The Worst Thing About Blogs

November 19, 2008 — 34 Comments

is that they never let reality get in the way of a good post.

-Here’s Guy Kawasaki falling prey to a textbook case of the selection bias and using a non-representative sample.

-Here’s one of the writers at Wikinomics bragging about Starbucks’ successful social media strategy a few days after they reported earnings were down by 97% PERCENT and its shares lost two thirds of their value almost instantly.

-Here’s Hugh MacLeod (who this aside is wonderful) self-referencing the “blue monster” for the 400th time, apparently unaware that Microsoft isn’t just culturally irrelevant but actively not “changing the world.”

-Here’s Steve Rubel misunderstanding incentives that some crappy new Mahalo program creates. (Hint: Rewards for searching translate into more worthless searches by people trying to get prizes)

-Here’s Michael Arrington (who is the worst) not noticing an incredibly obvious flaw in a textbook rental startup, letting an outlier skew the results by adding TMZ’s revenue to an acquisition it wasn’t a part of, and finally, projecting a yearly revenue estimate based off 3 weeks of data from an unofficial source in the middle of a financial crisis less than a month after the product launched.

To be fair, it’s not really blogs fault so much as it’s a product of low-level thinking. Scientists and psychologists do their research in these fields for a reason – to help us think clearer and more accurately. Breathlessly chasing the first lead you find without constantly checking it against the world around you is a dangerous way and unproductive way to think.

If we can deduce anything from the blogs above, it also makes you 1) Sound like an idiot 2) Act like an asshole 3) Always get it wrong

Update: Wikinomics responds – Dealing with backlash in the blogosphere: a personal experience

Ryan Holiday

I'm a strategist for bestselling authors and billion dollar brands like American Apparel, Tucker Max and Robert Greene. My work has been used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube and Google and has been written about in AdAge, the New York Times, Gawker and Fast Company.

34 responses to The Worst Thing About Blogs

  1. Thank you for not writing a typical “blogs aren’t as good as newspapers” post. The fact of the matter is that while the concept of blogs are wonderful, the people who happen to be writing for the biggest ones are letting us down. They’re lazy, rarely well-read and prone to huge mistakes that they never rectify.

    All those people could stop writing and we’d be better informed.

  2. Spot on. Great post, Ryan.

    I’ve also noticed that Hugh keeps going back to the blue monster, despite the fact that it’s just insignificant at this point. I know he’s trying to say that it’s a social object, but it really isn’t a relevant example anymore.

  3. Here’s Ryan Holiday offering up some rather hyperbolic criticism of blogs that, apparently, owe him something in particular, and should only exist to satisfy his own personal desires.

    Seems kind of pointless to go off on a few (fairly significant, at that) people who’ve offended your sensibilities by offering some points of view in ways that you don’t agree with.

    What, exactly, are you trying to prove with this diatribe? And what about simply ‘changing the channel’?

    Wow dude, who pissed in your Cornflakes this morning?

  4. If I was listing things I disagreed with from those blogs you’d have seen a totally different post.

    The examples, unfortunately, are all fairly basic logical fallacies or in some way objective analysis errors. I don’t happen to like Twitter but that’s not the problem with Guy’s post. The problem is that his poll is statistically worthless and unreliable for any analysis. Or even better, I think Hugh is a spectacular thinker and marketer but Microsoft hasn’t just not lived up to his “Change the world or go home” creed, it’s actively prevented people who are trying to. It is a fact.

    Blogs are fantastic but as someone said above, they’re failing us because they can’t hold themselves to any sort of intellectual standard.

  5. Saying “Hugh MacLeod self-referencing the blue monster for the 400th time”, is a bit like saying “Steve Jobs self-referencing the Apple for the 400th time”.

    I know, some people still think my day job is publishing cartoons for free. [If Bloggers ran the world: "Why on earth is Steve on stage pimping Apple, when he SHOULD be talking about new, unheard voices in tech?"]

    Thanks for the other kind words, though. Rock on…

  6. I want to point out that the Starbucks piece was talking about the success of their user generated idea blog. The success happened around November 1st. The fiscal information which led to the stock decrease was all from the three months prior to September 30th.

  7. Also, when did Starbucks’ stock lose two thirds of its value. It has gone down 60% over the past year. Since the earnings announcement it has only dropped ~20%.

