Scoble Jumps the Shark

Why have I studiously avoided Robert Scoble’s well regarded blog? (in case you were unaware) was an early corporate blogger, set up to be the kindler gentler face of Microsoft. Scoble got high marks for his unflinching coverage of Mister Softee related issues, while simultaneously addressing those subjects in a way PR flacks never could: as another geek, but with unparalled access to insiders.

And yet . . .

I stayed away. At first, because of our litigation with Microsoft. I didn’t want to read too much of a kindler, gentler spin, not when I knew better. Additionally, the temptation to comment — when I really shouldn’t — would have been overwhelming. The last thing I wanted to do was derail settlement discussions or (heaven forbid) accidentally disclose a "material, non-public" piece of info. 

But there were other reasons too.The largest amongst them is that Microsoft is so 1998. If I am going to spend that much time with the public spin of a company, I’d rather it be a firm much more interesting — say Google, or someone else more 2002ish. Even better, a company that’s circa 2008.

There’s also the tribal thing. I couldn’t imagine that any member of a tribe would not eventually succumb to developing an indentification with that tribe. It always happens somehow, somewhere. Its the corporate version of the Stockholm Syndrome. That’s why the New York Times rotates their Public Editor every year. It’s why the Pentagon likes embedding journalists — it produces favorable war coverage (at least at first). As the journos bond and empathize with the men in their unit, they tend not to want to write anything too negative. Even Mel Brooks recognized this: in the 2,000 year old man,ghe discusses the first ever fight song:  The Hell with everyone else, except Cave 53!

The reality is, one cannot be an effective critic from the inside for too long.

When I discussed corporate blogs for online trading,
I never addressed the issue of covering the company themselves — instead, it was to comment on the Markets. Its
so obviously inappropriate to expect . Yet that never stopped the blogger from covering the firm that signs his paycheck.

Now, I see my views have been somewhat vindicated. Scoble, when faced with the obvious bad behavior of the
Redmond behemoth’s blogging software (mentioned previously here), censoring words like "Freedom" and "Democracy" in China, he didn’t really see what all the fuss was about. Hey, Google does it. What’s the big deal?

That’s why I cannot bother to read him. I’m sure he has something interesting to say, and the general take on Scoble is he does a good job. But whether he believes it or not, he is simply a flack — a hip, post-millenium, paid, new economy, spin-meister.

But a flack is a flack is a flack.

Its not his fault — despite his very best efforts to avoid becoming that, he has succumbed to a very primal and ancient aspect of Human Nature. He is part of the Tribe.

But there’s no escaping the bottom line: If your job is to publicly comment about the (mis)behavior of your employer in a way that makes them a little less Borg-like, well, than you are no better (and no worse) than anyone else in the PR industry.

Let’s just not pretend that Scobelizer is anything more . . .


UPDATE:  June 21, 2005 10:22am

A few people asked what Jumped the Shark meant. Here’s the definition from jumptheshark’s FAQ:

Q. What is jumping the shark?

A. It’s a moment. A defining moment when you know that your
favorite television program has reached its peak. That instant that you know
from now on…it’s all downhill. Some call it the climax. We call it "Jumping
the Shark."  From that moment on, the program will simply never be the same.

The term "jump the shark" was coined by my college roommate for 4 years, Sean
J. Connolly, in Ann Arbor, Michigan back in 1985. This web site, book, film, and
all other material surrounding shark jumping, are hereby dedicated to "the

The aforementioned expression refers to the telltale sign of the demise of Happy Days, our favorite example, when Fonzie
actually "jumped the shark." The rest is history.

Jumping the shark applies not only to TV, but also music, film, even everyday
life. "Did you see her boyfriend? She definitely jumped the shark." You get the

UPDATE 2:  June 22, 2005 10:48am

Scoble critiques Microsoft for opening up another "Cool but Lame site:
How many more Microsoft sites will open without RSS? Sigh.

UPDATE 3:  October 4, 2005 10:41am

What’s Google learning from their Wifi network? 
Spoken like a true company man . . .


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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. Vivek commented on Jun 21

    It’s funny how so many bloggers now purposely go out of their way to say negative things about Scoble on their blogs. It’s become the great American pasttime. I think it has less to do with saying anything worthwhile about his blog and more to do with hoping he’ll make an entry “Barry thinks I jumped the shark”. And we all know what that kind of comment on his website does for traffic.

    What makes this clear is why you or the multitude of other feels the need to post what you did? Who takes Scoble as anything more than another marketing component of Microsoft. People find the site interesting but no one is fooled into thinking it was going to be an honest portrayal. No one blogging for a company is honest. I thought we already knew that. Oh and there is no tooth fairy either.

  2. Jeremy Wright commented on Jun 21

    “What that kind of comment does for traffic”?

    Last few links I’ve gotten from Scoble have only sent a couple of hundred people.

  3. Barry Ritholtz commented on Jun 21

    I don’t want a Scoble link, I do not care what he does on his blog — I simply wanted to make a point about “Spin” and PR activities under the guise of weblogging.

    This is my first — and probably my last –post on the subject.

  4. dana commented on Jun 21

    I can see Cody’s been working on you. :)

  5. Robert Scoble commented on Jun 21

    Barry, if you’re gonna link to my China post as some sort of evidence that I’m a corporate shill, you should also link to the post where I admitted I was wrong.

    Or, the post today when I attack yet again another marketing team at Microsoft for developing a lame site.

    BLR corrects: The original post DID in fact contain the link Rob refers to (on the word NOW), but I can see how that could be overlooked, given all the links in this post:

    Now, I see my views have been somewhat vindicated. Scoble, when faced with the obvious bad behavior of the Redmond behemoth’s blogging software (mentioned previously here), censoring words like "Freedom" and "Democracy" in China, he didn’t really see what all the fuss was about. Hey, Google does it. What’s the big deal?

  6. David Bennett commented on Jun 21

    Here is the original article. Mr. Scobie also did another in which he argues because only certain headings are blocked it may not be censorship.

    I think his original point that a company should is right to not take moral stances that might endanger business is far too common. It has always been, but in contrast remember that in the fifties Tom Watson Jr. stood up to Gunner Jow McCarthy, this wasn’t good business at the time.

    MS is big enough that it can throw some weight around and win.

    The current administration is doing a mediocre job of representing our values. People like Kristof (NYT) have helped spearhead the project with attempts to help Ms. Bibi

    who recently watched as the individuals who raped her were released and her passport withdrawn.

    This is revolution, this is what MS talks about in it’s ads.

    We may be moving to a situation where as Milton Friedman envisions every purchase is also a political choice. We are getting the flexibility and the information.

    So I would suggest MS is better off confronting this situation and taking a stand. I suspect if pushed this position is consistent with that of Mr. Gates who has already devoted a significant chunk of his fortune to third world health. One assumes other aspects of seventies idealism lurk within the company.

    So express them. And don’t just say you’re wrong like a petulant teenager. Learn the principles on which that belief is based.

  7. Frank Ruscica commented on Jun 21

    Moving on to the 2008 company, the defining characteristic must be market entry via a sitcom (i.e., a “startup comedy”). details at

    Welcome to the future, folks. Bring your stamina ;-)

  8. Trevor Cook commented on Jun 22

    1. Scoble is right, its kinda dishonest to selectively quote and condemn on the basis of a partial revelation of the facts. That’s so … oh yeah old media.
    2. Corporate bloggers are not going to remorselessly attack their employers. Scoble is valuable not because he rolls out a relentless stream of anti-microsoft spleen but because he is willing to portray the company as just a little fallible (which is a big advance on traditional PR approaches, so hey credit where its due).
    3. Oh and in 2002 – Google is the new microsoft. They both want control of your desktop, or too often give the appearance of wanting to do so.

    BLR responds: Please see the correction to Scoble’s comment above; The original post DID in fact contain the link Rob refers to (on the word NOW).

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