April 15, 2008

Does Negativity Deliver Credibility? If So, That's Nuts.

Over the last 18 months or so, I've gained something of a reputation for being an early adopter more likely to heap praise on early versions of software with clear bugs than to drag services through the mud, calling out their every hole and flaw. I've stated that I do champion the little guy, and when I've found a service I like, there's no question you'll know, because I'll be consistent in my comments on it, highlighting new tweaks and trying to help you understand why I like what I do, and, in the converse, why I might not like other options.

But does my tendency to be positive and shun negativity make me less believable? Should I maintain a ratio of cranky posts to positive ones for variety's sake or to prove I'm not a paid shill on the take? As far as I'm concerned, no. In most cases, rather than drag down services, or dance on the graves of failed startups, I see sites' potential, and recognize the very real people behind services who are working hard to make their products as good as they can.

Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb jokingly commented on FriendFeed today: "You should write a really harsh review of something tho, just to maintain credibility!"

It's clear my quasi-utopian view isn't held in many corners of the blogosphere. Some revel in negative reviews or tearing people down. Others feel they have a calling to be "balanced", evening out an otherwise positive post by highlighting a service's deficiencies, or if the service happens to be amazing, to pick three random competitors for whom this new arrival will certainly mean curtains. But to be honest, even if I have more readers now than I did three, six or twelve months ago, this is still my personal blog, and should reflect how I feel. When I write up a service, I aim to deliver an accurate portrayal of the news, sites or individuals covered, but I would much rather highlight those companies and services I like than waste my time showing you the services that I didn't like. In essence, my silence in itself can be considered a negative review - and if you think about those topics I do write about, maybe there's a good reason I haven't covered every single service out there under the sun...

This isn't to say I haven't had a few negative posts here and there. I've at times been frustrated with TechCrunch (TechCrunch's Celebrating Failure Doesn't Help Anyone), ValleyWag (Valleywag Thinks My Old Posts are Breaking News) and even TechMeme (Blogrunner Likes Me, TechMeme Hates Me). I wasn't exactly overwhelming in my praise for NotchUp (NotchUp Sells You Out, but Nobody's Buying) and you likely remember my first comments on Fav.or.it. (Fav.or.it Beta Effort is Not My Favorite. Not Even Close.)

But these negative posts are are a rarity.

In fact, Mark Hopkins of Mashable said to one FriendFeed user in search for good PR that it's fairly obvious when I've found a favorite: "Talk to Louis Gray. Forget product evangelist. When he likes something, he's a one man crusade."

If you listened to this week's Elite Tech News podcast, you could probably tell that my positive viewpoints on the Web were frequently outnumbered by those who didn't favor companies, services, or individuals, who feared their content would be stolen, and that tech leaders and bloggers were too money-driven or ego-driven to be trusted. But I would rather accurately portray my intrigue and excitement around new services, even if they're not perfect. I don't think it does me a lot of good to sit down with a service I don't like or can't recommend and put 500 words into it.

You could probably also tell this from the interview Mark Evans posted this morning, Who’s Louis Gray?, which helps explain my background, and shows why I've ended up covering what I do. The tech world is moving faster than just about any market out there which I can think of. There are some amazing folks out there working ridiculous hours trying to make the next big thing. Only a few will make it. But if we tear them down too early, they might never actually reach their full potential, and I don't think it's really worth it, simply to engage in a race for page views.


  1. Keep on rockin' Louis! Just don't lose that sense of humor :) I totally share your enthusiasm about a lot of stuff.

  2. Louis in all honesty I like you and I like your enthusiasm for the products you like. You write excellent and well rounded posts that I always look forward to.

    Will I yank your chain if I get a chance - you betcha I will but then that is something that friends do to each other and if there is one thing that I would like to believe is that we are friends even though we may never meet face to face.

    And yer right negativity doesn't deliver credibility but that doesn't mean that always being on the upside of some does either. It is the voice that one develops that delivers that credibility - positive or negative - and you have the voice.

    You just keep doing what you do best Louis and I'll keep reading (and giving you a hard time :) )

  3. Steven, we are definitely friends. My wife knows you as "my cranky Canadian friend". I must talk about you a lot. And Marshall, humor is a wonderful thing to have. I'm not writing jokes here, but I try to make the writing entertaining and enthusiastic.

  4. Good post. I feel constructive criticism - that which is backed up with clear reasons is totally valid, and may actually help a service improve their product. I also think if a blogger is too positive too much of the time, I begin to question their credibility. That's different from saying "negativity delivers credibility" but there are endless numbers of cheerleaders who will say nothing but positive things about whatever they're promoting, and sometimes there's dollars behind it, which clouds the objectivity even further.

    That said, so far you've done a great job. I think you are fair and I do recall those posts where you were carefully critical, and I appreciated them.

  5. So if you're too nice, you lack credibility and if you complain about a lot of stuff, you're called a New Media Douchebag. And when you try to balance, you'll be dogging on some poor tech or celebrating a really crappy one.

