The Real “Authenticity Killer” (and an aside about how bad the Yahoo brand has gotten)

Thank you Facebook, the protester's sign reads

Steve Cheney has never written something that so pissed me off than the blog he wrote today stating that Techcrunch’s switch to Facebook comments has killed authenticity.

Here’s the rub. He used his real name.

Strike one about why he’s wrong.

But then he wrote this line “Face it, authenticity goes way down when people know their 700 friends, grandma, and 5 ex-girlfriends are tuning in each time they post something on the web.”

Hello! Name one person on the web that doesn’t use Google or Bing. One. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Hint, your 700 friends are on Google. Your grandma is on google. Your five ex-girlfriends are on Google. My ex-wife is on Google.

Thinking back over my 46-year life I’ve only read something more wrong a few times.

Not to mention I worked with an executive at NEC who got fired for something he anonymously wrote on a forum (a racist post). Someone figured out where the IP address came from and sent the post to his boss, who quickly fired him. Being truly anonymous and untrackable on the Web is very difficult.

So, what’s going on here? Why is it causing people to lose all perspective on EVERYTHING?

These “authenticity is dead” people are cowards.

See, where I ONLY post opinions I’m willing to sign my name to, lots of people are actually cowards and just not willing to sign their names to their mealy-mouthed attacks.

Don’t give me that horseshit that you won’t be able to whistle blow at work.

I once took on Microsoft WHILE I WORKED THERE because of an injustice I felt was happening at every level. The execs had decided to pull support for an anti-discrimination bill due to pressure from a local church. I thought that was horseshit and wrote about it continually for a few days. Within a week Ballmer had reversed himself and within a year that bill passed for the first time in eight years of tries.

What you didn’t know back in 2005 was that my boss was a member of that church. Every day I went to work that week I knew it could have been my last day at Microsoft. In my discussions with my wife I told her that I could get fired at any moment for what I was writing. She knew my boss at the time belonged to that church. She knew I was calling Steve Ballmer a coward. She knew I was behaving in a way that would be seen as really nasty by nearly everyone at work.

Did that stop my authenticity? No way. I didn’t stand on the shoulders of 200 years of free speech struggles to fumble the ball and be a coward. It is amazing that everything worked out and that Jeff Sandquist is today someone I’d call if I was in trouble and that that bill passed. If the church had simply not tried to push its weight around that bill probably still would be struggling to pass.

Where did my authenticity come from? I knew that REAL change comes from people putting their necks on the line. I couldn’t remember a time when an anonymous person really enacted change in, well, anything. It’s why I sign my name to everything, even stuff that could get me fired. Hell, I live in an “at will” state. THIS post could get me fired! My boss could wake up tomorrow and decide he doesn’t like the shirt I’m wearing and fire me. People have been fired in Silicon Valley for less you know.

Look at all the images from Egypt (and I hope you don’t think I’m comparing myself to those heroes who sacrificed their lives there) but they put their necks on the line and they signed their name to the ultimate sacrifice. They were NOT cowards. THEY LOVE FACEBOOK AND THE VOICE IT GIVES THEM!

So, let’s step back again and look at what the real authenticity killer is: cowardice.

If you want to change something, or get MG Siegler to stop writing about Apple so much, freaking sign your name to your opinion.

Now, let’s head over to Techcrunch and discuss some other issues.

Over on Techcrunch MG Siegler is asking an interesting question: “Facebook comments have silenced the trolls but is it too quiet?”

First of all, some observations on my part:

1. The flow has gone down.
2. The quality has gone way up (some, who were there for the food-throwing entertainment disagree).
3. Where there is real content now we can ascribe it to a real person which gives the lower flow MUCH MORE VALUE.
4. Yahoo has seen more advertising (some good, because at least it’s being seen again on Techcrunch, but much bad, because it’s brand is already being associated with cowards who want to throw food but don’t want to sign their real name).

I’m going to focus on one point. Why does a comment with a real name have so much more value? And why are systems like Yobongo, Quora, and Facebook forcing users to use their real names?

Because if you say something and I know where it’s coming from I can make more use of it.

For instance, the same information has different value depending on where it comes from. Here, let’s try it out:

Anonymous person says “Android sales have doubled in past year.”
Google engineer says that.
Google’s CEO says that.

It can be the same information, but it’s more credible, more POWERFUL coming from someone who uses their real name. Even the Google engineer is 1000x more powerful than the anonymous person.

