Mike Arrington, Mike Vizard, Robert Scoble, Dan Farber, Robert W. Anderson, Dana Gardner, Sam Whitmore, Doc Searls. Recorded Friday, March 21, 2008.
Mike Vizard (MV)
Mike Arrington (MA)
Steve Gilmore (SG)
Robert Scoble (RS)
Dan Farber (DF)
Dana Gardner (DG)
Doc Searls (DS)
SG: Hello? Who’s that?
SG: Mike Arrington. It’s been a long, long time. So what do you mean I’d let you back in? You’re so full of shit.
MA: Hey, fuck you! Steve! All right, we’ve cleared the air.
SG: All right, now we’ve… now we’ve cleared the air waves.
MA: I refuse to address any accusations head on. I will simply resort to ad hominem attacks immediately.
SG: Yes, yes, as you’ve detailed in great measure over the last several days in your blog… or is it a blog?
MA: I don’t know… what’s eWeek?
SG: Is it a blog? I don’t know?
MA: Sounds to me like you’re going back in time… those guys are old, mainstream don’t know what they are?
SG: Are you trying to CNET me now?
MV: How big is eWeek? Is it an actual company? What is it exactly?
MV: eWeek is part of Ziff Davis Enterprises, which owns Baseline, CIO Insight.
MA: I don’t think I’ve ever been to eWeek… is it.com, .net, .org?
MV: It’s eWeek.com… which Ziff Davis is in turn owned by Insight Venture Partners out of New York.
SG: Hey Robert, how are you?
MA: They have an award winning print publication… eWeek.
RS: Hey, pretty good… I’m on the freeway going to wine chase with Gary of Wine Library TV.
MA: Is he in town?
RS: Yea, he’s in Napa… want to come wine tasting when you guys come up?
MA: Are you guys doing this today or all weekend?
RS: Yea, all weekend.
MA: Oh, I’ll definitely come up tomorrow.
MA: So what awards has eWeek won? It’s award winning.
MV: Oh, there’s all types of awards that go out in the publishing world… there’s Mike Neill awards. I can’t name them all and don’t really have my mind wrapped around the awards.
SG: Yea well that doesn’t matter… Arrington is still going to ask you about them.
MA: Here’s what I see: a woman on the page in a really tight, pink sweater. That’s the only image on the page except for ads on the pages.
RS: Does anyone read pages anymore? I thought they just read friend feed.
SG: What is this friend feed that you’re on, Scoble?
RS: It’s like twitter without the noise. Arrington was asking me just a few minutes ago how I read twitter… that’s how I read twitter.
MA: Hey… why is Scoble on this call? He’s not part of the Gillmor Gang.
SG: Yes.. yes he is. Well, the Gillmor Gang doesn’t exist, but the Gang does, at least until April 9th.
MA: This show has just gone to shit, at least in the last… [inaudible]
SG: Well, you know, we’ve been scrambling since you left the show.
MV: Scoble is like so 2006.. he’s just so, he isn’t up on the new stuff.
SG: You know, I would have thought so, but he was at Mix 08. Which I noticed you were not at. You were busy attacking South by Southwest from your bunker.
MA: You know, I wasn’t invited to mix 08. Maybe they didn’t like what I did to Ray Ozzie last year.
SG: Well, you launched Silverlight for him.
DF: I don’t think you have to be invited…
MA: Who’s that?
DF: This is Dan.
MA: Is Dan on the Muffler show? What’s that one called?
SG: Oh, we’re on the muffle show… this is it.
MA: Oh, so I called into a different one?
SG: Boy, you’re really doing well, aren’t ya?
DF: You know, he’s got a comedy act now…
SG: You know, we’ve been suffering through this latest depression crash, and now you seem to be spiraling out of it.
MA: I remember when Dan and I used to be friends until he became editor-in-chief of news.com… and now, he’s writing stories about me being Napoleon and kicking me out and cheering me on. So, I don’t like the fact that him and Scoble are still on. I think they both need to go.
MA: I think him and Scoble have to go.
SG: He can’t go now because he just got here. You did succeed in driving Nick Carr off, by the way, again.
MA: I like Nick Carr.
SG: I do too. He doesn’t think he’s cut out for this hardball radio world.
MV: Maybe he doesn’t like going to the bar with us.
SG: I think that’s what it is, I think. He wants to control all of the bits via his typewriter.
DF: Maybe he doesn’t like to talk about the gang talking about the gang all the time
SG: Well, who does? Alright so what happened this week, anything interesting?
MA: It’s actually been a pretty slow news week
DF: Well I think you filled it up Mike (Laughter). And I thought Scoble’s response was a good one. Think about it- -we got more out of your posts about your plans to take over the world than probably almost any story we’ve had in weeks.
MA: You know what’s funny about that post. I had this sort of vague news that two blogs, Paidcontent and silicon alley insider were raising money. It was a good source but the source didn’t know how much or who they were talking to. It wasn’t really a post and those guys aren’t going to talk to me, a competitor, about if they’re raising money. I was trying to figure out how to write it and I decided to just start off with that and rant about something. I didn’t know what I was going to rant about. I just started typing and I hit publish. It was one of those posts where I kind of feel uneasy about it but I just go to bed. I wake up to this shitstorm, Kara Swisher’s calling me unethical, everyone’s calling me a liar, and then you did your stupid Napoleon post which didn’t help things at all.
DF: I thought it was pretty funny.
MA: Everyone did except me. And then Robert jumped on.
RS: That’s like when I’m in Valleywag, everybody finds it funny except me.
MA: I have a theory though Robert, you actually really like being on Valleywag. I’ve told you that.
RS: It’s theater now. I’ve been telling people that. The first 20 times it actually hurt, and then I realized I’m still standing after they took 20 shots at me. Now that it’s like 50, its like okay, it’s theater, what can I give them today to write about?
SG: Alright, so in other words there’s nothing going on except the semi-alert ravings of Mike Arrington.
RS: This week was sort a detox week from SXSW. I think that’s really what was going on.
MA: What a useless excuse for a conference.
RS: It’s not a conference, it’s a bunch of parties.
MA: Exactly. There’s no news being announced, it’s a bunch of parties, it’s a riot atmosphere. I’ve never gone to that conference– it just doesn’t seem like there’s enough payoff for the effort, in terms of stories.
