What it’s like to be way too popular for a day
Last night, I wrote a quick post about Apple’s software quality. Originally, it was just a link to the Linux post. I had too much commentary, so at the last minute, I changed it to an article and came up with a quick headline. I’d been toying with the idea of the “moral high ground”, but that was too harsh and incorrect, so I went with the “functional high ground”, thinking almost nobody would get the reference and it would uneventfully breeze through my geek friends’ RSS readers like most of my posts.
This morning, my words were everywhere, chopped up and twisted by sensational opportunists to fuel the tired “Apple is doomed!” narrative with my name on them. (Or Tumblr’s name, which was even worse.) Business Insider started the party, as usual, but it spread like wildfire from there. Huffington Post. Wall Street Journal. CNN. Heise. Even a televised CNBC discussion segment.
All of them using my name, and a few of my words, to create drama, fan the flames, and get some views.
And there were a lot of views. The small fraction that came back to my site still pushed it past the pageview totals for any posts I wrote in 2014. You might think this is a dream come true for a blogger, but it’s horrible.
Instead, I looked back at what I wrote with regret, guilt, and embarrassment. The sensationalism was my fault — I started it with the headline and many poor word choices, which were overly harsh and extreme. I was being much nastier and more alarmist than I intended. I edited some words to be more fair and accurate, but it was too late. I can’t blame the opportunists for taking the bait that I hastily left for them.1
Most of my posts go effectively nowhere, but occasionally, one will unexpectedly go really far — and this blew past everything I’ve ever done. When that happens, there’s no chance to revise, no room for error, and no way to stop it.
If there’s any flaw, it’s an unstoppable nightmare of embarrassment and guilt. Most people, myself included, aren’t accustomed to that level of scrutiny. Those who are usually have PR training, editors, and handlers to protect them from publishing flippant blog posts before they go to bed.
Instead of what was intended to be constructive criticism of the most influential company in my life, I handed the press more poorly written fuel to hamfistedly stab Apple with my name and reputation behind it. And my name will be on that forever.
Had I known that it would go as far as it did, I never would have written it.
I now need to write everything with the fear that any hastily written article might end up on TV, with the most extreme word in the article singled out with my name on it forever.
I’ll keep writing — I can’t stay away. But academically, it’s not worth the risk.
I think “nosedive” is what I regret most. It suggests that Apple is quickly and suddenly falling to an imminent doom, while I intended to express a more gradual progression causing long-term reputation damage. ↩︎