When Experts are just loud voices…

09 Apr

Blogging’s great – it presents us with a number of views and voices and information we’d probably not get any other way.  But the dark side is when news media starts placing blogger’s on a pedestal and giving them up as "experts".  Let’s take the case of Paul Graham. 

Paul’s recent blog, "Microsoft is Dead" had me shaking my head going, "Is this guy serious?  Does he even have a clue what he’s talking about?".  Apparently, various news outlets felt Paul’s blog was worth commenting on and using info from it.  Here’s the problem with that… Paul’s about as knowledgeable on the subject as a kid at a Starbucks with an iPod and a copy of "MacWorld" sucking down a latte’ and trying to prove how tech savvy an cool he is.

Let’s look at some of Pauls comments and you be the judge on his knowledge of the actual IT market…

"Thanks to OS X, Apple has come back from the dead in a way that is extremely rare in technology. [2] Their victory is so complete that I’m now surprised when I come across a computer running Windows. Nearly all the people we fund at Y Combinator use Apple laptops. It was the same in the audience at startup school. All the computer people use Macs or Linux now. Windows is for grandmas, like Macs used to be in the 90s. So not only does the desktop no longer matter, no one who cares about computers uses Microsoft’s anyway.

Uh.. that’s very um… interesting.  Considering Mac has less than 7% of the global market share.  Anyone care to call me on that – go to MacWorld online and look up the actual sales figures.  I would not exactly call holding 5-10% (I’m being generous here) of the marketshare over the last decade being "back from the dead".  I mean – c’mon – they’ve had a DECADE to move up and out of the single digits in market share – and they can’t do that.  I’m all for stories about "underdogs" but let’s look at a very solid and proven fact … At what Apple does – they do exceedingly well.  At what Apple designs, builds and creates product for (about 5-10% of the market) – they ROCK.  But they chose a single market – and they’ve stuck with that market, and are locked into that market and can’t break out of it.

They are not innovators from a company view – they’re a one market pony.  They are not the company you want to emulate if you want to go global.  They’re the company you want to emulate and learn from if you want to do one market and one market very well.  They are not – by any stretch of the imagination – ‘back from the dead’.  (Mostly because they never died … they just leveled to the market that they’re good at.)  They have added a couple of nice tech ideas – one of which has caught on (iPod)- but from a software, or a hardware view point they’ve never grown beyond their market.  If they were "coughing up blood and dying" – it was because they attempted to outgrow the market they were really good at making things for. 

They over built their company, thinking the one market was all markets – and that if they just had the resources -the man power – the funding they could dominate.  They overgrew, and trying to support that infrastructure – all but killed them.  It’s taken years for them to pare back down to what they really are good at.  If they were dead – that was the cause and it is also the reason why over a decade has gone – and they’ve held on to that 5-10% share.

I’ll give him that with the iPod Apple is now off life support (let’s just continue these ominous yet inaccurate analogies that Paul used for entertainment value) – and they’ll probably move them up and out of critical care soon… but – they’re not dominating any market aside from the one they’re good at which is the Mac User (Steve Jobs – which is, btw, the actual person who approves the designs – so yeah they build their tools for ONE man, who’s personal tastes, interests, etc., overlap onto amazingly enough … surprise!!  About 5-10% of the demographic of buyers.).

To make another point about Pauls lack of understanding of the actual market and consumer… "Windows is for grandmas.".  Granted – he’s (I’m assuming) making a point here – but "grandmas" and them dull boring adults?  They represent roughly 15-20% (depending on who’s stats you want to look at) of the market globally.  Maybe if Apple spent a little more time going after them … they’d actually be moving forward with their domination of any market.

As for questions about Google, Yahoo, etc., Paul’s "Buy all the Web 2.0 Companies" theory to help Microsoft out of their "death spiral"… Paul, did you know that last year Microsoft grew in profits by $4 billion or so?   So – not counting the usual profit for MS, the meager extra that MS made last year – was pretty darn close to the total revenue of Yahoo (6.4 billion I’m told).  And it was enough that their profits – could have been used to fund Adobe Software and still had room to buy up all the Web 2.0 companies you’re thinking of and then some.  So — Why don’t they?

I’m not privy to such knowledge but I have my guesses.  1) Not enough bang for the buck.  You don’t go buying a supermarket to find a specific can of beans on their shelf.  2) As any parent can tell you – it’s not the cost of the puppy that makes being a pet owner expensive … it’s the care and feeding.

Don’t get my ranting on Paul wrong here.  I’m not upset with Paul.  Paul’s opinion is disconnected from facts – but it’s a valid opinion, and he should express it and express it loudly and openly for everyone to hear it.  Paul – is not the problem.  It’s people like Paul – who maybe don’t have all he facts but have all the passion – who Microsoft needs to hear.  The facts, are things a good company can research and get – the passion of the issues, are often things they can’t.  So – yeah, Paul’s right, Microsoft does need to look to the startups of the world – and they do need to look at Apple – not as competition but as people who are doing the right things for the market they live in – the market they do dominate in, so they can make their products applicable to that market as well as the other markets that they need to master.  The kinds of things that any company can look at and learn from.

So the problem is not with Paul.  It is not with his ideology so much as it is with accepting Paul as an expert.  Everyone on the street – is an expert from their viewpoint.  But a real expert knows not only their market but the others they play within.  They also know the markets themselves.  Paul’s an expert only in Pauls vision of the world.  And a real expert – knows the world is a lot bigger than just the area in which they see.

Pauls just not … well informed on the facts.  So if you’re thinking I’m placing fault at Pauls door – no – not at all.  Pauls a smart kid – he just doesn’t really know the business he’s claiming to know.  Nor does he claim to – he’s a blogger.  He’s a very loud voice on a soapbox – being vocal to any who would listen.  He doesn’t purport to be CNN or FNN or C-Net or anyone other than Paul Graham.

He’s a loud voice – a Rosie O’Donnell, a Rush Limbaugh, a Bill O’Reilly, a Howard Stern … all of whom you can derive some level of news from.  But you don’t rely on them for accurate news.  You rely on them for entertainment.

So when the media starts quoting guys like Paul as if they have knowledge, as if they are experts, well that’s a problem.  Because then your news becomes your Entertainment.  Interesting … but not really knowledgeable, not really useful.  It becomes urban legend news, the kind that someone knew a guy, who knew a guy, who had a friend… who’s sister’s brother said… Microsoft is dead.

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Posted by on April 9, 2007 in Uncategorized


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