Woooh doggies! So that whole
have-a-splashy-launch-to-create-good-buzz-early thing didn't go too well, huh?
Unless you've been living under a rock, or getting your news entirely from
Roger L. Simon, Charles Johnson, and Jeff Goldstein, (which is to say again,
unless you've been living under a rock . . .) you know that what
Jeff Jarvis aptly calls the "trainwreck known variously as Pajamas
Media, Open Source Media, OSM, and Open Sores
Media," has come under a lot of fire since the moment of its birth and
even before. And it's not just that the recently launched web thingy (criticism
one, what the hell is it?) with the constantly changing name (probably changing
for the third time soon) is being criticized by its natural enemies on the left
(which it is and with some cogency), it's also being criticized by right-of-center law professors, political
conservatives who have been screwed over by Roger L. Simon, and even members of its own
"editorial board." At this point, the only people defending the
project outright are bloggers who have signed up for it who must be worried
about their ad revenues. The haziness of the business plan (if there can really
be said to be one), the lack of interesting content on the website itself, and
even the business ethics of the CEO himself have all been questioned, and seemingly all with
Since I happen to have been at the launch I thought I would write a post partially from the perspective of seeing if any of these fears were allayed by actually being there. Let me say a couple of things as caveats. First of all, unlike a lot of the people who are talking about this, this is only the second ever launch of a product, service, publication, website or anything I've ever been to. The first one was the party Nick Denton threw when he was launching the weblogs Screenhead, Lifehacker, Kotaku, and Jalopnik. Let's start there though. The difference between the two affairs seems instructive. At Denton's event there was no full day of panels and blah blah, no Rainbow Room, why, there wasn't even a "keynote address" by a disgraced former New York Times staffer. Imagine that! (I think Jayson Blair had a previous engagement snorting coke in the bathroom of Siberia or something). The entire event consisted of an open bar and hors d'ouevres over a couple of hours inside an Audi showroom. An Audi showroom you say? Yes, you see, they probably got the space for free because Audi was there big advertiser. Cutting costs and having big name advertisers set up as you launch as oppposed to just talking about how you'll have them in the future!? Madness, I know.
My second caveat is that, unlike a lot of these cogent critics, I know nothing about business, on-line or off, and have made a pathetically small amount of money in my life. Why, my trying to opine about OSM's viability as a business model would make about as much sense as a fiction writer with no business experience wanting to be CEO of a multi-million dollar company. That said, the criticism coming from people who do know about business and have made money in their life, especially Jeff Jarvis and Kenton E. Kelly aka Dennis the Peasant is much more convincing to the business layperson than the defenses (such as they are) coming from the OSM crowd, characterized as they are by whiny poses of martyrdom and facile, defamatory charges of stalking. What are you doing here Roger? Channeling Paul Krugman when he accused Donald Luskin of stalking him? It's called criticism. I went into the OSM launch event neither a believer nor a non-believer as to whether it would make money, and have only caught up on the discussions of that question after the launch, now I'm a definite non-believer and the conversion process was a lot of fun. And I owe it all to Dennis the Peasant. Really, if you're interested in this stuff and you haven't done so yet, you need to read the whole saga of his posts on why OSM/Pajamas/whatever was a doomed venture from the start. Just started around here and keep going forward. Of course, he's insanely bitter and has his own agenda, which he's completely up front about, but he also makes a lot of specific points about how the whole thing won't work that I've yet to see refuted.
My other caveat turns out not really to be caveat, my very small relationship to the project and to the people involved, one I share in common with virtually every blogger who gets more than ten hits a day. (A lot of these stories of initial discussions with Pajamas Media which lead nowhere can be found in the survey responses and comments to this James Joyner post.) On March 22, 2005 Roger L. Simon sent me an e-mail inviting me to "join a company in formation called Pajamas Media aimed at making substantially more money for bloggers and also increasing their importance." Since I'm all for increasing my money and importance I signed an NDA and I think two other agreements without much hesitation. I certainly didn't have the hesitation that a lot of the bloggers who were early critics did, that Pajamas Media wouldn't give them the flexibility or the money that BlogAds already did, because I didn't have any ads. I've never had any illusions that blogging should make a lot of money. Recently, Typepad has instituted a service where you get ads from something called kanoodle and this now pays for my Typepad "pro" level subscription. This still seems like a great coup to me. My hobby now pays for itself. In fact, I was the ideal candidate for a Pajamas Media blogger as it was being explained at the time, a 150 visitor a day type of guy (at the time) who would just love to be aggregated with other low-but-not-non-existent-traffic blogs to buy ads, who wasn't on blog ads, and who didn't expect much. Anyway, some months went by and I heard nothing back from them. My thought was that this was either because a) My political leanings were drifting farther and farther from those of the other Pajamistas, or b) I was blogging less and less frequently. I wrote Roger an e-mail in late September asking what was going on. He said I was still welcomed to come on board, and put me in touch with Nina Yablok, an attorney who is also conservative blogger Ed Driscoll's wife. I went back and forth with her a couple of times but nothing came of it. So this was the state of play as I went to the launch event: I thought I still had a chance to be part of the venture and I wanted to be. So, in fact my bias was pro-OSM.
So, was OSM's business model explained and were the critiques answered if you attended the launch? That would have to be a resounding "no". First of all, there were the embarrassing technical glitches, the disastrous panels, the fact that Judith Miller was the keynote speaker. These could all be seen as sideshows though, if they presented and explained their product in a way that made it appealing and understandable. But, I've noticed something troubling (for the company) when I look over my multiple earlier posts on the launch: I actually forgot to mention the moment when Charles Johnson, put the site on the screen. You know, the actual launch part of the launch. That's because it was that forgettable and lasted about 10 seconds. The site moved painfully slowly and Johnson didn't go on to explain any special features of the site or anything (if they exist). What appeared, what still appears is nothing new, or particularly interesting: clunkily written news stories "compiled by OSM staff", links to wire service stories (as many have pointed out, most of which ironically come from the Chinese Communist government's Xinhua news service). This is all fine and well, but I fail to see how it will be a new "hybrid of journalism and blogging" or how it will revolutionize either, but the breathless tone of all of their announcements etc. have said that it is and it will. They've been so self-important and pretentious about everything they've made themselves easy targets. Like a lot of other people who were actually there, I have no better understanding now of exactly what OSM means to be and that has to be a bad sign.
Anyway, if you haven't read it yet read Dennis the Peasant's/Kenton E. Kelly's detailed account of getting screwed over by Roger L. Simon. Contrast that with Roger's only defense thus far, which is essentially that verbal agreements are meaningless to him. See which one you think is more compelling. You may not need good ethics or manners to succeed in business, but I can't imagine that this much taint attached to the CEO of a brand new company is a good thing.