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The Politics of webbing
Damned if you do, damned if you don't

By:David K. Every
©Copyright 1999

The Mac is one giant community, all with common goals and agendas, and we all think alike. Uh huh. And if you buy that, I've got a bridge for sale.

The reality is that the Mac community is made up of lots of individuals (with human ego's), and damn opinionated ones at that. There is a slight commonality in that we all like Macs -- but that is totally obliterated by personal agendas, politics, and beliefs in ways we go about things or by how we think things should be done. This is apparent in User-Groups, Developer Forums and certainly on the Web.


I've seen and heard of a couple of little wars (border skirmishes anyway) -- like the staff over at MacNN. Someone created what he perceived was a clone-site. The result was that one site felt they were being snubbed (because they were), and complete frustration because they wanted the attention that someone else had control of. Of course the reason they were slighted is that they weren't bringing anything new to the game (as the webmaster saw it, and the webmaster is the king of his site) -- if there is no value added to the customers (readers), then you aren't likely to get the attention of webmasters.

Of course, there were a few battles with MacOS Rumors (Ryan Meader) and some other Rumor sites over similar things. Basically MacOS Rumors is a focused rumor site that gets a lot of attention. Others see that popularity and want to move in (or they interpret things different and want to put their spin on things). No one wants a clone of their sites, and many do something similar but believe they are doing it different (better). Then these sites are going to start borrowing from each other (and the same sources often email many sites at once) -- and you get the idea. It is easy to get friction and escalation -- and hard to diffuse it.

I know that Apple Recon and MacEvolution are too close to doing the same thing (though in completely different ways) to not have some friction as well. And there are dozens, or thousands, of other examples.

You just can't please all of the people -- and friends may be transitory, but enemies are for life.


My battle

Fortunately, I've remained relatively distanced from this web feuding -- except for one incident. (Not counting a couple of heated debates).

I allowed Mark Murphy to write a very good article on the consequences of negative rumor-mongering without having all the facts (titled "False Prophets"). The article seemed to impugn Ric Ford of MacInTouch, by using a tirade by him (soon retracted) as an example of the broader behavior. For that, Ric told me that my articles would no longer be worthy of any links from his site, and for a few weeks he was sending me regular nastygrams (hostile emails) telling me how my articles sucked and my site had gone downhill fast.

I went from getting about 2 articles a month linked by him, to not one in the year since -- which is a shame since I really appreciated those links, the attention they brought to my site, and I still think they were a service to his readers (but that is just my opinion).

I felt Mark had a point, and he deserved to be heard (and Ric had a bigger megaphone anyway, and was welcome to rebut on my site, or elsewhere, yada-yada-yada). But none of that really matters. I knew the possible costs.

I don't blame Ric (even if I did lose respect for him) -- he probably felt I was stabbing him in the back. But I'm not going to compromise my beliefs just because it may cost me a little personal gain. Alternative views (especially valid well written ones) deserve to be heard -- even if some don't want to hear the truth.

Frankly, I figured Ric would counterpoint the article, and get over it. But I'm an adult, I knew that running that article was going to piss someone off (likely Ric) -- but not running it was a disservice to my readers, and the Mac community. So I pay the price of my actions -- such is life.

The point of all this is just that no matter how hard you try, you can't dance in a crowded room without occasionally stepping on some toes -- and no matter how hard you try, human ego's are involved.

Why you can't win!

Imagine this: You are a Webmaster, trying to offer the best service you can to your readers, and doing a news and links site. There are 100,000 things you could link to, each and every day -- but your job is to filter (and select only a few), so your readers aren't swamped with useless information. So you do your best to choose the best written, most interesting, most unique, and most informative articles that you can. For each one you pick, there are ten others you must skip. For each ten you skip, there will be a few people that think you are trying to censor them, or that you hate them, and that "you suck!".

Sound like fun?

News and Rumors

People try to create News sites, because they are easy (to do poorly, but hard to do well) and News sites typically draw a lot of volume (daily traffic) -- if they can build a readership. Volume is fame, and ad revenues, so there are some strong motives. The problem is that there are plenty of News Sites (too many) -- so they are competing for a saturated market. The new sites all want links from established sites, and are often borrowing stories from them (or each other). Basically, they are asking for (expecting) direct competitors to help them, when they are not offering anything new, not offering anything back, or not adding any significant value. Name another media outlet where we expect direct competitors to help each other (with nothing in return)? I am impressed that there is as much help as there is.

It isn't that these smaller News sites are doing a poor job, but they are usually just redoing what has been done 100 times. Even 5% or 10% better doesn't matter -- and that is just not good enough to convert people.

Clones can't get a break

Many sites borrow concepts from each other, but if they don't add anything new (or enough new), then they are seen as a "rip-off" or "clone" and that gets people pissed faster than anything. It devalues the others hard work (one way or another), and they don't like that at all. Two people can steal the same information from Apple -- but boy, if they present the same information on the web, they forget where they each got the information and just get pissed at each other. You can just imagine them yelling at each other, "You stole my stolen-stuff. How DARE you!".

It gets much worse if one person puts hours (or months) of effort collecting information (from many sources), and the other person just steals all that hard work, to create a copy-site (slightly reformatted), and then tries to take the credit for that work. That's a recipe for disaster (or for becoming the next Microsoft). Yet all of humanity and science is built on the backs of those that came before us. We have what we have today, because we stole from our ancestors. So where are those lines drawn? Most people don't care, as long as they are not drawn over them.

Clone sites are not very newsworthy to begin with -- which is a way to get those webmasters pissed at the world, "Why won't anyone pay attention to me!". But that is life -- if you are creating a site that does what another more popular site does (and if they were there first, they are probably more popular), then you are going to have to be a LOT better before anyone starts paying attention. So if you (webmasters) aren't doing something new, then you are in for a hard battle to get recognition -- and far more likely to get hostile reactions.

Content is king

Most of my avoidance of the Web-politics is because I don't run a news or rumors site. I tried to find a niche (or actually the niche found me), where I just create content -- and let the other news sites run it, if they deem it worthy or of interest. So because I am not doing something similar to anyone else, it is hard for people to see me as a direct threat. Whew, I squeak by (1).

(1) Of course this article is a little touch and go, and I may get myself neck deep "in it", while standing on my head. I hope that everyone realizes I'm not taking sides -- and trying not to misrepresent anyone. Just give readers, and budding webmasters, a feel for what is going on.

But even my niche is not completely safe from politics or what I call the splatter effect (2).

(2) Stan Flack over at Mac Central was so bombarded by people about running links to other sites, and felt so attacked when he didn't run those links, that he just bailed on outside links altogether. He decided that it was safer to not run anyone's links, and instead focus on internal content (of which they have a lot of, and high quality content as well). The only links they do are occasional article links to major publications, so that they can avoid all the whining and politics.

Before this decision, I was occasionally worthy of a link. So I got punished because of the actions of the whiners. Yet, if I wasn't getting any attention, then I might have been one of those whiners. I'm not complaining -- I think Stan probably made the right choice for his site (and saved himself a ton of grief in the process). I might do the same if I was in his position. And can you imagine trying to do a MacTimes, Insanely-Great-Mac or a MacSurfer and NOT pissing people off? I can't.

Where I've always gotten in trouble is with my opinions, and big mouth -- but life would be boring without them.

Opinions and family feuds

Of course there are always little "opinion" skirmishes. These battles break out where one site, or individual, completely disagrees with another -- and they fight about it (3). So you get some little warfare going, and you get heated opinions on both sides. Then both sides trying to make the others opinions look more extreme (and ridiculous), in order to make theirs look better in contrast -- and they both try to make little things into big things. Normal people stuff. But they are fighting in public, and they can easily end up in such heated battles, that by the time the battle ends both sides end up hating each other for life. That sucks.

