Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

Armchair hysteria

If you’re a celebrity or a sports star, you soon get used to the responsibilities that come with public acclaim and fame. Your life changes. You suddently think twice before dashing off on a nudie run down the street. You don’t walk about town in public in your trakkies (that’s sweats for you American folk). You watch what you say to anyone but those who you trust implicitly.

Because the public doesn’t care that you regard your private life as your own. You’ve made the decision to thrust yourself into the spotlight so therefore you become public property. Them’s is the rules.

We’re getting to the point, where bloggers need to realise that they are indeed a variety of celebrity. And with that status of celebrity comes certain responsibilities.

Case in point: Yahoo gives up on search. Over the last 24 hours it has totally dominated the rankings at memeorandum. Let’s look at how the episode unfolded.

The background

Yahoo’s CFO Susan Decker does her job. She tells a financial reporter that Yahoo’s realistic expectation is to hold marketshare in the search market and that’s ok. In these post Enron/Worldcom days, if you’re addressing a financial audience, you don’t lay on the marketing schtick. You tell it how it is. And clearly if Yahoo doesn’t have anything miraculous up its sleeve that it honestly believes is going to enable it to claw back marketshare from Google, then it’s Decker’s legal and moral responsibility to say so. Oh, and then there’s the little matter of setting expectations, which has since been blogged about so I won’t go into it, suffice to say that any good bean counter knows not to set the bar too high.

The beat up

Bloomberg’s reporter writers a highly emotice piece, laden with words and phrases like “capitulate” and “battle”. The story gets picked up by the seattlepi.com, who top it with the headline: “Yahoo! gives up quest for search dominance”. (That may or may not have been the original wire headline).

The important fact missing from the story is what time-frame is being talked about. I’m almost certain that Decker didn’t mean to suggest that Yahoo! thought it was game over, forever more. I’m almost certain she was talking about the medium to short term. Search is such a common activity that even if you invented the perfect search engine, it would take 12 months+ to start convincing the masses there were better options available than Google.

As such, the story is rubbish. The headline is worse. A good editor would have gone back to the reporter and asked them to pin some timelines onto the comments before it beat the thing up to high heaven. Shame on Bloomberg.

The blog up

Now, if there’s one guy you’d want to hope might pick something like that up , it’s gotta be Steve Rubel, right? He’s the blogosphere resident PR guru, right? He’s the one who should be able to spot a beat up that’s been underpinned by a key missing fact. Surely.

But Steve’s a Top 100 blogger. He can recognise a story that’s going to generate hits. And so away we go.

“That’s it, I am no longer using Yahoo Search. I have no interest in using a product that the company doesn’t aspire to make best of breed. If search is no longer hip to Yahoo, then Yahoo Search is no longer hip with me,” Rubel writes.

Don’t hold back there, Steve. Oh, and don’t for a second bother to question your source before you go and publicly write off the Internet’s #2 player.

This is pub/bar talk. I say these kinds of things all the time when I’m pissed. But an A-List bloggers need to have an appreciation for the fact that they’re now influential figures and that a post like this has the potential to light a match under the big, booming bonfire that is the blogosphere.

The blow up

Which is exactly what it did. Thomas Hawke wrote a long, detailed essay about how easy it would be for Yahoo (corrected) to snap its various acquisitions together and rule the world. Oh yeh. We’re sure all those highly paid strategists at Yahoo have never thought for a moment about doing something as revolutionary as tying together the Flickr and Yahoo Image! search. We’re sure they’re just buying up all these social search companies because they digg (pun intended) companies with funny-looking names.

Give a man/woman a blog and suddently everyone’s an armchair expert. Why do we all think we know so much than people who live and breathe the stuff we crap on about from afar.

The Anti-climax

Eventually sanity finally begins to prevail as we get a series of posts pointing out that the story was sensationalised off the map. A Yahoo-er comes out and declares it all “bullshit”. Thomas Hawke backtracks like no tomorrow. There’s a general blogosphere mumbling along the lines of “Yeh, of course I knew it wasn’t true. I was just saying if it was true that…”

The lessons

Corporate communications professionals can forget the idea of compartmentalising messages for different sectors of the market. You can’t take one message out to the financial community and not expect it to cross over to your user community. Someone rewrite the text books. Each of the editors and journalists who contributed to that Bloomberg story running as it did need to take a good hard look at themself. Indeed, every member of the media might take a look at this incident because for once you can actually see the trail of misinterpration, miscommunition and chinese whispers that unjustified emotive language can provoke. All bloggers would do well not to continue to accept everything that appears in the MSM as gospel. For as much, as the blogosphere rants about independent media, it’s still a slave to the perception of big media as God. Squash says kill your idols. In particular, high profile bloggers need not just revel in their newfound celebrity, they must accept that responsibilities come with being a public commentator.

P.S. Squash freely admit we’ve been guilty of all of the above, except for being an A-List blogger.

Filed under: Blogs

3 Responses

  1. Chuck says:

    Great post – thanks for putting it together

  2. Thomas Hawk says:

    Insightful piece. Actually it’s Yahoo! snapping all those acquisition pieces together not Google.

    While certainly the search implications of the various Web 2.0 properties that Yahoo! owns (Flickr, upcoming.org, Delicious, et al) are well known by Yahoo! I do think how these properties can be applied to search is worth examining by the rest of us, as I don’t see Yahoo! necessarily promoting the search application of these products in a major discussion in a big way, armchair quarterbacking or not. Gets the conversation moving.

    The original Bloomberg reporters use of the word “capitulated” was a particularly emotional word and a poor choice, particularly if as Caterina suggested, the quote was taken out of context.

    The good thing about the blogoshpere though is that these things can be quickly clarified as was the case by Caterina’s post. Personally I think Yahoo! is very well positioned for search going forward.

  3. Hace says:

    Very nicely done, a good read.

    This knee-jerkiness is going to be a growing problem, I think, as more and more news readers start using RSS-reader/blog instant messaging. A handy (digglike) peer -review system for RSS-aggregators wouldn’t maybe hurt in the long run. And the systems we have for link sites (digg, memeorandum) aren’t that special, either…

    As for the Yahoo-thing itself: Google is in the business of selling personalized adds and making up ways to get that info from you and then to make you watch the adds. I’m not totally sure if Yahoo is really 100% in the same business…

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