Scripting News for 8/16/07

Today’s links 

Wired: See Who’s Editing Wikipedia.

Dave Sifry is out at Technorati, John Furrier is out at PodTech. Wonder who’s next?

Anne Zelenka suggests using Twitter for “people-powered search.” I tend to use Scripting News. :-)

Ted at Uncov explains why he doesn’t have “the sunshine-up-your-ass San Francisco world view.”

Great free wifi in the lobby of the Stanford Park Hotel in Menlo Park.

A sacred line 

Today I got a brief note from Jason Calacanis requesting that I not mention him on my weblog. This requires a public response. The answer is no. Jason, you just crossed a sacred line. I decide what belongs on this blog. If I worked for you I would resign, just like the editor of PC World did, when they tried to control his editorial. Geez, I hope you don’t do this to the editorial people who work for Mahalo.

Andrew Badera has a fair response to undue pressure. :-)

The PC World editor resigned over an article entitled Ten Things We Hate About Apple. Management relented and the article ran.

At Mozilla today 

I’m at Mozilla headquarters in Mountain View today, giving at talk in a few minutes, about RSS and blogging and Firefox. As usual, I’m going to talk for 10 or 15 minutes, just tell a story or two, and then ask for a discussion.

Today’s talk came about from a random meeting with Brendan Eich at a party early this year. I had heard him once on a Gillmor Gang podcast, and found our philosophies more or less match.

Given recent experience I’m going to try not to be too critical, but I’ve been encouraged to be honest and direct. Yes, imho they have made some mistakes with RSS, but there are some really big opportunities here too.

BTW, if you’re in the room at Mozilla, reading this, please cough three times so I know you’re here. :-)

The topics of discussion at Mozilla 


1. Integrating an aggregator.

2. Integrating a podcatcher.

I am in favor of both #1 and #2.

I’ll explain more about this tomorrow.

There are two sides to every story 

A few years ago, along with a bunch of other bloggers, I was invited to a Microsoft event to discuss their search engine. Having been to many such Microsoft events in the past, I thought the format was they would talk, and then we would talk, and then they would talk and we’d talk and so on. So when it came our turn, I gave them a lot of ideas, I thought that most of them were pretty good, but even if they weren’t, my intention was to help them.

They were offended by this. I didn’t realize it during the event, but found out afterwards, in kind of a roundabout way, I overheard a conversation between two Microsoft people saying some not very nice personal things about me. They knew I was in earshot, so I assumed they wanted me to hear this. I thought it was pretty cowardly, but it hurt anyway (I think that was the point, btw). It was a two-day event, so the second day I didn’t say anything. I hoped that would make up for all the talking I did the day before. Apparently it did not, because they are still repeating the story of how I hurt their feelings a few years ago.

If I had it to do over again, knowing how they were going to use this against me, I wouldn’t have even gone. They didn’t pay me to give them my ideas. Such consulting would usually bill for $10K or even $25K a day. I didn’t ask for any money. That was a mistake too, because I’ve learned big companies don’t value things they get for nothing.

However, my experience with Microsoft up till then was that it was a very expressive culture. I had been in meetings with execs at the company where they talk, very loudly and personally, for very long periods of time. Often at each other. Often angrily. The culture is led by two fairly angry people, Bill and Steve. I never minded this, btw. Being from NY, I like it when people are direct and tell you what they think. Much better than the west coast way, where you often have to guess.

Going into the search engine meeting, I didn’t know the Microsoft culture had changed, that they had become so sensitive.

For me the events are long-gone, but now, whenever someone has a complaint about me, whether justified or not, someone from that group, maybe someone who isn’t even at Microsoft anymore, sends a back-channel message, and all of a sudden it’s a big issue again. It happened this week with the Calacanis incident, another “event” that’s probably going to haunt me for the rest of my days. (Thanks Jason.)

Anyway, the headline is my point. Really, in this case, they should have said something up front. “Our culture has changed, and now we would appreciate it if you sit in the room and say nothing and listen to our talk. When it’s done, you may ask questions, or tell us how much you like it. Then we will feed you and you may go home.” Had they said that, I would have just left, because that’s not what I do.

