When You Listen to Fools, the Mob Rules

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The tech culture world has known about this for days, but those of us swimming in Spitzergate had to wait for YouTube evidence. Here's the background.

If you have any interest in South by Southwest and/or the blogosphere, then you've probably seen something on the infamous train-wreck-of-an-interview, aka the SXSW keynote discussion with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and journalist Sarah Lacy. (In this metaphor Zuckerberg is the Little Engine That Could and Lacy is the conductor that derailed the train). Forty-five minutes into it, the crowd wrestled control of the mikes, cutting short Lacy's interview to ask their own questions.

Recaps can be found elsewhere, but there are two interesting things to think about in the aftermath of this mob-jacking. One is how Twittering can amplify a crowd's reaction, and how it could make future keynotes better. The other is how bad design can change the outcome on a stage.

What was amazing, from the point of view of someone in the room, and someone who was following the live chat on Meebo, was that if Lacy had had a laptop she could have seen the crowd revolt coming. Or rather, she could have changed her questions, style, even body language (so many comments about hair twirling!) so that it wouldn't have happened.

It makes for brutal viewing—the rough part starts around minute 6. Lacy, one of those reporters who makes it possible to argue that "tech journalism is the new music journalism," is far too insidery and chummy to get good answers out of a notorious closed subject, Zuckerberg. She plugs her upcoming book. She talks about something that she and Zuckerberg talked about at a bar. A less tech-y audience would have simmered and walked out, but this audience used cutting edge tech to, basically, recreate the note-passing climate of a high school assembly. (The last time I saw a crowd revolt like this, the RAF came to my high school to recruit students, and smart-asses heckled the speakers armed with jokes they'd been working out on notebooks.)

You can trace the revolt here, on one Twitter feed. This one story might be overblown (what do tech writers love more than logging online to write tech stories about tech people) but I have no trouble imagining how the onset of Twitter could force speakers/panelists to up their game.

Headline explained here.

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  1. No, no, no, Dave. Not “Spitzergate”.

    Hogate.

  2. the RAF came to my high school to recruit students

    The Royal Air Force?

  3. Great Sabbath reference.

  4. A different, and IMHO, better Black Sabbath w/ Ronnie James Dio at the helm.

  5. Dear god, she’s horrible to watch in that interview. It was like watching a drunk divorcee at a party hit on her son’s friend.

  6. this audience used cutting edge tech to, basically,
    recreate the note-passing climate of a high school assembly

    Good lord. Nerds behaving badly. How…self-absorbed.

  7. *flicks bick/holds aloft*

  8. The Royal Air Force?

    Yes, I was in England for grades 10 thru 12.

  9. Yes, I was in England for grades 10 thru 12.

    Holy crap Dave. Why haven’t we heard about this before. Limey indoctrination during your politically formative years explains much.

  10. Yes, I was in England for grades 10 thru 12.

    You’re compromised, Dave. However, I’d like to know if English girls are the huge sluts* they are renowned to be.

    * promiscuous, in a good way that is morally sound and personally liberating and can lead to a rewarding and profitable career as a legal prostitute

  11. Hey! i actually was in the RAF cadet corps at school!

    Some stupid marching around, but we got to pilot twice a motnh (brit taxpayers got the bill)

  12. “Tech”* has definitely passed me by, and I’m not even 40. I don’t see the point of either Facebook or Twitter.

    *God, I wish that piece of jargon would go away. And I’m a $#@$ programmer.

    /grumpy rant

  13. Is SXSW some new term I can’t figure out for really, really not safe for work?

  14. Did anyone else first read RAF as Red Army Faction?

  15. Rhywun, what do you program in?

  16. what do you program in

    C# when I’m lucky, SQL when I’m not.

  17. VB.Net for me and SQL as well, but I like SQL.

    I assume you know that in VS 2005 and SQL Server 2005 you can write stored procedures in C#.

  18. I assume you know that in VS 2005 and SQL Server 2005 you can write stored procedures in C#.

    Actually I’ve been stuck mostly (re)writing reports involving horribly convoluted SQL the last couple years. I can’t wait to do something more creative and maybe use some of the new Linq stuff to take back some control from the damn DBA’s….

  19. SXSW is a indie music, film and tech festival thingy here in Austin. I suppose it could be fun if you’re into that. Me, I stay away from downtown, Zilker Park, and the airport during that/this week.

    My wife and I went out to dinner last Saturday, when things we’re getting started. Some *interesting* people at the restaruant[sic].

  20. Actually I’ve been stuck mostly (re)writing reports involving horribly convoluted SQL the last couple years.

    Ahh, reporting. It’s the KP of programming.

  21. It’s the KP of programming.

    If by “KP” you mean “makes me fall asleep at my desk”, then yeah I have to agree.

  22. KP is military slang for kitchen duty, and is given to people who fuck up because it’s so boring and tedious. You know, peeling 200 potatoes and the like.

  23. peeling 200 potatoes and the like

    That about describes it. Luckily my boss knows my opinion of this task and tries to throw more interesting stuff my way every once in a while.

  24. I’m one of the weird ones who actually finds it fun to restructure and redesign SQL statements to be more elegant and faster. Plus I love getting the server to do as much as possible so I have less coding to do in the app.

  25. Jeez, I thought my job sucked.

  26. Haven’t written code for 14 years, but my last coding job was a 4 kHz interrupt handler in C on a DSP running without an OS.

    Now I am strictly limited to Visio and Word.

  27. I was there. I was in the audience. Lacy didn;t need a laptop to discern what was going on with the audience…she just needed ears and a sense of who the audience was there to see and why…her mistake was in thinking that anyone cared that she was there.

    She promoted her book, interrupted Zuckerberg’s answers in midsentence to regale us with personal stories and generally seemed baffled when the audience groaned. total self absorption.

  28. When You Listen to Fools, the Mob Rules

    Great reference. When the Revolution comes considered yourself spared, man.

  29. She promoted her book, interrupted Zuckerberg’s answers in midsentence to regale us with personal stories and generally seemed baffled when the audience groaned. total self absorption.

    If you need more of that kind of torture, check out her web page. It goes far beyond the usual shameless self-promotion right into the realm of slutiness.

    Ugh. At least I now know to avoid this woman at all costs.

  30. If you need more of that kind of torture, check out her web page.

    Total self-absorption is right. Check out her Facebook and MySpace pages, too. All I see is “me me me me me me me me me me me me”.

  31. “Yes, I was in England for grades 10 thru 12.”

    So was that, like, a year ago? Less?

  32. So those of us who can’t watch videos at work, what was the controversy?

  33. Forty-five minutes into it, the crowd wrestled control of the mikes, cutting short Lacy’s interview to ask their own questions.

    Wrestled control? The post made it sound like the audience rioted, all I heard was one guy yell “talk about something interesting” and everyone laughed, then the girl said you guys ask questions then. I thought people were going to run up to the stage and grab a microphone.

    If you need more of that kind of torture, check out her web page. It goes far beyond the usual shameless self-promotion right into the realm of slutiness.

    This is a bad thing? A link to the site would have been nice, now I’ve got to open a new tab and put her name into a search engine. Have a nice weekend folks.

  34. My mistake, there’s a link to it in the post.

  35. Facebook sucks

  36. “Rock journalism is people who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read.” Frank Zappa

    I think tech journalism must be people who don’t understand interviewing people who can’t explain for people who don’t care.

    And yes, tech journalism is the new rock journalism, no question about it.

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