    And, how is posting a poll about Twitter users’ preferences on Twitter an example of a selection bias? I don’t understand who else could he possibly ask? I would imagine any non-Twitter user has already basically said they wouldn’t use Twitter even if it was free. They certainly aren’t going to be able to tell you how much they are willing to pay for a service they have never heard of before. If his readers are in some way inherently biased, I’d love to know why.

    I hate to nitpick, but this post kind of invites it.

  8. Saying “Hugh MacLeod self-referencing the blue monster for the 400th time”, is a bit like saying “Steve Jobs self-referencing the Apple for the 400th time”.

    I know, some people still think my day job is publishing cartoons for free. [If Bloggers ran the world: "Why on earth is Steve on stage pimping Apple, when he SHOULD be talking about new, unheard voices in tech?"]

    Thanks for the other kind words, though. Rock on…

  9. Adam, the people who would have access to Guy Kawasaki’s poll about Twitter would be a very specific and very tiny portion of the Twitter audience. If the Huffington Post had emailed out a poll saying “Who do you think is a better Presidential candidate, McCain or Obama?” it would have the same problem with the selection bias. The people opting into the poll are highly prone to a certain viewpoint to a degree that makes the results basically worthless.

    Guy, he can be forgiven for asking, I supposed. For TechCrunch to report on it is retarded

  10. Hello Hugh. I love the rest of your stuff to death but can we give the Blue Monster a rest? It just makes me laugh when you bring it up even though nobody asked about it. If Steve Jobs had a blog he wouldn’t interview people and go “So that reminds me about the time I invented the iPod…” We want to know about the deeper stuff.

  11. Also, the reason that the Starbucks example is egregious is because we don’t live in a vacuum. If I wrote some long article lauding the success of a tiny tactic used for fighting terrorism in Iraq, people would rightly go “OK. But what about the fact that we’re being crushed everywhere else? What planet are you on that let’s you write this piece with ZERO perspective?” And knowing that would happen, I would adjust my writing to be reasonable and cautious and realistic.

    That did not happen with Wikinomics. (To be fair, the book is spectacular. Just this post and occasionally the blog sucked)

  12. This is a load of completely amateurish crap.

    Anyone can pick holes in other people`s work.

    Okay so you`ve read a few books…that quite obviously doesn`t make you Oxford and Cambridge material, unfortunately it just makes you sound like a 21 year old west coast nipper who really thinks he knows it all, when in fact he knows nothing.

  13. To avoid confusion, you might do well to fully explain the sloppy thinking going on at these blogs. In the “Gaping Void” example it is unclear exactly what kind of thinking errors Hugh is making, if any. It would be hypocritical of you to be sloppy when pointing out someone else’s “low level thinking”.

  14. Haha holding up microsoft as an example of good business is a damn obvious thinking error.

  15. Ryan, care to explain how “we’re being crushed everywhere else” with regards to the war in Iraq? While I can agree Afghanistan has gone off the deep end (hopefully not irrevocably so), all your “end of the world” predictions regarding insurgencies and the military that you leveled in the quickly closed 4th Generation Warfare thread have not come to pass. If you have been following counter-insurgency to any degree (aside from reading Brave New War, which although excellent, is a bit of a doomsayer book), you would know that the intelligent employment of surge troops, combined with the truce with Al Sadr and the enlistment of 100,000 Sunni men has led to drastically decreased levels of violence. No longer is the military suffering like 2005 or 2006. Thus far, the current counter-insurgency strategy in Iraq has been a success. While you’re a smart man, you tend to pontificate on such a wide array of subjects that each require a degree of experience and knowledge that I really doubt you have, counter-insurgency being a shining example.

  16. Wow… Microsoft’s not culturally relevant, huh? Something like three-quarters of the world’s computers run some version of Windows; there have been more Windows-based machines than there are cars on the road; Microsoft is one of the most dominant software publishing houses, blah, blah… I guess you’re entitled to your own definition of cultural irrelevance, but Microsoft’s presence in the various tech industries, their influence on the overall global culture, and their financial presence (problems notwithstanding) in the world economy more than validate them as a culturally relevant company. I’m not saying such will be the case in a few years, or that just because they’re culturally relevant, they’re GOOD for culture – but to assert that they’re teetering on the edge of irrelevance is just… it just seems like yet another attempt on your part to make some sharp, pointy statement that goes against what most people think, in order to assert how forward-thinking and unique you are.

    Oh, well. You’ve always been spot-on with your analysis (Kindle? Hulu.com?), so what do I know?

  17. There is an important difference between being culturally pervasive and culturally relevant. Yahoo has a lot of traffic, and? Mervyns’s still had some of the best retail locations in the country and had hundreds of millions in revenue and?

    And I was and remain right about Hulu:

    http://www.forbes.com/2008/11/17/hulu-to-match-youtube-tech-cx_pco_1117paidcontent.html?partner=msn

    Where did I talk about the Kindle?

  18. As for Iraq, dude whatever planet you’re on I don’t have the heart to bring you down from. Enjoy it, seriously.

  19. Ahh, the ad hominem attack. Very classy. Instead of taking five minutes to respond to a legitimate comment, you prefer to attack the person rather than the statement.

    So I’m on another planet for reading combat fatalities that are down to 2004 levels at some periods? For seeing many units transferring local control over to the Iraqi Army? Yeah, I’m totally on another planet.

    Have you ever heard of the names Gentile, Nagl, Kilcullen? You know, those guys who are highly relevant in the debate over counter insurgency?

  20. Technically what I did wasn’t an ad hominem – that would be if I’d insulted you as a person in order to win an argument. If you want to use another Latin phrase, I dismissed the whole debate prima facie because it’s just patently ridiculous.

    In fact, your argument is a pretty decent example of the weak analysis I was referring to offhandedly earlier. Obama said this same thing to Petraeus when they met before the election: the tactic successes and failures in Iraq are irrelevant since they are a part of a failed strategy to begin with. The rise and fall of combat fatalities matter very little since the war in Iraq has already been lost.

    Any analysis or discussion about the issue that doesn’t take that into account and give it the overwhelming intellectual respect it deserves is out of touch. The same goes for social media strategy that doesn’t acknowledge the financials of the company being discussed.

  21. Dominus, the short version is that as soon as US troops leave, there’s going to be full-scale civil war between the Arabs and Kurds, a complete disintegration of the Maliki government, and an Iraq that is either a military dictatorship friendly to both the US and Iran (our best outcome), an Iranian puppet state or a bloody mess. A temporary lull in the violence means nothing because there has been no political breakthrough on any front that matters, unless you count SIIC becoming a wholly-owned subsidiary of Teheran a political breakthrough.

  22. - If you’re going to argue that Microsoft isn’t culturally relevant, you need to actually ARGUE it. Maybe you’ve done this elsewhere, I don’t know, but in this post, you just sort of assume it. I know the tech scene and the related markets are changing pretty rapidly, and Microsoft might not be culturally relevant in another few years, but surely you can see the flaw in holding that the company responsible for the most-used OS on the machine that’s revolutionizing the way people live every facet of their lives ISN’T relevant. Relevance, pervasiveness… that’s just wordplay. To say Microsoft is pervasive in a culture, which it is, yet irrelevant, to to demonstrate a lack of understanding as regards the significance of Microsoft. When everyone’s actually using open-source software, it’ll be a different scene, but until then…

    - The Forbes article on Hulu isn’t convincing. The whole thing is a response to the disruption Hulu’s created on YouTube’s turf. It’s far from perfect, and some of the guy’s concerns might come to pass, but you can’t deny it’s making a big impact in the present, and that’s the opposite of what you guys on the messageboard thought would happen when you discussed it.

    - As for the Kindle, see above. You and several others talked about all its flaws and predicted an underwhelming reception, and it’s Amazon’s biggest selling electronic item, I think.

    - Thanks for responding, at any rate. Nice to see some bloggers are actually willing to dialog.

  23. Of course, it is a discussion after all.

    The difference in my opinion between relevant and pervasive is that relevant often means it’s on an upward trajectory while pervasive can often mean it’s on a downward one.

    No question, Microsoft is a ubiquitous operating system. But it got there not by consumer choice in many cases, but by strong arm tactics made possible by a lock on distribution. Things have profoundly changed since (let’s say) 2000. Firefox has something like a 30% marketshare – a crucial 30% no less. Do you really think that Internet Explorer is going to make that ground back? I don’t. No one is trying to say that the other 70% isn’t impressive, it’s just facing a serious crisis.

