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.