Oh, what a hoot. I’ve been taking a break from blogging just to relax and invest my time in other places. Like FriendFeed. Or downloading iPhone apps.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about Tech blogging and my role in it. I’ve increasingly become saddened. Why? Because we’ve increasingly started focusing on the business side of things. Look at all the stories on TechMeme or Google News’ tech section. It’s all business, almost all the time.
Rewriting (or competing with) the Wall Street Journal isn’t why I started blogging back in 2000. I started blogging because I wanted to share my life with you (back then I was planning conferences with programmers and I was seeing them build remarkable things). I wanted to help other people discover these new things and understand how to use them best.
I really got back to those early days when I visited Dan Meis. He’s an architect. No, dummy, not a software architect, but an architect that designs REAL buildings! (He designed Seattle’s baseball stadium, for instance). After the interview he pulled out his new iPhone and we were comparing apps. I showed him a few, and life was, for a few seconds, just two geeks sharing what we loved.
That feeling came back yesterday during lunch. I was sitting with Stanley Williams, Senior HP Fellow, and listened to him talk about all sorts of Quantum Science Research that HP was doing with Steve Jurvetson, managing director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, a famous VC firm in the valley. These two instantly started talking about stuff that made me realize (and everyone sitting next to me) that I know absolutely nothing about anything. They were using a language I didn’t understand talking about how HP was going to shrink processors to many times smaller than they are today.
Later in the evening I felt that feeling once again when I met Jim Robinson who was American Express’s CEO for many years (and is still on the board at CocaCola). I had no idea who he was, but I instantly saw in his eyes that he was someone who, even at more than 70 years old, still loved to learn new things. I, of course, pulled out my iPhone and took a picture of his badge with Evernote (and one of his business card) which I then showed him that Evernote uploaded it to the cloud and made it searchable on the text on both of those things. Standing next to him was Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit. He immediately wrote down the name of the app I was using. The joy of tech blogging returned to my face (albeit it was a conversation that didn’t have an audience).
I realized this was what early blogging was all about. It’s why I was the first one to link to TechCrunch (ask Mike Arrington about that). It’s why I loved hanging out with Dave Winer — he showed me all sorts of weird ways to use RSS and blogging software and, later, how to do cool things with home audio gear.
Later I was on a panel where the talk turned to Yahoo and the business deals it may or may not find itself in. I thought to myself (and probably said out loud) that we had wasted 10 minutes of our lives talking about such things.
I realized that I’m at fault for some of why tech blogging has failed you and was thinking that I’d done too much of the “business talk” and not enough of the “let’s discover something that’ll improve our lives together” talk.
But there’s other things too, that have been bugging me.
Tech blogging has become way too controlled by PR agents. You might not realize it, but the top blogs are contacted by PR folks dozens of times per day. This is why you’ll see 15 stories all appear on Techmeme at the same time. All with the same news. Only a few of whom slow down to ask “is this really useful.”
See, we’ve all learned that getting out in the first two minutes is worth a lot of traffic. Particularly if you are writing about an Apple news release.
Watch on Wednesday afternoon as the press, er bloggers, all file the same news story, albeit each with a different sensationalized headline. I’ve played that game and done it as well as anyone.
If you decide not to play that game then you stop getting invited to the coolest events. It’s how the game is played and it ensures that the bloggers all turn into a bunch of news junkies who love talking about the latest Yahoo rumors.
Tonight during the panel Adam Lashinsky of Fortune Magazine made fun of the bloggers saying that in the old school they slow down to make sure they get it right. Whether or not that was a correct statement, it did sit true with me. Few people in the tech blogs call me to get my side of the story when my name is involved. And my phone number is on the blog. If they don’t call me, I seriously doubt they call to check facts or do real reporting with anyone else.
And I’m definitely looking in the mirror there, buddy.
So, off I go to FriendFeed and Twitter where there are real people who don’t care about the business but who are just looking to use technology to have more fun, be more productive, or do something more interesting with their lives.
More ways we’ve failed you?
Our commenting systems really suck. I didn’t realize just how badly they sucked until I started using FriendFeed. My comments here are gummed up with moderation, with spam filters that only sorta work, that don’t have threading, and have many other problems ranging from needing to be signed into, to not working on mobile devices very well, to requiring you to enter weird numbers or do math just to be able to post a comment.
