That can’t be right. Oh wait, here we go: “she uses clever headlines and imagery in her posts – often tied to movies.” There you have it, folks: ironic usage of film stills is the secret to good blogging.

–And it wouldn’t be a week in tech without a proclamation from King Arrington. The iPhone is no more! In a blog post redolent with the fumes of stone tablets (I’m really hoping you get that reference), Arrington declared that he “quit” his iPhone because it doesn’t use Google Voice or something. I don’t know. Are we really supposed to care about this? I changed my brand of soap recently; do I need to inform you with a blog post?

Apps on the Radar

–Not so much an app as an “It’s all over people!” proclamation, beware of one-character SMS messages on any GSM phone, not just iPhones. Two researchers were kind enough to demonstrate the hack yesterday, so if you get a weird text, turn your phone off posthaste. No one seems to know when you can turn it back on though so… good luck with that.

–Since you can’t use your iPhone anymore – either because it’s been hacked or Arrington told you not to – go Mad Men Yourself. The music will make it all better.

Tweet Twitterer of the Week

–Rather than one tweet this week, I give you possibly the best Twitter bio ever, from Mark Dykeman: “Too boring to follow. Extremely unlikely to buy, convert, or click on your link. Negative. Smarm intolerant. Eats puppies, kittens, and babies.”


The Vortex: The Volcano Bubbles

Lots o’ links saved up this week. Let’s see if I can adequately sort through them without boring you. No Vortex next week, as Chris and I are headed to London and Dublin for the next round of Innovate!Europe workshops. Pip pip.

News from the Social Media Vortex

-Twitter possibly raised another round of funding, on a rumored $250 million valuation. Here’s the question you should ask yourself: if Twitter started charging $20 a month to use it, would you pay it? If not, would you truly miss it? Be honest. Duncan Riley’s assessment is so apt, I may just make it the motto of this weekly review: “Until the very end, the citizens of Pompeii continued their decadent lives, until being buried for eternity.”

-Here’s a fun one. A conservative take on Wikipedia, called Conservapedia, has been taken down after Wonkette revealed a not-so-veiled hit list of Democratic senators on the site.

-The Boy Genius Report posted a spot-on list of things to hate about the iPhone. I would like to add the awful Google Voice Search to that list, which translated “Who directed A Fish Called Wanda” into “bass fish called wanda.” Not helpful.

-And I suppose we have to mention the kerfuffle of the week. Michael Arrington was spat upon in Munich and Jason Calacanis immediately responded with a call for an industry-wide group hug. I’ll simply posit that civility and manners in the technosphere should be an everyday fact of life, not a one-day occurrence when spittle is hurled.

Apps on the Radar

-Sarah Perez pointed me to RepairPal, an incredibly helpful iPhone app that uses GPS to deliver roadside assistance, auto repair estimates, and a repair shop directory.

-Hangman Cheat – if anyone can beat this thing, you are my linguistic hero.

-Not so much an app as a new feature, you can now submit news items to Techmeme via Twitter. Good idea in theory but I pity the soul who’ll have to wade through all the PR tips and self-promoting bloggers. (God knows I’ll be promoting myself shamelessly.)

DEMO trends – where the innovation lies with DEMO 09 applicants

-rich media publishing integrated with key back-office tools

-more location-aware mobile couponing – really getting a lot of traction this year

-highly personalized semantic networks

Tweet of the Week

-I swear I’m not kissing butt here. Chris Shipley’s tweet from the DLD Munich conference made me guffaw – and wish I was there: “At #DLD: ‘moving to an era of bio spare parts’ – Philippe Poullety. After visit to beer garden last night, I await the spare liver.”

Ephemera

-In the This Should Help You Sleep at Night department, a New Zealand man bought a used MP3 player filled with US military data, including personal details of US soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. The worst sentence: “He says he will hand it over to the US Defense Department should it ever ask.” Um, let’s go ahead and ask, shall we?

Shoddy Reporting, Invective, and Arrogance. Yeah, I Want Some of That

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten.

As I was growing up, my mother instructed me that, when I got angry or frustrated, to count to ten before saying anything.  Quite honestly, I’ve counted to ten ten-times over.  I’ve bitten my tongue and clenched my teeth and I’ve really tried to let it go.

And now, I just can’t help myself any longer.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve read too many blog posts (notice how we don’t call them “stories” any more?) filled with invective, passed-along assumptions, and outright misinformation that I can’t help but to call into question the standard of “reporting” going on in the echo-chamber we call the blogosphere. Continue reading

Profits Not So Evil After All

It’s no secret that DEMO, the launch event owned and operated by IDG and programmed by Guidewire Group, has faced stiff criticism for its practice of charging selected companies an $18,500 fee to participate in its program, which is as much about go-to-market and after-launch support as it is about making a six-minute demonstration on a public stage. A new competitor, TechCrunch, does not charge a fee to the companies it recruits to its TC50 conference, coincidentally scheduled to overlap with DEMOfall in early September. As the “free” launch platform, TC50 has positioned itself as the friend of entrepreneurs and its co-producer has taken umbrage at DEMO’s “payola” (his words, not ours) business model.

