Comments About Sarah Lacy, SXSW and the "Apology of the Century"

Last night at the Twin Tech Party in DC, Sarah Lacy of Business Week and I had a chance to meet for the first time. What transpired has been spun unbelievably out of control by attendees of the party. Phrases like “Battle of the Titans”, the “Apology of the Century” and labels of me being her “arch-nemesis” have been bandied around.

I personally think it’s all a bit much and want to explain what happened last night with a brief history on what happened involving Sarah and I at SXSW.

Sarah had the opportunity to interview Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder at SXSW. This came within a few months of the Facebook Beacon advertising and privacy fiasco which we covered here. Zuck is not known for public access and this was one of those few times where many in the room had an opportunity to talk to him. It wasn’t really planned that the audience would talk all that much. Handlers ensured that, if rumors are to be believed.

In the heat of the moment, and admittedly some egging on by folks on Twitter who know that I’ll say anything, anywhere (sometimes without thinking through ramifications), I heckled Zuckerberg with “Beacon Sucks“, the first of what would be many heckles from the crowd in that keynote. Get that, though? I heckled Zuckerberg.

This heckle lives on in infamy and everywhere I go, people laugh about it. “Oh, you’re that guy?”

I admit, it was pretty funny and I benefitted from the wave of infamy that went with it. But I want to be clear, I heckled Zuckerberg, not Sarah Lacy. Later in the Keynote, the audience turned on Sarah, but that was not me.

Last night, I spoke with Sarah one on one about the incident. A Flickr photoset was dedicated to the encounter, which I find slightly amusing.

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Sarah was genuinely interesting, but she was naturally a little defensive when we first began chatting about the incident. I hope that the message I was trying to convey made it through: I was heckling Mark, not Sarah, and though I don’t apologize for the content of the heckle (Beacon does suck and still does), I do apologize for the unprofessional conveying of that message.

Personally, I hope that the entire incident can be put behind us. I don’t mind if the Beacon Sucks heckling incident never gets brought up again, but I may be wishing too much. In case the message didn’t translate, ” I’m sorry, for my part, in making you uncomfortable on stage, Sarah. While it was not the best interview, my message was for Mark, and not you. Hopefully you can forgive me and next time we see each other, it will be easier to laugh about the whole thing.”

And by the way, the Twin Tech Party rocked.

Update: Though it’s difficult to hear, here is a video taken at the event of this alleged “apology of the century”.

Update 2: Sarah says, “I do” – Umm, as in, she forgives me. :)

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Zuckerberg, Quit Insulting Our Intelligence

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook has taken one more step in the Beacon war. As we’ve noted, Facebook is wrong to not fully make Beacon an opt-in program, partner companies are wrong for releasing customer data to Facebook and by the way I made a Firefox extension that will help consumers know when they are on a site that is using Beacon technology and will send data about their customers to Facebook, regardless of whether the consumer has a Facebook account or have the program turned off.

So, back to Zuckerberg. Mark posted an entry today on the Facebook blog apologizing for Beacon, admitting that the program was mismanaged from the start and that the response to the outcry were abysmal:

We’ve made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but we’ve made even more with how we’ve handled them. We simply did a bad job with this release, and I apologize for it. While I am disappointed with our mistakes, we appreciate all the feedback we have received from our users.

Zuckerberg continues on to outline how to turn off Beacon altogether – and that’s where this is still breaking down. First, Beacon is still “opt-out”. That is, users still have to proactively turn the “feature” off. I’m guessing that most Facebook users are not paying attention to this whole Beacon uprising, and thus probably have no idea that there is something that can be turned off and how it would be turned off. The majority of Facebook users, I’d venture, are purely using the site to keep up with their circle of people. No one is paying attention to these higher-level issues – something I admit I’m disappointed in as I think these issues affect all users.

The reality is that Beacon is damaged goods and I will be surprised if partners don’t continue to drop the technology. It’s a huge mistake to send data to Facebook and let Facebook determine if the user 1) exists or 2) has not opted-out.

Someone I talked to recently described Facebook and Beacon as, “[Facebook] is like inviting the devil into your home by accident and now [Beacon] is seen as angel of death.”

No, despite Facebook’s steps to “right the wrong”, they have not gone far enough. At the very least, they need to make it completely opt-in and let their marketing department “sell” opting-in to their users. In an ideal world, Beacon is completely abandoned – something that might very well happen if the backlash doesn’t stop soon.

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Freakin' Beacon Firefox Extension

I took the dive into Firefox extension development today whipping out an answer to the Beacon is broke sentiment that is popping up all over the net, including here on this blog. This extension puts a little icon in the status bar that lights up in blue when on a page using Beacon technology. In theory, this will help users make educated decisions about which sites to shop at, or rent games, movies or otherwise engage in activity with.

Get the details and install the extension here. And pass the word.

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