Has/How/Why tech blogging has failed you

Oh, what a hoot. I’ve been taking a break from blogging just to relax and invest my time in other places. Like FriendFeed. Or downloading iPhone apps.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about Tech blogging and my role in it. I’ve increasingly become saddened. Why? Because we’ve increasingly started focusing on the business side of things. Look at all the stories on TechMeme or Google News’ tech section. It’s all business, almost all the time.

Rewriting (or competing with) the Wall Street Journal isn’t why I started blogging back in 2000. I started blogging because I wanted to share my life with you (back then I was planning conferences with programmers and I was seeing them build remarkable things). I wanted to help other people discover these new things and understand how to use them best.

I really got back to those early days when I visited Dan Meis. He’s an architect. No, dummy, not a software architect, but an architect that designs REAL buildings! (He designed Seattle’s baseball stadium, for instance). After the interview he pulled out his new iPhone and we were comparing apps. I showed him a few, and life was, for a few seconds, just two geeks sharing what we loved.

That feeling came back yesterday during lunch. I was sitting with Stanley Williams, Senior HP Fellow, and listened to him talk about all sorts of Quantum Science Research that HP was doing with Steve Jurvetson, managing director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, a famous VC firm in the valley. These two instantly started talking about stuff that made me realize (and everyone sitting next to me) that I know absolutely nothing about anything. They were using a language I didn’t understand talking about how HP was going to shrink processors to many times smaller than they are today.

Later in the evening I felt that feeling once again when I met Jim Robinson who was American Express’s CEO for many years (and is still on the board at CocaCola). I had no idea who he was, but I instantly saw in his eyes that he was someone who, even at more than 70 years old, still loved to learn new things. I, of course, pulled out my iPhone and took a picture of his badge with Evernote (and one of his business card) which I then showed him that Evernote uploaded it to the cloud and made it searchable on the text on both of those things. Standing next to him was Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit. He immediately wrote down the name of the app I was using. The joy of tech blogging returned to my face (albeit it was a conversation that didn’t have an audience).

I realized this was what early blogging was all about. It’s why I was the first one to link to TechCrunch (ask Mike Arrington about that). It’s why I loved hanging out with Dave Winer — he showed me all sorts of weird ways to use RSS and blogging software and, later, how to do cool things with home audio gear.

Later I was on a panel where the talk turned to Yahoo and the business deals it may or may not find itself in. I thought to myself (and probably said out loud) that we had wasted 10 minutes of our lives talking about such things.

I realized that I’m at fault for some of why tech blogging has failed you and was thinking that I’d done too much of the “business talk” and not enough of the “let’s discover something that’ll improve our lives together” talk.

But there’s other things too, that have been bugging me.

Tech blogging has become way too controlled by PR agents. You might not realize it, but the top blogs are contacted by PR folks dozens of times per day. This is why you’ll see 15 stories all appear on Techmeme at the same time. All with the same news. Only a few of whom slow down to ask “is this really useful.”

See, we’ve all learned that getting out in the first two minutes is worth a lot of traffic. Particularly if you are writing about an Apple news release.

Watch on Wednesday afternoon as the press, er bloggers, all file the same news story, albeit each with a different sensationalized headline. I’ve played that game and done it as well as anyone.

If you decide not to play that game then you stop getting invited to the coolest events. It’s how the game is played and it ensures that the bloggers all turn into a bunch of news junkies who love talking about the latest Yahoo rumors.

Tonight during the panel Adam Lashinsky of Fortune Magazine made fun of the bloggers saying that in the old school they slow down to make sure they get it right. Whether or not that was a correct statement, it did sit true with me. Few people in the tech blogs call me to get my side of the story when my name is involved. And my phone number is on the blog. If they don’t call me, I seriously doubt they call to check facts or do real reporting with anyone else.

And I’m definitely looking in the mirror there, buddy.

So, off I go to FriendFeed and Twitter where there are real people who don’t care about the business but who are just looking to use technology to have more fun, be more productive, or do something more interesting with their lives.

More ways we’ve failed you?

Our commenting systems really suck. I didn’t realize just how badly they sucked until I started using FriendFeed. My comments here are gummed up with moderation, with spam filters that only sorta work, that don’t have threading, and have many other problems ranging from needing to be signed into, to not working on mobile devices very well, to requiring you to enter weird numbers or do math just to be able to post a comment.