What does this mean? Only the most motivated will leave comments. That’s usually someone with an axe to grind. I’m so tired of those kinds of conversations “Scoble, you’re an idiot.” Hey, I already know that, remember my conversation with Jurvetson and Williams? Why can’t commenters be nice, the way they probably would be if they were face to face? That’s cause we’ve failed you. We haven’t moderated jerks out of our commenting system so now no normal person would go close to anything resembling a modern commenting system. Worse, go over to Digg, which used to be one of my favorite places to find new and interesting stories. The comments over there are simply disgusting cesspools of 14-year-olds who are testing their boundaries when mommy and daddy aren’t looking. Even my 14-year-old son avoids that.
Ahh, Jeff Jarvis has a cure for these curmudgeons. Me? I’ve just been deleting and blocking jerks out of my life. I don’t need them and they don’t need me.
How else do we fail you?
We focus on the latest, shiny object and don’t follow up. I see a few signs that’s changing, but it’s really hard to stay interested in stuff. I was talking with someone tonight who said Facebook seems to be fading from interest. I say they should go to Israel, like I did, or ask my wife. She’s thrilled with Facebook and keeps checking her wall. Me? Meh, off to the newest shiny thing. Oh, wait, Facebook is announcing something new on Wednesday? Oh, wait, Facebook has a new UI? Heck yeah, we’ll check that out for a few minutes tonight and write a bunch about it. Then we’ll forget it in two more weeks and, probably worse, bitterly deride it for all its many flaws (there are always flaws that you find a few weeks after the press releases are gone and the PR teams have moved on).
How else do we fail you?
We used to link to each other all the time, telling you when all the other cool bloggers have done something new and useful. Now? The top tier of bloggers that you are probably following are too busy to respond to their own inbound email (I’m not alone in that one) not to mention have time to read feeds from, gasp, other people’s blogs. If you’re lucky we’ll check Techmeme once in a while and might whip up a post based on that, which leads to even more groupthink.
Yet another way we fail you?
There’s simply too much content to read and watch. So, many of you just avoid us all together. Actually, this is why I like FriendFeed, but why it’s a flawed product right now. On FriendFeed we can vote on which stories are interesting. That’s what the “Like” link is for. But the problem is we can’t display all FriendFeed items that only have a certain number of likes. Until the database lets us do that, this is a problem that remains.
I don’t know how to solve it. Digg is one answer, but is flawed due to group bias and horrid comments. Having a set of professional editors, is another way, but really, isn’t that the same thing as looking at all the items I’ve “liked” on FriendFeed? That’s pretty cool, but has its own bias. And, anyway, on a slow news day, like today, you won’t see much meat there. Heck, looking at that page I “like” way too many items, many of which look pretty stupid once you look back on them.
Some other ways we fail you?
Ethics? I have seen some bloggers not disclose conflicts of interest. I always will, but not everyone you see on TechMeme lives by the highest of rules.
Design? Sphinn, for instance, doesn’t give you full text feeds in its RSS feed. For many that’s not good. Others use too-small fonts to read in a normal browser. Others don’t work on mobile phones very well.
Many of us can seem out of touch with the real world. Do we write about all the forclosures going on? No, and while we’re waiting in line for iPhones and buying the latest games, that can seem pretty out of place right now while people are losing their homes or their life savings.
Also, many of us are very pro Apple, yet when I travel around the world I see far fewer Macs than I see when I go to, say, Gnomedex or other technology conferences that have lots of early adopters. So, we start talking about cool stuff that many of our readers don’t have access to. Or, even worse, when I fly I look at what kind of systems people are using. I still see a ton of Windows 2000 out there. I don’t know a single tech blogger who still uses Windows 2000. So, we can’t even relate to what that experience is like anymore, which is why we like writing about Vista vs. OSX.
Finally, I see a lot of blogs that tear down companies, people, or ideas. I remember when the blogs always just were trying to uplift each other and put interesting ideas forward.
Anyway, I’m rambling. It’s clear to me that I haven’t been serving you well over the past few months and I’m going to be changing my approach to being one that’s more practical and useful and I’ll start trying to bring those kinds of things into your view more often. Lifehacker kind of stuff, for instance.
Do you agree or disagree?
I would love your help, by the way. What blogs are doing the best tech blogging? Let’s clean out my Google Reader subscription list and make sure I’m following the best tech bloggers. Another way you can help? Drop me a line if you see someone doing something really edifying.