Monday, June 16, 2008

Startup Chatter and its Monetization Plan

Let's start here:

In a spoon-fed puff piece which declares Disqus the purported “winner” in a supposed “Web comment battle,” no meaningful comment is offered on the financial spoils that the pre-ordained victor hopes to pocket.

In this Silicon Valley era of “conversational marketing“—aka non-transparent, self-interested, PR spun product evangelism cum early-adopter blogger love—it is not surprising that a PR exec for a Silicon Valley tech company would self-declare another Silicon Valley tech company the “best solution.”

On the heels of a product spiel pitch he was personally presented by the 22-year-old coder of the service, Louis Gray “reports” on the personal dinner tete-a-tete he enjoyed with Disqus’ Daniel Ha....

But I didn't initially hear about this from Startup Chatter writer Donna Bogatin. I heard about it from Louis Gray himself:

Wow. This came off negative. And I hate it when people think the right thing to do is go out and mention where I work, and drop the company name in.

The reason that Bogatin mentioned Gray's employer was presumably to support her theory that the meeting between Gray and Ha was all part of a 21st century cabal (TINC) effort to promote Silicon Valley startups. Hmm...promote Silicon Valley startups. Isn't that what Bogatin claims to do? Perhaps she doesn't like the competition.

Now there probably are cases in which person A promotes person B without disclosing affiliations. But if Bogatin had done her research, she would have seen the entire history of Louis Gray and Disqus - and it's entirely personal. I don't even know if Bogatin even read Gray's April 26 post:

[W]hile I had tried earlier this month to get Disqus up and running, the way I use Blogger, with a customized template, along with FTP publishing to, got in my way.

In fact, Gray tweeted the following on April 25:

To enable Disqus, I need to enable Blogger Layouts. To do that, I need to be off FTP, and use Google custom domains. Too much work involved.

Well, Daniel Ha saw the tweet, and the rest is history. But Ha's excellent customer service (which I have also experienced) is not the only reason that Gray likes the service:

Since installing Disqus, total comments have increased, I can get a better sense of my most frequent participants and they can connect one to one. My Disqus comments, and those of others, can even be shared on FriendFeed and other lifestreaming services.

Note that these are personal experiences with his own blog, and not related in any way to his employer.

Would Gray's experience with Disqus, or some other undisclosed Cabal tactic, cause him to be a shill for Disqus? Not exactly. The June 6 post from which I just quoted was primarily devoted to Disqus downtime.

Starting last night, I was surprised to find my e-mail empty of Disqus comments flowing to my in box. Checking the blog, I found many heartfelt comments on the passing of our dog yesterday. But Disqus wasn't sending me the updates. I logged in to the service, and ensured my preferences were set to notify me, and they were.

This morning, the situation is much worse. No comments are showing. The Disqus widget on the right side of the blog is missing. And every Disqus comment that every person posted on any Disqus-powered site is gone. This highlights the concern many have had on trusting the cloud and putting your data in the hands of others. It's always good to make a copy, especially if you don't know their infrastructure, or the company doesn't have a decades-long track record.

I trusted Disqus to host my comments, to run the show, to power my blog and to take on the challenging task of being my connection to my audience. Now, they're down hard. Their blog hasn't been updated to say what's going on, and the last update we got from Disqus' Daniel Ha is that he was playing poker 10 hours ago, via Twitter. I just hope he didn't bet the future of Disqus on a pair of 3's.

In this time where users are turning their data over to the cloud and trusting the underlying Web services, downtime can be a killer. The second half of responding to downtime? Transparency. And right now, Disqus is failing at both.

When Donna Bogatin was writing about her imagined "spoon-fed puff piece," I suspect that she never saw Gray's June 6 post.

But Bogatin wasn't really going after Louis Gray. Her true target was Fred Wilson:

Just as Gray’s “personal” blog serves as an ideal PR platform for Disqus promotion, so does the Wilson “personal” virtual printing press, a hand-crafted vehicle for enthusiastically spurring along “viral loop” traction of Union Square Venture portfolio properties: Disqus, Twitter, Etsy, Wesabe....

Union Square Ventures, however, is not so enthusiastic about “commenting” on what people really want out of a VC “blog“: Real data on the real objectives of Venture Capitalists.

Despite Fred Wilson’s public pleas for public sharing, he remains consistently, disingenuously mum regarding meaningful insights about achieving what really matters to the investors in all of his portfolio companies: A BIG PROFIT ON THEIR INVESTMENTS.

OK, let's take a look at one of Wilson's investments, Twitter. I don't think it's accurate to say that Wilson has been disingenuously mum. Perhaps I haven't liked the answers that I've received about Twitter monetization, but I can understand why Twitter has chosen to concentrate on growth and stability at this time. Biz Stone was not "disingenuously mum" when he replied to Shel Israel (yes, I've quoted this before, but it bears repeating):

With regard to revealing our monetization plans I can tell you honestly that we are far more focused on growth and reliability in 2008. Our own hunches as well as advice from some very knowledgeable advisors have us adding great ideas to a list of revenue solutions which we will visit in earnest when we are ready.

