On getting “Winered” yesterday

My friend Dave Winer heckled me from the back row and threw me under the bus on this blog yesterday (insert “with friends like these” joke here). Dave’s complaint was a I was “spamming” from the stage by talking about my latest passion (the internet’s evironmental crisis) and my piece of the solution, Mahalo, I’ve never been heckled–heck, yelled at–like this in mind presentation in 12 years of speaking at events, let alone by a friend.

Instead of trying to understand Dave’s motives and delivery–which I am perplexed by–I’m letting my inner Jedi/Buddhist/Monk see past the person and delivery and into the issue. In other words, is something I can learn from the experience of being Winered?*

Less than 24 hours later I’ve come to a couple of themes.

First, Dave’s blog post on why he doesn’t like Mahalo states the following:

  • When someone gets up and gives a speech about a platform, my mind gets engaged about ways I can have fun or make money.

    There’s none of that with Mahalo. It’s about Jason and his investors making money. Why should I care about that?

    It’s like the iPhone. Very limited opportunities for us to be creative. Not my cup of tea.

I’ve never looked at Mahalo as a platform, but rather a product. I understand Dave’s interest is in things he can manipulate and play with it. He does fun things with Flickr and Twitter all the time, and I feel him on that. However, who said Mahalo was closed? So far we’ve had people create Facebook applications, widgets, and Firefox extensions for Mahalo, and Dave is certainly welcome to do that. We publish a bunch of RSS feeds already, and more are on the way. Dave is my friend (I think, although it doesn’t feel friendly at this point) and he can call me any time and talk to me about playing with Mahalo. He knows this. If he wants to play with Mahalo he can… my line is always open to Dave.

However, I’ll take the blame. We have not published an official API yet, although it’s in the works, and also we haven’t released a friendly copyright policy–although we’re figuring it out.

On the subject of us being the iPhone… well, oh Dave if only we were the iPhone! Please let folks feel as passionate as that (you do own an iPhone and you do use it constantly right?!). 🙂

Dave second comment is about my presentation…

  • I hate speeches that are ads
    Calanis is ranting about marketers are intruding on the Internet.
    But explain to me how what he’s doing is not an ad.
    Bold hypocrisy. He’s spamming us right now. What a joke.

This one is a harder one to reconcile. I’ve spoken 10 times since launching Mahalo and each presentation was a combination of 1/3rd parts: my thoughts on the industry, my current project, and a spirited Q&A about themes that emerge from those first two. I’ve given talks in this format to thousands of folks in the past three months, and tens of thousands over the past ten years.

I’ve NEVER had a bad reaction to the format until Dave’s, and frequently had an amazing reaction. I get invited to attend the same events over and over again based on the success of this format. In fact, this is the third time I’ve been to Gnomedex and at the other two times I’ve seen folks do a similar format.

Dozens of folks came up to me last night and say that they felt it was a great presentation and they did not agree with Dave’s back row attack. Most said they really admire what we’re doing with Mahalo and they found my answers in the Q&A session really compelling and honest (some said it was a highlight of the event). I have to say I really enjoyed the Q&A session myself. Folks hit me with some really great issues like bias, scaling the product, and keep the index updated. These are the issues we deal with every day building the project! So, right on…. I love aggressive and challenging questions and conversations. Getting heckled from the back row in the first 10 minutes of a presentation? Well, not so much.

Also, Chris Pirillo who was running the event was cool with my presentation and even introduced me as being here to talk about what I’m working on. If Chris is doing a noncommercial event he really needs to make that VERY clear when folks are setup as speakers because it’s really the job of the conference producer to make sure speakers know what they’re getting into. That being said, I don’t know that he could have expected a response like Dave’s.

The irony of all of this, for me, is that I’ve been at many events like Bloggercon, which Dave ran, in which he talked about HIS projects like Weblogs.com–a service he sold for millions of dollars. Just because a project is commercial doesn’t make it any less important for me (or 99% of folks in the audience at conferences I suspect). Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, Wikia and countless other projects are commercial projects and I’m thrilled to hear from the leaders of those companies and hear about what they are dealing with on a product and business level. Our industry is driven by ideas that turn into products that turn into businesses.

If Gnomedex has a “don’t talk about your own projects rule” or a “don’t talk about your own projects if they are commercial” I wasn’t told about it. If I was I could have talked for another 10 minutes about internet pollution and went to Q&A (which I’m sure would have been filled with questions about Mahalo anyway).

What perplexes me is why Dave would yell at me. We’re friends Dave, right? Sort of? If you disagreed with my format why not talk to me after the event and say “hey, I felt it was a little commercial you might want to tone that down.” However, I said I wouldn’t get into the mind of Dave and his motivation.

My take away from Dave’s spanking, which was followed by a second berating session in the hotel lobby which was equally confounding to me, is that if you speak at Gnomdex do not talk about commercial projects. Talk about an issue and ignore anything your doing that has a currency involved in it.

I always clear my presentations with folks before I speak at an event, and thought Chris and I had done that enough, but maybe there is a lesson there to lean to the noncommercial side.

If anyone was offended or felt I wasted their time my apologies and beers on me! 🙂

[ * I’ve gotten dozen folks telling me not to give getting “Winered”* a second thought. From what they said Dave has a habit of yelling at people at conferences including Blake Ross last year, Microsoft employees at the search champs event, and many others. If this is some rite of passage I’m glad to have faced my Jedi Trials finally. ]

[ Postscript: I’m writing this from the back row right now and the founder of Noonhat, a lunch social network, is nervously talking about his very interesting project. Folks are joking by yelling out “spam!!!” Apparently Dave’s outburst has already become a running joke. Life goes on. 🙂 ]

[ Postscript @ 2:40PM: Dave has responded to my response. Does Dave have a point about Mahalo being more open? Of course. As I said above, we are working on our API and debating our license right now (i.e. creative commons, commercial/noncommercial, etc). However, my point about Dave’s approach to yelling at people in the middle of their presentations (which is an ongoing trend) and talking about your products being “spam” remain the same. Yell at someone while they are presenting–even if you disagree with them–is not cool. We had a spirited Q&A session that was very productive. That is the time for such behavior. I’m sad, but somewhat relieved, that Dave told me our friendship is over. He informed me of this in his third berating session of me in 24 hours, this time at the end of lunch. I’m not interested in having someone berate me like this, and I’m certainly not interested in having him berate people at the TechCrunch20 conference. If I made a mistake yesterday and was too promotional for the tone of the event I’m sorry as I explained above (right now i’ve have ~40 folks tell me I did a great job, and two including Dave say it was too promotional). Good luck to you Dave, it was nice spending time with you over the past couple of years. ]

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