(3) I don't think battles are bad -- and in fact when people debate clearly, and explain why they think something, then we all get to learn.

Yet when those same people start claiming that every decision Apple is making, is going to be the make-or-break decision for the company, I just sort of yawn and smile. Unless the press starts picking up these little battles and presenting the most extreme statements as news. Airing your problems in public only makes things worse -- especailly when outsiders don't know the context.

So what was mildly amusing, turns to seriously annoying when you start hearing the old, "Apple isn't doing what I think they should, and now they are dead!" And that is being turned against Apple, and Mac Users and all the other sites as well. That hurts consumer confidence and the market, and I don't like that -- and despite all the decisions Apple has made that I've disagreed with, they are still thriving. So the public battle are far more damaging than the private ones.We also need to remember that "better path" does not mean "only path".

Then just mention the wrong person to another person after that, and they go ballistic -- "THAT dirty &^%$#*!! Why would you bother talking to them?" I usually get the "deer in the headlights" look, and flee! It gets even more politically complex when friends (and allies) make agreements (formal or not), and feedback to each other. Yet how can you not be loyal to people you've known longer, or have treated you fairly in the past? Now give everyone involved a website as their bully-pull pits and you've got the state of Mac websites -- and as the Chinese curse goes, "May you live in interesting times"… or be in an interesting industry.

People are people

Even the littlest of things can piss people off. Like, many people get annoyed when their little press releases get no attention, like "Site redesign at xxx". <Yawn>. Tell me honestly, do you care when you read those? Realistically, those are almost completely without value to other sites and their readers -- who cares (outside yourself and your readers)? Those that do care, will figure it out anyway. I was getting a little peeved that people weren't running mine -- and it got me to thinking, "of course they don't care, they care about the content that is delivered, not slight tweaks in the packaging." It would be like a cereal company running a major ad campaign, "now in Plastic Bags!". Ooohh, Big hairy deal! I realized that I didn't really care about others redesign -- so why the hell should they run mine? Yet, if you don't run someone's "site redesign" announcement, they can get pretty pissy about the situation. And the politics goes on.


I, and others, get lots of article submissions, and look through them. Some I run. Some require editing, and I try to get to them. Some I just lose in the volume. Sometimes I just have too much on the plate already, and can't get to it for a while (then I forget under the torrent that is my in-box). Some submissions may be good, but they may not be saying anything that hasn't been said before (and sometimes even elsewhere on my site). So I pass. Not because I don't appreciate the efforts or the work, but just because they may need to find a venue elsewhere (instead of me having 100 articles all saying the exact same thing). I know I am stepping on toes -- but I have no choice. And yet with all these little problems and politics of running my site, my problems are a fraction of many other sites.

Basically, people are people -- and all humans are looking for some stability in their position / pecking order (or looking to go up). When the new dog comes onto your turf, it is messy figuring out the new ranking in the pack. All this is the nature of a website -- dealing with people! You are competing with others, while trying to help them. You are trying to offer content, while shielding your readers from the fluff and what they don't care about. You are basically trying to keep the signal-to-noise ratio very high -- and yet any one you don't let have their fifteen minutes of fame is going to feel slighted. You are using you site as a megaphone for your views (or views that you agree with) -- in a culture where not giving everyone else a chance to use YOUR megaphone to spout their moronic views, is likely to result in a fight (and telling them to get their own damn site is not good enough). It is walking a fence, with rabid schnauzers on one side, and crazed lunatics looking to dismember you with hot tweezers on the other side.

Running a website is like tap-dancing in a mine field. Hopefully now when you hear an occasional "muffled pop" (like a fire-cracker under a water-balloon) you'll at least know what it is. When you see a little web-war going on, or see some website antics (one site or individual flaming another), or you see (or sense) some weird politics and alliances -- that is because the sites are run by people and the Machiavellian politics are really there. Chuckle to yourself, grin and watch the fireworks -- but keep your head down... Don't worry, it will all blow over in a decade or two.

Created: 07/27/98
Updated: 11/09/02

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