    The reason this all matters: precisely the things that got Microsoft to its behemoth size are limiting it from competing in. Things like their proprietary culture, mercilessness, engineer-based thinking, etc. That’s shutting them out from working in certain markets. It’s also why Linux and other open source programs like MySQL are becoming the de facto choices for major computer systems over Windows.

  24. Good point about Microsoft’s ‘strengths’ (depending on who you ask, of course) becoming its weaknesses. I certainly won’t argue – I just don’t think we’re going to see this quick translation to open-source and alternative apps… not that you’re saying we will… I guess my main point is just that the Microsoft product is so entrenched in the life of the end-user, that even a company with as many problems as it has isn’t going to go quietly or quickly. I actually don’t think Microsoft’s going to go away – they’ll just transition into one of many players, instead of maintaining the dominant-player status they hold now.

    Also, I see your point about something being pervasive vs. it being relevant. I still think we’re tossing the semantics-ball back and forth – maybe we can agree that what once WAS relevant in a positive sense (Microsoft) has decomposed to the point where it’s now pervasive (or relevant in a non-positive sense)? That seems like fair middle ground (although it’s your site, so you’re obviously not required to meet me halfway).

  25. Ryan,

    As the idiotic sounding a-hole who wrote the blog post on wikinomics, I thought I should respond to your criticism.

    You accuse me of low-level thinking and operating in a vacuum because I wrote about, and focused on, one particular marketing campaign that demonstrated the interesting use social media. It was an example of connecting the dots between an “IdeaStorm” like platform, the company blog, viral distribution on YouTube, and tracking through Facebook Lexicon, that I thought would be of interest to our readers.

    If I am to understand your criticism correctly, you are indicating that I cannot write about this one particular area of interest without touching on absolutely everything that has to do with the company at the same time. In turn, I would have to cover the massive over-expansion by Starbucks, the dilution of the brand value proposition through the automated production process, pricing choices, and everything else the company has and hasn’t done throughout its history leading up today. Of course I really shouldn’t stop there – I should probably dig into the economy as a whole, consumer spending patterns, and everything else that might affect their bottom line. After all, nothing happens in a vacuum.

    That doesn’t make any sense. I was not trying to provide perspective on Starbucks as a company and how it has performed – I was telling a short story about one very particular thing.

    Your notion that someone can’t write an article lauding the success of tiny tactic used to fight terrorism, without delving into the fact we’re being crushed everywhere else, is similarly strange, in my opinion.

    But no need to go into that in detail here. Instead I’ll ask a simple question – if you scan through your last (say) 20 blog posts, do you believe they stand up to the bar you have set for others here? Does each one represent high-level thinking, and provide full perspective on all the related issues at play?

  26. Hey this post was interesting but I got confused by a lot of the blogs you referenced and am unable to make an intelligent comment since it seems out of my range of understanding.

    Nonetheless, I will comment by saying, “Hey nice post!” since it seemed cool to read even though I didn’t get a lot of what you said.

  27. [Don't post under multiple fake name. I can tell very easily.]

  28. I think sometimes people forget that blogs are an opinion, like the opinion section of newspapers. Here in the uk, I know the political slant of the papers, and the comments on the same subject in diff papers are interesting. However if you want me to keep reading, avoid the ‘slagging off’!!

  29. Technically, it seems that you did attack Dominus ad hominem….you closed the argument by saying that he is from another planet, and that, therefore, anything he says has no value. You made no comment about the argument he was making, only about the arguer himself.

  30. No, ad hominem would be to actually cite or use Dominus’ planetary status as a reason to dismiss the argument. Ryan wasn’t saying “You are from another planet, therefore your argument is worthless”, but instead was saying “The nature of your argument leads me to believe…”

    The attack was on the argument.

  31. “I don’t happen to like Twitter but that’s not the problem with Guy’s post. The problem is that his poll is statistically worthless and unreliable for any analysis. ”
    You didn’t link to a post by Guy but to a post that speaks about a poll by guy that guy did to promote his polling service.
    Nobody claimed that the poll is representative.

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