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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.

FriendFeed is now In a Relationship with Facebook

In a move that surprised many in the tech world, Facebook and FriendFeed today announced that FriendFeed has been acquired by Facebook. This announcement came as a surprise to those who see FriendFeed as an annoying, yet open approach to the web whereas Facebook has a history of being a walled garden, often only opening up their data streams in limited or crippled fashions.

More surprisingly, the acquisition was something like Sixth Sense where you watched the movie trying to figure out what the ending would be just to be totally blindsided as the credits rolled. Yeah, it was that sort of satisfactory “ah, you got me” moment.

friendfeed-facebookI have had a torrid relationship with FriendFeed culminating with a termination of my account, causing much angst and name-calling from the puppets who have pushed FriendFeed as the only way to have legitimate conversations on the web. From my perspective, and others, it was a noisy, troll-filled social platform that, though having good technical features like real time feeds, also provided an almost cliché approach to communication.

Where the web has become increasingly fragmented and dispersed, fans of FriendFeed often touted it’s aggregation platform as the end of disbursement, a concept that I disagree with. Such end of disbursement also marks an end to competition, if allowed, and a navel-gazing mentality that assumes nothing can be better. Competition in the market place is good, and I chose Twitter.

What this means to consumers is unknown yet. Facebook has a historic closed stance and, though opening up certain APIs such as Facebook Connect, and allowing developers to develop applications for Facebook, it still stands as a relatively closed system. In order to really engage with Facebook, you really have to be using Facebook itself or the mobile apps built for Facebook.

FriendFeed has a robust API that developers can access to distribute or repurpose the content within. It has failed in many ways by not providing a really great application ecosystem, but on paper, it is much more robust of an open system than Facebook.

Facebook has certainly taken pages from the FriendFeed book, however, making their newsfeeds real time, and integrating their “Like” feature. However, it still is not as quick or reliable, much less intuitive for the user.

In an ideal world, Facebook takes almost all of the real time, and “Group” functionality of FriendFeed and integrates it into Facebook. Lose the walled garden, and keep the API open for developers. Time will tell, however, as these two companies figure out how to be “In a Relationship” with each other.

More on this acquisition from other sources:

The [Non] Value of Friendfeed

Over the past year or so, I’ve fiddled around on Friendfeed. Sometimes actively, sometimes passively. The notion of aggregating all social content into a single place is an enticing value add to anyone who spends time on multiple services across the internet.

As I’ve thought about the value of Friendfeed and it’s potential to be a market disruptor, I’ve come to realize it’s not. I operate much like other “non personal” brands do. I monitor reputation, mentions, links and traffic. I make decisions based on what will help me get more business for my company and increase key metrics of success. As a result, the value I find in Friendfeed, as a technology platform, is limited.

Twitter is a highly valuable tool for me, mostly because the mobile integration is highly important and integral to the service. Twitter was built to be a mobile tool. While there are services that will allow Friendfeed to be used via mobile (and by mobile, I do not mean iPhone), it was not built with mobile as a key cornerstone. As such, it does not behave in a way that is friendly to me as a mobile professional.

As a measure of mentions, however, Friendfeed shines beyond other aspects of it. Though there is not a significant marketshare of people using Friendfeed, thus making even it’s shiningest feature somewhat dim, it is built on the concept of aggregation and so having search feeds and other monitoring mechanisms on Friendfeed is hugely valuable for businesses.

Where Friendfeed breaks down is its community. Though many (perhaps most) of Friendfeed users who are active are okay, there has been a much larger proportion of people, as compared to other platforms, that use the platform for nothing more than troll behavior. They disagree just to disagree. They argue just to argue. They call names just to call names. Hardly something that is productive for a business to be involved in and as an early adopter of technologies, I decided to call it quits.

Comedy ensued.

In fact, not only did comedy ensue, but my point of trollish behavior was demonstrated on numerous occasions in the epic length thread.

Robert Scoble, perhaps the most vocal critic of me, accurately figured that I was giving a big middle finger to the community. He is correct in that I was sending a message to Friendfeed that, “If you want to be valuable outside of a very small early adopter, tech-heavy community, you need to find a way to be valuable to those people on the outside of “the group”. Right now, that value is missing.

At this time, I cannot suggest to a major media organization that they should use Friendfeed for anything other than monitoring. I cannot suggest that a small business can have productive dialogue with customers via Friendfeed. I just can’t.

Certainly, Friendfeed has done a lot in recent months to enhance the experience with a new look and feel, real time commenting, etc. But they haven’t done enough. At some point, Friendfeed needs to show community value to businesses if they are going to be successful.

I am tremendously grateful for the kind words and the pleas to not leave Friendfeed. Truly, I did not know I had the kind of impact that some have suggested. Thus, I’ll give it a week. I’ll decide next week if I want to kill Friendfeed or not. If I have to make the decision today, I’ll leave. But if it’s truly valuable for all those people to keep me around, then prove it. If you’re okay with the community being the way it is, then that’s fine. Best of luck to you and I’ll see you around the web. However, if my presence is that important, then show me value. Don’t make me find value. Show it to me. I’m willing to be wooed back.

But right now, I don’t see the benefit of investing time and energy in a platform that has little ROI for me and my business.