RS: That’s true…[inaudible] parties. The panels are fun, but the hallway discussions are the best in the industry, I think. It’s a way to catch up with everybody.
MA: Why do you want to catch up with everybody?
RS: Because I like to. It’s nice to see all the people you meet on twitter face to face once in a while, have a beer.
SG: Who was just talking that was not Scoble or Arrington?
Dana Gardner: You might want to go to all those events so you can roll up all the bloggers into your own network or something
RS: Yeah exactly
DG: Dana Gardner here.
MA: Dana’s off the show, too; I don’t like that guy, he’s off the show
SG: For the last six weeks, everyone’s been off the show, Mike. You haven’t been here.
MA: You kicked me off!
SG: I never kicked you off
MA: I have emails to back this up steve, You told me you wanted me to be off this show for two weeks, you wanted to get your bearings.
MA: You’re going to deny it now?
SG: I’ll deny it, I never sent you an email to that effect.
Well you thought about sending me an email
SG: This is the new journalism, we go from you sent me an email to you thought about it.
MA: We both know the truth
SG: What does anybody who has a credible journalism background think about the passport violation in the Obama campaign?
DG: Dirty tricks. Amateur hour.
SG: Don’t worry, just go back to sleep. It’s ok. Just another minor violation of the bill of rights
DF: It’s total amateur hour.
DG: It’s like the plumbers at Watergate, fumbling bumbling.
SG: Yeah, exactly. Bernard Barker do you remember him?
DF: It’s the same thing, You hire these contractors and you don’t know exactly what their character is, what they’re going to do. They do stupid things, idiotic things.
SG: How about the tech problem? Why is that hired contractors have full read-write capability?
DF: Is that a tech problem, or a problem with administration? Do you have full read-write capabilities to everything at e-week?
SG: I think I do actually.
DF: So you’re a high ranking official. These people are not high-ranking officials. And therefore they shouldn’t have had that kind of access.
DF: Thank you Dana.
SG: Its not an IT management issue.
MV: They shouldn’t have had access, but apparently they did fire these people, right?
SG: Not only did they have access to Obama’s, they had access to Hlarry’s and jon mccain
DF: I’d like to know the order in which these things were pursued. It almost sounds like it was OBama first and they did the others too to make it look like it was an equal opportunity bumble.
SG: That’s a good theory, I like that one. How’s that for mufflers mike?
MA: I’m sorry I wasn’t listening, what’s that?
SG: National security, is that part of your beat area?
MA: I actually didn’t know what the hell you were talkig about with that whole privacy thing, I just pulled up an article and read it.
DF: What might be interesting steve, what is a blogger worth? Someone who can bring in scoops and get 10 or 15,000 hits a week or something like that? What’s the going rate for a blogger?
SG: Evidently, somewhere between $5 a post, and $10 m investment on the part of a VC firm, which will never do it now.
MA: Good bloggers are making good money. Erick did not take a salary hit when he came on board.
MV: It’s just market economics, what the market will bear.
I got 3 resumes from CNET reporters this week, if they were worth the money they were making, I’d hear them in a second. I thjink theyre overpaid
DF: It’s funny, I got a call from Erick (laughter)
RS: IT’s a bidding war!
MA: Since you brought up CNET, what’s going on there? You must have some inside knowledge, being an exec. Tell us the scoop.
DF: To be honest, I get all of my information about what’s going on at CNET from TechCrunch. They’re reporting that heads are going to roll, there’s going to be big changes.
SG: This is exactly- the passport exploit was not reported by any officials, it was reported by the Washington Times, a noted liberal newspaper.
DG: That means it was damage control, so they leaked to a conservative newspaper first.
DF: I don’t know what’s going on at CNET other than I just have my head down, I’m just focusing on the news.
SG: So that’s a no comment basically
DF: No that’s not a no comment, I don’t really give a shit what’s going on.
MA: Which journalist are you letting go first? Is it Turdeman and Cooper, those guys?The guys who keep trashing me?
DF: Who keeps trashing you? I don’t think our people keep trashing you.
MA: Well, Cooper did once.
DF: He did once, so what re you going to do, carry the grudge to your grave?
MA: Yeah absolutely, and Turdeman, he disagreed with me, which pissed me off
DF: You write that you want to crush and destroy me
MA: I want to crush your employer
DF: It’s no difference, you said you want to put me out of work.
MA: Where’s the old dan Youre just a mascot for cnet now. Props to you, cnet has improved dramatically since you took over. It’s amazing, for instance, On techmeme, you guys took the lead for a day before I Cracked the whips over here. You guys have done a better job of linking, recognizing the headlines, seeing what people want to read about. IT’s amazing what you guys have done, no joking around. But, you guys still have an ancient content management system, an awful lot of writers being paid an awful lot of money, and something has to be done at some point about that, and obviously you’re not going to talk about what..
DF: Ill talk about it. In terms of content management systems, we’re working on that, that’s not preventing us from doing our work. The issue is, do we have good stories or not?
MA: Let’s talk about the CMS. It was built it 2000, sometime around then, it was state of the art. Sometime around then.
RS: It was built in the mid-90’s. I remember covering that.
DF: CMS evolves; it’s a complete iteration, it’s evolving like any other software out there. It’s not a hindrance to what we do. In fact, we have a number of CMS systems including WordPress.
RS: The one hindrance I see from the external world is that the URL’s are really wacky still. They probably don’t help you out on Google, with the SEO.
DF: We don’t have SEO problems with Google. The issue of the URL’s, we’re fixing and we’re going to have a lot faster site because we’re building a single API for all the pages.
MA: Let me ask you an honest question, obviously I’m just kidding and I’m just poking fun at you…
DF: Absolutely, we are putting on a show for the people
MA: An honest question is, when you walk into the CNET newsroom, I assume a core of the CNET journalists are in the office everyday and they talk and hang out… what in general is the mood, is the morale; how do they feel about blogs? What is like to work there as a journalist and how are you trying to change and evolve it?
DF: They’ve gotten the idea that the line between news and blogs is blurred, and that there isn’t a huge amount of difference anymore. There is the more straightforward story, and the one wit more opinion laced into it. We do both, and they’re both in the same page template, so to speak, we don’t need to make a big deal about that. The mood is, I’m quite pleased, everyone’s cranking, they’re talented. That’s all that counts
MA: Have you asked them to be more cognizant of blogs and recognizing blogs and linking to them and building alliances, because there seems to be changes?