Now, since this is my blog, and the rules are that I say what I think here, let me say that there’s something really obnoxious about a culture that penalizes people for trying to help them.

16 responses to this post.

  1. Dave, I love your blog and agree with you as much as I disagree with you. Please bear that in mind when I say that what strikes me as your resistance to see your part in things. “Thanks Jason”? Look, you heckled him. You said you were sorry for it. So how is it Jason’s fault if your own, regrettable actions haunt you? Because he’s had a field day with it? Well, those are the consequences of your actions. How do you find time to deal with your part in things when you’re so busy telling the world exactly how Jason should apologize, how it’s Jason’s fault that your actions might haunt you, etc?

    For what it’s worth, I grew up in an environment where to say you were sorry about something you’d done was a sign of weakness, and would be pounced upon with great glee and malice. Not so different from the tech world, I suppose. In such circumstances, giving a true apology – “I am sorry for what I did, regardless of what anyone else did” – is hard. It makes one vulnerable. So if you came up in a similar environment, I can understand the hesitancy to put your hands up. But I’d suggest that you have more to lose by holding resentments against everyone else than you do from anything else. (What’s the saying? Holding a resentment is like taking poision and waiting for the other guy to die.)

    As for the Microsoft thing, it sure sounds like they acted dishonorably. That sucks. How powerful would it be if you could learn to laugh about it, though? Why grant them this power, years later, to hurt you?

    So, while you didn’t ask for my ‘help,’ please don’t penalize me for trying to do so. I speak from bitter and painful experience, and don’t like to see someone so smart and passionate bogged down by unnecessary crap like this.

    Reply

  2. As you say, Dave, there are two sides to every story. I’d quite like to hear Microsoft’s side too, in this case.

    Reply

  3. In your comment on MS you have reported a phenomenon that I have had to deal with for years. Like you, I am a consultant, but my area of speciality is adoption of competitive strategies based on statistical and scientific thinking. Basically I started as a Deming advocate (if you know who he is) and have worked all over the world with dozens of companies telling them the way to change their approach to competitiveness.

    They don’t want to hear it. There is no better example than GM and Toyota. It is not that GM doesn’t know what Toyota does or even that they can’t do it themselves. There problem is that they are so arrogant it doesn’t seem to occurr to them that they are failing (have failed). It is amazing that even 25 years later they don’t seem able or (in particular) willing to ‘get it’.

    My opinion is that this hubris (also seen in Iraq btw) is closely tied to America’s obssession with winning. But that is a discussion for another day. Email me if you’re interested. I live in your area (bay area) coffee would be fun.

    John Dowd

    Reply

  4. Two things.

    First, you’re picture editorial has left me scratching my head. (and, no, not the Gates pic). Maybe I’m reading too much into your selection of pictures this morning. Dunno.

    Second, quitting smoking… HUGE! Quit holding resentments… HUGER! Cold turkey. Just do it. You’ll be just as proud of that one as you are the smoking accomplishment (which is totally admirable). I presume you quit smoking to live longer… The stress harbored in all that resentment is just as poisonous. “Let go of your feelings Luke.” :)

    Reply

  5. Jackie, ask me what I think is unfair about it, and I’ll tell you. But if you make me wrong, up front, that just puts me on the defensive.

    Anyway, I think Jason did a lot that was wrong, and as you say, I’ve apologized for what I did. That apology was available moments after the interruption, so this could have all been handled with much less damage.

    About apologies, yes, where I came from, arguments were about trying to prove that the other person had something to apologize for. It’s a shitty environment. Hard to be creative in it.

    I’ve learned, since then, that apologizing is a cleansing act, it puts the past behind you, it ends the arguments, and it doesn’t actually hurt. Being a CEO is very good training for this, in many ways, that’s the main thing a CEO has to learn, that responsibility for everything that goes wrong is with you, and credit for everything that goes right goes elsewhere. The CEO works for everyeone else, even though the myth is that everyone works for the CEO.

    I have learned to laugh about what Microsoft did, but Jackie, they keep bringing it up. Now I’ve decided (and talked about it on Twitter, not here) that the only way to make this shit stop is to out the creeps who pin this on me over and over. It’s not the past sin that I’m trying to correct, it’s the repeating one.

