"If you didn't work for Google, would your blog posts be more controversial?" That was the question posed to me Saturday night by a friend who thinks pretty deeply about technology news. Holding aside the fact that I think he just called my blog "vanilla," it caused me to pause and consider how my writing is impacted by my employment.
The summary? If I didn't work at Google, I don't think my posts would be more controversial. I think they'd be more constructive.
While there are many tech bloggers who are consistently high quality, many test the theory that enough loud noise can be mistaken for signal. Oh they're outraged at something quite often. They love Company X vs Company Y pronouncements. And there's certainly a bubble forming or popping at every moment. Although the Internet seems to reward this in the short-term with traffic and prominence, it self-corrects over time. I don't think I've ever been this type of writer as I find it difficult to fake passion. There'll be occasional bursts of frustration expressed on this site, but it's overall not my thing (pageviews be damned).
So while that's a personal style, there are two conscious decisions:
1) I generally avoid aiming the #fail cannon at Apple or Facebook, since they seem to be the companies externally thought of as Google's most direct competitors. While I'm not a real believer in zero-sum tech (we're growing pies rather than carving them up), there are obviously some strategies which bump into one another. Do I largely not blog about these companies because of fear that Google management will fire me if I do? No, rather it's the way these sorts of posts get summarized in a Twitter-world. My 1200 word balanced post on why Ping didn't work or how frustrating Facebook's privacy settings are gets summarized as "Google Executive Slams Apple." And that's an unfair annoyance for Google's PR team when they could be working on bigger issues. [a. see what I did there abt Ping and FB privacy ;-) b. the tendency to conflate anyone who works at Google into a "Google Executive" is maddening but frankly also self-inflicted by the fact that everyone in tech these days seems to have a "Head of ___" title. c. If Owen Thomas turns this into a Business Insider post I'm breaking up with him]
2) Beyond perhaps writing slightly more often about Apple and Facebook, the biggest change to my blogging would be actually trying to help companies solve problems they're having or put out specific product/strategy recommendations. Today I only do this at the fringes when there's something I really really want to share, but even then I hope no one at Google pings to ask why I'm helping Twitter find and fix bugs. Why? Because as a user of a product - Google owned or not - I want it to be great.
Cynically this could be interpreted as "Oh if only Hunter was able to drop all this knowledge, wouldn't the world be amazing." Now to be sure I don't claim my musings are manna - it's less about Wise Hunter showing off, and more that the Internet is a wonderful place for collaborative ideation. Maybe the words could be sediment that someone else builds on top of to a better place. Fine, still worthwhile. Maybe I'd just be plain wrong - it happens. While being outside of a company gives you fresh eyes it also can cause you to be totally ignorant. So what. Put it out there the best you can and see what happens.
And thus if the day ever came where I wasn't working at Google, don't expect to see an increase in flamebait or picking fights. Expect to see more PRDs. Because that's the type of nerd I am.