What does this mean? Only the most motivated will leave comments. That’s usually someone with an axe to grind. I’m so tired of those kinds of conversations “Scoble, you’re an idiot.” Hey, I already know that, remember my conversation with Jurvetson and Williams? Why can’t commenters be nice, the way they probably would be if they were face to face? That’s cause we’ve failed you. We haven’t moderated jerks out of our commenting system so now no normal person would go close to anything resembling a modern commenting system. Worse, go over to Digg, which used to be one of my favorite places to find new and interesting stories. The comments over there are simply disgusting cesspools of 14-year-olds who are testing their boundaries when mommy and daddy aren’t looking. Even my 14-year-old son avoids that.

Ahh, Jeff Jarvis has a cure for these curmudgeons. Me? I’ve just been deleting and blocking jerks out of my life. I don’t need them and they don’t need me.

How else do we fail you?

We focus on the latest, shiny object and don’t follow up. I see a few signs that’s changing, but it’s really hard to stay interested in stuff. I was talking with someone tonight who said Facebook seems to be fading from interest. I say they should go to Israel, like I did, or ask my wife. She’s thrilled with Facebook and keeps checking her wall. Me? Meh, off to the newest shiny thing. Oh, wait, Facebook is announcing something new on Wednesday? Oh, wait, Facebook has a new UI? Heck yeah, we’ll check that out for a few minutes tonight and write a bunch about it. Then we’ll forget it in two more weeks and, probably worse, bitterly deride it for all its many flaws (there are always flaws that you find a few weeks after the press releases are gone and the PR teams have moved on).

How else do we fail you?

We used to link to each other all the time, telling you when all the other cool bloggers have done something new and useful. Now? The top tier of bloggers that you are probably following are too busy to respond to their own inbound email (I’m not alone in that one) not to mention have time to read feeds from, gasp, other people’s blogs. If you’re lucky we’ll check Techmeme once in a while and might whip up a post based on that, which leads to even more groupthink.

Yet another way we fail you?

There’s simply too much content to read and watch. So, many of you just avoid us all together. Actually, this is why I like FriendFeed, but why it’s a flawed product right now. On FriendFeed we can vote on which stories are interesting. That’s what the “Like” link is for. But the problem is we can’t display all FriendFeed items that only have a certain number of likes. Until the database lets us do that, this is a problem that remains.

I don’t know how to solve it. Digg is one answer, but is flawed due to group bias and horrid comments. Having a set of professional editors, is another way, but really, isn’t that the same thing as looking at all the items I’ve “liked” on FriendFeed? That’s pretty cool, but has its own bias. And, anyway, on a slow news day, like today, you won’t see much meat there. Heck, looking at that page I “like” way too many items, many of which look pretty stupid once you look back on them.

Some other ways we fail you?

Ethics? I have seen some bloggers not disclose conflicts of interest. I always will, but not everyone you see on TechMeme lives by the highest of rules.

Design? Sphinn, for instance, doesn’t give you full text feeds in its RSS feed. For many that’s not good. Others use too-small fonts to read in a normal browser. Others don’t work on mobile phones very well.

Many of us can seem out of touch with the real world. Do we write about all the forclosures going on? No, and while we’re waiting in line for iPhones and buying the latest games, that can seem pretty out of place right now while people are losing their homes or their life savings.

Also, many of us are very pro Apple, yet when I travel around the world I see far fewer Macs than I see when I go to, say, Gnomedex or other technology conferences that have lots of early adopters. So, we start talking about cool stuff that many of our readers don’t have access to. Or, even worse, when I fly I look at what kind of systems people are using. I still see a ton of Windows 2000 out there. I don’t know a single tech blogger who still uses Windows 2000. So, we can’t even relate to what that experience is like anymore, which is why we like writing about Vista vs. OSX.

Finally, I see a lot of blogs that tear down companies, people, or ideas. I remember when the blogs always just were trying to uplift each other and put interesting ideas forward.

Anyway, I’m rambling. It’s clear to me that I haven’t been serving you well over the past few months and I’m going to be changing my approach to being one that’s more practical and useful and I’ll start trying to bring those kinds of things into your view more often. Lifehacker kind of stuff, for instance.

Do you agree or disagree?

I would love your help, by the way. What blogs are doing the best tech blogging? Let’s clean out my Google Reader subscription list and make sure I’m following the best tech bloggers. Another way you can help? Drop me a line if you see someone doing something really edifying.

A look into datacenter of future at HP Labs

A couple of weeks ago we visited HP Labs where Chandrakant Patel, HP Fellow and Director of HP Labs’ Sustainable IT Ecosystem Laboratory gave us a tour of the datacenter of the future. This datacenter was actually used to render the first two Shrek movies. Patel has worked at HP for 21 years, and is an interesting guy to have a conversation with.

What makes it futuristic? Because of the sensor grid and the way they can move cool air around the room to more efficiently cool the machines.

