Gestures, Links and the Ampersand

Sorry if this went out twice – corrupted the entry in the database somehow.

There was what I considered an inconsequential discussion on Twitter earlier this week that I was involved with. While my memory certainly isn’t perfect, I think it started when Steve Gillmor stated (again) that “links are dead”.

That statement, taken for what it actually says, doesn’t make any sense to me. People are making billions of dollars a year from links. Evidently I wasn’t alone because others asked Steve what he meant.

I asked Steve to explain it in Twitter – 140 characters (or 280, if it took two Tweets) and he basically didn’t respond. I imagine he’s tired of explaining “gestures” and “links are dead” – he’s been doing it for quite a while.

My opinion is that if he has been arguing these things for this long then he needs to simplify his message. I don’t think his message is wrong at all – but I think his delivery of the message is flawed.

In the context of that train of thought, I wrote:

realy [sic] smart people make really complex things simple. Like Winer did with RSS.

Some people (at least Karoli, and based on some of the NewsGang Live recordings I have heard since, probably Steve as well) thought that was a slap at Steve Gillmor.

It wasn’t intended that way – and although I don’t apologize for what I said, I wish I could have phrased it differently. But Twitter does have it’s limitations. Foremost being 140 characters per message.

So I’ll take a few more words to explain what I meant.

I talked to Steve Gillmor for the first time sometime within the last six months. I can’t remember exactly what spawned the conversation, but it did revolve around his idea of “gestures”. One of us called the other and we actually spoke for well over an hour – much of that was me trying to get my head around Steve’s though process. We also talked a bit about politics, and families, etc. It was a very pleasant conversation. But at the end of the call I told Steve something like, “I admit, I still don’t fully get this – and I plan on continuing to question you about it, and raise awareness with others”.

Steve said something to the affect of “GOOD! I want people to talk about this!”. We ended a nice and friendly chat that I found intellectually stimulating.

Then I started calling into the NewsGang Live show every now and then. I think we’ve had some extremely interesting conversations and I know some of Steve’s listeners agreed with me on occasion, and other times with Steve – depending on the topic. Often Steve and I agreed. But I also think people enjoy a little lively debate. Sometime Steve will create that (as a true showman should). Sometimes I would.

When I saw people asking Steve what he meant by “links are dead” on Twitter I jumped in. Time to raise awareness, and all of that.

What I realized though is that Steve wasn’t answering the question – probably because of a combination of already answering it a thousand times, and the fact it was limited to 140 characters on Twitter. That’s when I realized that Steve had no “elevator pitch” for these ideas. He couldn’t communicate them quickly (they are complex, so that is understandable).

It was within the context of me thinking about Steve’s lack of an elevator pitch that I made the “make really complex things simple” statement. I’m used to dealing with startups and I know how important it is to have a message that is accurate, intriguing, and concise.

So believe what you will – I was not slamming Steve – I was actually trying to help him.

Since then Steve has twice made comments on his show that make me think he’s pissed off about this exchange. And if he is, then that’s fine. I don’t need everyone on the planet to be my friend. And it is apparent by listening to some of my conversations on NewsGang Live that Steve and I disagree on some things. Sure, I’ll call in and argue with him. WTF would I call in for if I agreed with everything and everyone? Where’s the fun there? What opportunity is there to learn from new ideas and differing perspectives if everyone agrees on everything?

And this is one of the reasons I respect Steve – he constantly invites people that rub him the wrong way at times. Jason Calacanis is an example – although often full of amazing insights, Jason can also be pretty demanding to “manage” on a call. But he gets invited back again, and again – and honestly, some o the best NewsGang shows, IMHO, are the ones where Jason gets on a roll and the listeners can imagine Steve’s blood pressure shooting through the roof as he tries to get a grip on his own show.

So I am not suggesting Steve doesn’t like people that disagree with him. I’m pretty sure that he loves surrounding himself with people of different opinions and perspectives. Most highly intelligent people I know do.

So I hope that clears up the Twitter part of this debate. Was I arguing with Steve? Hell yes. Was I being rude to him – I don’t think so, and it wasn’t my intent.

Do I think Steve makes sense with his gestures and “links are dead” memes? Yes, once I understood what the hell he means by them – which isn’t easy, for two reasons. Every explanation I have seen on “gestures” has been hundreds of words long, if not more. Second, Steve seems tired of trying to find a new way to describe them.

Until a few days ago when he wrote a new blog post called Swarmtracking. This post isn’t really even about gestures or “links are dead” – but I think within this post I found the most concise descriptions for each that I had been trying to get from Steve on Twitter:

In the pushback around this issue, I’ve also referenced my shorthand expression for a comparable observation of gesture fidelity in the blog space, namely the use of links as a measure of authority and respect: Links are dead. What I mean by that is that I often choose not to link not as a measure of disrespect but as a measure of an increased recommendation or gesture of authority. In essence I’m suggesting you link to or follow the person, not the individual post or item.

The problem is (the real problem, I think) is that the tools available just don’t adapt well to the way Steve looks at the world, and the way he thinks the value of something could (should) be measured. This is pretty apparent with his whole argument for not using the Ampersand (@) in Twitter replies. That’s discussed in the “Swarmtracking” post as well, but Steve doesn’t explain it well – he did on a NewsGang Live Podcast yesterday. And basically it comes down to three things:

  1. The iPhone Twitter client Steve uses doesn’t support an easy way to use the “@” – it takes him three buttons to insert the Ampersand. Crappy tool, that one!
  2. Steve doesn’t understand what the ampersand really does on Twitter. He seems concerned that using it somehow excludes people from the conversation (which I find I completely disagree with – often I see someone I follow use the @ with someone I don’t follow – that makes me go look at that person, follow them, and thus expand the conversation. I see no negatives in using the @ sign and nothing but negatives in not using.
  3. Sure – you could argue that even if Steve doesn’t use the @ sign I can manually copy and paste the twitter name into twitter and looked that person up. And I could. But I don’t – for the same reason Steve really doesn’t use the ampersand on Twitter – he is too lazy to. Just like I am too lazy to cut and paste the name into Twitter.

So the whole Twitter ampersand issue is bogus – Steve’s tool prohibits Steve from [easily] taking advantage of the full functionality that most other Twitter clients provide. And his decision that it just isn’t worth his time to use the ampersand reduces the potential network effect on conversations for all of the rest of us that DO have full-featured clients.

By NOT using the ampersand Steve is sending a gesture – in this case, I think a bad one. One that says, “my tool makes that hard for me to do, so I won’t do it, even if that makes things a lot harder on all of the rest of you”.

I’m sure Steve will have more to say about this over time, and I probably will as well. Perhaps in our respective blogs, maybe on Twitter, and almost certainly on the NewsGang Live (assuming Steve un-mutes me)!