Friendship and blogging
Friday, August 17, 2007 by Dave Winer.
In the mess with Jason Calacanis, the subject of friendship kept coming up on his blog, and here as well. It seems that Jason and others expect something special because we're friends. But there are several kinds of friends, it seems,. At times I wanted there to be just one kind, but eventually I threw in the towel and started, along with eveyrone else, using the term several ways.
First, there are real life friends. People who you commit to being intimate with, for a lifetime. Sure, they come and go, that's unavoidable -- people move away, people die -- but the intention is that we're going to share big chunks of our lives with each other, and trust each other to tell our whole truth. These are people who come visit you in the hospital when you look and feel like shit, they help you feel a little better. And vice versa. They're people you apologize to openly and fully when you fuck up. They're people you trust to see your darkness and lightness, knowing they won't abuse the trust. You can't have a lot of people who are friends in this way, if you dilute it too much, it stops being meaningful.
Now it's possible to have simple affection without the trust, and that can be called friendship too. People you see once in a while, or go 20 years without seeing, who you truly like, and are happy to see, who shared something good at some point, and you hope to share something good again.
And then there are the business relationships that are called friends. Just now on CNBC, I heard a banker say that another banker was a friend. I imagine that means they have dinner from time to time, speak well of each other, maybe exchange favors. These are also friends. It's in that sense that Calacanis and I were friends, along with many other people.
Now usually, the saying goes, it's bad to mix friendship with business. Usually it doesn't work, the thing that makes someone a friend doesn't turn out to be a good basis for business, and in the end you often lose a friend, and a business. But in the latter case that's all there is, business. In my mind it's not friendship, as much as an agreement to work together in some fashion. But let's not argue about it, if everyone else calls it friendship, I will to. If the Eskimos have 18,000 words for snow, what's the harm if we have 18,000 definitions of friendship.
Now -- the big question -- which I have an answer to, btw, is do any of these kinds of friendships create a an obligation that you won't be openly critical of the person's work? I say no, because then you have to question your friend's motives, and who wants a friendship to be like that. Is this person choosing to be your friend so that you won't be able to criticize their product or employer? So that you'll only say positive things about their work? So, for example, I can be critical of Feedster, and Betsy Devine will still be my friend (she worked for them at one time).
Yet, I feel compelled, when writing about a friend's efforts, to not only disclose the friendship (that's reasonable of course, it protects the reader) but also say that I really like the person I'm writing about, as if I would use this space to hurt them. I feel like a real chump when I do that, but given the atmosphere of the blogging world, I often feel compelled to do it anyway, so as not to start gossip that "Dave doesn't like so and so anymore." A real friend, who knew me, would know that I would never intentionally use Scripting News that way, but there are readers who don't know and some who pretend they don't know.
A sure way to become a former friend, is to say that I have an obligation to express my opinion privately. That was one of the most offensive things Calacanis said. Had his demo been private, and under non-disclosure, if it would have been inappropriate for me to write something positive about the product, then I could understand his concern. But I have written about his product before, publicly. I didn't plan to write anything about more about it, but there I was at a conference, and he was explaining it, and I had a very strong reaction. When I'm exposed to something that's wrong, you can count on me to say so. Without that, this blog is nothing. And I don't sell anyone the right to tell me what I can and can't write about. And friendship is the worst excuse possible to say why I shouldn't write something. This supposed friend knows nothing about me if they think that will do anything other than provoke a very strong response of independence.
I mention this not only in an effort to close the book on Calacanis (who btw could do this much more quickly by simply retracting the things he said that crossed the line), but also to lay the groundwork for me to write about Gnomedex. See, Ponzi and Chris are friends, and I have an idea that what I think of the conference could hurt their feelings. And as a friend, more of the personal kind than the business kind, I don't want to hurt their feelings. But, on the other hand, it is an industry event that I paid to go to. I don't go to very many conferences, and as it stands I will not go to Gnomedex next year. I'm sure some people will applaud this, and that's fine. Enjoy. But I have more to say about this, and I plan to. I just wanted to talk about friendship first.