Back to Louis Gray. When he shared his thoughts on the Bogatin post in FriendFeed, there were some rather interesting responses.

Donna Bogatin is a troll -- negative is what she does. From what I can tell, she simply looks for startup stories on Techmeme and then trashes them in order to be part of the techmeme "discussion". It's a reliable way to get traffic for whatever startup thing she's pushing (which is promoted at the bottom of all her posts). - Paul Buchheit

I don't think it was a fair blog post and came off as link bait, but there is a point to consider about the blending of personal and work across these aggregated journalists listing companies they own an interest in. That aside, did you notice the upper case bold link to post start up pitches on her site at the bottom of the post? - Marc Vermut

I don't know if Donna is a troll or not (first post of hers i've read) but negative compared to what or whom? Mike A. isn't exactly Mr. Happy if you know what i mean. If her point is that Fred Wilson is a business person and therefore is strategic in part on his blog and not completely open, my response would be duh. He's a super savvy type and didn't get there by being an idiot. - leigh himel

leigh: Paul is right. Donna does nothing positive to add to the community and only rips people down. Even Mike Arrington takes us to the movies once in a while and/or tells us about cool stuff. There's at least some balance to his negativism. I don't read Donna because there's absolutely no balance. That's what we call a troll. - Robert Scoble

Paul showed admirable restraint in his comments about Ms. Bogatin. I used to read Donna's posts on her two blogs, and found myself so annoyed and angry each time that I finally wised up and learned to steer clear of her blatherings. And it kinda tells you something that she doesn't allow comments on either of her blogs, eh? ;) (I think there are comment fields, but comments seem to just go into the ether) - Adam Lasnik

So I added the following:

I'm curious if Bogatin took the time to read Gray's series of writings on his experience with Disqus. I'm going to ask her about this, but I note that first time commenters are held for moderation. We'll see what happens.

But before I wrote my question, I figured I'd better do a sanity check. There is a danger of insularity, in which Donna Bogatin becomes the demon of the day, a convenient bogeyman (bogeywoman) for Silicon Valley-ites. I started searching some other posts to see what others had said about her.

And I ran into a CrunchNotes blog post which was written when Bogatin left ZDNet and started her Startup Chatter blog in June 2007. And there was an interesting comment to the post from Peter Kazanjy:


I checked out Donna’s blog and subscribed to her feed because I trust your recommendation.

Well, after reading her stuff for two weeks, it’s time to disengage.

After she started spouting sensationalist about LinkedIn and Facebook, I offered a criticism that someone who is not a member of Facebook, and has two links on LinkedIn, might not have the most standing to make these pronouncments. I also invited her to Facebook, and sent her an invite, such that she could more participate in a more educated fashion in the conversation.

Well, today, I commented on a post she had noting that Facebook is useless of business, and as such is not a viable competitor to LinkedIn. She held out the “link meta-tags” of “met randomnly” and “hooked up” as sufficent proofs that this was the case.

I again commented that she still wasn’t a member of Facebook, and that if she had been, she would realize that there are more meta-tags than that, and that while I would love to read her analysis, I couldn’t take it seriously given that I knew she was pronouncing on products she hasn’t road tested.

I further pointed out that if she does this with these topics, it casts doubt on her analysis on the other topics on her blog–topics she may well have much to add to the conversation, but which would get tarred with the same brush. Does she have meaningful experience with Google, given the fact she criticizes them so much? And so on.

This criticism was posted in a comment written in as reasoned and dispassionate tone as this one here. And then deleted.

Anyone who is serious about conversational journalism of the sort she’s attempting, should recognize this as a serious problem.

I air this on your site, Mike, because you recommended her blog, and as such, you should have some feedback coming back to you, to inform your recommendations in the future.

As such, I will continue to read TechCrunch, CrunchNotes, but decidedly not, Donna Bogatin’s Inside Chatter.

I found what appears to be the Facebook vs. LinkedIn post in question, in which Bogatin quoted...Louis Gray.

Poor O’Neill, though! He is not getting the who needs LinkedIn rally he was counting on. Commenters are raining on O’Neill’s death to LinkedIn parade, big time:

Louis Gray: LinkedIn is for professionals. Facebook is for fun. That’s not going to change, even with categories. And LinkedIn can add categories as well. It’s not that big a deal.

For some reason, Bogatin didn't feel the need to detail Gray's professional affiliations in this post.

And here are the comments on this post:

No comments yet.

Uh, yeah.

(Also see Jeremy Zawodny's post on Bogatin's accuracy.)

So I guess the following question can be addressed to Donna Bogatin regarding her post:

How did you come to the conclusion that Gray's personal post about Daniel Ha was a "spoon-fed puff piece," despite the fact that Gray's June 6 post clearly shows that he's not a shill for Disqus?

And if Gray truly is a prime example of "non-transparent, self-interested, PR spun product evangelism cum early-adopter blogger love," then why did you partially rely on Gray (without naming his employment details, by the way) to support your thesis in your September 29, 2007 post about Facebook and LinkedIn?

And one more question - why doesn't your "About" page detail YOUR monetization strategy? What are YOU hiding?

I'll post the paragraphs above as a comment to her blog post. Let's see what the response is.

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