Cuil. Too cool for words?

Richard MacManus of ReadWriteWeb wrote a post last night about the big coverage of Cuil, thought and/or hoped by many to be the Google killer.

The MacManus post muses about the coverage of the new search engine and the major criticism that followed its debut.  A lot of expectations mismanaged.  So MacManus cites the echo chamber and the hyperbole that stokes it.

But let’s not blame the PR people, people.  Yes, I find much of the language, elitist and cozy, too much to bear.  But somebody’s swallowing it.  And it’s not just the TechCrunches and the Valleywags.  It’s our highly trained, self-proclaimed highly professional mainstream media.

Here are the suggestions I just shared in a comment to MacManus’s post.  Let’s start stripping away the hype.  Ultimately, it’s the best thing for all concerned.

Lots of insightful comments on your interesting post.  This is not a criticism of Cuil, either.  Time will tell.

I do have comments to the press, bloggers, all the new media types “covering” startups, Silicon Valley, tech money:

1  You are part of the echo chamber.  Think before you write.  Choose your words carefully and wisely.

2  Talk with the potential enemies as well as the pals and coterie of the founders and the VCs.

3  Recognize that not everyone tells the truth.

4  If you don’t understand the technology, find someone neutral who does.  Neutral = doesn’t have an ax to grind.

5  In comparing products, rely on your own instincts and that of a true expert to unearth key points of differentiation between products and services.  Don’t just reprint what you’re being fed.

6  Start looking for the real stories of Silicon Valley.  Yes, you’re busy.  But when you take on the responsibility of distilling facts for others, you take on the responsibility to dig.  If you don’t have the work ethic for this role, find something else to do.  We’re sick of the hyperbole.  The real stories of Silicon Valley are not that far beneath the superficial surface on which you skate.

This is coming to you from someone who helps to craft and tell the stories of startups and corporations that are in this for the joy as well as the payoff — and who wouldn’t dream of yanking your chains.  Wake up.

Is Yelp a business, community service or not for profit? Paging Comrade Lenin.

Calley Nye wrote today about Yelp and its impact on companies reviewed there.  Yelp presents itself as a place where the community can gather to share its experiences with businesses — and Yelp likes to invoke conversation as a core concept.  The site is gaining in popularity, and negative reviews can break a business, particularly a restaurant.  So businesses are forming alternate sites to combat the effect. 

Why don’t these businesses just bring the argument or discussion to Yelp?  Because Yelp won’t let them.  Yelp does not permit businesses to respond one way or the other to a review.  This is a shame, because the young company is leaving valuable conversation on the table.  And missing the point of social media.  

Or at least that’s how a lot of people see it.  I’m starting to notice a devilish little trend among startups that seek to change the world.  They reap the benefits of a capitalistic structure without contributing to it.  In this case, Yelp could be helping to evangelize the importance of companies listening to and actually talking with customers — and Yelp could be setting itself up as the nexus of the interaction

Instead, the company is kidding itself — or trying to kid us — into thinking it is leveling the playing field by going after nasty business owners and putting more power into the hands of the “community.”  That businesses are not part of the community! 

Wait a minute.

Is Yelp a business?  And if so,  because Yelp’s CEO [a business term] created a loyalty hierarchy consisting of community, consumers and businesses, as articulated to none other than THE NEW YORK TIMES, into which category does Yelp fall?  Finally, by whose universal standard are Yelp-reviewed businesses measured?  If the answer is the community’s, then who decides the community?  Or are we going to check with Comrade Lenin via seance?

I love it when a startup presents itself as anti-establishment as it indulges in the third oldest profession to make money.  That would be advertising.

Anyway, I find it hard to believe that Yelp’s mission is either noble or democratic.  At least, not any more than any other business trying to launch, make money and do business ethically.  So let’s use Yelp for what it is — a repository of reviews we can use for information but for nothing more.  And let’s not be used by it.