    Every damn time someone whines about me, as Jason did, the cowards start up the back channel, and out comes the Microsoft complaint, and the O’Reilly complaint, and a few others. I think it should be known that the stories have anohter side. In O’Reilly’s case, his claim that I couldn’t be invited to conferences was temporary, he invited me to more conferences almost immediatley after writing that horrible flame. And the Microsoft people didn’t take into account that I was trying to help them, and their culture wasn’t that people hold back their ideas (imho, that’s why Microsoft rose to greatness, to the extent that they did).

    In your last paragraph you say you don’t want to see me bogged down by unnecessary crap, well neither do i! Of course. :-)

    But you can’t get rid of it by burying it. The people at Microsoft risk nothing by spreading this BS, well let them risk something. I want to know who it is that’s cultivating this one, or if they don’t want to be known, stop pushing the BS. And it’s crazy, what are they fighting for, their right to be mediocre? They’re losing the search engine battle, they were then, and it’s much worse now. So that’s my fault? For trying to give them some ideas that would differentiate their product.

    The thing is there are people at MS who try real hard to keep their company on their toes. Jeff Sandquist is taking the lead on connecting Twitter and Facebook. He works at Microsoft! What’s up with that? That’s what the people at Microsoft should be focusing on, not trying to drag me down into a Calacanis-nightmare-quagmire. And Calacanis should be workng his ass off to make Mahalo a success, and when the audience at Gnomedex started speaking, he should have started listening, instead of blaming. So much damage was done there, and it was so unnecessary.

    Reply

  6. gwhiz, it’s good that you’re scratching your head!

    The pictures in the margins on Scripting News are art — and art is supposed to make you think.

    I just like to put color on the site. And I play games with your mind in the pictures I choose. Usually they have *something* to do with the articles they accompany, but not always. If you don’t understand, don’t worry, just enjoy the puzzles…

    About quitting smoking, it’s funny, lately I’ve been having cravings. I have a friend who smokes sometimes, not often, and sometime she has the smell on her, and I’d think it would be unattractive, but it’s actually attractive. Funny how that works. I can’t smoke though, that part of my life is over. It’s like not jumping off a bridge. I can’t do that either (although I rarely get a craving for that).

    Ian, no doubt they have their own point of view. If you could hear it, I would be happy, because that would be honest. Lurking around in the back channel and making accusations without putting your name on it, that’s cowardly, and that should stop now. If they don’t have the courage to put their name on their accusations and make them publicly, they should not make them at all. I’ve read your blog from time to time, I’ve never seen you have a kind word for me, so I have no doubts that you’re looking forward to the flamage, if it’s forthcoming. :-)

    Reply

  7. At a reading of Vogon poetry you have a choice of pleading to hear the next recital from among a similarly appreciative audience, or retiring to the cold vacuum of space to compose your criticism.

    Naturally, Vogons do not attend each others’ readings.

    When a Vogon invites you to recite poetry, they are either inviting you to recite their own works (a great privilege) or to recite someone else’s from a galaxy slightly further away.

    Remember, corporations are self-centered sociopaths comprised of symbiotic micro-organisms naturally selected to prosper in such a host.

    Being invited to listen to their ‘communications’ is actually a sign that they’re probing you to find out if you’re safe to assimilate or a toxin to ignore, avoid or remove from the environment.

    So, the trick is to attend such events, gush with obsequious enthusiasm, plead to be invited to further events, exhibit nods and winks that you wouldn’t turn down offers of employment/accreditation/partnership, etc and then wipe the Vogon slime out of your ears when you get home, praying the next event doesn’t happen too soon.

    Unless of course, you’d like to be assimilated…

    Reply

  8. >>It happened this week with the Calacanis incident, another “event” that’s probably going to haunt me for the rest of my days. (Thanks Jason.)<<

    The last time I checked I didn’t know Jason had responsibility for your actions.

    At your age and experience, I would really think you would get it. If you’re going to speak your mind, as you always have, then you have to be prepared to accept the consequences.

    I’m not a huge fan of you personally but I respect your intelligence and your insight (that’s why I read your blog). It just troubles me that you “pretend” (that’s my opinion) not to understand the reactions of other people to your actions.

