Bloggers around the internet are patting themselves on the back. They are saying, “I told you so,” about the AOL/Techcrunch/HuffPo experiment. I, for one, am surprised. Call me silly, but I was cautiously optimistic that it wouldn’t blow up into a major debacle and that Arrington would be able to meet his 3-year commitment to AOL with only minor disturbances in the force.
I was wrong.
In one day, the three of them were able to make a mockery of the most powerful blogging union on the internet. We’ll look at each individually, but first a recap for those who missed the first day:
- Arrington announces he’s starting CrunchFund, an investment firm of venture capital to lift startups with investments of $100,000-$200,000 against a $20,000,000 base.
- AOL announces they are going to replace Arrington as editor but that he’ll still be a writer for the site.
- Negative responses across the internet start piling in about conflict of interest as deeply involved with a tech publication as Arrington was gets back into the investing field.
- AOL declares that they are investing $10,000,000 into the fund.
- Arrington responds about it not being a conflict of interest.
- Huffington says Arrington will not be working in any capacity at the company.
- AOL agrees with Huffington.
That’s the short of it. There are obvious reasons why it’s comical, but let’s dig a little deeper into each:
Clearly he did not want to leave Techcrunch altogether. He spent the day explaining why he could still be a part of Techcrunch and not have a conflict of interest as an investor. Unfortunately for him, he painted himself into a corner with one statement:
When asked about the conflict of interest of writing for a site that specializes in highlighting the good and bad regarding startups while investing, Arrington said, “Friendships and marriage are far more potent than financial conflicts,” he said.
Unfortunately for Arrington, all he has left at Techcrunch are friends. By his own admission, he is now more influential to sway the publication’s and its writers’ judgments when it comes to startups. A story about a company he has invested into (or a competitor of such a company) will influence the publication one way or another. His presence alone is enough for him to assert the “far more potent” friendship factor than the financial factor would had he remained on as a writer.
For the venerable Huffington, leader of the most powerful set of blogs in the world, her late reaction means only one of three things:
- She wasn’t allowed to be in the loop and didn’t know about the change. (Confirmed)
- She warned against keeping him on but did not have the power to force him out initially.
- She didn’t think that the backlash would be as strong as it was and changed gears afterwards.
No matter which way it went down, she doesn’t look good in this. Her power is diminished because of this even if she is now the only truly-recognizable personality in the network left.
They are investors in a firm that is started by a man they just released, a firm that is named very closely to the very entity from which he was released, and they shifted positions twice in less than 24 hours. Their 2nd-biggest blog now has questions surrounding it regarding its status as a trusted source. Through the whole thing, they’ve seemed like they didn’t see this coming when it is clear based upon the investment that it’s been in the works for long enough that they should have had a better plan.
It appears that they had no plan. It appears that they were run over by the bus that they bought. If there’s one thing that has been consistent about AOL for the last few years, it’s that they simply don’t see the impact of the choices they make. It doesn’t matter who is in charge. They squirm around everything they can. When forced to confront issues directly, they either don’t or do so in a way that makes no sense.
This soap opera is not over. Arrington is too clever. Huffington is too bold. AOL can’t decide who they really are or what they really want to do.
The only one who shouldn’t look bad in all this is the only entity that will actually be hurt by it all: Techcrunch. Thankfully, they (or at least Paul Carr) are taking the high road on this one. Thankfully.
It has all turned into my laugh for the day. Thank you all for entertaining us.
At first, I was appalled. Then I became amused, particularly when thinking of the the three stooges perpetrating this mess. I’m back to appalled and most importantly saddened for Techcrunch, a publication that is caught in the crossfire of egos and idiocy.