In fact, Jason Calacanis commented on a post on this blog earlier this week:

At the end of the day I don’t have a problem with you Chris. I actually think you’re very smart and cool. What I do have a problem with is the $18,500 fee. Intelligent folks can disagree about these fees, and the different models of our shows. I believe we have a better model and that the marketplace will vote with our model and “conference payola” (I know you don’t like the term) will stop. As an entrepreneur myself I want to kill the “pay for play” model.

So it was with keen interest that I saw an email yesterday from Heather Harde, TechCrunch CEO, regarding TechCrunch’s MeetUp at August Capital in July. Continue reading

Let’s Get Real: Business is Not Personal

WE INTERRUPT OUR NORMALLY MEASURED INDUSTRY ANALYSIS . . .

Good morning, all. How’s everyone out there in peaceful-happy-go-lucky-tech-land? Everyone good? Anyone received a death threat recently? Oh that’s right. We have! Well, I supposed it’s good to be noticed. What is that old saying? If you’re not pissing people off, you’re not doing things right? By that logic, we must be running a hell of a show.

I’m not entirely sure who whizzed in Mike Arrington’s Wheaties but someone at DEMO/Guidewire Group apparently did. From what I hear, we’re in good company; the list of people Arrington doesn’t like is approaching impressive proportions. If I have any advice for folks in the tech industry, entrepreneurs and media alike, it’s to watch your back. Friendly competition is obviously not in Mike’s vocabulary; either you succumb to his will or… DIE!

Calm down, Mike. Continue reading

Does This Blog Make My Butt Look Fat?

Let me just start by saying that I realize I’m wading into shark-infested waters, dangerous territory no matter how I try to spin these next few paragraphs. But wade I must.

Until this morning, what I’m about to share have been private ponderings reserved for conversation with colleagues. Then I read the most ironic post by Michael Arrington. In it, he berates gossip site Valleywag for its coverage of the underbelly of Silicon Valley and the Web 2.0 movement.

Before I go further, I state for the record:

  • I respect Michael for what he has created at TechCrunch. I may go about the business of reporting and analyzing the technology business in a manner very different from him, but there is no doubt that he has created a successful franchise.
  • Valleywag leaves me conflicted. I like Owen Thomas, and even though he’s reported things I wish he hadn’t, he’s always been fair to me. Still, I’ve never thought Silicon Valley needed a gossip rag, an opinion I’ve held since The San Jose Mercury News carried the gossip column by my friend Chris Nolan in the 90s.

Then, came a post this morning. In his hyperbolic way, Arrington skewers Valleywag for its salacious coverage of Jimmy Wales’ breakup with his girlfriend Rachel Marsden. The irony comes in his conclusion:

There’s a market for this kind of content, obviously. And nothing can stop it except significant changes to our libel and defamation laws. That isn’t something I support. But the valley was a much nicer place to live and work before the days of Valleywag.

And, one might argue, TechCrunch and dozens of other blogs that stoop to a level of discourse that is undignified, disrespectful, and anything but social.

For much of the last year I’ve been struggling privately with a collection of essays about the nature of reporting, journalism, commentary, criticism, and opinion that is the blogosphere. Collected under the title of this post, this unpublished commentary is tied together by a simple idea: that social media, as it is largely practiced, has become entirely anti-social. Continue reading

The Flaw Lies Within

We try to stay above the fray around here – engaging in back-and-forth with other bloggers doesn’t seem to benefit the reader – but sometimes the posts just write themselves. Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman, based in Seattle, recently commented on the insularity of Silicon Valley, positing that perhaps one doesn’t have to suffer the hubris – and over-inflated real estate values – of the vaunted tech hub to succeed in technology. Blogger Michael Arrington zinged him for it, suggesting that, “If you don’t think you have what it takes to make it in Silicon Valley, maybe Seattle…is the place for you.” He even goes so far as to insinuate that if you’re not in the Valley, you shouldn’t bother starting a business.

It’s a competitive advantage to be here. And if you aren’t willing to take advantage of every possible advantage to make your crazy startup idea work, perhaps you shouldn’t be an entrepreneur.

Emphasis his. And mine, actually. The hubris of this is astounding. What needs to be said here is that without the rest of the country Arrington dismisses so quickly, all the ideas formulated in the Valley are going exactly nowhere. Like it or not – and many in the Valley don’t like it – entrepreneurs in the consumer sector need to be ever mindful of Sally Stay-At-Home and Carl Cubicle (or vice versa). These folks don’t know a Twitter from a Pownce and don’t care to. They’re looking for technology that will make their lives easier; it’s as simple as that. Technology that doesn’t require they spend hours a day online, submitting articles to be dugg and updating statuses. Technology that insiders dismiss as “tacky garbage,” as Gizmodo called the digital picture frames that are selling well at Target and WalMart stores across the country.

This is not a new bandwagon on which I’m jumping. My ongoing (and some say annoying) mantra is to remember the outsiders. That until we recognize and strive to understand the real computing needs of everyday consumers, we can’t truly effect a change in people’s lives. And understanding everyday consumers means getting out of Silicon Valley. Continue reading