Since today seems to be a slow news day and some sites seem to be anxious for traffic I thought I’d put my hand into the ring for a piece of that traffic (hey, at least I’m being transparent). Let’s start by saying I really like Mike Arrington, founder of TechCrunch. Quite honestly, I gained a new respect for the way he handled and explained the misunderstanding which happened between him and Leo Laporte on a recent (and possibly the last) episode of the Gillmor Gang. I do think he is a genuinely nice guy with good intentions and an amazing brain for business – I highly respect him for that. I think we could be good friends in person. He quite often gets a lot of flack which I think is undeserved – I think that gets to him at times.
That said, I think his recent article comparing FriendFeed to “Syphilis”, a rapidly spreading disease that will kill those in its path until it evolves is quite unfounded. First of all, I’m only aware of 3 people that has happened to (quit FriendFeed, not contract Syphilis), which happened only recently, and only after Mike Arrington started this idea that “Mobs” were killing FriendFeed. Each one of those cases (besides Arrington’s) were people that only post to the service and rarely interact. One of them even admitted he just didn’t have time for an extra service – a somewhat legitimate answer.
I also admit that about a year ago there was one additional “mob-driven” departure from FriendFeed during the political campaigns – a Conservative (most of those leaving seem to have been conservatives claiming to have been driven out by their Liberal counterparts on FriendFeed – note that I am also a Conservative) left briefly from the service due to disagreements and attacks on his own Political views. He is back in full force on FriendFeed today. I admit, it’s hard to be a Conservative on FriendFeed and express your political opinions (I usually choose not to). Heck, it’s hard to be Conservative on the internet in general! The organized nature of FriendFeed, while it has this con (which does not stand for Conservative), is still a very strong platform for organizing well-thought-out conversations.
However, there are 2 sides to this “Mob War”. Remember last July when I decided to leave Twitter? Check out the comments of that post – they look very similar to that of my friend who recently decided to do the same with FriendFeed. That was just my blog (I especially like the one that called me a “self-centered douche” – that made me want to stay on Twitter even longer) – the problem is I have no way to organize all the comments that occured on Twitter which were offensive or hurtful. You should have seen how bad it got after that post made it on TechMeme (which wasn’t my intent for that post – I had only been on Techmeme about once before that post I think). TechCrunch’s rage towards FriendFeed is easy to understand – FriendFeed is much easier to point the finger at because the discussion, both the good and the bad and even the ugly, is all in one place.
Is it a Mob or a Groundswell?
Now let’s look at another side of the coin. Remember that term, “Groundswell”? If you haven’t, go check out the book by Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li tomorrow from the Library, or purchase it from Amazon. All this “Mob” stuff sounds very familiar – in fact, it was originally termed by Forrester as a “Groundswell” – in Bernoff and Li’s book they define it as “A social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations”. That sounds awfully similar to a mob, with the exception of the Technology part. So would this more accurately be called a “Groundswell” instead of a mob?
One example they cited was that of Digg’s users rioting against Digg due to its original stance on the HD-DVD encryption key. Those users wanted to see Digg pay for their actions. I’m sure it hurt a lot reading some of the things which were said at that time. Digg rectified the situation and listened to those complaining, and turned around the entire movement to a “Mob” or “Groundswell” promoting Digg and fighting the AACS instead. Mobs can be controlled, but a mob’s still a mob, no matter which side they’re on. Was that a Mob or a Groundswell? What about when Digg turned it around to their benefit?
The problem with today’s “Groundswell” is it now targets the personal brand as well as the corporation. We see that in Arrington’s situation, as well as several others that have recently been targeted. It could have happened on Twitter. It could have happened on Youtube, or Digg, or anywhere else. The fact is when someone the majority likes is targeted, or the service the majority likes is targeted, or has the appearance of being attacked, the mob goes in defense mode, attacking back. When this is someone’s personal brand we’re talking about and not just a corporation or entity, it hurts a lot more. It’s impossible to not take at least some of the comments seriously – we’re all human after all.
At the same time, Groundswells can be used for good as well. Look at what Drew Olanaff is doing with his #blamedrewscancer on Twitter. He’s gotten me to donate $25 a month to the American Cancer Society because of it, along with many others. Or look at what is happening in Iran – I’m sure it looks like a “Mob” to the Iranian government. It’s still a Groundswell no matter which way you put it.
I still think the recent article on TechCrunch is wrong in targeting only FriendFeed in this matter. The words he used were quite harsh, and unfair to the service’s hard-working founders whose service has been working far better than that of the hard-working founders of Twitter. Arrington seems to be offended (or looking for traffic for his upcoming conference – it’s hard to tell), and riling up his own Groundswell against the service – perhaps this is just his response to the Groundswell. Just check out the comments on his post, then read the comments on Scoble’s FriendFeed response and those comments that are being deleted from TechCrunch. If that’s not the case I really don’t understand the strong words against the service, and why TechCrunch is seemingly only targeting one service in all this.
Mike Arrington calls this a “Mob” – I call it a “Groundswell”. Is there really a difference?
Here’s a great video portraying in real-life how quickly a “Mob” or “Groundswell” can be formed: