March 07, 2009

Stand for Something and Become Someone

On Thursday, I was invited by Brian Solis to attend a dinner briefing in San Francisco with one of his clients. Shortly after arrival, other invitees began to dribble in through the door - a venerable who's who in the tech blogging space, including Jeremiah Owyang, Harry McCracken, Robert Scoble and Loic Le Meur - making me feel very small indeed, not to mention a tad out of place. And while the client had an interesting offering (more on that soon), it was, of course, the side conversations between the attendees that drew the most value. (See the Photos)

Seated between Robert and Loic for dinner, I got the feeling there were Twitter users, bloggers and entrepreneurs who would have paid good money to trade places with me, but I wasn't out to sell anything or pitch anything. In fact, the best conversations I had were with Loic about why we do what we do, the reasons we don't push for ads on the blog, how we try to separate the work life and the blog life, and debate on whether I could be trusted with pre-release info on one product if I already used the competition or knew what they had planned.

To net down what was a great discussion, I primarily told Loic that:
  1. Our reviews of products and services are honest, but primarily positive
  2. We prefer not to write negative pieces, for our benefit and readers as well
  3. That we can be trusted to keep things quiet when asked
  4. We don't seek out or respond to controversy for page views' sake
And to me, all of those boil down to a major headline, which is "Stand for Something". Stand for being trustworthy and try to be remembered for quality, not controversy.

In the last few days, just following the conclusion of the dinner, you saw headlines about how Scoble has concluded his time at Fast Company TV - and speculation has started as to what's next for the visible technology evangelist. And yes, the issue was discussed a bit at the dinner as well. To be fully transparent, I knew about the change earlier in the week, from a phone call I had with Robert. And yes, he told me what's next, as well as some of the reasons for his leaving, which hasn't been discussed. But as a friend and someone I want him to trust, that's where it ends, as I believe the news is his to make and break - and if someone else beats him to the punch, it won't be me.

I could have stomped all over the relationship and posted the information Tuesday or Wednesday, but I thought it better to hold off - because the short-term burst of visibility and traffic would be outweighed by the longer-term negatives of breaking the confidentiality, and changing what you could expect from me on the blog.

At one point during Thursday's conversation, Loic said, "For some reason, I think you're someone I would trust." And this came even as we discussed the fact I helped raise the visibility of TweetDeck, a Thwirl competitor, when Iain first released his product. Would my previous posts on TweetDeck mean I would never give Thwirl the same opportunity? To me, it would not - with good examples being my coverage of Posty and PeopleBrowsr, when those products were launched or updated. Loic, and other entrepreneurs making news, should know that if they pass along confidential or embargoed information, that it won't be posted early, and it won't be sent to their competition. That's a big part of being trusted and standing for something.

For those longer-term readers of the site, you've seen me address the issue of writing negative posts, and another where I talked about what I believe as a blogger. I occasionally write these inwardly-looking posts to explain why I do what I do, and how I want to remain personal and understood.

Even though we don't have the strong traffic and visibility of some sites, the blog has gotten a good share of early access to services and to people. There are probably a dozen interesting products and services that I know are planning things before SXSW which have already gotten my interest. And every time I get an e-mail asking if I will respect a timeline, I write back "the next time I break an embargo will be the first time." As somebody who plays on both sides of the "make news" and "break news" wall, I get what people are trying to do, and the short-term rush of breaking the rules won't make me feel good for very long. And doing so can severely damage my reputation.

After discussing another issue, on how to deal with criticism, and ignoring those who would put you down for the sake of riling you up to get attention, Loic noted that we both try to be positive and avoid controversy, even if it can get you noticed. And that's likely a factor of why he posted a note to Twitter, saying, "You got me think again about quality versus quantity. Quantity matters less."

There's no question I would like to increase the quantity of posts here on I wish there were a way to cover every single good story I run across with the same level of review and enthusiasm I can give the top stories. That's part of why we've gotten help from additional writers. But we will work very hard to avoid reducing the quality of the posts, even if it means we won't post as many, and we will miss stories as a result. And that's okay. Because I would rather stand for quality and stand for being trustworthy than to be known for throwing articles over the fence that could have been done much better.

As I told Brian yesterday, I greatly appreciated being invited to the dinner. It was at the dinner that I met Jeremiah and Harry for the first time, and it was also the first time where I could speak with Loic for more than five minutes. And as can always happen in a room full of people who really care about technology, we got to thinking again.

They say that everything you put online can eventually be found by Google. In August of 2007, well before most of you had seen this site, I said that your blog is your brand. So when you post things online, make them stand for something, and think about who you are and how you want to be interpreted. I want to stand for quality and trust, and we will refuse to compromise there.