SG: Didn’t you get the job in large part because of the recognition because of what you’ve done with ZDNet?
DF: I’m sure that’s part of it, but it’s much more to unleash and harness the talent we have over here, to be more intense, and be relentless. It mirrors a lot of what I like in a journalist, so if people can do that, then we’ll be very successful. I think you can attribute a lot of the success of TechCrunch and GigaOm and Venturebeat other sites to the same kind of work ethic, which is we just go out there and beat the bushes and get the stuff.
SG: Sam Whitmore, you’re on the call right.
SW: Yes I am.
SG: Can you give us a slightly detached objective opinon about this?
SW: I think there’s plenty of room for everybody. People graze; we’re not in a world where people have only three or four choices. Mike breaks stories. People forget: Mike broke the Google/Youtube story, as far as I’m concerned. You only have to do that a few times a year to be on everybody’s RSS reader. I don’t think it takes anything out of CNET’s pockets. As far as business models are concerned, CNET Networks has vulnerabilities. They pay lots of high salaries and I think the board struggle that’s going on is a reflection of that. Mike has the right business model, but even a roll up like he wrote about Wednesday isn’t going to put anyone out of business.
DF: Federated media is going to come in and buy up TechCrunch and everything else.
SG: Oh please
MV: This is the same guy who said the industry standard is going to be the next great Dow Jones company a few years back.
DG: Mike Arrington, are you actively pursuing that $15 m in funding like the WSJ said?
MA: You mean, like Kara Swisher said, the Valleywag sister blog?
DG: She is paid by the WSJ
MA: Well, most of her payment comes from Google stock. She has a vast fortune in Google stock. She criticizes me, she used to trash me privately, and I asked her to stop.
DG: I wasn’t asking you about your opinion of Kara, I asking about the $15 million funding you were seeking.
MA: I’m sorry, when I was gone for a few weeks was there a new rule put in place that we have to answer the question that we’re being asked?
DG: No. but we can still try.
MA: I have my own agenda in here, I’m sorry
DG: We’re used to talking to Jason here, we know about agenda thing. It’s a legitimate question, if the wall street journal reports it, it needs a follow-up and some substantial credibility attached to it.
MA: It’s funny, no one remembers, but in 2006, WSJ reported that Yahoo was on the verge of acquiring Facebook,. They were actually correct, as I later published the documents that an offer was made, but they were nowhere near. No one criticizes them for being dead wrong. If the WSF is wrong, everyone assumes that something changed after the article was written. That they just didn’t have inaccurate information.
DG: How do we feel about your lack of deniability that it’s true?
MA: I don’t think that’s a fair accusation to make.
SG: Who said we’re going to be fair? What about the Digg story that you were on a couple of times over the years, that doesn’t seem to be panning out?
MA: I just talked to Robert Scoble about this right before I got on the phone. I am being criticized for the Digg is getting bought story. My story was that my understanding is that Digg is getting ready for bids, possibly from Microsoft and Google, and there might be a bidding war. My source on that story was really good, better than J. Adelson, who later on denied the story. I know that sounds crazy that the source is better than the CEO of the company the story’s about, but it just was. I posted the story. I actually don’t think it’s inaccurate, I think there’s going to some updates coming pretty soon on that. They might just still raise money, who knows, I think they have a threshold of $175 million, if they get an offer in that range, they’ll sell, anything less, they’ll raise money. But, if you look at my track record, it’s pretty fucking awesome.
SG: Nobody’s doubting that.
MA: And the reason is because I have good sources and I actually do a lot of research before I post.
SG: Nobody’s doubting that, but when you start talking about how the Wall Street Journal has a different set of expectations…I don’t understand what you were saying about the Wall Street Journal,
MA: The Wall Street Journal often publishes article with single sources, and they’re occasionally wrong. I think The WSJ is great, they have better sources than most of the people covering our space. Most of the others, I think my sources are better. I think I break an order of magnitude more relevant news than they do, especially stuff that isn’t press-released out, and they’re briefed on. That’s just because I work all night. I work all night. I do it because I love what I do. I know Dan loves what he does too. He talks about the CNET guys being out beating the bush. Well, I don’t see them. I see Dan out at every event, I see him out constantly working. I don’t see how they could do that when they don’t have the kind of equity incentives that I have. When it comes to the specific rumors about us and raising money, I’m not going to comment on that, you know I’m not. If you’re going to take a no comment and assume it’s true, as a journalist I don’t see how you could possibly make that assumption. You know that it’d be ridiculous for me to comment on that stuff.
DG: Why would it be ridiculous? This is an open business; you’re trying to apparently do something with these posts this week. If you didn’t have a comment, why would you post the posts you did this week?
MA: There’s a dual logic behind the argument you just made.
DG: My argument was that you’re being very selective about what you put out.
MA: I laid out that I think it’s stupid for a lot of blogs to raise a little money. It’s the same reason, on a different scale, why it was stupid for pet companies to raise hundreds of millions of dollars back in the 1990’s. Not everyone’s going to be a winner, but they’re being funded as if they are. It’s going to screw up the economics of their business.
SG: That’s more saying something about the difficult nature of where the VC’s are. Isn’t this really more about the fact that if you’re not an angel, you’re really not in the game
DF: My question is, if there’s this big rollup of all these blogs, TechCrunch, federated media and you roll them up. What do you end up with except an ad network?
MA: Really? Can I address that? I just wrote about FM publishing today (federated media) today. I talked about the weakness in their model, which is the same weakness that Glam has, which is they pay publishers for ads. They don’t own it, so they’re subject to competitive pressure on margins and anyone that comes by and offers a guarantee or better margins, they’re going to lose the business. FM lost Digg to msft which came in and said we’regoing to give you a $100 million over three years.
SG: And they lost 90% or at least half of what you do, when you started putting your own ads
MA: Right, so the difference between rollup and ad networks. When you have a rollup, you have the properties, they’re not going anywhere. You go out and sell ads, same thing CNET has. The Cnet ad sales guys don’t have to worry about cnet going away
DF: You end up saying we’re going to roll them up. IT doesn’t mean you’re going to roll them up. It means you have to go out and hire a sales force, build all that infrastructure, competition who gets sold. At what rates? Because every site gets a different rate.
