“The reason the battles are so bitter,” someone once said about academia, “is because the stakes are so low.” It was hard not to be reminded of that famous quote when reading about Currygate and the attendant controversy over who played what role in the invention of podcasting. At least, I thought, this brouhaha will mark the pinnacle of Web 2.0 farce: Aging MTV star anonymously rewrites Wikipedia podcast entry to give himself more prominence in the community-written history of the creation of the latest overhyped online medium. What could possibly top that?
I was wrong, of course. Just days later, a new peak was conquered, in Paris at the Les Blogs conference. Mena Trott, cofounder of blog-software-maker Six Apart, gave a speech chiding bloggers for their nastiness. “Can we as bloggers be more civil?” she asked, echoing the great California philosopher Rodney King. “We need to create an environment where people feel welcomed.” To which audience member Ben Metcalfe, writing on the conference’s real-time, streaming message board, responded: “Bullshit.” Trott, still at the podium, then demanded that Metcalfe stand up and, when he obliged, called him “an asshole.”
In a perfect coda to the event, one of the stars of Currygate, Dave Winer, waded into this affair as well, calling Metcalfe “a coward” in a comment on Metcalfe’s blog and questioning the poor guy’s manhood: “If you were the tough guy you said you were, you would have stood up to Mena and said it was bullshit to her face.”
Utopias are great – until people start moving in.