Today I read all the sordid details about the alleged sexual encounter between a notable technology visionary and a woman who appears to be looking for as much publicity as possible. Where did I read it? On the Silicon Valley gossip blog Valleywag.
A lot of people I know read Valleywag, and say itâ€™s fun to hear all the gossip. But all of those people change their tune the first time the blog turns on them and includes them in a rumor. An example: TED founder Chris Anderson, distressed over the publication of the TED attendee list, recently wrote to Valleywag owner Nick Denton that he â€œdidnâ€™t think [heâ€™d] be on the receiving endâ€ of Valleywag gossip. His email was promptly posted to the site.
Most of the gossip is harmless. Much of it, though, isnâ€™t (like the sex incident above). Celebrities have had to live with this kind of nonsense for decades, which explains why some of them pull out of society entirely and become completely anti-social. Perhaps, some argue, they bring it on themselves by seeking fame.
But for people in Silicon Valley, who are not celebrities and who have no desire other than to build a great startup, a post on Valleywag comes as a huge shock. Seeing your marriage woes, DUI or employment termination up on a popular public website (permanently indexed by search engines) is simply more than they can handle. They have not had the ramp up time to build resistance to the attacks.
The suggestion that web entrepreneurs are more emotionally fragile than Hollywood celebs is pretty weak. The reason for Valleywag’s success is not because Nick Denton is out to getcha. It’s because prominent Silicon Valley entrepreneurs – like Michael Arrington – keep reading Valleywag, sending them tips and gossip, and blogging about it.
Arrington goes on to observe the obvious, that tragedy is good business:
So how long will it be before Valleywag drives someone in our community to suicide? My fear is that it isnâ€™t a matter of if it will happen, but when. Valleywag and Nick Denton, though, will likely look forward to the event, and the great traffic growth that will surely follow.
Emphasis mine. I think that it borders on libel to suggest that Denton would “look forward” to the event, though obviously he won’t mind the traffic. But all of that traffic exists because, as Arrington observes, there’s a market for it. Is Denton to blame, or the people who Valleywag writes about themselves, who seem all too eager to eat their own? As Anderson found out in the anecdote above, no one thinks they will be on the “receiving end” of Valleywag’s gossip. As they say, pride goeth before the fall.
Arrington must be making good on his promise to suck up to Denton, because his post at TechCrunch just gives Valleywag all that much more power. He complains that “the valley was a much nicer place to live and work before the days of Valleywag” – but whose fault is that?