Mike Arrington stars in The Ugly American

It’s been awhile since we had a good “bitchmeme” flare up on Techmeme, so now is as good a time as any, I suppose. In this case, it’s a cross-cultural, multi-continent event involving Mike Arrington of TechCrunch, LeWeb organizer (and TechCrunch partner) Loic LeMeur of Seesmic, and a cast of thousands — or possibly hundreds. The main attraction was apparently a panel discussion at LeWeb in which Mike talked about how all most of the successful Web companies are located in Silicon Valley because they want to win at all costs, while Europeans like to take long lunches and relax (the fun starts at about 17:00). The comment thread on Mike’s post alone is worth the price of admission. Loic LeMeur’s somewhat defensive response is here.

Update: In round two of this match, Mike has responded to Loic’s poll on whether he should be allowed back to LeWeb, calling it “censorship,” and Loic has responded to Mike’s response, saying that he thought of him as a friend “until now,” because Mike threatened not to send anyone to LeWeb next year, and posted a comment about starting his own European conference.

Not surprisingly, Mike is accused of being a stereotypical “ugly American,” who thinks that only American companies can succeed, and that all Europeans are lazy. He in turn points out that he never said Europeans were lazy, only that they have a cultural approach to business that isn’t as hard-nosed as the typical American entrepreneurial approach — and that while there are plenty of entrepreneurial European companies (Skype, etc.), they tend to either move to the U.S. so they can be part of that culture or get acquired by American companies. Like many stereotypes, there is a grain of truth in what Mike says, which is probably why it generates such an emotional response. It’s also possible that Mike likes to get attention 🙂

As someone who has spent the majority of my life in Canada (although I was born in Germany and have visited Europe many times), I can’t claim any kind of real expertise in this debate. In my experience, however, American companies do tend to be more aggressive, and U.S. entrepreneurs tend to be more driven than those from other countries, including Canada — which, as many people know, is an odd sort of mix of British, French and American influences (we’re like the UN up here). But that aggression and drive can also produce companies that flame out spectacularly, and/or wind up pushing the envelope of the law. For what it’s worth, I am also on record as favouring long lunches, so I guess I am a little European in spirit.

Update:

Some thoughts from my friend Ethan Kaplan of blackrimglasses.

Do brands belong on Twitter? Yes and no

Guest poster Mark Drapeau has a piece up on Mashable that looks at what — for the social-media sphere at least — has become an age-old question: should companies and brands be on Twitter? He comes to the conclusion they should not, for a whole bunch of what are very good reasons, including that company names “reduce authenticity and transparency,” and that “brand names and logos, as opposed to full names and user images, are not in the spirit of the Twitterverse.” As he puts it:

“Does anyone really want to talk to @DunkinDonuts? Or would they rather talk to Bill Rosenberg, the founder of Dunkin Donuts of Canton, MA, or perhaps the local franchise owner on Capitol Hill, or a disgruntled but funny summer employee punching in at 4am? People connect with people, and so I think the latter.”

There’s no question that the post raises some good points. But as someone who has been spending a lot of time in my new role at the Globe and Mail thinking about social media and how (or whether) we should be using it, I’m not sure he is completely right. I agree that one of the appealing things about Twitter is the personal aspect, and the ability to connect with someone, even on a somewhat trivial level. But I don’t think that means companies — or brands — can’t use it, just that they have to approach it in the right way.

Obviously, throwing an account like @DunkinDonuts up there and hoping to attract thousands of followers is pretty dumb, just as creating Facebook accounts for the Burger King mascot was kind of dumb (even if it was trumpeted as a huge success). As a number of people have pointed out, no one really wants to interact with Dunkin Donuts on a personal level, apart from the actual process of buying a donut. But what about an account like @Comcastcares? Hundreds of people have interacted with the person (or people) behind that account and been pretty amazed by the response. That’s a good thing, no?