That’s why I’m cheering on Techcrunch’s experiment.

Yes, the food fight is gone.
Yes, the flow is down.

But the trickle of comments that are there now are 1000x more useful and are easier to find because I don’t need to dig through the food fight to find them.

I do note, too, that that Techcrunch post has almost 200 comments so the flow hasn’t gone down all that much.

I’m seriously considering this change myself. You’re lucky because I’m just too busy this month to take on something disruptive like this. SXSW is next week and after that I have a TEDx speech to prepare (if you live in Silicon Valley, you should come!).

UPDATE: One other reason I think the quality has gotten better: no astroturfing! What’s that? Well, it’s where a bunch of Microsoft employees start posting anonymously about how crappy the new Android OS is. They’ve been caught doing that in the past, so I’ll use them as an example. It’s really hard to astroturf when you have to use your real Facebook identity and social graph to back up what you’re posting, isn’t it? Why yes it is.

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

197 thoughts on “The Real “Authenticity Killer” (and an aside about how bad the Yahoo brand has gotten)

  1. the problem is more than just authenticity, it’s a problem with the way Facebook insist on flattening the social graph which is a very unnatural situation. People have complex, multi-layered relationships with each other (and the places they want to comment) but the “one size fits all” approach FB are enforcing at the moment is flawed because it doesn’t improve on the real world – http://post.offbeatmammal.com/facebook-is-wrong-the-social-graph-isnt-flat

  2. I’m not on Facebook, Aol or Yahoo, what am I supposed to do? The comment system over at techcruch alienates folks like me.

    The Internet was once a diverse place, now it is increasingly becoming a monopoly and I can’t support that.

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  4. trolls are traffic too. no idea what the heck TC is thinking. They dun even care about the quality of their posts, and they care about the quality of the comments?? This is about users profiles and targeted ads.

  5. i think the relationship between anonymity and stalking is a relevant point to explore but I’d just like to caution that its not just women who have stalkers, men too -

  6. I know this is sort of a side issue to your authenticity argument, but: whilst TechCrunch comment quality may be 1000x better I’m wondering if the posts are now 100x less interesting? Much like Digg in the early days, often the most entertaining part of a post was the comments section. Trolls and all (well, some of them anyway!).

  7. Man, I just want them to make the font bigger! Why am I having to zoom in to read comments. It’s not like they’re running out of webspace, so what’s with using Ariel 4?

  8. I fail to see where I’m incorrect. I never said that there aren’t excellent, anon comments on Quora. I said that there are a large number of great comments on Quora that are given by people who are self-identified and that their profile gives credence to their answer.

    They aren’t mutually exclusive.

  9. +1000. It’s funny. I’ve read discussions of this topic on Engadget, Lifehacker, Chen’s blog and here. In over 1000 comments, I don’t remember seeing a single female who actually approved of stripping anonymity.

  10. I think the real issue here is that Disqus comments are failing for large communities, including yours. I want Disqus to innovate in how it handles commenting – more granular controls over what types of posters are allowed would be one step, but another would be a Slashdot-style importance / value of comments system. This is all about upping the noise-to-signal ratio, and I want some way of extracting the best comments only; Facebook comments on TC helped by reducing volume and some of the chaff, but I’d rather have the community designate the best comments instead.

    1. facebook comments are now like mutual admiration society of yes men/women, it is unbearably cloying. It is a totally artificial world.

  11. dude, I use a different identity(call it fake if you will) and I am proud of it, I don’t want my personal and professional lives mixed up, I don’t want my manager/relatives/friends to know how much I comment or what I comment and even if my comment is indexed by either facebook or google, they can never guess it’s me. So I am a coward according to you. What a piece of bullcrap

  12. Robert, when I see your name, I associate it with knowledge, insight, and a clear understanding of how the tech world works. And yet, here I am, actually reading what you wrote, and, despite the fact that your name is on it, it’s still totally insane.

    I know you’d like to see a world in which everything that anyone posted on the entire Internet had to be under their own name. Thus, every comment by one person could be linked back to all of their comments on every other website.

    Now, I, personally, wouldn’t be that ashamed if, say, after leaving a comment on TechCrunch, MG Siegler would be able to effortlessly find out that I also enjoyed looking at a picture of jockstrap-clad bodybuilders having a gay orgy in a locker room shower. Other people, however, would want to be a bit more private about such things.

