A minor scandal has gently rocked the tech world lately, as the CrunchFund-…uh…-funded startup Path was caught uploading its users’ entire Address Books from their iPhones to Path’s servers. Path quickly rationalized, then apologized, then did a reasonably good job of making amends, but it stirred up a lot of concern (which probably should have been stirred up much sooner) about social networking platforms harvesting too much private Address Book data, and Apple’s iOS, in particular, not doing enough (which is to say, anything) to warn users that this was going on.
But more attention is now being drawn to the playground fight between former TechCrunch writer, current CrunchFund investor, Michael Arrington acolyte and self-serving tech blogger M.G. Siegler, and former Fake Steve Jobs, ongoing Newsweek technology editor and self-serving tech blogger Dan Lyons. I’m quickly learning that while it’s not possible to agree with both of them, it’s quite easy to disagree with both. In this situation neither seems nearly as concerned with the actual technology involved — nor in finding a technical solution to the dilemma of startups that want to offer their users the benefits of social integration while respecting privacy — as in proving their own awesomeness while ripping the other to shreds.
In short, it’s becoming a lot harder to see where technology fits into all of this ostensible tech blogging.
For quite a while I’ve been on M.G. Siegler’s side. To be honest I haven’t paid Dan Lyons much attention. He seemed like a gimmicky hack when he was pretending to be Steve Jobs, and just a bitter hack afterwards. M.G. Siegler isn’t necessarily much better. I have long loathed Michael Arrington’s work and anything associated with it (as I’ve documented here before), with the lone exception of Apple-focused M.G. Siegler. Which isn’t to say I am a huge Siegler fan (despite how frequently I have cited him on The Undisciplined Room); his favorite topic, I have learned, is not Apple but himself. He also peppers his writing with far too much gratuitous profanity for my taste. (Not that I don’t swear like a fucking sailor most of the time, but swearing just to make your writing seem edgy has been passé since shortly after Rolling Stone started doing it 40 years ago.) But even if I bristle at his style, I usually find his writing engaging, if not informative.
When the late, great Clara Peller famously asked “Where’s the beef?” (yes, I just went there), she wasn’t calling for a grudge match between two Silicon Valley pseudo-journalists; she was looking for something of substance. And substance is in as short supply in money-driven tech blogging as it was in fast food in the ’80s. (Thank goodness for Wendy’s and its public service campaign that fixed that, once and for all.)
To find the substance, we can go back to a voice that has been engaged in this Path discussion from the very beginning, one of my new favorite (real) tech bloggers, Matt Gemmell. Not only is he focused on solving the problem of Address Book privacy rather than on inflating his own stature in the blogging world, he actually knows what he’s talking about and has described a brilliant solution to the problem that I think every company that is collecting personal data from its users should employ.
In short, it’s easy to figure out which tech bloggers to side with: the ones who actually talk about technology, instead of each other.
Uh… excluding this post… by me… of course.
Fortunately for me, I don’t have enough of an audience to matter. (And with that attitude I never will either, I say in my head, in the voice of Agnes Skinner.) The majority of my traffic is one-time visitors searching Google to figure out why their Macs aren’t working right, or trying to get Drupal out of their lives, or wondering why open water on maps scares them so much, or trying to make sense of that weird Brooks Brothers logo. You know, the important stuff.