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Inside Google’s Canadian HQ

I noticed that Andrew Noyes of Tech Daily Dose wrote about the opening of a Google office in Reston, Va. and provided some pics, so I thought I might do the same and write a post about my recent trip to Google’s Canadian HQ in Toronto. The search giant has had a small office in Toronto for awhile now, but recently moved into new and fancier digs just north of Dundas Square, and I got a tour — and some free lunch — from Tamara Micner a few days ago. After signing in with a touchscreen, I got a stick-on name badge printed out from a small machine and then entered the inner sanctum.

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Pepsi & Twitter as early-warning device

Over the past year, Twitter has become a wildly-popular social network, allowing people to stay in touch not just with their friends but also with celebrities like MC Hammer and Shaquille O’Neal, who use the service to talk directly to their fans. For many companies, meanwhile, Twitter has effectively become a real-time market-survey tool. Comcast and Zappos, for example, have used it to track reactions to their products and have been able to respond to their customers much faster than they could in the past. Some companies, however, have found themselves at the center of a Twitter-storm — including Johnson & Johnson, which faced criticism from mothers both on the service and in the blogosphere at large, after an advertising campaign for the painkiller Motrin made what were seen (by some) as disparaging comments about moms who carry their kids in slings.

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Is charity the new greed?

Anyone looking for a test case in how Twitter can be used to pull a community together — apart from little things like the Obama campaign, of course 🙂 — might want to consider a recent Toronto phenomenon called HoHoTo. A holiday party for Hogtown geeks and friends started as the germ of an idea about 10 days ago, after Twitterers in Montreal mentioned that they were having one. Not to be outdone, my friend (and fellow mesh organizer) Rob Hyndman started talking up the idea of a Toronto holiday party, and soon a group of make-it-happen types like Ryan Taylor as well as Michael O’Connor Clarke, organizational genius Sheri Moore from MCC Planners (another member of the mesh team), Modernmod and Ryan Coleman and others joined the conversation.

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The impossibility of rational debate

I didn’t get a chance to write about this when it first hit my inbox, but I just can’t resist saying something about the ridiculous “study” that a consulting firm called Precursor did of the bandwidth that Google supposedly uses but doesn’t pay for. The headline on the email I got — which I assume was sent to tens of thousands of others as well — was sensational and gripping, in the same way that supermarket tabloid headlines are often sensational and gripping (“Elvis clone lands on the moon!”). The email trumpeted the fact that “Google uses 21 times the bandwidth that it pays for.” Bound to get a reaction, right? And it certainly did, with the scholarly-sounding Precursor study being cited holus-bolus by a number of websites.

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Nerd fight: Google vs. Facebook

It’s like a war, except with programmers and social networks instead of soldiers and anti-aircraft artillery. First Google opened up its distributed social net, Google Friend Connect — which I have installed in my sidebar and also embedded below — and then Facebook threw open the doors on its version, imaginatively called (what else) Facebook Connect. The aim of both ventures is the same: to allow you to use your login credentials from the network on various sites around the Web, bringing your social profile with you wherever you go. In the process, both companies no doubt hope to entice more people to build a social network based on their tools and services (for some reason I’m reminded of the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church at this point, but that might just be me).

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New York Times + external links = smart

There have been hints for awhile now that the New York Times was going to start adding links to third-party content on its front page, and now it appears to have finally happened, with the launch of something called Times Extra. The paper has been doing this for some time now on its technology front page, using links aggregated by BlogRunner — the meme-tracker the company acquired a couple of years ago — as well as through content-syndication agreements with blog networks like GigaOm (which I write for), as well as VentureBeat and Read/Write Web.

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Broken windows and a call for help

The always excellent Jason Kottke has a post up that got me thinking about the “broken windows” theory and how it applies to online communities. The theory — articulated in this piece from The Atlantic in 1982 — states that crime and bad behaviour of various kinds tends to proliferate where there are obvious signs of neglect, such as broken windows. In other words, if people perceive that no one cares or is looking after a place, the odds of vandalism increase, and The Economist has some hard evidence to back up the theory. The obvious corollary is to online communities or group discussions, Kottke argues (and I agree). As he puts it:

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