Mark Trapp

On Apple, FriendFeed, and Techmeme

Although the title should make for some excellent Google bait, there were a couple topics today that seem to fit into what I’ve been discussing for the past couple of days. This morning, there was a lot of discussion on FriendFeed started Robert Scoble about Gabe Rivera’s comments on FriendFeed founder Paul Buchheit’s post on FriendFeed (hope you’re still with me). From the post, Rivera said:

Nobody should count out FF. The obvious technical excellence of the team and the very impressive pace of innovation you guys have already demonstrated make that clear. But I think people are alarmed that so many people have tried the site and then abandoned it (or at least that’s how it appears). I personally think the way commenting and liking works has created incentives for the wrong kind of behavior, and you might be stuck in a kind of local maximum as far as uptake until you really shake things up. But what do I know? Anyway, good luck, I’ll use FF regardless (though I don’t comment any more...).

This sparked some interest from Scoble, who asked Rivera to elaborate: Rivera complied, adding “leaving dumb comments will increase the attention you get. Not so on Twitter, where dumb tweets hurt your follower count.” Rivera’s comments mimic a good portion of things I’ve heard about FriendFeed (and Twitter, too, but that’s not important). What was more interesting to me was the level of vitriol on FriendFeed towards comments like his. Chief among the responses to his comments were attacks against Rivera’s service, Techmeme, implying and directly stating its inferiority to FriendFeed. Other responses included explanations of FrendFeed as levity to otherwise (ostensibly?) miserable online existences, or how Rivera doesn’t participate therefore he’ll never get it.

This was a lot of exposition: it’s a very cabal-like discussion and in many ways the exposition should serve to illuminate how little importance the topic has, but I think it’s an interesting case study in what not to do when arguing with someone, and here’s why.

Arguments are not the same as the people who make them

The major theme in the responses to Rivera have been something like “well, what does Gabe Rivera know? Techmeme sucks.” That may be true, but what if Louis Gray had said it? Or Robert Scoble? Or Mother Teresa? Or Steve Jobs? In reality, it doesn’t matter who said it or what that person’s situation is. I’ve talked about this a few months ago, but discounting a person doesn’t discount their argument. Rivera’s comments and his argument stands even if he was your best friend and you adored Techmeme.

Techmeme sucking doesn’t make FriendFeed good

But let’s grant that Techmeme sucks. So? It could be the case that Techmeme and FriendFeed both suck. Proving the former does not discount the latter: it requires a separate argument to show that FriendFeed is not what Rivera purports it to be. Using the template I described yesterday, try to identify Rivera’s argument and argue to that argument, not some comparison with an unrelated service.

Rivera gave a lot of information about his argument: is there a problem with the incentives FriendFeed provides? Does it promote the wrong kind of behavior? Does leaving dumb comments increase the attention you get on FriendFeed? Dealing with those questions are the key to defeating his argument and showing FriendFeed has value, not taking pot shots at Techmeme.

On context and straw men

Related to the argument that Techmeme sucks were two other types of responses: nitpicking the definition of “dumb” and an account of FriendFeed that amounted to it being a place for being able to goof off and that’s a good thing. Like the Techmeme sucks argument, neither actually address Rivera’s comments. Rivera means something specific when he refers to the word “dumb:” given the context in which it appears, it’s not hard to determine what he means.

Even if you couldn’t determine what he means, arguing over the word “dumb” and claiming things like it being subjective doesn’t address Rivera’s point: even if the word “dumb” is subjective, it means something very specific in Rivera’s point of view. In order to defeat the argument, you need to show that either Rivera is wrong, given his definition of dumb, or show how FriendFeed’s success is not dependent on removing “dumb” comments, as described by Rivera.

The other related argument, that FriendFeed is a great place to let off steam and not be serious, suffers the same problems as the definition of “dumb” argument: Rivera means something very specific when he talks about FriendFeed’s problems; ignoring his argument that “dumb” comments, as defined by Rivera, are killing FriendFeed and saying “the comments are not dumb they’re fun and great” is akin to a four-year old saying “NUH-UH.” You didn’t counter Rivera’s charge, you merely said “no.” That’s not productive.

Afterthought

On Saturday, I discussed a little about “armchair entrepreneuring” and the denial of akrasia:1 I’d like to see commenters join bloggers in the program I laid out there. Let’s first start with the idea that maybe Rivera’s right. One of the largest stories to break today was Steve Jobs’s letter about his health. It was published about 8:30am EST, and it was the largest story all day. When I checked FriendFeed around 9:30am, the biggest story on FriendFeed was dozens of people complaining about having to work today. Which one of these is news? Which will have more of an impact on people’s lives?


  1. Weakness of will. The denial of akrasia is in part the belief that people don't do or say things that are contrary to what they believe is right. 


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