    This will not change. Ever.

  13. Scobleizer has it wrong. So very wrong. I disagree with your assessment entirely. I sincerely feel that anonymity is something valuable and useful to the discourse. It’s a powerful tool that allows people to hone their world view by pushing the envelope in ways that may be subject to harsh public condemnation.

    More important than that is context. Context is the most important reason for anonymity, the context of who I am, what I am feeling in a given moment, and what my real intentions are. The problem with google et al is that they take things out of context. People’s arguments, wherein they might *hypothetically postulate* something, could, in the context of a search result, be seen as a horrendously uncouth and offensive piece of writing that in no way represents the writers true feelings.

    For instance, I believe the Mormon political agenda is a serious danger to free thinking Americans and feel that Mitt Romney + Glenn Beck is recipe for civil war, can I vocalize this on Facebook where my BOSS (CFO) is a mormon? CAN I REALLY?

    Socially speaking, anonymity is required in the modern age.

    1. heres the irony, Robert Scoble could’ve used another identity to put across the view that using a different identity is a sign of cowardice and he would still have got you as the customer lol

  14. I disagree with your statement that it matters more WHO says something, versus WHAT is said. Whether or not it matters who is saying what, at the end of the day shit is still shit and gold is still gold. Like Robert Gates says, let’s just call a spade a spade.

    While it does add authority when someone prominent puts their name behind an opinion, your follow up contention that anonymous should be automatically discredited and don’t have authenticity is going to the extreme and is categorically untrue.

    Robert, it’s hard to be truly authentic in everything you say (state your true opinions no matter way) unless you:
    1. Have fuck you money (most people are not able to public take a controversial position because it will come back to bite them in the ass)
    2. Ready to go for broke (like those Egyptian protestors. For these people who previously did not have a voice, Facebook gave it to them — ok, but that’s not the case here)
    3. Are a prominent and controversial blogger like yourself or Arrington
    4. Don’t have a close knit PROFESSIONAL (not social) network who are connected to the people in the article
    5. Are recklessly ballsy

    It seems that you contend people should ONLY post opinions they’re willing to sign their names to (just as you would), but if that really becomes the case, most controversial discussions would become sterile in a small world like the tech world, where everyone knows each other and friends can be lost quickly.

    I agree with Facebook, Quora and Yobongo forcing people to use their real names, because those are services where verification of one’s identity is a driver to maintaining their platforms (although Quora DOES allow anonymity, for the exact reason why people need anonymity. Not all people can state their true opinions under their real names for fear of backlash), but enforcing Facebook comments on a site like TechCrunch can only ruin the comments/discussions. You say the quality has gone way up… I must disagree. I don’t even read the comments anymore because they are so sterile and boring. Even MG agrees with me.

    And Robert, the only reason that TC post got 200 comments is because there were so many people who hated the new commenting system and wanted to weigh in. Some people liked it but they appear to be the minority. For me personally, that TC article was the first one I’d actually read since the change was implemented.

  15. I disagree with your statement that it matters more WHO says something, versus WHAT is said. Whether or not it matters who is saying what, at the end of the day shit is still shit and gold is still gold. Like Robert Gates says, let’s just call a spade a spade.

    While it does help when someone prominent puts their name behind an opinion, your follow up contention that anonymous should be automatically discredited and don’t have authenticity is going to the extreme and is categorically untrue.

    Robert, it’s hard to be truly authentic in everything you say (state your true opinions no matter way) unless you:
    1. Have fuck you money (most people are not able to say fuck you to anything or anyone because it will come back to bite them in the ass)
    2. Ready to go for broke (like those Egyptian protestors. For these people who previously did not have a voice, Facebook gave it to them — ok, but that’s not the case here)
    3. Are a prominent and controversial blogger like yourself or Arrington
    4. Don’t have an existing network (in this case the tech crowd) in which what you say could lose friends
    5. Recklessly ballsy

    It seems that you contend people should ONLY post opinions they’re willing to sign their names to (just as you would), but if that really becomes the case, most controversial discussions would become sterile in a small world like the tech world, where everyone knows each other and friends can be lost quickly.

