Shame on Who?

Being the object of strong opinions–and even conspiracy theories–is all part of the day’s work for companies (and people) who are part of the web’s open, fast-moving, and ultimately democratic culture. Usually, we let the wilder stories run their course, and we’ve found that the web community does a good job of fact-checking as well as opinion-sharing. No wonder Wikipedia works.

But in the past few days, a story has bubbled up that I want to acknowledge. Last Thursday, Daya Baran of Silicon Valley WebGuild posted Shame on You Tim O’Reilly, in which he asserts that O’Reilly asked Google to withdraw support for the WebGuild’s “Web 2.0 Conference & Expo” because we didn’t want the competition from his conference. Today, he included the post in his email newsletter to WebGuild members and I received a couple of inquiring emails from friends.

I’m not sure why Daya decided to bring this up now — I assume it’s an attempt to get publicity for his next gathering. Back on January 1, Michael Arrington first made the issue public in his post WebGuild Using Questionable Tactics To Promote Events (also see Silicon Alley Insider). We were, in fact, concerned that the name of the WebGuild event was so similar to ours. We tried to personally contact Daya many times (via email, phone calls and a certified letter), from October through December. He didn’t respond. For the record, we never asked (and we certainly didn’t demand) Google to withdraw support of WebGuild or its events.

So, a cordial exchange devolves, four months later, into public name-calling. This one will run its course, as they all do (for example we are now working with Tom Raftery of it@cork on the Web 2.0 Expo in Berlin), but it seems a shame for all of us to spend time and energy on this when there are so many interesting and useful things more deserving of our attention.

  • Another terrible post by WebGuild where they would rather shout obscenities to drive blog traffic than demonstrate any understanding about the industry they’re supposedly advising us on.

    Unfortunately for them, it takes more than name calling to get respect. I’ll stick with O’Reilly on this one.

  • Grammar Nanny

    That would be… Shame on whom.

  • With so many completely legitimate reasons to point out O’Reilly’s reasons to be shamed (actual shaming being presumed impossible), it is a bummer when the dialog is diluted with bogus claims.


  • Right or wrong, this does seem a distraction from the message, no? If it was Dara’s intention to cause a stir and garner some fre publicity, he seems to have succeeded in baiting you into the fight.

  • I’ve blogged my thoughts on this whole kerfuffle. In short, Daya is mistaken, and the shame belongs on his shoulders.

  • Ken Nakagama

    I don’t represent Webguild, nor am I privy to anything more than the above mentioned email as a member.

    Not really knowing any facts, it is unfortunate things have materialized as they have.

    I have known Dara to be personable and open, so I hope this is rare form if not a different person online.

    Having been an on and off member of webguild for a long time, I considered the relationship with Google as critical.

    I do believe this situation overall was avoidable and some issue may lie in many places.

    In any case, the message probably didn’t go about things the right way.

    Its not enviable to say its not worthy of discussion, since its out there now. It effects many thousands of members and certainly not a lot of folks will be happy about it.

    But yes, it will pass.

    I suppose the best result would be some method O’Reilly and WebGuild find a way to work together and bury this one.


  • The only reason to fight O’Reilly over the “Web 2.0” name is to make fun of and otherwise resist the exploitation of the movements of capital that it represents.

    The post objected to in this topic doesn’t do that, so I can’t support them.

    O’Reilly does manage some self-parody by highlighting the issue in the manner that it has here. What was it Hank said about the pettiness of the academic world? It applies by analogy.

    But there’s no such thing as bad press, right?


  • One last.

    Here is some analysis of a recent mash-up splash. The analysis is in the comment section, mostly.

    “Heckuva job!”-t

  • steve

    Thomas Lord – what is your story? You keep posting on here with negative comments about O’Reilly. I started off criticising Web 2.0, but you seem to have an issue with Tim, the person, rather than the annoying moniker.

    Can you consider that Tim is allowing you to post your constant stream of petty points, which in fact negates the point you’re making? In light of that, can you consider whether stating your full case in your own forum, or shutting up, may be a more rational approach?

  • Steve,

    My intuition is that Tim is a well-intentioned guy who, in a small context, man we’d get along famously. I actually relate to him and to what I perceive to be his instincts quite a bit. There but for the grace of deity go i.

    There would be absolutely no point in challenging so directly otherwise.

    My fuller not full case can begin to be found in some of the links I’ve provided in various comments.

    I don’t see anything what you say that supports your accusation of irrationality.

    I just happen to know a few more things than he does (apparently) that are relevant to what he pimps. That’s all.


  • @Chris: Thanks for posting a Google-perspective.

    @Tim: We know that this is what he wants. However, there were people who were starting to repeat the story without asking us about it. It’s better to be ahead of bad news than behind.

