Dave Balter apologises

Both on the BzzAgents blog and in my comments, as well as privately by email, Dave Balter has apologised for calling me and Corante liars. As he has publicly apologised I will publicly accept his apology. Some may not be pleased with me for doing so, but I am prepared to believe that calling me a liar was a mistake made in the heat of the moment. I have nothing personal against Dave, and turning this into a slanging match is not my desire or intent, because it obscures what’s really important and that’s the raft of problems that I and others have with BzzAgent’s modus operandi and this proposed relationship with Creative Commons.

Dave has also written an open letter to Lawrence Lessig about the matter, and you will find many interesting and well written comments on both his response and the issues in general over on Larry’s blog. I still have a number of serious problems with BzzAgents – in fact, I have more now than I did on Saturday morning – but as most of them have been so well addressed there, I see no benefit in rehashing them here. Instead, I will advise you to go and read the whole thread from top to bottom, if you haven’t already.

In the version of his apology that appears on his blog, Dave does ask for suggestions for how to improve his business, and my advice to him would be the same as that which I would give to an aspiring writer: murder your darlings. As F Scott Fitzgerald realised, the aspects of your work which are most dear to you are frequently the bits that need cutting out, for the good of the whole. These are also the bits that you fight hardest to keep because these are your darlings, your flashes of genius, your best work. Trouble is, your ‘flashes of genius’ are actually more likely to be a steaming heap of crud, but you just can’t see it.

Dave reacted very much like inexperienced writers do when they receive their first critical review. Their first reaction is denial: this criticism can’t be true. Their second is anger: you must be an idiot not to see how great my work is. If they are lucky, their third reaction is acceptance and growth: I see where I went wrong and I will work on improving it.

From the comments on Larry’s blog, which numbered 78 the last time I looked, it seems clear that the majority of people think Dave’s business model is flawed and that his BzzAgents’ modus operandi is at the very least bordering on unethical and immoral. Dave encourages us to ‘dig deeper’ to find out what’s going on ‘under the hood’, but misses two important points:

1) If people’s initial perceptions of BzzAgents are so negative, then you have a serious problem with communicating what you are really doing.

2) If people’s informed opinion of BzzAgents is so negative, then you have a serious problem with the way you are running your business.

Maybe, Dave, you need to murder your darlings. This business is your ‘baby’ and as such you cherish it. But maybe your basic premise is wrong. Maybe you need to stop the activities that are being perceived as shilling, reassess the way that your promotional campaigns are constructed, and stop encouraging people to manipulate the conversations they are having in order that they might create an opportunity to toss up some verbal spam.

Don’t just write off negative comments as being valueless because they are from people who ‘don’t understand’ – that’s the oldest trick in the sulky teenager’s book. Try instead to understand how your business looks from the outside, find out what it is that people object to, and how best to address those problems. Then take visible steps to correct what’s wrong, accepting and fairly assessing feedback along the way.

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