MA: No Dan, that’s the difference. Everyone in the rollup has equity in the same entity
DF: You don’t understand how sales works. If you make profit from the company, everybody else will profit from your work? Would that make you happy, saying hey we brought all the profit in from the rollup, I’m sharing all this profit with everybody else who are losers.
MA: It’s like you saying that rase (sp?) gets pissed when your of other guys or women writes better stuff and gets more pageviews.
DF. He better get pissed.
MA: He might get pissed from an ego standpoint, but its not more money in her pocket. People won’t get paid based on page views. That’s not how professional writers want to be paid.
DF: Then how are they going to get paid?
MA: You’re worried about how they’re incentivized. They have stock, you’re missing that entirely… they’re owners in the business, and they’re big owners.
DF: They’re big owners in the business, but if they’re not pulling their weight, would they still get their fair share?
MA: They’d be gone.
DF: They still own the shares, how are they going to be gone?
MA: I’m actually happy to talk about this, if you give me a chance to address it. First of all, if we acquire a blog, there’d be stock in exchange for the acquisition of the blog. The writer/author would also get additional stock for being an employee. If they left, those options would stop. They’d still own stock for handing over their blog, They wouldn’t get their blog back, it’d be a property of this rollup. The people I think that should be part of a rollup– they’re not lazy people, they’re people that work all the time because they love what they’re doing. They’re not going to slack off. We’re not talking about 100 people, we’re talking about 10-20.
MV: You guys realize it’s going to be both right? It’s going to be roll up of bloggers, and partner with other bloggers to make them a part of your ad network, and you yourself are going to be part of someone else’s bigger ad network.
MA: Maybe in the short run, but not in the long run, just like CNET isn’t a part of a larger ad network.
RS: Mike, are you seeing the same thing in the marketplace where the economic turmoil is causing ad deals to go south? I’m starting to see some of that, that companies are not willing to invest in media or make new media buys because they’re under budget constraints.
MA: No, we haven’t seen that. Every month we’ve had has been a record revenue month. We’re in a different position, I think, because startups really want to be on TechCrunch. Maybe we’re behind the economic curve but I haven’t seen that.
DG: What happens when the startups dry up and the bubble bursts entirely, are you going to start covering other stuff too?
MA: When the bubble bursts, if it does, which is a whole another discussion, let’s assume that we are… remember that people still want to read about tech. Pageviews grew through the last downturn. There’s no problem writing about stuff that people are interested in reading. I’ll probably have to take a salary cut, and maybe others will too. That’s okay, because at the same time, the acquisitions will get cheaper. Guys that think their blog is worth $5 million now, suddenly it’s maybe not worth a fifth of that. It works both ways. The key is to be solvent. We’ve never raised money, but we’ve got plenty of money in the bank. We could go two years without revenue right now and make payroll, easily, on our current headcount. That means we have a chance to roll through a downturn, and come out strong.
DG: If your forte is covering web 2.0 startups, and that starts to dry up, and web 2.0 gets folded into just plain old tech. At the same time, there’s ad pressure, albeit you’re still in growth mode, is this the right time to raise capital and go out and do a rollup? Is this a risky time to do that?
MA: If you look at what happened in the first bubble bursting, the companies that tended to make it through raised a lot of money right before the bubble first and didn’t blow it all. If we raised money, we’d be very careful with it. and also, if you look at we cover now, our biggest page view day ever was this month when yahoo buzz linked to it. It was a story about an ISP in Japan blocking filesharing—that’s not about a startup. Second biggest day, Charlie Rose falling and hitting his face to protect his Macbook Air, that’s not about a startup. I actually think that our audience is getting so big, they’re not all that interested in the next flickr clone. We’re thinking about starting a new blog just for startups.
DG: Doesn’t that say its not a tech blog, those hits are just general hits the ad revenue would just be what it is on whatever other gossip site.
MA: You’re very Valleywag-ish right now, in that you are looking at only the negatives, and not the positives. If you look at the amt of pageviews that a blogger can create vs a traditional journalist, even a cnet journalist. The effort per apgeview is significantly less than the old model. Anybody can look around and see that blogging works. It’s cheap to run a blog and generates a lot page views.
DF: The barrier to entry is talents and smarts. Blogs are very good business models, they’ve grown up from nothing and it’s because they have quality journalism. The other is that, you really have to think of blogs and whatever we’re talking about like sports. Right now, a site like TechCrunch is very popular because it does a good job doing play by play and color commentary on one sport. There’s nothing to say that you can’t go into adjacent sports with that once you have an audience.
MA: Dan I have a question for you. When you were running ZDNET, it wasn’t ever clear to me whether you were developing niche audiences around topics, or niche audiences around personalities. Did you have a theory around that?
DF: The theory works like this. You determine who your audience is, and what topics will be of interest to them. You look for people who are experts on those topics, and then look for strong personalities who may not be bulls-eye into that topic area, but theyre just really good and they will attract an audience. You look for a combination of people who are experts on topics and good personalities. If you can find those people, then you can win. It’s just like any other sport where if you have a player that’s good and can speak English or any other language articulately, big personality, that’s going to put people in the seats.
MV: The ad model is based around the topic. The advertiser is not buying the personality, because the personality will move.
DF: I think advertisers do buy personality, depending on how hot it is.
RS: Advertisers do buy personality. I have an advertiser who’s buying the space right next to my column.
DF: The fact that personalities can move, we have to get used to it in this industry. We’re basically going more like a Hollywood model. There are studios, they have talent. They have stars, supporting casts, and there’s scripts and all those things, and if you have the right combination of those things you’ll have a good show, you’ll have high ratings, high ad revenue.
DG: For the talent, there’s one way to approach this and that is to get rolled up into a larger ad network. There’s another way to approach it, which is to syndicate yourself and not be exclusive and take a little bit of money from a lot of places, that ends up being better than anything you’d get from just one place.
RS: Isn’t that what we’re all doing on this show, we’re not getting any money for this.
DG: For the talent that can get fans in the seats, they should just play the sport and be a free agent, right?
MV: In terms of the amount of space and attention I’m going to give to that model, it’s going to be limited, compared to the people that I’ve got, that are either going to core employees or part in my network.