    I agree with Facebook, Quora and Yobongo forcing people to use their real names, because those are services where verification of one’s identity is a driver to maintaining their platforms (although Quora DOES allow anonymity), but enforcing Facebook comments on a site like TechCrunch can only ruin the comments/discussions. You say the quality has gone way up… I must disagree. I don’t even read the comments anymore because they are so sterile and boring. Even MG agrees with me.

    And Robert, the only reason that TC post got 200 comments is because there were so many people who hated the new commenting system and wanted to weigh in. Some people liked it but they appear to be the minority. For me personally, that TC article was the first one I’d actually read since the change was implemented.

  16. You are confusing two things: Steve, and you (and me) are OK with signing at least some of our statements. That doesn’t mean that everyone wants to, or can: “most Japanese” (to take the largest group that we can summarize in two words) don’t. They are not coward, mean or lame: they just prefer to keep things separate.

    Please stop considering your personal experience as representative of everyone’s moral. This is a almost constant drawback of your reporting: your plaster your value system over everyone whom you come across.

  17. You are confusing two things: Steve, and you (and me) are OK with signing at least some of our statements. That doesn’t mean that everyone wants to, or can: “most Japanese” (to take the largest group that we can summarize in two words) don’t. They are not coward, mean or lame: they just prefer to keep things separate.

    Please stop considering your personal experience as representative of everyone’s moral. This is a almost constant drawback of your reporting: your plaster your value system over everyone whom you come across.

  18. Something a lot of people seem to have missed is the fact that together with your name is a link to your profile. Now, I don’t mind putting my name on the comment. In fact, my Disqus profile links to my twitter, etc. However, I have always wanted to keep my FB page as private as possible and this is now virtually impossible. I still limit the content visible on my public profile, but before this page would be completely hidden. Unless you were my friend on FB or I had shared a link to my profile with you, you would be unable to reach my profile page. This is a little troubling for me.

  19. Another thought on anonymous commenting. It is like the way Americans vs the French deal with alcohol.

    In France, people are exposed to alcohol younger and there is no taboo. This cuts down on binge drinking of college students and adults, its not new and their culture has steered them to a more mature understanding of the notion and consequences of drunkenness.

    However, in the US where we live 21 years (albeit imperfectly) without alcohol we imbibe to quiet the taboo, and make a misery of learning what the French know nearly instinctively.

    Anonymous commenting is partially inflamed because so few sites actually permit it. People who are inclined to abuse the comment stream, will simply get tired of it as they mature into the process.

    But when its available on so few sites, it encourages bad behavior because its “an out” from the signup.

    If every site allowed anon commenting, people would flame yes, but they would also eventually mature and use it as a useful tool as they realize, “hey Im accepted into this whether I flame or not, so why not write what I really think?”, versus acting out in public.

    With the path the net is on, we will never get there.
    And lets remember, this facebook commenting thing is about one thing: profit.
    So good job on the corporate newspeak.

  20. Your gardener is trimming the hedges, and accidentally with his shears, takes a nick out of your Lexus rear bumper trim. Your gardener speaks english well, and you yell, “Hey WTF man? Can you not fuck up my car while you trim the hedges?????!”

    Your wife who is washing the dishes in the kitchen looking out the front window sees this, and runs out to tell you, “Bob please dont yell at the gardener!”, you reply “But he just nicked my 60 thousand dollar car with his trimmer!”.

    Your wife comes out to look at the damage and says, “oh a lady bumped into it with a grocery cart at Safeway on Saturday”.

    So you see, context is everything, and using Facebook for comments is wrong because it puts you in a position of explaining yourself to people who, first off dont give a fuck, and second off, dont know the context, and third off will ONLY judge you as a result.

    Thats why your wrong mang.

  21. Your post reminds me a lot of arguments made along the lines of “if you’re really innocent, you shouldn’t have a problem with the invasion of privacy”.

    Robert, using yourself as an example is a mistake. This is because your career has been made on your ability to spew forth opinions. Can you do that and attract an audience? Yes, and then you’re hired.

    Most people however will find that the nature of their thoughts and opinions could cost them their jobs, or anything that they may apply for (from school to an apartment, mortgage, club membership, etc…).

    I’d much rather be part of a community where everyone would feel free to express themselves without fear of real-world retribution or discrimination.

    I have no problem looking at a comment and evaluating it on its own merit.

    Just wondering what name could I sign to this comment that would give it any more authenticity than signing it anonymously?