See what they are saying about this video over on FriendFeed. Here’s a taste: “another excellent interview.” “Awesome.” “Nice.”

Also, earlier this week we posted the interview with the head of HP Labs, Prith Banerjee. That was filmed in front of David Packard and Bill Hewlett’s original offices, so you work for HP and have never been to the headquarters, that’s what they look like.

How much time are you wasting on Twitter?

They bill themselves as the “anti-Twitter.” What is it? It’s RescueTime, a service that keeps track of what you spend your time on. Here Tony Wright, CEO, tells me about the new service. This was part of our trip up to see interesting startups up in Seattle.

Here’s the discussion of this video over on FriendFeed.

I’m scared to use this tool because it would show that I’m spending too much time on Twitter and FriendFeed.

iPhone Developers have a blockbuster weekend

Today I visited two iPhone developers to see how things went. First we visited Evernote, which makes a great note-taking app. This is the most useful app I’ve loaded on my iPhone so far (which has more than 30 apps loaded on it). Really killer thing? Take a picture of something with text in it. Say a sign, or a business card. Or a newspaper ad. Or a bill you received. Save it. Then, search for something on that bill. Wow. It turned all the text in the picture into something you could search for. This is the coolest thing.

The second app developer was Tapulous, producers of Tap Tap Revenge, the #1 free game (and was #9 on the overall list when I visited them tonight and they’ve been rising fast).

Some things I learned.

Evernote has seen 30,000 new people sign up for its service through the iPhone App Store (and many more have downloaded it but had existing accounts). Tap Tap Revenge, which was developed by Nate True, has seen about 200,000 downloads so far, which is made even more incredible because it wasn’t working for part of the day on Friday due to Apple not letting them onto the list at first.

Tapulous says they have several other apps (including a Twitter app, called Twinkle, that I got a first look at. That’s Mike Lee, Chief Architect, showing that off to me) that hasn’t been approved yet, and they are hoping Apple will approve their apps “any minute now.”

Here’s the videos:

Demo of Tap Tap Revenge. In this video you see Bart Decrem, CEO.

Meet Jeff Clavier, one of the investors in Tapulous.

Mike Lee, Chief Architect at Tapulous, shows off Twinkle for the first time, which is a new Twitter client coming soon for the iPhone.

Interview with Evernote’s CEO, Phil Libin, who shows me how his app works on the iPhone.

To give you some perspective on how much the world has sped up: in 1996 the hottest app was ICQ, an instant messaging client. The guys who started that company defined viral marketing. In the first six weeks that ICQ was out there they had 65,000 downloads. Tapulous saw that many downloads in less than a day.

I’d love to hear from other iPhone app developers, particularly ones that are getting praised, or are learning something unique.

Also, I’m hearing from other developers that getting apps approved by Apple is very difficult. Any tips for getting your apps through the system? Any news from developers so we can figure out how slow Apple is being in getting through the app backlog?

Qik and Twitter goes to Congress and causes major controversy

The new press conference

The New York Times, tomorrow, has an article about the controversy over using Internet communications tools like Qik and Twitter and whether they should be allowed to be used by members of Congress. Both Qik and Twitter should be thanking Congressman John Culberson (that’s him, being Qik interviewed by me and Andrew Feinberg). You can read his Twitter account here and you can watch his Qik videos here. It’s amazing how this all started when Andrew Feinberg and I interviewed Culberson just a couple of weeks ago. Andrew broke this story and deserves the credit.

In this Qik video we filmed, you’ll hear him explain the coming controversy over using video in Congress.

Amazing how these tools are quickly being picked up in all sorts of non-techie places and are causing major controversies.

UPDATE: Andrew linked to more video and other posts on this story on FriendFeed.

Jason Calacanis hands keys to blogosphere to Louis Gray

Why does stuff like this happen? Blame it on iPhone fever. It’s a slow news day, other than Apple’s crap. So, Jason goes out and trolls for attention, the way that only he can do. Brilliant at it, too. Got BusinessWeek’s Sarah Lacy to bite. Sarah, Sarah, Sarah. I really do need to teach you something about Jason, don’t I?

But I couldn’t resist the temptation to take Jason seriously, either, and assume he’s handing the keys to the blogosphere over to the new guard. Who’s that? Well, let’s start with Louis Gray. He’s my top most interesting guy according to FriendFeed stats (only TechCrunch’s Mike Arrington beats him).

But, seriously. Jason’s playing all of us. And, anyway, he knows how to get us all to listen to him when he needs that. Blogging no longer is the only tool with which someone like Jason can get us all involved in his drama.

Or, like Mathew Ingram says, “give me a break.”