DG: But the core employees, you’re going to have to spend a lot of money on. The economics works in favor of your side as well as the free agent side for the non-exclusivity.
MV: I’m going to end up with fewer core employees and more bloggers in the network. Freelancers trying to hang around on the edge of the network, trying to take a cut of the revenue. If I need that traffic from time to time, I might do that, but it’s not going to be core or crucial.
DF: We don’t want people that spread themselves around too much. That doesn’t really help us build our brands.
SG: Mike Arrington, I’ve seen over the past few weeks, you start to spend a considerable amount of your cycles on Twitter.
SG: Explain the thinking behind that
MA: One is, I realize I have a really big audience, 8 or 9,000 people following me. I noticed that if I think I have an article that’s interesting to me and put a link on twitter, it’ll help the article statistically, more people will read it, more links will come in. It’s a really good marketing tool. Then I find I’m getting drawn into these stupid conversations.
SG: It’s kinda like the old blogosphere.
MA: It is, but for some reason it’s harder for me to ignore a direct message on twitter when someone calls me a douchebag. I go at it with them, I actually got into it with them with a few people, then I just backed off. It’s more just resting and playing around with it, I’m trying to decide what the ROI is.
SG: Scoble, what do you think about Twitter?
RS: I follow so many people because I want to study what the early adopters are doing.
SG: I’m talking about, I’ve seen you also make intermittent investments in twitters. You back off, then come back in, then back off.
RS: When I have an extra couple of hours, I’ll turn it on. Right now, I’m driving and talking, I’m not on twitter. Every second, there’s a new twitter message that I’m missing right now. It’s a fascinating place to be involved in, and the conversations happening. When I spokle at sxsw, I asked the audience who was on twitter, and the entire audience was on twitter. If you want to talk with people who are early adopters who are trying to do stuff, Pierre omidyar, the guy who started ebay, is on twitter. I could go down the list The cameraman for NBC in the white house is on twitter. It’s just a fascinating place to be.
MV: What about the friendfeed vs. twitter controversy that’s been poppungup? I know you’re a big friendfeed person now.
I find ive been spending more time on friendfeed which rolls up flickr, blogs, upcoming, youtube, 16 different services, there’s a real community growing there. Mike Arrington will write a twitter post, sometimes there’ll be 10 or 20 comments underneath the twitter post. I find that to be very addictive. I’ve switched all my homepages to Friendfeed; every time I open a browser, it shows me what’s going on on Friendfeed.
SG: Aren’t you doing that to minimize Techmeme’s influence?
SG: Why are you laughing Robert?
RS: I haven’t minimized anything [Laughter]. I’m just talking about what makes me happy. Techmeme’s interesting, I still read it every two hours. It’s not the same thing I fell in love with watching the bloggers go at it. Now it’s turned into watching the mainstream journalists go at it, which I’m a mainstream journalist, I can’t say I’m not a mainstream journalist, I work for Fastcompany. It’s different; friendfeed, it has normal people you haven’t heard of going at it. To me, that’s very fascinating
SG: It sounds to me like you’ve fallen in love with a new service every week or so.
RS: Every 3 days at least.
SG: Aren’t you trying to blast friendfeed to get its [inaudible]?
SG: You’re breaking up Robert… and you just dropped off. Anybody want to comment on what I just said? Did everybody just drop off?
MA: You can hear me right?
SW: I’d like to make a comment diagonal to all that stuff, which is to mike. Have you ever considered privatizing yourself? In other words, have a back-channel conduit, twitter, have a blog occasionally… but produce a high-value product and also make personal appearances, consult, instead of trying to be a publisher 100% of the time, why don’t you be a rainmaker and charge a premium price for your brain, which is really the best asset you’ve got?
MA: I’ve certainly thought about it. I don’t like speaking anymore at conference. The whole thing with that stupid blogging conference this fall, what was it called? The big one in Vegas? I was so trashed I just said I’m not speaking at any more conferences.
I spoke at Davos, and I’m speaking at my conference this year. The reason is: one is, I actually think I was overexposed. I didn’t have a whole lot of new things to say at a conference two times a month last year. Two is, There’s no payoff for me. Some of the conferences, I started charging a free, and I felt bad about that. When it comes to maybe taking content, many times people have said, charge people 25 dollars a month for a private newsletter, and send a private newsletter with your analysis. I’d have a nice revenue stream out of it. But the problem is if I have something that brilliant to say, I’m going to say it on a blog in front of a million people. It isn’t what I want to do, to have ten thousand people read it and send it to their friends. I want to generate big conversations, I want to be a part of big conversations. It might be a smart business move, but it isn’t what I want to do.
SW: That’s the price you’re paying then, you’re going into this publishing model, no matter how you slice it, publishing is becoming ever more distressed as a business model. The source of your influence is whom you know, the quality of your information, and the aspect you’re criticized the most for is the style in which you present, whether you have 3 sources and all that crap. You can sidestep all of that by, look at that famous party you had in Atherton with 700 people or whatever, you could put a content wrapper around that, and make a shitload of money, and you wouldn’t have to be up all night.
MA: Don’t take offense to this, seriously. But, this is one of the reasons why I’ve never raised money, because the one thing I don’t want to go to a board meeting and listen to people endlessly tell me how to run my business. Remember I started TechCrunch as a hobby. I do this because I love it. I love nothing more than meeting 25 year old entrepreneurs. They’re so innocent and so in love with the technology. I love doing what I do. I stay up all night because I love what I do. Our business isn’t distressed. A lot of publishing businesses are distressed, but the good blogs aren’t. We’re all doing pretty well. Will that last forever? I don’t know. We could do a tenth or less of our revenue, and I’d still keep doing it, bcause I love it.
RS: I’d do it if all the revenue disappeard, id still do it.
SW: I’m just saying that you’re in the influence business, not the the publishing business, a there’s a difference.
MA: I’m in the entertainment business.
SW: This week you were.
