Monday, May 9, 2011

This Comment Has Been Removed

On the web, you never know when you're going to run into a political foodfight.

This morning I finally opened last Thursday's email from David Pogue, the consumer technology columnist for The New York Times, pointing me to Pogue's blog post about a new ebook app from former Vice President and presidential candidate Al Gore.

I hurried over to read it because as someone who's a little underwhlemed by the ebook reading experience -- and who imagines ebook readers doing routine things (e.g., looking up a word, making marginal notes) better than they do today -- I wanted to see what Gore's version had brought to the party.

So I sped through Pogue's enthusiastic report on Gore's iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch version of his book Our Choice but, because I don't have an iPad, iPhone, or iPad Touch I was a little frustrated by merely reading about something that sounded like very much more than a book.

Then I started browsing the blog comments.

The first thing I noticed was that comment #2 had been removed.  The Times had replaced it with their bland and opaque "abuse" boilerplate:
This comment has been removed. Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive. For more information, please see our Comments FAQ.
I scrolled down a little further and found that comment #5 had also been removed.  Next, I noticed that comment #8, from asz of Erie, PA, while fully intact, was a little persnickety:
I don't agree or disagree with Al Gore, but please don't regurgitate publicist PR junk into such a valuable column. One more of these, Dave, and I'm checking out of your mailing list. I don't have time for it. Let him buy an ad.
Gosh, I thought.  Was Pogue's review that unctuous?

As I plowed on it became clear that most of the comments weren't from tech enthusiasts eager to weigh in on the UI (user interface) pluses or minuses of Gore's book/app -- or the thinking behind it (from PushPop Press).

Instead, there were 3 consecutive jokes about Gore having invented the Internet.  And by comment #23 Dbulleit from Atlanta had done asz from Erie one better and asked to be removed from Pogue's subscriber list:
This hurts, as I've followed and admired your BLOG for years. That said, please remove my name from your list. "It’s vintage Gore: persuasive, careful, reasoned..." Please!!! You'd do well to keep your Valentines private (as the large majority of informed scientist and engineers will tell you that Gore has unparalleled penchant for distortions, half-truths and outright demagoguery).
Anyway, I know this comment isn't likely to see the light of day; but, IMHO it's a sad day: to see a writer of your caliber stoop to such blatant, obsequious pandering.
It's not that I'd never before noticed this kind of behavior from Pogue's readers.

When I worked at Barnes & and Pogue wrote an enthusiastic review of the NookColor I noticed what seemed to be dozens of hostile comments by Kindle owners.  Since for years Amazon had been eating B&N's ebook lunch I couldn't help enjoying these protests ... but it was a sobering reminder of just how emotionally invested people become in their tech choices.

So it shouldn't have surprised me that many of the comments about Gore's app skipped the app and went straight to Gore's views.  These commenters were emotionally invested in their political choices, too -- and those choices didn't include Gore.

But then, their comments also suggest that the novel interactivity of the former veep's app -- however elegant or involving -- is doomed to fail at persuading those Gore must surely think most in need of persuasion.  And that an app with a political point of view, no matter how inventively designed, can be dismissed, unopened, as easily as any printed book.

BTW: one of the comments did mention a presentation of Gore's app that one of Push Pop's founders, Mike Matas, made at a recent TED conference. It's brief but gives you a good idea -- possibly better than Pogue's review -- of what Push Pop is doing for (or to) ebook reading.

Postscript: on August 2, 2011 Facebook, of all online businesses, announced they'd bought Push Pop Press.  My guess is Zuckerberg and company are mostly interested in the company's talent in designing user interfaces -- it's hard to imagine they want to get into the interactive book publishing business.

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