Ah, AOL -- just when it looked like you were about to slip into boring mediocrity, you surprise us yet again with your antics.
First comes the news that in AOL's latest reorganization (No. 247 in a series), the various editorial components have been broken out into "towns." Forbes blogger Jeff Bercovici reports:
There's a News Town, a Women's Town, a Family Town, a Finance Town and so forth. The "Towns" concept isn't just a metaphor: Employees have been physically relocated into clusters, with signs overhead marking each town and its "population."
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It gets worse. As the Business Insider reports, former TechCrunch CEO Heather Harde is now "co-mayor" of Tech Town. Hey, it could be worse; she could be co-Mayor of Tiny Town or possibly Munchkinville. (I gotta wonder: Does this work like Foursquare? If the janitor checks into Tech Town more often than Harde, does he get to be co-mayor?)
Still that silliness pales to the spitting match between Arrington and his new "sister" publication, Engadget, also owned by AOL.
When AOL announced it had swallowed TechCrunch last September, few observers believed Michael Arrington would last the three years he had on his contract.
Turns out it was might be closer to three months. This week, Arrington slammed the gadget blog, which has been operated by AOL for the last five years, calling it "a plasticized caricature of a real blog" and accusing it of being "unethical" and lacking a "moral compass." (This from a guy who's been dogged by ethical complaints about TechCrunch coverage for years. It appears Arrington's moral compass points directly to his wallet. Maybe he keeps a magnet in there.)
Arrington's big "ethical" complaint about Engadget? It uses Google ads to drive traffic. Yes, seriously. Never mind that it was almost certainly someone at AOL's marketing department who placed the ads, or that countless Web publications do this, or that there could well be AOL-placed ads for TechCrunch out there for all we know. In Arrington's fervent imagination, "real blogs" don't do this.
Here's a news flash for Mikey: Engadget isn't a "real blog" any more, and neither is TechCrunch. Sure, they may use blogging software and publish in reverse chronological order, but that's where the resemblance ends. They're really 24/7 news services for the tech industry -- kind of like the geeky kid version of the AP, only without the requirement to name their sources, do original reporting, or confirm stories are actually true before they're published.
IMHO: When you have a staff of a dozen people or more and a seven-figure budget, I think you give up the right to be called a "blog." You're a news organization, just those in the "lamestream media" that bloggers like to complain about. And you should start acting like one.
Engadget editor in chief Josh Topolsky responded directly to Arrington in the comments field of Business Insider, saying (in part):
I haven't heard a shred of substance behind your attacks -- only the vitriol of a man-child who can't control himself. "Immensely unethical"? Explain it.
You don't just get to say whatever you want to whomever you want. That may fly in your bubble, but I live in the real world.
Arrington couldn't stop at shredding Engadget for imaginary crimes against blogmanity, though. He also ripped his new masters a new one, calling AOL "plodding and conservative," as well as "pathetic." (He denies he was referring to AOL with that last jibe, though not very convincingly.)
The folks at Business Insider -- whom I imagine gathering around the computer screen with bowls of popcorn and boxes of Milk Duds, waiting for the next outburst -- theorize this is Arrington's fiendishly clever way of getting AOL to fire him before his three-year sentence is up, while still owing him the millions they promised him after the end of his contract.
I don't know Arrington personally, which I count as one of life's small blessings. But judging simply by his writing and his public statements, the man is not stable. This seems more like a personality defect -- a slightly modified version of Tourettes.
TechCrunch started out as a cult of personality, based on Arrington's outsized blogging persona, and it largely remains so. He got popular early by writing with an insider's knowledge about the venture capital industry and being unafraid to foist his opinions unto the world.
But spend enough time shooting from the hip and eventually your gun will get stuck in the holster and you end up blasting off a few toes. At this point, it's a wonder Arrington can even walk. Or maybe he just gets carried around on the backs of TechCrunch interns.
I think this incident, along with the hack that exposed the personal information of more than a million Gawker readers last month, marks a turning point in the brief and tumultuous history of blogging. It's time to drop your childish ways and grow up -- even if that means becoming more "lamestream."
I'm taking a poll: How long do you think it will be before AOL and Arrington part ways? E-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org.