Last week I attended the Sun Mashup Event, a “Web 2.0″ event put on by Sun’s Startup Essentials program. This event used the old “entertaining romp” formula based on the line “those who can do, those who can’t talk about it”. In this case the one that can is Tim Bray, and the one who can’t is Michael Arrington. These two personalities are, more than you can imagine, contrasting and unique. Michael referred to himself as “leading the parade” multiple times. His ego is massive and it was obvious that he was actually trying to come off as humble and failing miserably. By contrast, Tim Bray, co-author of XML and one of the persons responsible for the making technology world being what it is today was exceedingly humble and far less interested in technology than what that technology meant to others.
The clash came to a head when they both tried to find the meaning of “Web 2.0″. Neither really knew and elected that it have a variety of meanings depending on who you ask. Michael was on the side of “The Age of User Generated Content”, to which Tim objected saying calmly with a smile, “I’m not a user, I’m a person. And I’m not ‘Generating Content’ when I share my thoughts, feeling, and opinions” (paraphrase). Michael accepted the semantic argument but viewed it only as semantics, not addressing the deeper issue.
Hopefully they’ll post a webcast of it at some point, it was interesting to witness. It really was a classic battle between artist and agent. Michael was focused on what it meant and what could be accomplished or gained based on that thing and then what is the next thing. Tim however really does have an artists mind, with a interest more toward the lay person viewing his work than the critic analyzing it; which what it means in a grand sense rather than what it accomplishes in the moment. Such a refreshing view point. Especially given that in my mind, the definition of “Web 2.0″ is “XML realizing its potential”. I think this video sums it up nicely: Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us
Back to Michael. It was funny most of all to see what happened after the presentation. The room fragmented (most went for the free booze). Around Tim Bray was the normal cluster of people talking to Tim, around Tim, etc. I was lucky enough to get to shake his hand and talk with him a while. To my shock he actually knew me and said he’d read this very blog. No doubt my grandkids will tell their friends one day. On the other side of the room was this unique display:
A Post Office line for the great and powerful Michael Arrington. I find this hilarious because prior to joining Joyent I hadn’t even heard of TechCrunch. In fact, I only found the site because he was pimping MediaTemple… I certainly didn’t think his site was special in anyway. Since then I’ve been told that apparently Michael Arrington is the Godfather of Web 2.0 startups and that if your not blessed by him your doomed, and that if you succeed without him strange men show up at your doorstep. Its all very odd. Slashdot’s crew certainly never had the mobster image that this guy does.
Now, the big picture point here isn’t just to pick on Michael, but to highlight yet another case of something that I really hate: technology rarely wins. I’m a technological optimist who believes that great technology always wins, and if the planet is to continue spinning properly, great technology must win, less there is no justice. And, naturally, I’m constantly disappointed. Technology rarely does win, and when it does its normally the result of a lot of marketing that shouldn’t be required. Because at the end of the day, in the real world, people don’t care about technology but rather what it enables them to do. And thus, people like Tim Bray lay the foundations for greatness and people like Michael reap rewards not due to them. And generally this isn’t much of a problem because its the nature of people like Tim to not be interested in such irrelevant and petty things… but to me, it just takes me back to Book 1 of The Republic asking “What is justice?”.