Thoughts on the Gnomedex ’07 Kerfuffle

August 20, 2007

It seems that the big news out of Gnomedex last week was the “drama” that played out around Jason Calacanis’ presentation. The basic context is this: Jason took the stage to talk about spam content creeping into search results. This is clearly a topic that Jason is passionate about — so much so that he’s created a company that he hopes will tackle the problem through a new kind of editorially-influenced search engine. As he spoke, it became clear that his talk was going to segue right into a discussion of how his company could solve this problem.

Generally the presentations at Gnomedex aren’t about particular products or companies. There are exceptions to be sure (for example, this year the CEO of JibJab gave one of the more interesting talks, which was almost entirely about his company). I don’t have a strongly held point of view on this subject; for my part I just want the presentations to be interesting. If that means talking about your company so be it.

So, as Jason gets going, he’s talking about spam (“unwanted commercial pitches”) showing up everywhere, especially in search, and it occurs to someone in the back of the room that if he’s going to segue right into Mahalo, then the talk is sort of “conference spam.” That struck some as funny and ironic. There was some mumbling and giggling from the back of the room. Jason noticed, paused, hesitated, something — and Dave Winer said “You’re doing it now! You’re spamming us!”

This is what I thought at the time: that’s kinda funny. Maybe a tiny bit obnoxious to yell it out, but Jason’s pitch was a tad ironic. I think I chuckled a bit. Then I went right back to listening — with some interest frankly — to what Jason had to say. We use subject matter experts at Pandora to classify music, so there are some parallels with Mahalo and I wanted to hear more.

I would never have thought about it again.

And then the blogosphere picked it up. The first accounts I read sounded like “HUGE BLOWUP AT GNOMEDEX!!!” Strange, I thought — my experience of the event was quite different: it was a non-event for me.

Could it be that we wanted to invent a little drama to attach to what was really a pretty sedate little conference? That maybe, just maybe, the entire thing wasn’t about what Dave said at all? Given that very real possiblility, it doesn’t seem right for Dave to be at the epicenter of an invented conroversy, with lots of old stories of ancient feuds and perceived injustices being dredged up. When I saw Dave at BarCampBlock on Saturday, I told him as much. He mentioned it on ScriptingNews today so I thought I’d say a bit more about my perspective on what happened.

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18 Responses to “Thoughts on the Gnomedex ’07 Kerfuffle”


  1. [...] asked him to explain and he told me the story, which he repeats in a blog post this [...]

  2. drew olanoff Says:

    But it gave you the chance to use the word “Kerfuffle”, which in my book….rocks.

  3. idid Says:

    I listened to the audio of Jason’s presentation and I couldn’t actually hear the comment. It sounded like Jason didn’t even react. I recall him saying something like “… even if Dave doesn’t like it.”

    But is WAS a non-moment in that sense. But Jason did react and wrote about Dave’s comment on his blog. Then Dave reacted because of the verb “Winered” and how had he has labored to overcome that label at conferences.

    So, Dave opened up on Jason and we’re off to the races… with charge and counter charge and two “friends” who now won’t respect each other.

    Very sad because they are both good people who tend to see criticism as being highly personal. How many of us haven’t had such experiences in life. It’s just sad when such grievances become fodder for public discussion but there IS a lesson for us all in this pattern.

    Cut any presenter a little slack. If you embarass them during their speech they may not like it and may retaliate.

    I’ll bet both parties wish they could re-play the day. But they can’t. Can they forgive and forget? Time will tell. The internet never forgets. It documents poor judgement. And sometimes it takes sides. There are no sides in such a dispute… only more damage to be leveled.

  4. karl kerfuffle Says:

    you get 4 brownie points for using “kerfuffle,” one of my fave adjectives….by this time, i think nearly everyone in the world is thoroughly tired of this nonsense. dunno why dave keeps fanning the embers. maybe i’m missing something but his posts really turned this thing into a four star fire. or so it seems from this vantage point. but again, i’m just glad it’s dying out. don’t we have far more important & interesting things to consider?

  5. Dave Winer Says:

    I like the word kerfuffle too.

    It’s not the day I’d like to replay, I already apologized for interrupting Jason, wish I hadn’t done it. Nothing else to be done.

    And while I didn’t like the headline, correct, there were many other things in that post that were over the line, and the whole idea that I was somehow responsible for his troubled talk. Anyone who was there in the room listening heard other people talking out loud at him, and in the chat and on Twitter. He singled me out, but very quickly was informed that it was not only me, but glided right by that. He decided to use me, and that’s what he did. In lots of places in lots of ways.

    That’s what I object to, and I would object as strenuously if he did it to someone else. Mob gangups are one of the worst features of blogs, and people who lead mobs are especially bad. Even if Jason retracts, there’s no way I will ever trust the guy again. Been too badly burnt here.


  6. [...] Thoughts on the Gnomedex ‘07 Kerfuffle It seems that the big news out of Gnomedex last week was the “drama” that played out around Jason […] [...]

  7. idid Says:

    Dave Winer: I think Jason singled you out because he thought you’d support him in a public setting and he was hurt that you didn’t. He quickly took that hurt and used the tool he’s best at using to document his feelings.

    There’s a lot of advice for email users about not hitting send when you’re angry.

    Maybe Jason blamed you for the “mob effect” and by the appearance that you supported humiliating him.

    What you have done in response shares a similar pattern. He hurt your feelings and you sensed a mob response based upon a negative image you’ve labored for years to put to rest. Sisyphus and that damned rock come to mind.

    Forgive: Jason over reacted. He is the same man he was before the blog post. Same flaws… same strengths… Don’t carry this negative energy for 10 years. You’ll rub up against Jason forever and make you’re mutual friends tense for no good reason other than an old injury that should heal with some personal soul searching.

    Forget: Like bad software… a memory leak can make normal operations of a program unreliable.

    Forgive and forget… That’s the benefit of an apology. Re-set the relationship by caring enough to see Jason’s sensitivity in this situation.

    Do you remember your start-ups? Would you have sold the ideas and benefits as hard as Jason did? Of course. Cut a friend some slack. He needs all the friends he can get right now. A campaign of “I will never trust the guy again” is pointless.

    He’s terrified of failure. And the odds are not good.


  8. [...] Thoughts on the Gnomedex ’07 Kerfuffle « Tom Conrad [...]

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  12. Anaconda Says:

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  13. Hello, I log on to your blogs regularly. Your story-telling style is awesome, keep doing what you’re doing!


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