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In Defense of Opinion

I’ll begin this piece by first thanking Marko for the eleven or so years we worked on this side project called Big Men On Content. He moved on to a great opportunity that does not afford him the autonomy that this kind of endeavor requires. That is not a bad thing. It is a recognition of his expertise and I look forward to seeing amazing work from him in the future. Some of that work I may not agree with but isn’t that the charm?

This change has me thinking a lot about whether opinion blogging is even worth the trouble. A great many people have not really understood what we have been doing. I have never made money from this site. All of the opinions I’ve penned are completely, for good or ill, my own. The thoughts are sometimes informed by, but always independent of whom ever I have been working for at the time.

There have been long gaps in both of our writing. For me, mostly it has been from lack of time. Some of those gaps though were during periods when if I said what I really wanted to say I would not have been employed by the end of the day. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you is a real thing and some organizations are exceptionally thin skinned. At others I had the freedom to openly and respectfully say things that were contrary to the party line and I have tremendous respect for leaders that are not afraid of thoughtful disagreement. I continue to believe that honest discourse makes everyone’s life better, especially the lives of the users.

As I move into the next phase of writing in this space I am carefully considering whether it is worth the trouble. I really do care about sincerity, integrity and honesty in opinion. I have no interest in being a part of the echo chamber of product messaging. An exchange recently brought this into focus for me.

Joe Shepley published a piece on CMSWire several months ago about a certain acquisition’s impact on a certain product’s direction and things he has observed in the market. In response, another “opinion” piece was published elsewhere that challenged his observations and conclusions. The details are irrelevant here. I don’t care about that content. It was a totally predictable vendor response and I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of either piece.

So what’s my point?

The response opens with passive aggressive jabs at the vendor’s critics. The implication being that Joe was only doing it for the attention that criticizing “venerable market leaders” would get him. You should accept that of course he was writing to get attention. That is why most of us do this at some level but to attribute the value of the post solely to the profile of the vendor rather than the implications of the content is misguided. Joe does not need me to defend his honor but I’ll defend his right to say what he wanted without the slights.

I should remind you, I am from the South. We invented passive aggression.

A few things LEAP out at me in the response. The author describes their motivation for the response. It begs the question, who is “we” exactly and what does being “compelled” to respond to something in CMSWire even look like?  I imagine people standing in a break room waiting on the Keurig reading the post on their iPhones and being overcome with righteous indignation.  “Did you see what he said? OMG such a blatant attempt at defaming the character of that great organization!” Then they charge off to a Starbucks to enlighten the internet with digital insight because the caffeine is better when billable.

To be clear, I do think there was an indignant reaction to the CMSWire post but it wasn’t in a writer’s break room.  Imagined melodrama aside, almost everything else is fine in the post. Standard product marketing messaging repackaged to refute observations and assertions by a third party.

My issue with this is that trying to discredit opinion by questioning the motivation of the author is problematic. Especially if you pay somebody else to do it and present it as altruistic thought leadership. (notice, I said IF because I do not know if this was paid or not) Posts like this are an attempt to silence not discuss. To isolate rather than engage. It makes me wonder why one would respond this way?

Secondly, if being called a “legacy” is an insult then you have other problems to worry about. Interpreting the term as an insult is a denial of past success. Having a legacy should be a good thing. I can see where it might be offensive though if you are worried someone might examine that past and find it lacking.  In any event, I have taken to using the word incumbent when referring to elderly products that have been around since the first Bush administration. Not because I dislike the term legacy but because incumbent just sounds cooler when I say it.

If you want to put yourself out there with opinion, you need to have your own thick skin and realize there will always be people that take shots at you. The same is true for products. Snark and sarcasm are part of the fun but attacking the motivation of a writer does not invalidate the opinion. Far from it. It makes me take notice and wonder why they “doth protest too much.”

After watching this faux drama I’ve decided that I’ll keep putting my opinion out there occasionally, if for no other reason than to entertain myself. I might change the name or platform but I want to keep to the first principle of always writing what I really think about things that interest me with conclusions I have arrived at on my own. Occasionally, as in the past, I’ll write about things I see in the day job but will always call out the shameless promotion. I expect people to disagree with me and that is fine. I only hope my sarcasm doesn’t get away from me and I unfairly characterize individuals but if I do call me out. I’m a big man. I can take it.

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