    Can't win huh?

  6. It's an interesting thing these days -- being a reviewer. In the "old days", I would've said "you need to do strive for balanced reviews", but in the old days there weren't a boatload of FREE products and services around that people were interested in reading about.

    Where the balance has to come in is two instances: 1.)people are asked to spend money on the products you review. 2.) some situation where you're expected to write about ALL products/services.

    I don't think either situation applies to you.

    You might want to put something about that in your disclaimer on your about page so that people know that if you didn't write about it, you probably didn't like it.

    But it's your blog, you can do what you want and if you want to only write about products and services you like and are interested in, I doubt it will put too many people off. People won't be looking to you as an authority on *everything* social-network or web 2.0 wise, but if you're not striving for that, it's not a negative.

  7. Hey Louis - Not only are you delivering but you're proving a point. I've been tweaking my shared reader list tonight because there are a lot of great writers that should be read ... You and a few others are proving that (in record time). There are a lot of really brilliant and interesting people out there. This is one way to bring them to the forefront.

    Sidenote: Why not here? For those of you reading this and .. ugh ... were still in elementary school ??(no slight intended), Robert Seidman (who appears above me here somewhere) was doing Internet prognostication back in the mid 1990's. I was factually thrilled to see him still here commenting. (It was Louis' reference to Friendfeed that reconnected us). Just neat stuff! Period.

  8. The reasons you want to stay positive is the same reason I hold that I don't do a lot of early adopter reviews - while I see the positive and potential in a lot of the same stuff you like, I want to give them a fair shake before I unleash them on our often mercilous readers. A couple of times I've hyped up a company I thought was on the right track but not necessarily ready for prime-time, and then gotten ripped to shreds in the comments later on.

  9. If you have a knowledge of software and the technology that drives them then you should give a realistic viewpoint of whether they have the ability to progress and actually prove to be useful. I have visited other blogs that discuss web 2.0 and the startups but clearly do not have an understanding of whether these startups will really function. Its not difficult to see what services will be a sure winner and what the trend is, but to rip a service just because it is not compliment to the current web 2.0 trend is just plain wrong. A lot of man power and skill is needed at times to develop a startup and due credit for that reason alone should be given. Yes! if a startup is missing the ball and developing a service for the sake of getting into the game should be advised were they should focus on and improve. But to write them off just because we feel they are not upto scratch is just plain wrong

  10. Now that you've become a hit in the techblog market, it's time to conquer the lifehack market (bigger market!) with your secrets to sustainable living and keeping your passion.

  11. Louis,

    Don't worry about defending yourself about how you view and write about what's happening. Unlike many people, you spend the time to get a real feel for new services. If you like them and/or feel they have promise, so be it!

    By the way, maybe it's time for one of the tech scene's hottest bloggers to jump on the Wordpress bandwagon. :)

  12. I think as long as you're honest what does it matter. Readers will see that and appreciate it.

  13. I think too many people expect the popular bloggers (You, Brogan, Scoble, etc.) to be like journalists, presenting a balanced viewpoint and backing that up with a million facts, etc.

    You hit the nail on the head when you say "personal" blog. That's what it is - your opinion, nothing more, nothing less. Some will agree, some won't. That's what is fun about the medium, don't you think?

    Frankly I learn more from you guys about what is good and usable than I ever do from mainstream media.

    Keep on bloggin'!

  14. I've just started reading your words, Louis, and I like your honesty. It's a sadly lacking trait, etc, etc. (It isn't, but it's obligatory for that sort of nonsense to be inserted.) :-)

    My attitude to those who don't like my words: it's your problem, not mine. Keep on writing, and develop a thick skin. (If you don't have one, already).) Every writer needs one of those - but no Web N.X service will ever deliver that. It's purely a human requirement. :-)

    Carolyn Ann

  15. I appreciate the Silicon Valley sense of optimism that you project with the blog. I definitely think "going negative" is a way of getting traffic, and I'm glad you're not playing that game. On the other hand, I first discovered LouisGray.com when you had the big spat with Mark Rizzn Hopkins on attribution so the sad fact is I found out about the blog as a result of controversy! But I think the learning is you just keep playing your game and eventually there will be breakpoints where you find readers, or readers find you. Takes some faith but if you're truly passionate about what you are blogging about then you WILL have the faith. Anyway thanks for sharing. I just read the interview...interesting, and I still know nothing about your day job! Hope to meet you next week at Web 2.0.

  16. Writing/Blogging shows your true personality. There's a lot people out there who think they know more than others. These people exert their "power" via negative comments/blogs and bullying. Thankfully you balance out this Elite urge to look down on people...Thanx!

  17. I'm late to the party, but I think credibility simply comes from not letting your readers down. It has little to do with writing positive or negative reviews or the ration between the two - as long as your honest (and you are!), it doesn't matter.