Something about Mike Arrington’s post yesterday has been bugging me. This morning it hit: Mike has the wrong goal.
What is his goal? To beat CNET.
But does a great business or movement EVER get built on top of a goal like that?
Wozniak and Jobs didn’t start Apple to beat IBM. No, they wanted a personal computer for themselves and their friends.
We didn’t go to the moon to beat the Russians. No, we went there to prove it could be done and that we could do it (and beating the Russians was a nice icing on the cake).
We didn’t build the Hubble Telescope to beat the Chinese. No, we wanted to learn more about our universe.
I could keep going.
Lately blogging seems like it has lost its way. Why? Well, looking at TechMeme you can see why: the professionals have taken over and have redefined what blogging is. They’ve (and I include myself in that, because now I’m part of a professional media organization) have taken blogging away from individual people and have corporatized it.
When blogging started getting rolling in 2001-2004 (before Valleywag or TechCrunch) it was a small community who had a few values in common:
1. We were mostly laid off. It was the time of the bust. Most of the entrepreneurs weren’t getting paid, didn’t have any money, and most of the writers, like me, were either working jobs we didn’t like just to ride out the bust, or were totally laid off. No one was showing up to geek dinners back then saying “I just got funded.” Why is this important? Because we had time and we all felt in the same boat.
2. There was one new thing in our lives that we were still figuring out: Google. It wasn’t like today. There wasn’t a new product or service coming out every 20 minutes. There weren’t conferences like Under the Radar (which I’m speaking at today) where there are dozens of new things being shown off. We were lucky to see one new product a month back then.
3. There was an undercurrent of anger and fear. Especially after 9/11. We were angry that our existing experts had mislead us so deeply. How did the VCs lead us down this path? How did the journalists not report the real news? How did our government let 9/11 and the boom/bust happen? We were questioning our value, our industry, our government, and in doing so we were looking for ways to build systems that’d warn us next time around.
4. We were tired of traditional marketing. The Cluetrain Manifesto was our rallying cry, but, really, we didn’t even need that book. We knew something was wrong. All you have to do is stand out in Times Square in New York to see it: companies don’t usually want to tell you anything about their products. Look at a Sony or a Canon camcorder ad. Can you tell them apart? I can’t. So, we wanted to talk with the engineers of those products and find out the truth. Where are the edges? What do they REALLY do? And, when we found out some truth for ourselves, we wanted to compare with other people. “Oh, the Sony doesn’t have an external microphone input,” we’d tell each other on Web forums and blogs.
5. We were tired of hearing “experts” who, we knew, were not expert at all. Especially now that we had Google we could find much better, much more up-to-date, experts ourselves. Last night, for instance, I saw Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay, on Twitter. That simply was NOT done in 2001 — we didn’t have access to experts and business leaders like him. We had no idea how to influence people like that, not to mention we had no hope of having a conversation with them. Blogging changed ALL of that.
6. Back to #1, we were having fun BECAUSE we were NOT part of a committee. We were out of work, and doing what we loved cause why do what you don’t love when you aren’t getting paid, right? I’ve been chasing that high ever since. I think the entire industry has been.
There’s more, too, that lashed us together. The ones who showed up to Dana Street Cafe in Mountain View back in 2002 (we held little blogger meetups there) were geeks. We had a love of technology. That still binds us together today.
Anyway, I’m getting off track. Where am I going with this? Well, I want to explain that none of us in those early days woke up and said “it’s our goal to beat CNET.” That isn’t what drove us to stay up all night and write (some of us wrote words on screen, like me, others stayed up all night to write code to build better conversational tools, like Evan Williams at Blogger, or Ben and Mena Trott at Six Apart). It was our goal to experiment and build a new way of sharing information. We knew information had power, because those who had access to information before everyone else (hello Henry Blodgett) got rich, while the rest of us poor shlubs got fired (anyone remember the Website Fucked Company? I do, it was the Valleywag of its day and we all read it, even when trying to pretend we didn’t).
So, what’s the right goal? What got me up at 6 a.m. this morning?
1. Discovery. I love a good discovery. Why do I read FriendFeed every few hours now? Because I keep discovering cool stuff there. Why do I go to conferences like today’s Under the Radar? Because developers keep pulling me aside and saying “can I show you something?” (Even this week, at Jeff Pulver’s conference, a developer did just that and showed me a new competitor to FriendFeed which looked freaking awesome).
2. Getting smarter. I want to be smarter. Why? Because I find that the more I understand the world around me, the more I can enjoy it. I want to hang around smarter people, hear from smarter people than me (that’s why conferences like Pop!Tech and TED are so interesting to people), and read posts from smarter people than me (Google Reader, please fix your speed problems!)
3. Having interesting experiences. Tomorrow I’m going wine tasting with Gary Vaynerchuk. Have you ever watched his wine show? If you care about wine, you should. It’s really great and every show about 60,000 people watch and he usually gets hundreds of comments per show. I guarantee that going wine tasting with him will be an interesting experience. We all want more experiences like that.
4. Access to things that we don’t usually get access to. Earlier this week at IBM Research I used their microscope to move an atom. How many people in the world have done that? I figure fewer than 1,000 and maybe even fewer than 200 — they simply don’t have enough space in the lab to get more people access than that. So there’s gotta be some other way for a lot more people to have that experience, which is why I do video.
5. Comparing notes. If I find a new wine, guess what I do? I Twitter Gary and ask him about what he thinks. He usually has something to say. But, what about other people in his community? Absolutely! And note comparing is a HUGE part of what comments and FriendFeed is all about.
So, to wrap this up, since I’m supposed to get over to the Under the Radar conference: how could Mike Arrington get me onto his dream team?
Stop talking about killing CNET. Start telling me about how we can:
1. Build a stronger community. Stronger=smarter. Stronger=more informed. Stronger=more efficient. Stronger=more empathetic.
2. Get me experiences I don’t yet have access to. A lot of what TechCrunch does is get me inside of companies. At its best, TechCrunch tells you about new services that you didn’t know about. It brings you inside the walls of companies so we can make more informed decisions about where to work, who to partner with, what to adopt.
3. Have a bigger purpose. Building a new thing is more noble than tearing something down. Truth be told, CNET has done a fine job of tearing itself down over the years without any help from a bunch of bloggers. I used to visit news.com several times a day. Today that behavior has been replaced by FriendFeed. Why? Cause FriendFeed brings me everyday people who tell me more interesting stuff than CNET has been telling me.
4. Appeal to me with something other than “you can make more money.” One of the guys who pitched me told me “you can make more money with me.” I turned him down, cause I really don’t care. Ask any dead guy whether making more money really mattered. Now, yes, money does matter, and it does help get you some of the above (better experiences, etc) but I found I can get those things without being rich.
Anyway, that’s enough ranting. Now I’m off to the Under the Radar Conference. Hopefully I find some great new technology and I hear an interesting story about how it was built. I’ll join a “dream team” that shows me how to do all of this better, how about you?