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To Whom Much is Given, Much is Required (or, Scoble Syndrome)

Photo by Eric Skiff
Here we go again. Another day in the life of an ongoing saga between megalomaniac Robert Scoble and myself. In this chapter of this saga, I point out why I have figured out the key thing that he has repeatedly not learned… to whom much is given, much is required.

It started out this morning with Scoble (again) being on the losing side of a battle surrounding something on the web that he thought was so cool, he drove into the ground. This has happened a lot in the last 4-5 years I’ve known Robert.

It happened with Twitter when he jumped on early, amassed a huge number of followers because, let’s be honest, Twitter wasn’t very big in 2006 or 2007 as it is now, and it was easier to grab the spotlight then. Trust me. I know. I was there. He vocally “left” Twitter for Friendfeed when he wasn’t getting enough attention.

It happened later with FriendFeed where I made an early decision after months of use that the cliquishness and snippiness among the elite power users, Robert included, was something I just didn’t want to deal with. I deleted my account and Robert flipped. Ironically, Mike Arrington made a similar decision for different reasons and Robert flipped. It was ugly. Mike wrote a post likening FriendFeed to syphilis and Robert blew a gasket.

We often wondered, in those days, if Robert was a silent investor at FriendFeed because he was doing everything he could do prop the fading service up. He eventually relented and kinda maybe sorta possibly if you had one eye closed and a hand tied behind your back apologized to Mike and I.

Whatever. It’s not about the apology. It’s about narcissistic publicity grabbing tantrums and bloviating. That’s really the core.

It was thankfully peaceful for many months. Robert did his thing. I did mine. One would presume Arrington did his. There was little drama over such silly things, much less any instigations. It was, as they say, the Korean DMZ… still at war… but mainly peaceful.

Until this morning when Robert found himself on the losing end of a drama surrounding Quora. Quora is a new Questions and Answers service that allows users to ask questions and receive answers. Answers are rated up or down and the idea is a crowdsourced agreed-upon answer. The more people say, “Yes, that’s correct”, the more authoritative that answer becomes. It’s a living FAQ of the world. Pretty cool.

Until people start doing things their own way, redefining the service in the face of users and not at all in the right ways.

And while wisdom is the better part of valor, and listening more than speaking often diffuses the problem, Robert decided to “explain” his side of the story… because, you know, he can’t just accept his beatings and get on with life.

But in his explanation, he doesn’t actually take any responsibility and, in fact, pushes the blame on to everyone except himself. Watch as I share, in his words, what happened:

At first I tweeted just my answers to questions. This ensured that my answers would be seen by a pretty sizeable group of people and would gain at least some up-votes, which would ensure that my answers would appear at the top of comment threads. Later, after getting this pointed out to me as a negative bias, I would link to other people’s questions, without my answers, and to the entire question, so you’d see all answers. On Quora you do this by using the Twitter link on the right side of the page, not the one on the bottom.

Fair enough. He tried to work the system to make himself an authority… we all do… and modified his behavior to be a little more helpful when it was pointed out.

I broke convention by using photographs in many of my answers. More than anything this seems to have gathered the ire of the reviewers and others. I did it partly because I know that posts with photos and images get more audience and more consideration than posts without, but partly for fun, and partly to, well, get more upvotes. But Quora is already being seen as a place that’s free of photos and videos so this gathered a great deal of hate.

So he broke the expected behavior of the service for the purpose of self-promotion even after he was called out prior for behavior that was frowned upon. Okay, dude… Now you have to start wondering if you’re just plain holding it wrong.

Some of my answers were controversial and caused flamewars. Quora is a place that’s free of flamewars and controversy. Why? Because when it happens reviewers pull those answers out of the stream and mark them as “not helpful.” I’ve seen this happen many times, not just to my own posts, but where I’ve answered in a way that got a flamewar going I’ve seen my answers pulled out too.

So you expected that by someone asking a question, they were asking for editorial opinion? “What is the fuel economy of a 2010 Honda Accord?” does not sound like the invitation to have a debate over re-usable energy policy… as an example. Does it always have to be about you and your opinions?

I answered posts too quickly, Part II. By answering posts too quickly, and because I knew that first answers were treated better than following answers, especially if the quality of the answer is the same, I would answer first with a poor quality answer and then come back and improve the answer over time. Again, this behavior pissed off people who couldn’t type as fast, or live on the system. Not to mention they saw the first, poor quality answer, and made up their minds that I was a poor quality answerer.

So the people who couldn’t type as fast are at fault? Do you not see a problem with this deflection of blame? What the hell is wrong with you?

I was narcissistic and self promotional. It just leaks out of me. Why? Because I have 4,600 photos I’ve done on Flickr, 694 videos I’ve posted on YouTube, and the hundreds I’ve done on Building43, etc etc. and I pull upon that body of work to answer questions. Yes, many of these things augmented answers, but they pissed off people who don’t have a large body of photos, videos, and blog posts to call upon.

Let me count the millions of reasons why I’m important. You know, let me insert more editorial here from my own experiences. I keep my mouth shut more often than people think I do because I know that when I open my mouth people listen. I take that responsibility very, very seriously. So, as a result, unless I know I’m committed to backing whatever it is I have to say, I don’t say it. I fill the air with inconsequential stuff as opposed to putting my opinion behind some unthought out position that carries real weight. When I do, you’d better believe I’m doing it with the knowledge that I have a position of influence and power.

It’s not a game. It’s a responsibility. And you, Robert, don’t take your responsibilities as a leading voice in technology very seriously. You just don’t pay attention to your cause and effect. This is why this stuff happens to you. All the time.

Think about it before you respond.

Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

4 thoughts on “To Whom Much is Given, Much is Required (or, Scoble Syndrome)

  1. The part that blew my mind was how he mentioned that he’d answer a question quickly, but poorly (by his own admission), then go back and edit it later. Which seems to be the Quora equivalent of “First!” in a comment thread. If you don’t know the answer, YOU DON’T FUCKING ANSWER IT.

    The mind reels.

  2. Great post and very well said. I will admit to being smart enough to listen to Scoble and what he has to say some of the times, but I’m also smart enough to know that much of his stuff comes off as self-aggrandizing which often leaves a poor taste in one’s palate.

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