April 15, 2008

Does Negativity Deliver Credibility? If So, That's Nuts.

Over the last 18 months or so, I've gained something of a reputation for being an early adopter more likely to heap praise on early versions of software with clear bugs than to drag services through the mud, calling out their every hole and flaw. I've stated that I do champion the little guy, and when I've found a service I like, there's no question you'll know, because I'll be consistent in my comments on it, highlighting new tweaks and trying to help you understand why I like what I do, and, in the converse, why I might not like other options.

But does my tendency to be positive and shun negativity make me less believable? Should I maintain a ratio of cranky posts to positive ones for variety's sake or to prove I'm not a paid shill on the take? As far as I'm concerned, no. In most cases, rather than drag down services, or dance on the graves of failed startups, I see sites' potential, and recognize the very real people behind services who are working hard to make their products as good as they can.

Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb jokingly commented on FriendFeed today: "You should write a really harsh review of something tho, just to maintain credibility!"

It's clear my quasi-utopian view isn't held in many corners of the blogosphere. Some revel in negative reviews or tearing people down. Others feel they have a calling to be "balanced", evening out an otherwise positive post by highlighting a service's deficiencies, or if the service happens to be amazing, to pick three random competitors for whom this new arrival will certainly mean curtains. But to be honest, even if I have more readers now than I did three, six or twelve months ago, this is still my personal blog, and should reflect how I feel. When I write up a service, I aim to deliver an accurate portrayal of the news, sites or individuals covered, but I would much rather highlight those companies and services I like than waste my time showing you the services that I didn't like. In essence, my silence in itself can be considered a negative review - and if you think about those topics I do write about, maybe there's a good reason I haven't covered every single service out there under the sun...

This isn't to say I haven't had a few negative posts here and there. I've at times been frustrated with TechCrunch (TechCrunch's Celebrating Failure Doesn't Help Anyone), ValleyWag (Valleywag Thinks My Old Posts are Breaking News) and even TechMeme (Blogrunner Likes Me, TechMeme Hates Me). I wasn't exactly overwhelming in my praise for NotchUp (NotchUp Sells You Out, but Nobody's Buying) and you likely remember my first comments on Fav.or.it. (Fav.or.it Beta Effort is Not My Favorite. Not Even Close.)

But these negative posts are are a rarity.

In fact, Mark Hopkins of Mashable said to one FriendFeed user in search for good PR that it's fairly obvious when I've found a favorite: "Talk to Louis Gray. Forget product evangelist. When he likes something, he's a one man crusade."

If you listened to this week's Elite Tech News podcast, you could probably tell that my positive viewpoints on the Web were frequently outnumbered by those who didn't favor companies, services, or individuals, who feared their content would be stolen, and that tech leaders and bloggers were too money-driven or ego-driven to be trusted. But I would rather accurately portray my intrigue and excitement around new services, even if they're not perfect. I don't think it does me a lot of good to sit down with a service I don't like or can't recommend and put 500 words into it.

You could probably also tell this from the interview Mark Evans posted this morning, Who’s Louis Gray?, which helps explain my background, and shows why I've ended up covering what I do. The tech world is moving faster than just about any market out there which I can think of. There are some amazing folks out there working ridiculous hours trying to make the next big thing. Only a few will make it. But if we tear them down too early, they might never actually reach their full potential, and I don't think it's really worth it, simply to engage in a race for page views.