Creative Commons make their decision

Larry Lessig has announced that Creative Commons have decided, after much deliberation, to end their relationship with BzzAgents.

[…] for all the extremely powerful reasons these discussions have mustered, we were wrong to use this tool [BzzAgents] to spread our message. This is not, again, because BzzAgent is evil. It is not because it shouldn’t be used to spread any message. It is not because understanding achieved through networks of humans is worse than the understanding produced through a survey. It is instead because this way of spreading our message weakens the power of our message.

Many people in the post to Larry’s first post commented on how they admired the Spread FireFox campaign, and CC have decided to take that baton up and create something similar for CC. To this end, they have launched a wiki to foster discussion, so there’s no excuse for not taking part.

I am glad that CC have come to this decision, not because of any need for my opinions to be validated or because I’ve been ‘proven right’, but because I truly believe that this is the right decision for CC. A strong, unmediated grass-roots movement is what CC needs – using BzzAgents would have muddied waters that must stay clear.

It also allows people to get involved under their own terms, not under someone else’s. If all someone wants to do is contribute to the wiki, then that is their prerogative. Equally, someone can hop in at the end of deliberations and just use the materials and information provided, without ever having to take part in their creation. It doesn’t matter whether all you do is have a CC button on your coat or whether you devote all your free time to the project. What matters is that now, you can participate in a way that’s good for you.

I left a comment on Larry’s blog in response to his post which contains a few more points, so I shall reproduce it here too.

Excellent news, Larry! I am delighted to see you and your colleagues at CC grasp the nettle and make this decision.

We all make mistakes, but the challenge is always to learn from them and to turn errors into wisdom. The silver lining in this furore for CC is that you have now embarked on a course of action which I believe will prove to be more effective, stronger, and will have more of a long-term benefit for all involved than the relationship with BzzAgents could ever have given you. I have no doubt that there is the enthusiasm out there to make a SpreadCC-style campaign work (although I am sure it will not be without its own hiccups).

Insofar as BzzAgents are concerned, I hope that Dave has learnt that careful consideration before responding to criticism is the way forward. I also hope that, despite how much of himself he puts into his business, he learns that *he is not his business* and criticism of one is not criticism of the other. That’s a hard lesson to learn, and as an entrepreneur, I know just how hard. I also hope that he will be able to see through the anger of some of the comments and be capable of pulling the truths to the fore, as I think there were some valuable points made which could help him improve his modus operandi.

As for me, I certainly have learnt something: I knew that Creative Commons was a cause I supported, but I hadn’t realised just how important it was to me until I thought that it was being threatened. I’ve been planning to volunteer for CC or the EFF for ages now, but haven’t because there never seems to be enough time. With the new wiki, I will be able to contribute a little bit on a regular ongoing basis (a form of support that I think is more important than giving up a chunk of time once in a blue moon).

So, here’s to the future of CC!

UPDATE: Dave Balter blogs about the decision too. I find his post to be very positive and encouraging, and it seems that he’s looked for the truth in the comments that have been made about BzzAgents’ modus operandi, and is working to adjust it so that it is more acceptable to more people. Whilst I agree that you can’t please all of the people all of the time, I do feel that BzzAgents could please more people more of the time, and I’m glad to see Dave working towards this. I am sure he will end up with a stronger company at the end of this process.

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.

Apparently I am a liar

I’d like to reproduce for you here a post written by Dave Balter, founder of BzzAgents, on ths BzzAgents blog, which is in response to my post expressing unhappiness at Creative Common’s new pro bono relationship with BzzAgents.

Bloggers as Liars

Saturday, April 30 2005 @ 10:57 AM CDT

Contributed by: Dave Balter

I really wonder.

Whenever I talk to people about BzzAgent, give a speech or work with clients, they invariably ask us about Blogs. They want to know how BzzAgents can influence bloggers. How much of a role blogging has in word-of-mouth.

Let’s get this straight: Over 80% of word of mouth occurs OFFLINE. Blogs are a tool for word-of-mouth interaction, but just because there’s plenty of them out there, it doesn’t mean it’s the best place for distributing an honest opinion.

Which brings me to point two. Bloggers are destroying their own medium.

How? By being more critics and pundits than journalists. The problem is that there are no editors and no fact checkers, so plenty of what you read on blogs is just plain untrue. Check out Suw Charman’s Corante post on BzzAgent’s Partnership with Creative Commons, where she misstates nearly a dozen facts. And much of what she says is also pulled from other blogs. Guess what? Her informants are providing false information, too. A vicious cycle of lies.

With this type of reporting (whining?), it’s no wonder many consumers are going back to reading fact-checked business magazines.

How long until consumers hold bloggers up to the same standards of truth as they’d expect from word-of-mouth interactions?


It seems Dave has a few misconceptions.

Firstly, this is a metablog – I blog about blogging. That’s why I talk about BzzAgent bloggers. But Dave’s assertion that 80% of word of mouth happens offline doesn’t change a thing – BzzAgent are still rewarding people for saying stuff that perhaps they wouldn’t say otherwise, good or bad. Regardless of medium, this is still dressing up advertising as conversation.

Bloggers vs. journalists. I’ve been through that one so many times. The truth is that some bloggers have very good journalistic habits and indeed some bloggers are journalists. Some journalists have very bad journalistic habits and are a disgrace to their profession. Bloggers are not killing their medium through punditry at all – there’s plenty of room for pundits and journalists in the blogosphere, and each find their own audience.

Fact checking and editors. Bloggers have their own fact-checking mechanism which in more formal publishing environs is called ‘peer review’. We link to our sources, we are transparent, we disclose our interests, and if we don’t, someone else will. Not everyone is as diligent as we would like, but in general the blogosphere has a self-righting mechanism which will at the very least point out who’s being an idiot.

Truth. Not everything you read in the mainstream media is true. Not everything you read in the blogosphere is true. This is not news.

My sources: Actually, my sources were the Creative Commons blog and the BzzAgent site, which I went through and read to make sure that I had understood what they do, and I quoted verbatim from their own material. I didn’t pull anything from any other blogs, primarily because I couldn’t find any other blogs which had written about this at that time. I also quoted a friend of mine who, when I mentioned BzzAgent, called them ‘fuckwit liars’. Whether you agree with that opinion is a moot point – it illustrates the way that BzzAgents are perceived and that is important when discussing how BzzAgent’s reputation could rub off on Creative Commons.

I don’t have ‘informants’, as Dave puts it, and I’d like to see a simple, bulletpoint list of my 12 ‘misstated facts’. I’m also not sure where this ‘vicious cycle of lies’ comes from either, so I’d like to see that elaborated.

I am not sure why Dave thinks that word of mouth interactions are somehow inherently more truthful than any other sort of interaction, particularly when he’s encouraging people to alter the nature of their word of mouth interactions in order to earn rewards. Blogs are a non-ephemeral medium, and bloggers can be held to account in public for what they write. How this makes blogs less truthful than any other medium I am not sure.

So, Dave, when are you going to begin holding yourself to the same standards of truthfulness that you are claiming I flout?