Monday, January 21, 2008

Dave Winer and Jason Calacanis at Gnomedex. Again.

Dave Winer today revisited his clash with Jason Calacanis at Gnomedex last August. I'll take that as an excuse to revisit it myself.

One residue of the long long years and late, late nights I spent trying to learn stand-up comedy is that I rarely take sides with a heckler. Except when it's a really good heckle. And last August at Gnomedex Dave Winer popped off with a pretty darn good heckle. Dave's timing was perfect. And he caught a good laugh. Jason was rocked back, but recovered well.

What followed was a heated series of back-and-forth blog posts between Dave and Jason that made it clear this was much deeper than an off-hand heckle. The ripples spread in one of those weekend Techmeme kerfuffles. In the aftermath, Dave and the TechCrunch20 conference parted ways, and then it died away.

Until late September, when Gnomedex host Chris Pirillo posted video of the Jason's session. With the video online, I've been able to confirm my memory—and my point of view—about the event. Here's how it played out for me:

Jason clearly created the opportunity for the heckle by mislabeling his presentation.

The title of the presentation was, "The Internet's Environmental Crisis." The description read:
"The internet is being destroyed by selfish polluters and we can stop them. Jason talks about all the garbage that is being thrown into our internet, and taking a stand against those spammers putting it there."
When Jason took the stage, he amplified that by saying he had asked Chris for the opportunity to speak because Gnomedex was not venture-capital-driven or press-driven event, but people-and-idea driven. (implication: I'm not here to pitch, but to share a POV). OK, I'm naive. And I don't know Jason Calacanis. So I took his title and description at face value.

The first eight minutes of content matched the labeling: a straight-forward historical review and a problem statement about how various Net applications were hijacked by marketers who polluted them with spam--beginning with email and moving through blog comments and search. What Jason called "selfish polluters" were folks who intruded on the user's intent to blast through their own message.

Up to that point, title, blurb, and speech were entirely congruous would have been a great setup for calling us to the barricades in some generalized solution: a movement, a technology, a platform that could end spam in our time (You know, "taking a stand against those spammers.")

But without warning, the grand cause of "taking a stand against those spammers" suddenly devolved into OK, now let me tell you about my new project, Mahalo." Maybe folks who know Jason, guessed that was coming. I don't. And I didn't.

I can't know if Dave was lying in wait for that pitch (pun intended), but he knocked it out of the park. The instant Jason made his left turn at Albequerque, Dave popped off, "what about conference spam?" Boom! there it is.

I thought was both funny and insightful (good funny is insightful, bad funny is just inciteful). From the laughs, the line clearly resonated with others in the audience. (I don't have polling to know how many others.) From the gasps, some folks were annoyed.

Jason seemed stunned and deeply wounded. Or as he put it in a post the next day, he felt "thrown under the bus."

I think I get why Dave's wise-crack hit him so hard. As he recounted, he had given this talk, in pretty much the same form many times before, but only when he had Dave Winer in the audience did he get slammed for it.

Except this wasn't a controlled experiment where Dave Winer's presence was the single changed variable. The context of Gnomedex was an even larger difference, as Jason acknowledged when he first took the stage. At a venture or press conference everyone would have gotten from the purpose of the event that Jason is here to pitch us.

And even at Gnomedex, had the talk been billed as "Here's Jason to tell us what he's been up to lately." or "Successful serial Web entrepreneur recounts his quest for the next big idea". or even "Jason talks about Mahalo, a new, spam-proof approach to search," we in the audience would have been fully immunized against Dave Winer's objections. I can't say Dave would have liked the talk any more. Given what he has consistently said about the product (including today), he would not.

But, he'd have been out of bounds to call it spam.

Mickeleh's Take: The lesson Jason took away was don't speak when Dave is in the audience. The lesson I wish had taken away was be upfront and call a pitch a pitch.

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webword said...

So, if I say, "Here's a free internet marketing course!" before you go to that page, it's OK?

Really Simple Method

Like that? ;-)

~ John

Michael Markman said...

Nope. That's still comment spam. But it's witty. So I'll give you a pass.

Anonymous said...

Great post, I am almost 100% in agreement with you