Thursday, April 24, 2008

Jerry Springer For Programmers: Only A Matter Of Time

After TechCrunch hit a new low, insulting a departing Twitter developer, Mike Desjardins got mad:

TechCrunch gleefully taunted a guy who left his job, forcibly or otherwise. What company does that put TechCrunch in, when compared to traditional media? Who follows the real rock stars around, revelling in their success and revelling even more when they crash hard?

It's an insightful question, but Peter Cooper from Ruby Inside took a totally different point of view:

It's interesting to contrast this with Paul Graham's recent essay You Weren't Meant To Have A Boss:

I think it's not so much that there's something special about [startup] founders as that there's something missing in the lives of employees. I think startup founders, though statistically outliers, are actually living in a way that's more natural for humans.

I was in Africa last year and saw a lot of animals in the wild that I'd only seen in zoos before. It was remarkable how different they seemed. Particularly lions. Lions in the wild seem about ten times more alive. They're like different animals. And seeing [corporate programmers] was like seeing lions in a zoo after spending several years watching them in the wild.

Obviously if startup founders and movie stars are lions, it's easy to guess what kind of animal Mike Arrington is.

However, since I've already mentioned Arrington, it's only fair to point out that PG's post thorougly outraged the second most horrible and boring tech blogger in the universe, Jeff Atwood. Watching Jeff Atwood pick a fight with Paul Graham was marvellous entertainment. Not only did we get to see a baboon flinging its doodoo at a lion, we got to see how silly and befuddled the lion had gotten in the winter of its old age. Paul Graham first defended himself, then wrote a post called How To Disagree - which Atwood pretty accurately described as "an EULA for disagreeing with Paul Graham" - and finally had Atwood over for a Y Combinator dinner where they presumably hashed out their differences.

Atwood launched a similar attack on DHH as well. I can only assume he was angling for a dinner with DHH but may be willing to settle for lunch. Or in fact a photo opportunity. However, DHH never responded at all. The sad truth is that if Blaine Cook is Britney, and Mike Arrington is Entertainment Tonight, Jeff Atwood is Dr. Phil. (When Britney had her meltdown, Dr. Phil stalked her in rehab, angling desperately for a photo opportunity despite her total unwillingness to speak to him.)

All this ridiculous programmer-celebrity blogging echo-chamber bullshit results in very little software being built. It's important to realize there are tons of people who just don't care. Be one of those people.

I don't share Peter Cooper's respect for Arrington - I think being good at doing something awful is more awful than being bad at it - but I definitely do share his amusement. Mike Arrington is way too busy manipulating the echo chamber to produce ad sales for him to actually care about anything that happens inside it. He's actually said so, very explicitly, in the past. Jeff Atwood is doing the same thing, but less effectively and very probably also with much less deliberate intent. This ridiculous pack of hyenas is a silly distraction at best.

This pandering idiocy mirrors the mainstream media's lowest-common-denominator gossip factories for a very fundamental reason. Advertizing-supported media gains much more from your attention than it does from your edification. This is not coincidence. It is fundamental and inherent. There is a huge economic incentive to grab your attention, and there is no economic incentive at all to give you something worth reading.

That's why my own blog has ads - because it works in reverse as well. I sometimes get enormous amounts of traffic from people who are very interested in expressing their opinions on my posts, but not interested at all in actually thinking about those posts. I know this for a fact because I used to allow them to comment on my blog. I was only able to stop these idiots from commenting on my blog by stopping everyone from commenting on my blog, which is regrettable, but it's worth the sacrifice, because some of these people really were complete fucking idiots. I know, because they disagreed with me.

My blog has ads because it's my little way of saying, "Thank you for reading my blog. That means you represent 1/11,429th of a burrito to me, and that makes you special."

Don't get me wrong. I'm grateful for my readers, but I'm grateful because they tend to come back at me with interesting ideas. It's cool when cool people think your ideas are worth thinking about, and it's even cooler when they actually take the time to think about those ideas. But in and of itself, reading a blog is not an accomplishment.

Likewise, running a blog does not make you important. Jeff Atwood and Mike Arrington are not vital to the programming community. You represent 1/11,429th of a burrito to them too.

It's awesome to get a free burrito every 11,429 times somebody decides to read your blog. But that awesomeness doesn't translate well to full-time careers, because it's all too easy to get 11,429 people to visit your blog even though every single one of them realizes they should know better. There are a lot of people reading blogs when they should be chasing their dreams, and there are a lot of bloggers more than happy to waste your whole day.

Blog ads encourage a fundamentally trashy form of "journalism." Keep this in mind the next time somebody suggests building a business on ad revenue. To the extent that it functions as an economic incentive to useless, divisive gossip, ad revenue is fundamentally erosive to the communities which generate it. That makes it parasitic, and nothing to be proud of.