Thursday, August 16, 2007

Mahalo Ombudsman for a Night

Or at least for a few minutes at 2:10am. Jason posted: Mahalo Ombudsman? Wednesday afternoon and Wednesday evening Tim Faulkner over at Valleywag posted this: Mahalo: Calacanis an iPhone expert, say his underlings. While there are actually some useful links on the page, I think it's fair to complain that there's not a single link to Apple's own site.

I'm agnostic on Mahalo. I don't know if it can succeed but I also am not sure it's doomed to fail. It seems like Mahalo has a while to figure it out and I'm open to seeing how it evolves. I'm not at all agnostic about the Ombudsman concept though and when I went to look at the Mahalo page on iPhone problems (which I never would have seen if not for Valleywag), it raised some questions for the Ombudsman in me.

First of all, I agree with Faulkner, the link to Jason's own twitter-esque posting about Jason's frustration with the lack of cut & paste on the iPhone should not be on a site intended to provide "useful information". But that wasn't what raised the biggest question for me.

When I saw that the page had been authored by Conrad Quilty-Harper who writes for Engadget, with links to stuff Conrad himself had written on Engadget it set off all kinds of flashing red lights about bias (which Jason's Ombudsman post was about).

I confess to being an Engadget junky (hey, I read Valleywag religiously, it's not like I have any shame), but the thing is, aside from a stray self-destructive tendency here and there, I don't believe in the notion of "negative asymmetrical risk". That's just a fancy way of saying I don't believe in things with very little upside and huge downside. The downside here, is that people will question, and rightfully so in this case, Mahalo's bias. Certainly this sort of thing will be mocked on Valleywag, but it would be a legitimate question/concern by anyone who raised it.

My advice: don't use Conrad for technology pieces or at the very least, don't let him link to his own pieces because even if they are the best ones, people will wonder about...bias. It's not worth it. Also, because of Jason's history, Mahalo needs a company stance about linking back to stuff in the Weblogs Inc. empire or risk a lot of flack.

I don't remotely take the hard line stance Faulkner does -- he believes Mahalo is doomed to fail, but Mahalo needs to eradicate any legitimate concerns around bias or Mahalo will be doomed to failure.

While I do not have all the solutions regarding how to handle the perception of "he's linking to his buddies' sites" (c'mon, it's 2:15 a.m.), it's a solvable problem -- and one Mahalo has the time to solve. But they better do it before the Mahalo Beta, whenever that is.

Update: 08/16/07 11:40PDT: Jason e-mailed to say that linking to your own work is against the Mahalo guidelines, but the whole thing was his bad because Conrad (who is an intern) hadn't received the guide training yet. Jason also indicated (and CC'd his QA team) that stuff should never link to his own site unless it was absolutely necessary, requested the link be removed and reassigned the page to someone else...and took the blame for the whole thing. Pretty mensch-y if you ask me.

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