Mark Twain said “The report of my death is an exaggeration” when his obituary was published prematurely. Rudyard Kipling, in similar circumstances, wrote to the offending magazine saying “I’ve just read that I am dead. Don’t forget to delete me from your list of subscribers.” The suggestion that I have given up writing this blog is (as you can see) similarly untrue – a case of mistaken identity. The other one is said to have tired of the back-biting endemic in his line of business.
Some of the articles I write never get published, which may sound strange coming from one who has only to press a button marked “Publish” to push his words out into Google’s indexes. Some subjects prove less interesting than I expected, and if I cannot even interest myself, it seems unlikely that anyone else will want to read the result; some just don’t fly – I cannot catch the right tone or voice; some will offend without purpose – I don’t mind offending people (which is not necessarily the same as being offensive to people), but there ought to to be a reason for doing it.
I wrote an article a couple of months ago based on my observation that electronic discovery providers were beginning to snipe at each other again. The recession quietened the back-biting a little, and I had wondered if there was an element of solidarity in the face of shared adversity. I began, though, to get reports of an increase in bitchy comments (don’t think that being stuck in my ivory tower in an English provincial city cuts me out of the gossip), and heard more of it directly. This face-to-face bitchery is additional to the polished barbs which fly across the internet as people in rival companies, with greater and lesser degrees of subtlety, challenge each other’s claims.
I don’t like the back-biting for various reasons, not least because it undermines the idea, which I do my best to promote, that there is a mature market of healthily competitive products and services for the users to choose from. I don’t like it because it is hard enough to explain the benefits of the broad concepts to a non-technical audience without the the issues being clouded in this way. I don’t like it because there is limited bandwidth anyway to get positive messages, both individual and collective, out to possible buyers. And I don’t like it because the most usual reaction to campaigns of this kind is the “plague on both your houses” approach which is the common feeling aroused by the meaningless posturing of political parties (“a plague on all two-and-half of your houses” we would have to say in Britain, I suppose). It is why people do not vote. In Britain, it makes us think of the bitter fights between two down-market airlines – “there is no settling the point of precedency between a louse and a flea” as Dr Johnson put it, and as I feel when I ignore the squabbling rivals and cheerfully pay BA’s higher price to avoid them both. In our market it encourages people to say “Sod the lot of you, I’ll just print the documents”.
I did not publish the article, after much polishing and refining. It just did not catch light, and did not please me enough to press the “Publish” button. It was also difficult to define precisely what it was which I felt was tainting the water for everyone. Some of it obviously did, whilst much of it is just another manifestation of competition. There is a grey area between bitchery and back-biting on the one hand and justified assertions of points of difference on the other. Much of it, I suspect, passes over the heads of the buyers anyway because you need to know the history to understand it – so it is just a waste of expensive marketing bandwidth, as I put it above.
I thought of it yesterday morning when Simon Price of Recommind kindly sent me a photograph of the newspaper headline shown above: Dale quits blogging over the backbiting. Fortunately, I already knew that the well-known Conservative commentator Iain Dale had announced yesterday that he was giving up his blog, so I knew it was not about me.