MA: No seriously. That’s where Kara and others get it wrong. They have all these rules that I never signed up for, and don’t know what they are, and I could care less. They get irate over the fact that I don’t know and care about their rules and I just do what I do, and the audience decides. I’m not up there like Valleywag trashing Jimmy Wales. I’m not hurting people, I’m just giving my opinion and telling rumors that I hear when I think they’re true. What’s wrong with that? Why is that evil? Because somebody decided that there’s journalistic rules? Come on, my hit rate is higher than theirs anyway. I’m not interested in playing by their rules. In fact, if I played by their rules, I wouldn’t be successful. I used to care so much more about what the fuck people thought. As my audience grows, people attack me more and more viciously, and I just don’t care anymore. You’d have to kill my dog at this point to get my attention. There’s just nothing else anyone can say that is really going to hit me. I’m going to keep dong what I do. In some ways I admire Jason Calacanis for this. I actually used to be a decent human being and care about people. Jason just doesn’t give a shit. I think ethically he’s straight and does things above board. He’s a competitor like I’ve never seen before, he wants to kill competitors and it’s starting to rub off on me.
RS: I got an interview with Jason that should be running today sometime. He is exactly that, but he also cares about people in that he buys them the best monitors they’ve ever seen and he buys them an $800 chair. He totally justifies that because he’s a competitor and a capitalist. I think there’s a humane side which nobody sees to Jason, which is very interesting.
DF: Maybe he just understands appreciation.
RS: I think he understands people, that’s why he stole some of the best blogging talent away from the competitors.
SG: Doc is that you?
RS: This is Robert Scoble.
SG: I think doc just called in.
SW: I think Mike’s point describing Jason, Jason just doesn’t care if you talk behind his back or whether you think he’s an asshole or not. He really doesn’t. What I’m hearing Mike say is he used to care if people talked and now he’s to the point where he just doesn’t.
SG: I think that’s total bullshit. He cares what people talk behind his back and so does Arrington.
DG: Is this about feel-good entertainment and making people knowledgeable and having fun, or about making money?
MA: I don’t understand the question.
DG: On one hand it seems as this is about passion, some kind of higher motive that doesn’t really pertain to money. On the other hand, we see these posts that are very business-oriented, seemingly the same respect going to people who are very ruthless in their business principles. So is it hobby and passion, or is it business?
SW: It doesn’t have to be one or the other Dana, what Mike is saying is he wants to do it on his own terms. He’d like to be able to navigate both and make money, but he wants to do it on his own terms. Right Mike?
DG: When those two things align, you’ve got a really good system, and I think maybe what Mike’s also saying is that CNET doesn’t have those two things aligned.
MA: You know what? I’ll say this once. You only pick fights with people that are bigger than you. And CNET’s bigger than me. I pick fights with them because it makes sense for me to do it. And they don’t respond that much, because it doesn’t make sense to respond because they’re so much bigger than we are (although I think our news site is bigger than them, they have all the other properties). It was a favor of Dan to call me a Napoleon, it really was, because I’m just a blogger. When Kara Swisher takes swipes at me, I don’t respond. And the reason I don’t is because she has no pageviews, she has a lot of authority. She has great sources, but nobody reads the blog. Why the hell would I bother responding? It’s just being strategic, you don’t pick fights with people smaller than you, and you don’t respond when they pick fights with you. When it comes to the business, I’m doing what I love, and I’m successful because of it. I started a company called in 2000. It sold for $30 million, but the VC’s took all the money. I wasn’t passionate about that business, it was a payment space. But I thought it was a really good idea and I tried it out as a founder. I’m never going to do that again. I’m just going to do what I love. If I make a million or a 100 million, great. If I don’t, that’s okay too.
DG: So Dan, is this ability for a blogger or an independent being able to align passion and entrepreneurial spirit a distinct advantage to an organization with a big payroll and some people are showing up for the paycheck?
DF: First of all, I don’t feel a lot of people are showing up for the paycheck.
Number two, Mike is an example of someone who has a fierce competitive nature and loves what he is doing and builds a product that people want to associate themselves with. The challenge you’re pointing out is in larger companies, how do you maintain that entrepreneurial spirit. You have to have leadership that can capture that DNA, and that’s obviously what I’m trying to do here. The other thing you talk about, CNET is big, bloated, blah blah blah. Well, the division I’m in, CNET Reviews and downloads.com, cranks out a few hundred million dollars in revenue at a very high profit.
DG: What’s the revenue per employee?
DF: The whole company?
DG: Let’s just say your division.
DF: I really don’t bother about that. It would be high for my group. But I think we’re getting off topic here. The question is that, can you build something that’s stimulating and entrepreneurial and gets attention within a larger company? It’s harder.
DG: Something that’s kind of new in the media business is this sort of hybrid of a central business and then this sort of federation of bloggers or entrepreneurs that come in for a piece of the equity. They really are redefining the business model, not really the publishing model anymore. Is that fair?
DF: I don’t really think so, because I think if you plot out a rollup over a period of time, you end up with more of a traditional publishing company with overhead and lots of employees and with what goes along with being a bigger company. Look at Yahoo, look at Google, any company that’s growing up over 10 years from 5 employee to 50 to 100 to 10,000.
DG: Mike you wouldn’t make that same mistake right?
MA: Oh, of course I would. Hopefully by then I’ve got a big house in Hawaii and I’m surfing everyday again. Let me qualify that. You took a shot at me there. I could see selling and retiring if that was an option to me. I could see leaving and I could see never working again, and starting again and writing another blog and writing about startups. Just a hobby, like TechCrunch was at the beginning. Never bothering about revenue, writing when I feel like, writing once a week, writing 20 times a week. It’s both, it’s absolutely both.
SW: You need to stop staying up all night. You’re going to wind up like Om.
DG: I’m trying to think, what was the magazine that called you the walter winschel of web 2.0?
MA: Who’s that?
DG: He was a major columnist back int eh 50s, 60s. Forbes, Businessweek or something? Just saw it this morning, I was looking for it on the web and thought, I cant find it. I thought I’d ask you. Never mind.
RS: Could you really retire? I doubt you could leave this.
MA: Everyone says that. The year before I started TechCrunch, I took off and surfed and watched movies and worked out. I weighed about 40 years less than I weigh now. I had a pretty good year. I lived with my girlfriend, last time I really had a girlfriend, it was a good life. I didn’t mind it at all, what I minded was I ran out of money, and my girlfriend started thinking of me as a loser because I wasn’t doing anything, but other than that I was really happy. I’m not the type a that has to constantly prove myself. I would love to move to Hawaii.
SW: Ever talk to your dad about what you should do next and your business?
MA: All the time actually, he’s one of my mentors and the person’s advice that I take who’s on my side, unlike you people.
SW: Can you summarize what he tells you?
MA: He’s worried about my health, as most people who care about me are. What I can’t explain to him is how I’m either on or off. When I was a slacker, I was a real slacker. I’ve tried to slow down at times, and I can’t. I’m either doing it or I’m not. It’s just my personality, it’s the competitiveness in me. He’s worried about that, and that’s the main thing. When it comes to the business, he thinks I need to hire more people. I think Heather’s trying now, but we only want to hire A-listers, really solid people, and that’s hard to find, especially in this market. That’s about it.
SW: They’re closely related, your hours and your health.
MA: Possibly, yeah. I’m just hoping I don’t actually die doing this, and I’ll retire when I’m young enough that I can regain the health. I don’t know if journalists at CNET really realize that I’m not alone in this, so is Om, obviously, and Matt Marshall and Henry Blodget suddenly, we’re killing ourselves, but we have no choice in the matter. We’re driven to do it, and I don’t know how they compete with that, in the long run.
SW: You do have the choice, but in the same way that an entertainer has the choice not to perform, which is really no choice at all, they were born to do that and they need the adulation. But it was interesting that you called yourself an entertainer; I always thought of you as a journalist, but I might be wrong/
MA: I just recently realized that what we do is we entertain. I can’t just go out and say Google’s buying Microsoft tomorrow. I could get away with that once and then people wouldn’t even bother reading me anymore. I have rules I put in place for myself that drive the business, but ultimately, I want people to come to TechCrunch on their lunch hour and read it because they’d rather do that than anything else. Some people do, and some people go to other places, some people go to CNET. That’s what I want, and that means I have to entertain them. I have to write interesting stuff.
DF: I think what he’s saying is, you have to inform, but do it in an entertaining way.
MA: Yes. And Dan, you’re the master of that. I read your stuff, you take a relatively boring story, and find a good angle on that, and you make it something you want to read.
DF: That’s what blogs do well. They don’t try to boil the ocean. Most of what we’re doing is refactoring something that’s already been out there. You find some angle, you find one point you want to make and elaborate that to some greater whole. That’s what gives you some unique differentiation.
DG: It’s also a great venue for the scoop of perception, except you don’t have to go out and get 6 sources to back you up on it, you can just come out and say it.
RS: If mike had five sources instead of one, it makes the story more believable. Generally, you can tell if he’s done more homework.
DF: A lot of times it depends who the one is.
DG: If you’re right 80% of the time, you’re doing fine.
DF: IF you have one who is the one, you only need one.
RS: What are the trends in the industry that you guys are tracking? What’s the battlefront? Two weeks ago it was Microsoft vs. Silverlight. Amazon shipped a new web service yesterday. Amazon vs. everybody else, or?
DG: There’s deep and fundamental disruption across the media and software industries. If that’s not enough to talk about… I think we have a unique position in history here, more news everyday than you can possibly report on.
MA: For the old timers, how is it different? Is the news flow amazingly heavier than it was ever before?
MV: The only thing that’s different is there’s color commentary around it, but there’s the same amount of news.
MA: Same amount of news… People are doing stuff and it gets reported?
MV: More trivial stuff is getting reported than ever. Because it used to be that there was a bigger gatekeeper function and it was harder to get covered.
MA: Is that good or bad?
MV: It has plusses and minuses. The minus is that there’s more crap in the air, the plus is that more stories have a chance of getting heard.
MA: Do you think journalists before blogs did a good job being gatekeepers?
MV: I think it was mixed results, depending on the individual journalist. You look at houses of journalists, whether it was the Times or Wall Street Journal or e-week or whatever… They would have probably maybe half the staff doing a good job, the other half were either newbies or guys that were slipping and on their way out the door.
MA: In 2005 when I started TechCrunch, the reason I started it was I wanted to get news on startups. Because there were so many exciting things happening, that no one was covering. Here and there there’d be stuff, but there were startups launching that no one was covering at all. And they couldn’t get any press. And so I’d grab that niche.
DG: Part of the old stuff was the medium is the message. There was a small news hole. You had to fill the book and once the book was filled, there was no reason to do any more stories. Now, there’s unlimited book.
RS: I worked in a startup in the mid 90s and I was very frustrated that I couldn’t get anybody to cover our product. I far prefer this world. Today, at a conference, someone came up to me and said they had something to show me, so I turned on my video camera and I said okay, show me, what do you have? That’s a totally new world.
MV: But you guys talk about blogging like everyone’s as successful as you are? You guys represent maybe less than 10% of bloggers out there, and the other 90% are struggling for Google Pagerank and whatever traffic they can get.
RS: I think 90% of bloggers don’t give a fuck. My wife doesn’t care about that shit. She doesn’t care about having an audience, most people in the world don’t care about …
SW: Let’s separate the personal and professional bloggers. Your wife is what I would call a personal blogger and that’s fine.
RS: Most bloggers are like that [inaudible]
Doc Searls: To answer Mike’s question seriously, in the old world, space was the gate. You had limited space on print, limited space in time on TV and radio channels. Now, the new gate is talent and the time that talent has. I think talent tends to find the audience whether it’s professional or not. I don’t blog professionally, but I do a lot of other stuff professionally, I’ve got plenty enough readers, and I don’t even think of them as an audience. But I think the talent is actually limited. The problem you have Mike, of trying to find the talent, is a serious one. There’s a shortage of talent in programming, there’s a shortage of talent in a lot of other things. That’s the real limitation these days, and finding those is going to be harder.
DG: I think another difference, Mike Arrington, is that in the 80’s and 90’s there was a scarcity of information and business and trade journalists were helping buyers make decisions, and there was a lot riding on the integrity and reporting in depth, and we were in service to people who might be snookered by vendors. Now on the internet, you can go direct, to the vendor websites, access to buying information is so plentiful now that the journalists are resorting to sports writing, who’s doing better than the other guy and what’s going on, and that plays into your self-description as an entertainer, because that’s generally what isn’t available from vendors don’t provide that information. That context has changed.
DS: That’s a good point, I like that.
MV: You’ve got a nice niche there, in terms of startups. Youre covering Yahoo and Facebook and whatnot, and you’ve carved out a nice niche for that. Dan wants to go after the consumer side of CNET, and you guys will have an interesting conversation.