Dis-intermediated, dis-rupted, de-served

We've all heard about how Internet applications and networks are disruptive.  They're rewiring the longstanding patterns of business and commerce, often removing whole channels of players content in established value and supply chains.

This is naturally making a lot of people nervous, especially those with equally-longstanding power bases to protect.

But the rest of us are seeing the possibilities and embracing change — even when it's unclear what that change will actually mean. 

We've got one political candidate who is disrupting the political process of his party, and on Tuesday evening, we witnessed the resistance to his call to action.  There are voters with dependencies they don't want to break.  They went with the old-power candidate.

Candidates can run on platforms promising jobs in outmoded industries and more-than-temporary government aid.  But they can't hide.  We've already seen that.  And any victory, even a big one in November, would just be the last
grunt of a dying beast — not a wholesale resuscitation of Business As

The same is true in industries slow to recognize what digital access means to their performance.  Here are just three examples of many that point to the end of a tired era.

  1. Book publishing.  Last week we had yet another story of a newly-published memoir, heralded by reviewers, rewarded with a large printing run, that was exposed by the author's sister as a complete fraud.
  2. The mortgage crisis.  We are not only seeing the housing market rocked by really stupid loan decisions, those accountable for such decisions are probably going to get away scot-free.  With platinum parachutes.  Who picks up the tab?  Look in the mirror, you folks who live within your means.
  3. The irrelevance of marketing.  Most people in marketing still don't see it, much less get it:  online interaction is changing every possible act of branding, positioning, competition and selling.  And who's paying for the ignorance?  The companies that think marketing is a done-deal, necessary-evil overhead function with no capacity to change.

The obstinate will tell you that these are random events which have nothing to do with digital democracy.  They think of the Internet as a toy best left to young people with time on their hands.  It's good for email and research and stalking old beaus and buying books or old china, but real commerce and communication?  No way.

I submit that the citizenry, in this country and around the world, is waking up to the fact that the old order is just not working very well. 

We're in a moment:  the integration of human need and human capability — an integration that happens at random moments in history around new inventions and innovations.  Using my three examples:

  • Publishing toolmakers such as blurb.com will enable anyone with a few dollars and a manuscript to publish — hard or soft cover.  Instead of a market flooded with dreck, which is what the publishers and agents and writing "consultants" want you to believe will happen, we'll have cream rising to the top, via market demand fueled by word of mouth voiced on the Internet.  Impact:  Who gets published will no longer be in the hands of a tight circle whose center rests in New York and whose pockets get lined just for making an introduction or starting a manuscript bidding war.  Further, we won't have to deal with the outcome of editors who refuse to spend any time checking their authors.  [I mean, come on.  Didn't we learn something from the James Frey episode?  What more do you editors need to see before you'll start doing some elementary fact checking?]
  • Micro loans and person-to-person investment will enable people to invest in other people.  Bankers who reap ridiculous "returns" based on manipulating the deposits of investors, making lousy loans that make them rich but rob the rest of us over the long term, will lose a large part of their franchise.  The new Internet banks that directly connect people who need money with those who have it will change the way decisions are made.  We'll see caution and appropriate risk because people will be using their own money — not playing with someone else's — and earn a reasonable rate of return, not one on par with loan sharks.
  • Marketing will become a function that requires an investment in energetic, strong, quick thinkers — not infrastructures of useless overhead, print waste and advertising campaigns.  Instead of people who spend most of their time networking for the next CMO position, we'll have professionals who actually know how to perform marketing tasks and use real skill to engage markets not preach to them, connecting their brands and brand promises to buyers.  CEOs, CFOs and COOs will be able to measure marketing performance.  Finally.

I've chosen three examples that are personal hot-button issues.  Just as we are seeing landmark change in the American political process, there are many more changes in other realms now and down the road.  Honest, creative, productive — and democratic.

Girl geeks in THE NEW YORK TIMES

Read this excellent post by Mary Hodder.  She raises a pertinent question:  why does the paper put its coverage of girl geeks in the Fashion section?