I like salacious rumours and innuendo about public figures as much as the next guy — heck, probably more than the next guy (I am a member of the media, after all). But all of this Jimmy Wales stuff just seems really over the top to me, and barely even relevant to anything that really matters. I know (or at least I think I know, thanks to Valleywag) that Jimmy got involved with Rachel Marsden and it ended badly, and he may or may not have tried to intervene to clean up her Wikipedia entry.
I also know, or think I know, that there was some kind of brouhaha over things that Jimmy billed the foundation for that were really private expenses, something that Wikipedians appear to have tried (and failed) to keep as an internal matter, and that Jimmy says it’s all cleared up now. And in the latest allegation, Jimmy apparently offered to clean up a Novell scientist’s entry in Wikipedia in return for a donation.
Are some of these things bad? Maybe. Personally, I couldn’t care less whether Jimbo is sleeping with Rachel Marsden (other than the fact that she appears to be insane), or what they say to each other in their IM chats. I don’t care whether Jimbo has had marital problems, or whether he’s had disagreements with the foundation over his expenses. All that says to me is that he’s human, and has made mistakes.
But the implication is that because he’s made some mistakes in his personal life, that somehow Wikipedia itself is demeaned or invalidated in some way, as though someone had discovered that Mother Theresa was skimming money, or running drugs through the orphanage. To me, Jimmy Wales is nothing more than the guy who set Wikipedia in motion; it has become much more than a one-man show, if it ever was. What he does in his personal life is of no interest to me, nor do I think it’s particularly relevant to what matters about Wikipedia.
I’m still technically on vacation in Florida as I type this, but it’s raining outside and I can’t help but post something on the news that Automattic — the parent company of WordPress — has acquired Buddypress, as WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg describes on his blog. It’s not so much that this is a huge deal, since it clearly isn’t. Buddypress was the one-man project of Andy Peatling, who took a version of WordPress MU (multi-user) and modified it to turn it into Chickspeak.com.
But nevertheless, I find it interesting because of what it says about where WordPress is going. Not only did the company just finish raising a boatload of cash, with the New York Times as an investor (which I wrote about here) but Matt has clearly gotten religion about the future of online media being social, and I think building on what Andy did with WordPress MU is his way of helping to make that happen.
If you take a look at Chickspeak, it looks very much like the kind of social network that Ning.com helps people build (I’m a member of a couple of Ning-powered social networks, including Social News Central and Wired Journalists), and Andy Peatling put it together by basically hacking a WordPress theme and plugging BBPress into it for user forums. And from Matt’s post, he appears to see that as a potential solution to the numerous social-network silos that are out there.
“Someday, perhaps, the world will have a truly Free and Open Source alternative to the walled gardens and open-only-in-API platforms that currently dominate our social landscape.”
Actually, from the sounds of it, Matt doesn’t just want to take on Ning — he wants to go after Facebook as well, but with an open platform rather than another closed network (check the quote he gave Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch about “digital sharecropping” for other networks). More power to him, I say. It’s something others are also thinking about, including Chris “Factory Joe” Messina and his DiSo project.
Just a quick note to let any regular readers know that blog posts could be intermittent over the next little while, as I am on the road for the next couple of days — and following that I will be doing my best to take time away from the computer (I’m told it can be done) in favour of long periods of relaxation in a place not unlike the one pictured here. I will likely be posting more often to my Twitter account than to the blog.
I’ve been debating whether to write this post or not for awhile, and eventually I figured what the hell — like Sarah Lacy of BusinessWeek, whose piece on TED helped to spark this post, I’m not likely to get invited to TED anyway, and even if I was I couldn’t afford to go, so I’m really not likely to burn any bridges. And in any case, that whole “don’t criticize TED, or you won’t be asked to come back” thing is part of the problem I have with the conference in the first place. Sarah dances around the issue a fair bit, but it boils down to good old-fashioned elitism (or worse, says Umair).
Like Sarah, I know that my comments will be seen as sour grapes, since I can’t be part of the cool crowd hanging in Aspen or Monterey with the various stars and geniuses that TED pulls together — and if I’m being honest, there’s definitely an aspect of that to it. I read the Twitter posts from friends like Austin Hill and Paul Kedrosky about all the people they are running into, or having coffee with, or partying with, or listening to onstage, and part of me would cut off my right arm to be there.
That’s the secret to elitism, of course: It’s not really a problem provided you’re one of the elite. Sarah talks about how one of Silicon Valley’s strengths is that any nerd with a great idea and some moxie can make it, and that’s why TED seems so jarring. But she doesn’t follow that up to its natural conclusion — which is that the whole point of “making it” is that you get invited to places like TED and the Allen & Co. retreat, or Davos (the grand-daddy of them all). And let’s face it: the thing a lot of nerds desire more than anything is to hang out with the kind of cool people who ignored them before they became successful.
I get the appeal of bringing dozens of smart people from different walks of life together to inspire people, and get their minds thinking in different directions. I’m all for that. But TED has other elements that are a lot less appealing — including the subtle (or not so subtle) pressure not to say critical things about the conference, and the fuss over Valleywag simply printing the names of who was attending, both of which have a kind of cult-ish feel to me. I guess the first rule of the TED Club is that you don’t say anything bad about the TED Club.