Conversation? What conversation?

Michael Arrington's sudden hiatus from TechCrunch belies a bigger problem on the 'social' Web: It's getting more and more anti-social. Even Cringe is feeling the effects.

Web 2.0 wonks like to gush about how the Internet these days is all about "joining the conversation." Lately, though, it's been more like a shouting match.

Today's example: The fall of Michael Arrington.

As Rodrigues & Urlocker (the Captain & Tennille of InfoWorld bloggers) have also noted, Michael Arrington is hanging up his keds at TechCrunch -- at least through the month of February, if not longer. The reason? He's sick of all the haters.

On his most recent blog post, Arrington said death threats he'd received last summer, coupled with recently being spat upon at a conference a few days ago, were key factors in his decision. Hey, nobody should have to endure stuff like that just for expressing their opinions, whether you agree with them or not.

But in true Arrington form, he couldn't just leave it at that. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, he implicitly blamed popular blog sites Valleywag (now part of Gawker) and AllThingsD -- led by poppa bear Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal and BoomTown's Kara Swisher -- for daring to question his ethics and (thus) inciting the haters. Quoth Mr. TechCrunch:

“Whoever is the top blog will get attacked by everyone else and that’ll just be the way it is,” Mr. Arrington said. “We really need to think about, the community of bloggers, if we’re going to continue to slay our own for competitive reasons.”

Apply your own cliche here -- glass houses, stones, heat, kitchen, pot, kettle, black, etc. Just about any of them work. And who exactly anointed TechCrunch "top blog"? I must have missed that press release.

Still, you have to give TechCrunch its due. In a few short years, it's grown from one guy spouting his opinions on startups to one of the most popular (and feared) news sites on the Net. It has broken some real stories -- like Google's acquisition of YouTube -- before the mainstream media had even heard of "viral video." Its reach is impressive. Even the Washington Post deigned to syndicate TechCrunch.

On the other hand, there's still too much of one guy spouting his opinions masquerading as real journalism for my taste. The site seems willing to publish any rumor, which means it's wrong a lot of the time. It's become a running joke that every week or so TechCrunch will post a story saying Google is going to acquire some company, and when it doesn't happen, post a second story saying they walked away from the deal. Rightly or wrongly, questions about Arrington's relationship to the companies he writes about continue to dog him.

(Note: This blog is sometimes guilty of much of the above. But then, I make no claims to be a news source. We're all snark all the time here in Cringeville.)

My real point is, Arrington's right: It has gotten nastier out there. Maybe it's always been this way, and the flame wars that used to be confined to alt.geek.whatever on Usenet have now exploded across the Net.

I see it here in the comments to this blog. All I need to do is pick the right topic -- anti- or pro-Microsoft, Apple, Linux; Scientology vs "Anonymous"; science vs faith; and anything that touches on politics -- and the anonymous posters come out with guns blazing. It's like pushing the flame button; it's automatic.

So far, the worst thing that's happened is people unsubscribing from the e-mail newsletter -- no death threats or spittle yet. But it seems like it's only a matter of time before that kind of thing starts happening to more of us.

Has the Net gotten nastier? Can "love keep us together"? Post your thoughts below or e-mail me direct: cringe (at) infoworld (dot) com.

Think you've got the right stuff to pass our tech quizzes? They're not as easy as they look:

The InfoWorld News Quiz

Test Your Geek IQ

Test Your Knowledge of Geek Celebrities

Mobile Security Insider: iOS vs. Android vs. BlackBerry vs. Windows Phone
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies