June 02, 2010

Descending Into a Nation of Bloggers: How Steve's Right

Steve Jobs, unfiltered, seems to be the most attractive interview in the tech world, bar none. That's why his opening up at AllThingsD last night continues to make waves in the tech news world, as his every word is dissected, repeated and spun. The extremely quotable Jobs dropped a number of interesting insights and remarkable candidness for the leader of the technology industry's largest company, and arguably one of the most successful, with legions of loyal customers, and a similar number of would-be competitors. One of his most remarkable quotes regarded the challenge of supporting high quality content, and an editorial press, contrasted with what he saw as a descent into a "nation of bloggers".

Rather than react in an emotional way, pounding out paragraphs to pooh-pooh Jobs' dismissiveness of an entire craft - of which I am obviously part - one has to understand his perspective, and how Apple is impacted by the world of blogs, to see how he could come to his conclusions.

In a world when many many businesses are becoming more open, sharing short updates on Twitter, single paragraph announcements and events on Facebook, and regular posts from thought leaders and executives through blogging, Apple seems to be on the outside looking in. They are notable for their continued closed approach, one built on secrets and surprise. Of late, Steve Jobs has opened up a bit, acting as a one man social media machine with e-mails to customers and bloggers, and penning longer notes on the Apple.com Web site, like that on Flash from last month. But Apple not only doesn't really need to participate in this world, but honestly has not seen much benefit from the army of Mac bloggers. It's no surprise that Steve has the opinions he does about bloggers, and the company needs them less than many others do.

The funny thing about Steve Jobs is he's been doing this for a long time. He was on the cover of Time and Fortune, BusinessWeek and Newsweek decades before the first blogs. His return to Apple in 1997 came as the Internet was ascending, but the term blogging was practically unknown. This was two years before Ev Williams and team started their blogging software at Pyra Labs, and two years before Brad Fitzpatrick started LiveJournal. In his time at Apple, Steve Jobs and his team has never really suffered for a lack of news. The mainstream media, from the aforementioned press to the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and others, have been available to review the company's products, to report on their news, and to dissect the company's typically rosy financial results.

Meanwhile, for the most part, Apple and Mac coverage on blogs can be divided into three camps - Apple fans, Apple haters and Apple rumor seekers.

Those who love the company and its products are almost mythical in their obsessions and loyalty. Those who hate Apple are similarly entrenched, if not always as vocal. And those who are constantly seeking to undermine Steve and Apple's launch schedule and product roadmap have expanded from a once-niche industry to something much more mainstream. And in many cases, Apple has had to take aim against blogs to protect their positions.

Apple's conflicts with bloggers have been well documented. Apple sued anonymous posters on AppleInsider for leaking product photos, including the G4 Cube, before their time. Apple sued the then anonymous author of Think Secret, for discussion of an unlaunched product, called "Asteroid", a new audio interface for GarageBand users. And of course, most recently, Gawker Media paid to gain access to a prototype next generation iPhone which may or may not have been stolen. And yes, Apple is going after those guys too. (This doesn't even go into his latest e-mail trading with Ryan Tate at Valleywag, a coworker of mine from a decade-plus ago.)

As far as Apple is concerned, in contrast to what they see as professional and respectable coverage of their products in the still much read mainstream media, the bloggers have really been nothing but trouble, with the drawbacks and amateur approach outweighing any potential benefits from consistent fandom selwehere. The Macintosh rumors industry, which I have largely ignored of late, is in constant flow, since Mac OS Rumors kicked it off in the mid nineties, and it's no wonder why Apple has taken this approach to not trust the industry as a whole.

Can one separate the term "blogger" from one who blogs, and not feel like Apple and Steve Jobs are slamming an entire informal industry? Of course. There are absolutely some very well written, professional, editorially focused blog networks out there. There are a lot of individual bloggers who do a great job expressing their thoughts on Apple and many other companies. But for one of the world's best Marketers, blogs are little help at all. Of course Steve Jobs wouldn't want the nation to "descend" into one full of "bloggers" who target his company with falsehoods and borderline criminal activity. Of course he would like to control the message and keep the element of surprise.

Steve's comments don't mean that Apple wants sites like The Unofficial Apple Weblog and The Apple Blog to go away, but Steve is calling for decorum that he just isn't exposed to. Steve Jobs and Apple don't need bloggers. They have operated above the fray, and are calling for something better than what they have seen - something that delivers them value.

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