  • Also, Steve,

    I could well be wrong. He could be a crypto-fascist. That would be arguably consistent with his behavior. He could be a kind of Goebels-style propogandist.

    I just happen to doubt that. Occam steps in. I think the probability is that it’s an accident.

    “Oh my goodness, it’s a Godwin moment! Liars and Tighers and Bears, oh my!”


  • steve

    The irrationality comes from the flood of many messages, each of which has some small point, with many additions containing afterthoughts.

    It suggests that your counter-point is so disorganised that there’s no real analysis behind your posts. Is this the intended effect?

  • Steve,

    That’s a legitimate point of view about the fact that I write in a discursive style as a way to approach a range of complex, “intertwingled” topics.

    The converse is also true: that for some readers it provides more easily approachable snapshots that lead into a more complex understanding. That is empirical fact, in my experience, which probably helps to explain my “style”.

    I can offer you some main themes, if that will help.

    Why does O’Reilly matter? Why do I take it to be a keystone in what I’ve come to call the “open source industrial complex”? Well, I observe the firm to be thought leaders. The narrative from O’Reilly leaders often suggests a passivity: listening carefully to be the early ones to take note of new trends, and then reporting on those trends. That narrative seems false to me. I think they listen carefully and detect new business plays open to some friends, and then propogandize in ways that turn those into trends by influencing the creative impulses of hackers, the attention of entrepreneurs, and the flow of investment capital. That makes this a good space to address those three groups.

    What is the problem with O’Reilly’s approach, as exemplified in the Web 2.0 phenomenon? More or less by definition, “Web 2.0” is a form of privatized surveillance and crowd control. It is a libertarian version of forming a secret police, fundamentally asymmetric in its information gathering and manipulative in its application of the resulting data. Now, Mr. O’Reilly himself, for example, will point out that he has long spoken of “the dangers” of this arrangement. Indeed he has. Weakly and in passing and offering ineffective solutions. Meanwhile, the economic incentives to push ahead anyway are evident and are given the emphasis. So, in my view, O’Reilly has been inserting itself into an engineering leadership position, and then conducting itself in a socially irresponsible way. If I am confronted with an engineering colleague conducting themselves in such ways, it is my duty to resist and interfere. I do not see how my duty does not apply in this case.

    Some specific cases may be helpful here, to underscore the gravity of the situation.

    The first to come to mind is the recent, uncritical celebrations of Drew Endy’s work in synthetic biology. If you examine what these labs are doing and the safety protocols they use, and hold these up against the promotions they offer, and observe the flows of capital into this area — and then think through the science — you will (if you are at all alert) realize what a disaster is going on here. Careless, sloppy handling protocols are putting at immediate risk all life on the planet. Naive hypotheses about turning gene hacking into something akin to javascript hacking are being heavily promoted. And along lines of misplaced trust, boatloads of investment capital are influenced to add fuel to these mistakes as fast as it can be added. I’m sorry, but even though it may be the rightful option of O’Reilly to support and further that trend, it is certainly not their moral right to do so.

    In the “Web 2.0” space, I’ll refer you elsewhere. To the analysis threaded through the comments in this discussion of a recent mash-up. There are many others but that one seems to have come out as a fairly approachable case study.

    We have better things to do. The dialog pimped here frequently debases language (to borrow a phrase from Weizenbaum) to a nihilistic degree. If you find my manner of expression problematic, the best thing would be not to argue with me but to gain appreciation of the problems being created and join me in this cause and do a better job than you think I do.


  • steve

    Now that’s the great writing from Thomas Lord that I admired earlier. I have varying levels of agreement throughout your screed, however it is now a solid work on which to base a discussion.

    My suggestion would be to build up a library of solid points that you can cut/paste for relevance, so that each message from you has this level of communication.

    The difficulty with the other approach is that it isn’t possible to see the depth of your thinking when viewed in isolation, though you’re outlining the new points for your “intertwingled” aspects.

    So the problem for the reader is being able to tell the difference between a quick and yet important point, or a quick quip that could or might not be worthy (eg, 90% of Net).

    I think Tim O’Reilly has a vision of the future and is actively influencing and working to create what he has in mind. Whether this is a good thing is not so much the point, as there are many others doing the same.

    It must be said that many other people (like me) have the same view, but it is Tim O’Reilly that matters because he does have that influence. As a strategy, I believe Tim is doing better than us.

  • So, Steve,

    I take there to be two aspects of what you’re saying there. One, that I won’t drag out at just this particular juncture, is some agreement and some probably larger disagreement on the “issues”. The other, though, is technical: feedback on the writing and technique. I greatly appreciate the latter. The reader is never wrong. You’ve given me a perspective to integrate with my thinking.

    So: thanks. And thank you for caring and reading at all.