    Notice I didn’t say “agree” with their reactions but simply understand they have a right to them.

    Reply

  9. dave,

    people who work at mickysoft are not very smart. it’s why they work there.

    and yes i’ve been to the mountain top.

    examples: vista, zune, any microsoft based web service .net, polish-notation, SOAP (they destroyed your ellagant xml-rpc) , and the list goes on.

    Reply

  10. To be clear, while I don’t think what Jason did was fair, or smart, I never said he didn’t have a right to do it. I believe in choice, even bad choices.

    Evelyn Beatrice Hall: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

    Reply

  11. Dave the reality is that when you are tell most people the truth they don’t like it very much. For whatever reason, when you are dealing with contentious issues a majority of people instinctively are more comfortable being lied to, even when they know they are being lied to. This is probably why the Bushies have been kicking the Democrats’ asses for several years now (still are – see the recent FISA fiasco). Of course, when you get past the flunky level to decision-makers (ex: Gates and Ballmer) they deal with reality since they have to in order to manage things. Lesson? Figure out if the people you are dealing with like reality or are typical flunky assholes, and adjust your interface to them accordingly.

    This is in reference to situations where power is at stake such as whether all website updates should flow through RSS or Atom (nobody argues much over already-settled issues such as whether we should use TCP/IP). I’d say this is a fundamental reality of power systems and how they work. And corporations are very centralized power systems, essentially totalitarian economic structures where real decision-making power is concentrated in very few hands. I believe this is a bug in the way corporations work and the solution is to make an end-run around them by decentralizing decision-making power. Ultimately, whether websites choose to use RSS or Atom is something the people who build websites decide, even Gates and Ballmer don’t have the power (anymore) to make that decision. Of course, theres some obvious entities who are trying to get that kind of power that Microsoft used to have.

    Just to go further on a tangent, the reason Microsoft no longer has the power to control formats is that their power was previously based mainly (imho) on being able to roll things into new Windows releases. Back at that time, increasing in PC hardware and software functionality were enough to entice people to upgade their PC every 18 months or so. Whereas now, you can use a PC from 2002 and pretty much participate in twitter, facebook, iTunes, and every other “new and exciting” application. And those applications upgrade themselves very quickly, as in Facebook adding real feeds recently.

    Reply

  12. “I’ve read your blog from time to time, I’ve never seen you have a kind word for me, so I have no doubts that you’re looking forward to the flamage, if it’s forthcoming.”

    I don’t think that’s particularly fair, Dave. I often disagree with you – sometimes quite vociferously. There are occasions when you’ve said stuff which has made me pretty angry with you (for example the whole “sexism” thing – but let’s not go over old ground! :) ). It’s fair to say that I don’t have too many kind words for your opinions – but your opinions are *not* you. I like to think that I can treat *you* with respect and kindness, even when disagreeing with your statements very, very deeply.

    So no, no flamage Dave. I’m simply pointing out that you’re right – there is always two sides to every story. I suspect that the Microsoft employees you’re talking about would have a very different perspective on what happened than you have.

    Reply

  13. Twitter was used to provide up-to-the-minute breaking information in Peru’s earthquake last night:

    http://twitter.com/elcomercio

    Reply

  14. Dave,

    I don’t chime in here often, and you don’t know me, so take it for what it’s worth. I read what you write. I read what Jason writes. I read and watch what the blogs have to say about it. It’s all interesting to me.

    With that said, wouldn’t it be better if instead of posting to your blog that Jason had contacted you asking you not to mention him on his blog, you responded to him directly about that? Couldn’t you have told him that you won’t do that? Then he’d know and I think he’d get the picture. But to have you post it, naming him, seems to just fan the flames. Just my thoughts.

    Reply

  15. Posted by Tony on August 16, 2007 at 11:39 pm

    If you would tag every post in which you talk about your relationship with Jason Calcanis with “personal_issues”, and if I could subscribe to your feed minus those posts tagged with “personal_issues”, I’d be a much happier person.

    Reply

  16. Every item on Scripting News will be offensive to you, because they are all expressions of my personal opinion. That’s what a blog is about. You probably should just unsub.

    Reply

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