  22. There is some authenticity lost—not all of it, but some, because when we’re looking at a Yahoo! or Facebook or other “profile” we’re not necessarily looking at the profile of a real person, but the “person” that the profile writer wants viewers to see. There’s a lot that doesn’t get disclosed in a profile, much of it intentionally.

  23. I remember in 5th grade, some kid said “why does it matter if the government knows everything we do, as long as you are always obeying the law?” This is the kind of thinking that leads to a police state or Utah… Just because you are OK with or brave enough (during your employ at MSFT) to share something with your FB identity, does not mean that the best world is to encourage that.

  24. With almost 600 Million + people on Facebook, theres more than enough using Facebook. If people have something of value to add to any comment stream, Joining Facebook to get involved doesnt seem like such a barrier to entry. I also feel as though the cowardice level just rises and rises day by day, we live in an age where everyone is a pundit.But even experts on TV give their name. Like in the real world lets all be accountable for what we say and do. -Curtiss Pope

  25. Wow, Mr. Scoble, you’re sOoOoOo courageous. That story about how you stood up to mean ol’ Microsoft is so pertinent to this topic, and it has so much to do with this topic. It’s like you took the original posts point – that some people want to say things without notifying their entire social graph, and it’s in those comments (when people can write freely) that you often get the most intelligent responses – and totally proved it completely wrong.

    And you also pointed out how everyone uses Google, because when someone posts a comment using their Google ID, that comment shows up on all of their friends’ news feeds whenever those friends use the Google. So it’s totally the same thing when someone comments using their Google ID and their Facebook account. Brilliant!

    You’re so smart, and have the ability to put together such logically consistent arguments and coherent reasoning. I salute you!

  26. Ugh. Please stick with Disqus Robert.
    Authenticity it one thing – I have no problem signing my name to my words – but sharing them intentionally with people I went to high school with? Not such an appealing idea.
    Not that I mind if that person from high school has a reason to see my comment wherever it might be – but that would mean s/he sought me out for a reason, or came here b/c something you wrote resonated with him/her.
    Not a matter of authentic or inauthentic – more a matter of making me drag around the *same* social graph everywhere I go.
    To be candid – I wouldn’t tell everyone at my PTA that they should all come to my favorite watering hole every time I went – because it would make it not-so-favorite pretty quickly if they were all there all the time. I might mention that’s where I’m headed once in awhile – which is kinda the equivalent of tweeting the link to here or TechCrunch, but force me to connect the two and I’m not so thrilled.

  27. The problem isn’t using your real name on TechCrunch. It’s that your grandmother doesn’t give a flying shit about what anyone has to say about the latest WooZee funding rumours, and she doesn’t want to have to mute you when she does.

    Tying this system into Facebook means that we’re forced to deal with each others’ complex identities. There are no psychological boundaries, and that fails to map to real experience. There’s a reason a whole ton of young people are posting things on Tumblr, and it’s not because it allows them to share on Facebook.

    It’s ironic you’re so upset about this, because you are the canonical example I use when arguing for more discrete forums for social interaction online. To see your posts up against my friends’ and family members’ posts is the worst form of cognitive dissonance I can imagine.

    Again, since your main point seems to be about real names, agreed. For the most part, people want to be able to use their real names, and that’s good. But there are more subtle things at play here – President Obama sure as fuck isn’t going to say some things when you’re in the room versus when Hilary Clinton, or versus when Michelle Obama is in the room.

    If our online tools don’t allow for that diversity of privacy, then we’ve failed as technologists. We’re failing ourselves and everyone. Public is easy. Private is hard. Both matter.

    1. That’s different than authenticity. If Steve had just said “it messes with my control of distribution of information and makes my grandma cry” I’d totally agree with him. But he said it makes him less authentic. I think that’s horseshit.

      1. Fair enough. :-)

        It’s worth calling out that they’re different, because people will conflate the two issues, and that would be unfortunate for the web.

      2. I totally get you Robert, but you’re overstepping in the same way Steve did; speaking for others.
        It may indeed make *him* (and others) less authentic. But likely won’t affect, you.
        I constantly call out trolls for being ‘anonymous’ cowards, when it’s just to flame others over fairly mundane subjects.

        But TechCrunch using FaceBook instead of their own, hand-moderated
        comments, reduces them from a once-great tech news destination to a less descript destination.
        A great blog would own their own comments.
        What would a moderator cost, really?

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