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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.

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It's the Economy, Stupid

Wow, so two weeks ago I wanted to write about technology and business. And I still do (and will). However, there comes a time when an adjustment needs to be made, and for me that time is now.

The economy is in the tank with no end in site. Asian markets dropped 9% overnight and the European markets took a battering until the coordinated move of central banks moved to adjust interest rates around 4am this morning.

New York City at Night

Banks are closing left and right and the government is bailing not only the banks out, but also commercial entities. In the last few days, no fewer than three people I know have lost their jobs.

People are scared, and rightly so. This is the darkest hour in recent history, rivaled only by 9/11.

Last night on FriendFeed, my friend and colleague Robert Scoble was fretting about the downward spiral. Scoble, to his credit, was trying to work the fear out of his system. Some people felt he should step up and be a leader and inspire confidence, while others felt his pain and lamented with him.

For my purposes, I’m scared as hell, but I’ve chosen to be confident. This is not a false confidence. This is a confidence based in reality and historical context.

Look, folks. Things are going to get worse before they get better. I like Jason Calacanis’ point in in one of his most recent newsletters entitles (The) Startup Depression:

Depending on your DNA, getting your ass kicked is either complete
torture or deviantly rewarding. Truth be told, I like getting my ass
kicked because it makes me angry, motivated and focused. If I look
back on the couple of moments of success I’ve been lucky enough to
have in my life, they all seem to come after a good ass-kicking.

The darkest hour is”“in fact”“right before the dawn.

I’ll also never claim to be an economist, but I read and listen to smart economists and money-people. I look at evidence they provide and I run it through my bullshit filter and what comes out the other side gets stashed in my collective. I reconcile conflicting data and try to understand those conflicts.

Here’s what I (think) I know.

Human nature is all about patterns. When a pattern changes abruptly, it takes us out of comfort zones and can sometimes induce panic. It happens when you lose a job. It happens when you meet your girlfriends parents for the first time. It happens when you transfer into a new school. And it happened when the market started selling off at 500 points a pop.

In the case of the market, 500 points looks big – and it is – and the ramifications for someone like me or you who are not traders and don’t understand the nuances of the market are psychologically intimidating.

Fear breeds a lack of confidence. A lack of confidence breeds fear.

Because humans are a people of patterns, after a few weeks of major drops on the market, a pattern and a cognitive comfort level sets in. Investors begin to see opportunities instead of challenges. Bargain buyers go thrift shopping and a rebound begins.

In my investment armchair, I see the end in sight. We are not there. We are going to see lots more before it turns up. But, my instinct tells me we are nearing a bottom. That doesn’t mean things turn around overnight.

In fact, I expect a lot more people to lose their jobs. The web sector has been largely immune, but will probably get walloped hard too. I spoke yesterday of staying in a self-employment situation if you can and staying in a stable 9-5 if that’s where you are now.

Which brings me full circle. We need leaders. We need people who are going to step up and instill confidence. Fred Wilson did this yesterday and I want to see more from a fiscally minded individual like him (he’s a VC). Scoble is still trying to process it all, and that’s expected, but I hope he will come to grips and start inspiring people at some point.

All of the proverbial A-listers need to step up their games right now and be leaders. In the days to come, I’m likely to write a series of posts on leadership. In the months to come, I’ll also take a much bigger look at the economy in the web space and outside. In World War II, homemaking women went to work in the factories to support the men in battle. It’s our responsibility to take the positions we have and do good in the economy and for our space.

So, though I’ll continue to write about the web, business, technology etc – I’m also going to be talking economics. I don’t know everything, but what I learn I hope to pass back. We will get through this because we have to.

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Not Everything is Quite as Important as You're Making it Out to Be

If our lives only involved this world of technology, then life would be a much better place. If life was as simple as simply going to Google and clicking “I feel lucky”, then we might not have the heartache that is in the world and the social media space could just get along by whispering sweet nothings to each other in 140 characters or less.

Let me say I’m really proud of Robert Scoble lately. He is the only one in the group formerly known as the Techmeme crowd who is demonstrating how much he “gets it”. The other day he broke from his normally socially interactive groove to talk about politics and he made a strong case for the abandonment from Palin-focus and instead pleading people to write about issues that are important to them.

Ironic because only days before, my friend Erin and I were talking over IM and discussing how the momentum of the race flows unequivocally toward the McCain campaign as long as the focus, positive or negative, stays on Sarah Palin. I didn’t blog it because… you know… it’s not what I write about.

But there’s a greater story here, and one that everyone needs to get. You all need to hear this loud and clear. This is September 2008. It is the boiling point of the Presidential election. Debates are a week away and we will know who our next president is in 45 days or so.

What are the political discussions on the blogosphere today?

Let’s not forget the flap last week about lipstick.

Backdrop all this by Bloody Monday on Wall Street where stocks crashed 500 points, or 4.4% on YAFIF, or Yet Another Financial Institution Failure. Actually, two YAFIFs today. Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and Merrill Lynch was absorbed into Bank of America as the parade of failed high level financial institutions continue behind Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, Countrywide, Bear Stearns and others.

As a practical sidenote, the Great depression began as a series of double digit percentage drops on the market and the Black Monday crash of 1987 was a 22.5% decline by itself. The downturn of today may be large, but is a far cry from the entire volume of the market. Also, every system goes through a self-cleansing period where junk is cleaned out to make room for new and solid product. The market is just self-correcting at the moment and historically shows remarkable resiliance.

But my point is this: quit worrying about everyone else and worry about yourself. Take care of your families, jobs and responsibilities. Go and vote on issues, not personalities. Remember, we have to live with whoever we vote into office in November. There are much bigger things to be concerned with during this very difficult time than lipstick and moosehunting.

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