TechCrunch, Engadget and AOL: Great Theater, Great Dysfunction or Both?




Here at Marketing Pilgrim we have carved out a very specific niche in the Internet marketing blog space. We are not here to break stories. Why? Because that takes a different skill set than we have and, honestly, it’s a lot of work. Instead we help our readers see some of what we consider to be top stories that are of interest and we put our spin on it. Some things you like some you don’t and that’s what makes it fun.

In other parts of the blogging world there is a lot of discord these days. On once such stage the main players are AOL, TechCrunch, Engadget and The Business Insider. The first three are part of a blended family whose parent (AOL) brought together two warring tech blog giants in TechCrunch and Engadget. They live under the same roof like the Brady Bunch did but rather than goofy family hijinks that end up in a group hug, these two ½ siblings co-exist with each other with an undercurrent of vitriol and loathing that is usually reserved for extremists in the political sphere. The leader of TechCrunch is Michael Arrington, who is well known for controversy in the tech world, and the Engadget crowd is led by Editor-in-chief, Joshua Topolsky.

Enter The Business Insider. The Business Insider is hugely successful and covers all things business. The site’s founder, Henry Blodget, was barred from the securities industry following a conviction of securities fraud. As evidenced by a post yesterday on its Silicon Alley Insider blog it is not afraid of stirring a rather volatile pot over at the AOL offices.

When AOL bought TechCrunch last September, the first question on everyone’s lips was, “How long could Mike Arrington possibly last as an AOL employee?”

Yesterday, four months after the deal, we may have begun to learn the answer to that question.

On Tuesday evening, for no apparent reason, Arrington threw public punches at AOL’s crown-jewel technology blog, Engadget, and Engadget’s editor, Joshua Topolsky.

Specifically, Arrington called Engadget “a plasticized caricature of a real blog” and blasted it for buying traffic through Google Adwords (which Engadget actually hadn’t even done).

Then, today in a tweet, Arrington appeared to call AOL itself “pathetic.”

The tweet heard round the tech blogging world read as follows according to the Business Insider.

The tweet in which Mike Arrington appeared to call AOL “pathetic” came at 2:14 eastern time this afternoon:

My guess is AOL rolls over on this whole salescrunch bullshit. Back in the day, though, I wouldn’t have. pathetic.

Couple that opening salvo with a picture of Arrington flipping the bird as the centerpiece of the post and you can pretty much figure out where this is headed.

Well, it looks like it’s ‘go time’ for these tech blogging monsters and it’s shaping up to be quite a fight. The post itself is looking at Arrington’s motives (could he be maneuvering for an earlier release and payout than the 3 year earnout he signed with with AOL las year?). The resulting comments section of the blog plays out like a late celebration of Festivus and its ‘airing of grievances’. Arrington, Blodget and Topolsky all have something to say to and about each other.

Arrington claims that his use of the term pathetic was directed at salescrunch (which TechCrunch is unhappy with obvious naming issues) and not AOL. The beauty and tragedy of the English language, especially in the online age, is that things are read and interpreted differently by different people. In this case, one man’s descriptor pointed in one direction could also look like it was pointed in the other. We’ll let you decide which is which in this case.

What happens in the comment section though is REALLY interesting as the main players go public with their fight. It’s kinda like a bar brawl that spills out into the street. Since it went so public more people have joined in and are willing to take a few swings. If you want the gory details you should check it out for yourself because there is more than we can cover here.

So back to my original question. Is this genuine dysfunction or just theater that is designed to get attention and traffic? Is it even anything at all other than political maneuvering to get a desired result?

In the online space we have to determine how we are to go about attracting people and getting them interested in our brand whether it’s personal or corporate. We always talk about how content is the most important thing but a harsh lesson learned in ‘solid’ content marketing strategy and delivery is that there is considerable time and effort needed over a very long period of time to see that content have a real impact.

Controversy and general ‘bad boy’ behaviors get attention in the online space and lots of it (The online industry would be a great venue for a very weird reality show that would have everyone scratching their heads about what goes on). Most brand marketers, however, don’t have the luxury of controversy creating interest because brands don’t like controversy or surprises. Oh and it can get you arrested!

So should we care at all about the behaviors of the Internet industry glitterati? Should there be any more attention like the Business Insider’s post and posts like this to examine it or is this just a spectacular waste of regular people’s time? Can we at least see how this space can be worked then apply it to our businesses?

It’s likely I have given this too much attention as it is but it’s a question that Internet marketers are faced with every day. Where should I be putting my attention and what is it that will grab the attention of my target audience? Am I willing to be controversial even if I can’t map out all of the possible ways such controversy can work for the good and the bad?

And what about the online behavior of very prominent industry heavyweights like Arrington, Blodget and Topolsky? Is this how we are to conduct ourselves in the Internet age by taking the fight to the general public? Is this a positive outgrowth of our ‘know everything about everyone’ age or is this just the latest indicator that there are plenty of things that don’t need to be done or said in public?

What’s your take?

  • Jaime Barillas

    I totally agree with you Frank.
    TC has become a circus, and bringing everybody else with them.
    From “certain companies” evangalizers, to “link baits” pursuers, I can´t believe their bloggers are adults.

    My only wish is that new tech blog websites will emerge soon, and we, as users, understand the issue.

  • http://www.redheadline.com Miles Torres

    This is like an angry episode of Glee. I’m not sure anyone really cares that this love triangle is in disarray, and it certainly wont hurt either companies reputation any further than a weak story they may produce. In the bigger picture however, the social platform of blogging is becoming more “social” with all it’s foibles, and its’ making people uncomfortable. Go figure.

  • http://seo-queen.blogspot.com Seo Queen

    Hi Frank,

    Great work of putting together this great article and thanks for sharing it here