Comment Where do the thanks go? To God? To the venture capitalists? To Microsoft? To Charles Babbage? Someone please tell me.
Bill Gates' decision to pull away from day-to-day activities at Microsoft made me wonder just who in the technology game would inherit Grand Demon status. Every energetic enterprise needs both light and dark to remain vibrant, and Gates playing with viruses seemed to erase technology's favorite villain. But here I am with the Gates Exit only a couple of months away, looking for a place to mail a check or at least a kind note, because we've managed to anoint a new, crushing ruler in time.
You guessed it - Mark "I'm the CEO . . . bitch" Zuckerberg.
Like Gates, Zuckerberg isn't evil at all, as far as I know. It's just that vitriol, anger, fear, embarrassment and awkwardness seem to trail the guy with the same ferocity as a crack addict hunting a five dollar bill.
Before Zuckerberg arrived in full glory, we had limited options for achieving Total Venom Spew. Gates was still hanging around as the symbol of technology's rise in the business world, and folks like the Yahoo, eBay and Amazon founders weren't really successful enough or awful enough to horn in on Bill's gig.
As far as I am concerned, the Google fellas - what with their creepy brain replication goals, ads on your eyelids and we know more about you than your colon goals - should have unseated Gates. The public, however, refuses to grant Sergey Brin or Larry Page most hated status. Some colored balls, jeans and donations apparently go pretty far toward engendering goodwill. Aspiring dictators please take note.
But now we have Zuckerberg who combines arrogance, robot-like anti-charisma, immense paper wealth, creepy software, youth, intelligence, casual attire, calculating behavior, a spoiled child background, charges that he stole ideas from acquaintances and a general ignorance about why any of this matters to anyone in just the right quantities.
What's really great for the technology industry is that Zuckerberg's Blech Quotient is gaining so much momentum as Chairman Bill fades. First there was the Beacon fiasco in which Facebook went NSA on its users and took eons to apologize. Then there was the 60 Minutes interview where Facebook hoped Zuckerberg would come off as human only to see him exude a fraction of HAL 9000's charm. And now we have the South by Southwest fiasco.
In case you missed it, BusinessWeek reporter Sarah Lacy interviewed Zuckerberg at SXSW - as the kids call it - over the weekend. Zuckerberg was the big draw for the Interactive part of the conference that takes place before the venerable music portion of the Austin, Texas gig that people actually care about.
When Polyannas Weep
By almost all accounts, Lacy blew the interview - like a Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee scale blow. She plugged her upcoming book that hypes today's crop of Web 2.0 companies too much. (The book is titled "Once You're Lucky Twice You're Good: The Rebirth of Silicon Valley and the Rise of Web 2.0," which seems to insinuate that this is the first time the Valley has recovered from a bubble, although as - cough - my book points out, we've done this many, many times before and produced real companies such as Intel instead of junk like Digg.)
She seemed to flirt with Zuckerberg by twirling her hair as he answered questions and by employing a chummy tone. Lacy also seemed to avoid questions that people, including Zuckerberg, actually care about because the audience and Zuckerberg started heckling her to shut up about herself and be a journalist. The scene, as we understand it, got rather ugly.
Normally, I'd ignore a journalist flubbing an interview. These things happen to the best of them.
This particular incident, however, highlights the power of Zuckerberg's Total Venom Spew.
For example, even professional sophist Robert Scoble and technology hagiographer Daniel Terdiman of CNET grumbled about Lacy's performance. Scoble managed to take time out from writing things such as "Twitter is flowing very fast. Sometimes multiple tweets EVERY second! Damn!" and "I wish I were as cool as you" to remark that "The audience is asking Zuckerburg better questions than Lacy did." And Terdiman coughed up a story on how "Sarah Lacy out-and-out bombed," which marks the first time Terdiman felt the inability to provide public relations aid for man, beast or product.
Only Zuckerberg has the power to make technology reporting's two biggest Pollyannas weep.
Having watched clips of Lacy's performance, we're not even convinced it was that bad. She seems to go along fine with softball questions and almost made it to the end of the session before the audience really turned on her. Again, however, Zuckerberg's Total Venom Spew took hold of Lacy's brain.
During the interview, Lacy whined that the audience didn't know "how hard my job is." Er, well, I do, and it's not that hard, and claiming that it is in front of a hostile crowd is dumb.
Later, Lacy tried to explain (video) how she's a professional and is used to dealing with critics particularly because she's one of the few female technology reporters. (Try being a shemale reporter - you don't know how hard that is.) Then she warned that SXSW will never pull a speaker as big as Zuckerberg again because the crowd was so ruthless. And, er, she also said Zuckerberg felt just as bad about the episode as she did, even though he was laughing the entire time.
Surely, it occurred to Lacy that not whining would have proved how much of a professional she really is and how criticism rolls off her leather boots.
Ah, but to suggest such rational thought is to ignore the Total Venom Spew.
It seems to me that Zuckerberg is heading toward that phase of life where he's still awkward but more tolerable in public engagements. Gates mastered this phase once he started taking showers and brushing his teeth.
That said, Zuckerberg will likely never escape the Total Venom Spew. Soon, he'll need to introduce it to Steve Jobs' Reality Distortion Field and start enjoying it.
I'm so glad that this youngster arrived in time to provide us all with a way to vent. Now if only he can find a way to make Facebook something other than a passing fad.®