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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.

Play to Strengths

Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. Jeremy Schoemaker is a rockstar in SEO. Darren Rowse is a rockstar in making money online. Erin is a rockstar among women bloggers. Thomas Hawk is a rockstar photographer. Brad Feld (a Lijit investor) is a rockstar VC. Chris Brogan is a rockstar people person. Alex Hillman is a rockstar community man. Jody is a rockstar musician.

I’m telling you, everyone is a rockstar in their own right and no one can take away their strength. As Micah puts it, no one can do your job better than you can.

The problem comes when you are not confident in what you do and you let a different kind of rockstar dictate your behavior.

We’ve all seen it. Someone of stature arrives on the scene and the person who knows the space and environment best gets star struck or intimidated by the presence of the rockstar and suddenly doesn’t know how to behave, act or represent themselves.

Confidence is so important. Confidence is sexy. Confidence displays your rockstarness and communicates that you own the place and people should stick by you. Confidence draws people in and causes them to get lost in YOU.

We all need someone else and no one can do it alone.

For myself, I know I have certain qualities and abilities that command the respect of others. I also know that I need people (such as all the people above, to name a few) to teach me something about their environments. Alex, in fact, was the one who gave me inspiration and motivation, not to mention pointers, on beginning the small co-working community we have here in Maryland.

Thomas taught me (via Scoble) a thing or two about lenses for my camera.

And so on.

Who are you learning from? Who inspires you? What are you teaching others?

(See, Chris Brogan taught me how to end posts with questions ;-) )

The Internet is Not a Free Speech Zone

It would seem that people, by and large, think that the internet is a free speech zone. We have blogs, these are our personal spaces and we can do whatever the hell we want.

In case you missed the memo, this is not the case.

Sure, you might not go to jail (actually, this increasingly becomes possible) but as bad, if not worse, is the possibility of destroying relationships because of your actions on the internet.

It’s not a free speech zone.

A few days ago, Loic Lemeur, the founder of Seesmic and someone who I have yet to meet in person, put out a very impassioned video calling Kosso (who is my friend and the developer of Phreadz) to task for disseminating private conversation.

I find this video very honest and transparent. Loic apologizes for direct comments that may have been inappropriate. From Kosso’s standpoint, he explains in a very coherent way why the whole thing is very awkward:

Now, if you’ve made it this far and watched the videos, you can understand that the politics of the web is a very delicate thing. It’s easy for people to get twisted up, but there’s always two sides to every conversation.

A few months ago, Loren Feldman started a series of parody videos mocking Shel Israel’s videos at FastCompany.tv. Quite a number of people took offense to these videos and that particular conversation got downright nasty. What some people don’t understand is that the internet is not a free speech zone and, if Loren wanted to, he could destroy their lives, businesses, client relationships, etc.

Does that make Loren a bad guy? No, I hardly think so. I personally think that Loren is one of the nicest and most honest guys on the internet. But I know he could destroy me.

That in itself doesn’t keep me from stepping into that fray, but it’s a healthy respect valve.

So to everyone I have bitten harshly in this internet world, accept my apologies. There have been a lot of them, but to name a few: Tyme White, Mike Rundle, Kris Smith, John Havens, David Krug, Robert Scoble, Mike Arrington, Jason Calacanis and others.

Life’s too short.