The Real “Authenticity Killer” (and an aside about how bad the Yahoo brand has gotten)

Thank you Facebook, the protester's sign reads

Steve Cheney has never written something that so pissed me off than the blog he wrote today stating that Techcrunch’s switch to Facebook comments has killed authenticity.

Here’s the rub. He used his real name.

Strike one about why he’s wrong.

But then he wrote this line “Face it, authenticity goes way down when people know their 700 friends, grandma, and 5 ex-girlfriends are tuning in each time they post something on the web.”

Hello! Name one person on the web that doesn’t use Google or Bing. One. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Hint, your 700 friends are on Google. Your grandma is on google. Your five ex-girlfriends are on Google. My ex-wife is on Google.

Thinking back over my 46-year life I’ve only read something more wrong a few times.

Not to mention I worked with an executive at NEC who got fired for something he anonymously wrote on a forum (a racist post). Someone figured out where the IP address came from and sent the post to his boss, who quickly fired him. Being truly anonymous and untrackable on the Web is very difficult.

So, what’s going on here? Why is it causing people to lose all perspective on EVERYTHING?

These “authenticity is dead” people are cowards.

See, where I ONLY post opinions I’m willing to sign my name to, lots of people are actually cowards and just not willing to sign their names to their mealy-mouthed attacks.

Don’t give me that horseshit that you won’t be able to whistle blow at work.

I once took on Microsoft WHILE I WORKED THERE because of an injustice I felt was happening at every level. The execs had decided to pull support for an anti-discrimination bill due to pressure from a local church. I thought that was horseshit and wrote about it continually for a few days. Within a week Ballmer had reversed himself and within a year that bill passed for the first time in eight years of tries.

What you didn’t know back in 2005 was that my boss was a member of that church. Every day I went to work that week I knew it could have been my last day at Microsoft. In my discussions with my wife I told her that I could get fired at any moment for what I was writing. She knew my boss at the time belonged to that church. She knew I was calling Steve Ballmer a coward. She knew I was behaving in a way that would be seen as really nasty by nearly everyone at work.

Did that stop my authenticity? No way. I didn’t stand on the shoulders of 200 years of free speech struggles to fumble the ball and be a coward. It is amazing that everything worked out and that Jeff Sandquist is today someone I’d call if I was in trouble and that that bill passed. If the church had simply not tried to push its weight around that bill probably still would be struggling to pass.

Where did my authenticity come from? I knew that REAL change comes from people putting their necks on the line. I couldn’t remember a time when an anonymous person really enacted change in, well, anything. It’s why I sign my name to everything, even stuff that could get me fired. Hell, I live in an “at will” state. THIS post could get me fired! My boss could wake up tomorrow and decide he doesn’t like the shirt I’m wearing and fire me. People have been fired in Silicon Valley for less you know.

Look at all the images from Egypt (and I hope you don’t think I’m comparing myself to those heroes who sacrificed their lives there) but they put their necks on the line and they signed their name to the ultimate sacrifice. They were NOT cowards. THEY LOVE FACEBOOK AND THE VOICE IT GIVES THEM!

So, let’s step back again and look at what the real authenticity killer is: cowardice.

If you want to change something, or get MG Siegler to stop writing about Apple so much, freaking sign your name to your opinion.

Now, let’s head over to Techcrunch and discuss some other issues.

Over on Techcrunch MG Siegler is asking an interesting question: “Facebook comments have silenced the trolls but is it too quiet?”

First of all, some observations on my part:

1. The flow has gone down.
2. The quality has gone way up (some, who were there for the food-throwing entertainment disagree).
3. Where there is real content now we can ascribe it to a real person which gives the lower flow MUCH MORE VALUE.
4. Yahoo has seen more advertising (some good, because at least it’s being seen again on Techcrunch, but much bad, because it’s brand is already being associated with cowards who want to throw food but don’t want to sign their real name).

I’m going to focus on one point. Why does a comment with a real name have so much more value? And why are systems like Yobongo, Quora, and Facebook forcing users to use their real names?

Because if you say something and I know where it’s coming from I can make more use of it.

For instance, the same information has different value depending on where it comes from. Here, let’s try it out:

Anonymous person says “Android sales have doubled in past year.”
Google engineer says that.
Google’s CEO says that.

It can be the same information, but it’s more credible, more POWERFUL coming from someone who uses their real name. Even the Google engineer is 1000x more powerful than the anonymous person.

That’s why I’m cheering on Techcrunch’s experiment.

Yes, the food fight is gone.
Yes, the flow is down.

But the trickle of comments that are there now are 1000x more useful and are easier to find because I don’t need to dig through the food fight to find them.

I do note, too, that that Techcrunch post has almost 200 comments so the flow hasn’t gone down all that much.

I’m seriously considering this change myself. You’re lucky because I’m just too busy this month to take on something disruptive like this. SXSW is next week and after that I have a TEDx speech to prepare (if you live in Silicon Valley, you should come!).

UPDATE: One other reason I think the quality has gotten better: no astroturfing! What’s that? Well, it’s where a bunch of Microsoft employees start posting anonymously about how crappy the new Android OS is. They’ve been caught doing that in the past, so I’ll use them as an example. It’s really hard to astroturf when you have to use your real Facebook identity and social graph to back up what you’re posting, isn’t it? Why yes it is.