DG: The reader will be better off for it, right?
MA: I’m better off now that CNET’s gunning for this stuff, because they’re linking to me, and I’m linking to them. I’ve probably linked to CNET more in the last 2 weeks than in the previous 2 years combined. It’s amazing that they’re finally starting to get it. It helps us both. Sure we’re going to compete for who’s first on Techmeme, I care a lot more than they do, obviously, just because it’s a status symbol for me but doesn’t mean much to them probably given how big they are. But it’s great for everyone. That’s one of the things about blogging that’s so different from old media, I think (and people don’t get this)- every time a new blog starts up, I’m actually happy, because its increasing our audience, it’s increasing the number of people who are discussing things. It’s absolutely more page views for us, and that’s not the way things happened in the old days.
SG: Why is it not like the way it is in the old days? It seems to me that when you get a critical mass, then you start to benefit from the network effects.
MA: I’m talking about- let’s imagine a world where there’s a New York Times, but no Wall Street Journal. Then suddenly Wall Street Journal starts up. The New York Times wasn’t going to be happy about that, they’re going to see it as taking eyeballs away.
SG: You can’t go into their boardroom and ask them this question, but I’ll bet you they had this exact same conversation.
MA: No, that’s why you see newspapers in big cities like San Francisco, basically falling apart until there’s just one left. They don’t link to each other, it’s sort of a zero-sum game when it comes to old print media.
SG: That’s why you see Microsoft finally understanding that they have to get into the online world.
MA: No, that’s something different. Dan and I were at the Flickr party last week. And we were both tracking the same story, it was Flickr video. Dan had his in, and I had my in. We were comparing notes, because we’re friends, which is awesome. He wrote, and I wrote, and I linked to him, and he linked to me. He wrote see TechCrunch for more, and I wrote see CNET for more. He sent traffic to me, and I sent traffic back to him. That doesn’t happen at the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
SG: That’s not true. You’ll see they point at the journal everyday. They’re adopting your idea.
MA: That might be true, I haven’t seen it, but what I was talking about was the old days, when it clearly didn’t happen.
SG: Back when there were no cars, people didn’t do car strategies.
DG: Once again the medium is the message. They’re going to have to go and deal with this new medium.
SG: Your point was it used to be different, true. The methodology of the players, I think, your case, I don’t think stands up as much as you think it stands up.
MA: My point was that everytime somebody comes on and starts writing about the stuff that we write about, I’m happy. It increases my audience, and that wasn’t the case in the old days.
SG: When [inaudible] comes on the show and interacts with us and then he goes back and starts doing a series of stories which I eventually loop around and will be about the Google data piracy crisis. He’s happy that we get to him and he gets to us. Mainstream media is engaged, as you’ve just pointed out, with Farber.
RS: We both worked for an employer who told us not to link our properties. We both know that blogs did that and took advantage of that by linking to everybody and talking to everybody.
RS: Faucet told us not to do that.
SG: And look where they are.
SG: Mike Fasard hired me away from Faucet to Infoworld because he realized it was a model that was not going to replicate itself.
MA: What’s Faucet and what’s Infoworld?
DS: Who’s Marc Andreesen? Who knows these things?
SG: TechCrunch used to be a really interesting blog before he started that new startup blog and destroyed his brand.
DG: We’re in year six of our lord, right?
SG: The creeping myopia of real time on Twitter is just extraordinary.
MA: I’m actually on Twitter right now, I told people I was getting trashed back when you guys were all attacking me.
SG: I noticed that, I didn’t say it though.
DS: When did I attack you, Mike?
MA: It was before you got on.
DS: Oh I didn’t know, okay.
SG: We asked him a question, and he freaked out.
MA: The question was, when did you stop beating your wife? It was absurd, it was Dana.
SG: This is a passion you enjoy right, crying wolf.
MA: Not right now though. I want a support group, at some point. Dan is personally a big mentor of mine, he’s on my side, even when I fuck up. It would be nice if we could be somewhat supportive of each other and not question each other’s ethics on this show. I understand the need to disagree over stuff.
SG: Are you serious or being entertaining right now? If you’re serious, this show’s over.
DG: I think it’s pretty entertaining.
MA: Are you going to cancel the show again?
SG: It’s my show and I can stop it and I may stop it right now. Why don’t you examine what you just said? If you don’t think that I’ve been supportive to you over the years and vice versa. What are you talking about?
MA: I think you just turned this show into our relationship. I didn’t say that, Mr. Sensitive. You as well have been a very big mentor to me, Steve. Absolutely
SG: Don’t say on this show that we’re not being supportive of you.
MA: I don’t want to be appear to be Mr. Whiny either. I’m glad to be back on the show. I’m glad you let me back on, it’s awesome, I’d be glad to come back on next week, whatever you want.
MA: I’ve never fired you except when you tried to fire Nick Carr, and that was two years ago on Valleywag.
MA: Whatever you say Steve.
MA: Nice connection Robert
DG: How about those iPhones huh?
MA: I love that the last time I was on this show, Steve hung up on us. He hasn’t hung up until this time and now he’s hung up again.
SG: I’m not…
DS: I think he’s still in the room.
MV: Gentlemen I’ve got to go, but I want to thank you all for what I have to say might be the most narcissistic conversation I’ve been a part of in a long time.
SG: Also, great business intelligence, right?
MA: See what the fuck does that mean? That was another personal attack.
DF: A little passive aggressive
DG: I would say so
DG: He sounded frustrated too. I mean there’s so many of us on, how could it be narcissistic in just one way?
SW: He meant me
DF: I think he did too
DG: Well you’ve got the point in time right, so you might as well take advantage of it
DS: Bad energy
DG: Steve why don’t you get some good guests for a change
SG: I find it really interesting that the host of the show can’t express an opinion without being criticized for being grumpy.
DS: That’s part of the act.
SG: No, its not part of the fucking act.
SW: Anyways, you guys have a great weekend a Happy Easter, okay.
SG: I am going to wrap this up. Just to be clear, I very much appreciate that Mike Arrington has resurfaced, even if just for a second or two. I want to thank everybody who showed up, and especially those who didn’t. This has been Steve Gilmore and the Gang. We’ll see you next time, if there is a next time.