TechCrunch, one of the Web’s top tech blogs, sparked a firestorm of criticism with a recent story about Last.fm — the popular music-sharing network that CBS acquired last year — by reporting that the service had turned over a pile of user information to the Recording Industry Association of America. The story turned out not to be true, and Last.fm co-founder Richard Jones responded with a blistering denial, in which he said that TechCrunch was “full of shit.” Plenty of people on Twitter and elsewhere have been using the piece as a stick with which to beat TechCrunch, arguing that the report was irresponsible and the blog has lost all (or most) of its credibility as a result, etc. (some good perspective from MG Siegler here).
Pretty open and shut, right? After all, Erick Schonfeld relied on an unidentified and third-hand source (someone with a friend at CBS, who said they were upset by the handing over of data). The more I thought about this story, however, the less comfortable I felt joining the crowd with torches and pitchforks outside TechCrunch’s door. Was the story clearly wrong? Yes. How closely did Erick check the source? We don’t know. But what we do know is that Erick tried repeatedly to get a comment from the company, and got a one-liner dismissal (which he included).
If you read through the various comments and blog posts about it, Mike Arrington’s proposal to crowd-source the development of a $200 Web tablet with a touch screen — in effect, an iPod Touch with a larger screen and a solid-state hard drive — is nothing short of total lunacy. Dozens of people have said that it will never work, that it can’t be done for that kind of price point, that Apple is likely already working on one, etc. All of which is probably true. That said, however, I can understand Mike’s frustration; I’ve been waiting for that kind of tablet ever since I saw them using one on Star Trek. Put me down for one 🙂
When I first heard about TechCrunch’s new Elevator Pitches site (when a post from Erick Schonfeld popped up in FriendFeed, if you must know), it sounded kind of familiar. A site where entrepreneurs can upload 60-second “elevator pitches” about their companies — so-called because they’re supposed to mimic a pitch you would make to a VC if you met him or her in the elevator? And then it came to me: that’s the exact same model that former Marketwatch columnist-turned-entrepreneur Bambi Francisco uses for her site, Vator.tv.
Vator — which Bambi originally tried to run while still working at Marketwatch, until concerns about a conflict of interest led her to resign — has raised a pile of money from a number of investors, including Facebook backer and PayPal founder Peter Thiel, as well as MySpace founder Richard Rosenblatt, and recently raised a bunch more. While Vator has elements that TechCrunch’s offering doesn’t — it also has interviews with venture capitalists and other newsmakers — they are very similar. Is there room for more than one elevator-pitch site?
As for which is better, that’s a tough one. Vator has — well, it has Bambi, and the equally attractive and smart Reena Jadhav, and has built up a fairly large library of content (although the site could use a redesign). TechCrunch, meanwhile, is slick looking and has already gotten some interesting pitches up; but I’m still not sure about using the “cartoonization” of BeFunky.com for the videos. For what it’s worth, Erick Schonfeld says that the new TechCrunch site isn’t aimed at Vator.
The truth is stranger than fiction — and in some cases it happens to be stupider as well. For a recent example, check out the TechCrunch post on Mediascrape, a Montreal-based company founded by one Tyler Cavell. The CEO’s training at the London School of Economics apparently convinced him that it would be a good idea to a) threaten to sue TechCrunch for a mildly critical post a month or so ago, and then b) publicly denounce the CEO’s cousin as a delusional former cocaine addict and high-school dropout (Note: I am not making any of this up).
In case you want to follow this particular train wreck back to its point of origin, the first post came from Duncan Riley, and mentioned that the Mediascrape site looked a little cheesy for a company that had just done its second round of financing (although that was somewhat unclear). To make matters even stranger, Mr. Cavell commented on the post but made no mention of any of the things that he criticized in his letter to Mike Arrington a month later (namely, that is was “poorly written” and “ridiculous” and that the company wasn’t contacted).
As for the founder’s comment on TechCrunch’s latest post, it actually wasn’t that bad to begin with — a little self-aggrandizing and turgidly written, but other than that not too bad — right up until Cavell decides to do a little drive-by character assassination on his cousin. As Mike puts it in his update: “Your investors must be so proud.” Jevon has some thoughts over at StartupNorth and so does Heri at Montreal Techwatch.
Congrats to Mike for being named one of Time’s 100 most influential people (although one wag on Twitter wondered whether this wasn’t just the magazine’s attempt at blogosphere “link bait”). For what it’s worth, he appears in the “builders and titans” section of the list, rather than the “leaders and revolutionaries” section or the “heroes and pioneers” section (which raises the question: if you could choose only one, would you rather be a hero, a leader, a pioneer or a titan?) Arianna Huffington says he’s the “quintessential blogger” because he is:
“intense, passionate, consumed with his subject, opinionated, sleep-deprived, forward-thinking, easy to irritate and apt to air his grudges in public.”
By my count, at least four of those descriptive phrases — “intense,” “passionate,” “easy to irritate” and “apt to air his grudges in public” — are euphemisms for having a temper. Arianna also throws in a description of him as being like Tony Soprano: “a large man, always on the verge of losing his cool.” Is that the quintessential blogger?
(On a personal note, when he came to the mesh conference last year, Mike was unfailingly polite to just about everyone, even someone he had a beef with, despite the fact that he was sleep-deprived).