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Silicon Alley Insider: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

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Like the character in Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the website Silicon Alley Insider has a split personality -- when it's good, it's very good and when it's bad, it's awful.

Here's what Wikipedia says about Stevenson's book:

The work is known for its vivid portrayal of a split personality, split in the sense that within the same person there is both an apparently good and an evil personality each being quite distinct from the other. The novella's impact is such that it has become a part of the language, with the phrase "Jekyll and Hyde" coming to mean a person who is vastly different in moral character from one situation to the next.

"Vastly different in moral character" is the key concept. So, when is a website or a blog moral? More and more, I'm afraid that readers' definition of moral is "it agrees with me." In this age of confirmation bias, we seek out only those opinions that agree with our own prejudices, regardless of the facts (note that I didn't write, "regardless of the truth," because I don't know there is such a thing as absolute truth). Truth, like beauty, tends to be in the eye of the beholder, or, in this discussion, the reader.

Last week I wrote a critique of Silicon Alley Insider scribe Nicholas Carlson, a 26-year-old former writer for the snarky Valleywag blog, because in my opinion he went beyond writing the news about new AOL CEO Tim Armstrong to writing opinion about how Armstrong should compensate salespeople. I pointed out that Armstrong is infinitely more qualified to make incentive decisions than Carson is.

The day after I wrote my critique, several things happened: First, I got about a dozen e-mails and comments cheering me on for going after Silicon Alley Insider. One high-level former AOL executive complemented me for trying to set the record straight because this person felt that SAI had been terribly biased in the past against AOL. Another person, a current AOL employee, wrote:

The vast majority of employees are incredibly excited about the things Tim is doing. Dulles morale has rebounded from an all-time low at the beginning of the year, and is now soaring. Over 2000 employees have met with Tim in small meetings where he asks the important questions and actually listens (and writes down) our responses. I have spoken to hundreds of employees, peers and co-workers about Tim's actions and have not heard a single negative comment.

Please do not judge the majority of AOL workforce by a few blog comments on SAI. I'd bet many of the ones who claim to be at AOL are either only pretending or are bitter ex-employees.

The other thing that happened was that I was apparently taken off of SAI e-mail distribution list. I have been receiving SAI e-mail updates every weekday for over a year. I assign the SAI as required reading in several of the graduate courses I teach at The New School. I'm not going to retaliate by taking SAI off my recommended reading lists, and I'm not going to ask for a refund to the website's 2009 StartUp June conference I paid for. That would be small and wasteful.

Nor would I cancel the Business Insider's Chart of the Day, which yesterday showed "The Slow, Painful Death of Landline Telephones." Good stuff.

But what the apparent canceling of my email notifications caused me to do was to compare the websites' newsfeeds and RSS feeds I get daily to see which ones I thought were most worthwhile and informative. Since I am a teacher, naturally I'll give grades.

All Things Digital -- Kara Swisher, Walt Mossberg, and their colleagues consistently do the best job of reporting on the Internet, the tech industries, and consumer technologies. Swisher has the best sources in the business, especially among the big players in Silicon Valley. I like the website's Ethics Statement on the pages of the individual contributors. I like the fact that Swisher and Mossberg are seasoned journalists and that Swisher went to the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. She knows what's journalistically moral and what isn't. A

Paidcontent.org -- This site's newsfeeds contain "just the facts, m'am." No videos or fancy graphics, just straight news -- too much of it in fact. Some days I may get 50 RSS feeds it seems. The writers rarely write anything that's fun to read, but, to me, that's a plus. I know what I'm getting. Paidcontent.org is often first with the news and it's comprehensive. A-

TechCrunch -- I don't always understand the daily email updates, but I know the TechCrunch writers, especially Michael Arrington, know what they are writing about -- it's the most technically sophisticated writing that a non-geek can comprehend. B+

John Battelle's Searchblog -- He wrote the book on Google (Search) and stills knows more about what going on with the Internet behemoth. His sources are impeccable. B+

Buzz Machine -- Jeff Jarvis infuriates me with his self-promotion, self-righteousness, and arrogance, but every time I delete his RSS feeds, I have to put them back. There's just too much good thinking and reporting to ignore. Hold your nose and don't pay attention to about 40 percent of what he writes, but the other 60 percent is, dammit, worth reading. B

Silicon Alley Insider -- Depends on who writes a story. Henry Blodget does some excellent analysis. I like the fact that on the site (Business Insider, too) the writers post their financial interests, so we know where they're coming from. I'd like to see an Ethics Statement, too, but that's probably asking too much. Dan Frommer is a good writer and reporter -- he went to the Medill School of Journalism (Northwestern), so he knows what he's doing. Read Frommer and Blodget. Don't bother reading Nicholas Carlson, he's too gossipy and sensational. Also, remember than these wimps can dish it out but can't take it -- they'll probably cancel your account if you criticize them. B-

In other words, when reading blogs and Internet websites that cover Internet businesses, read entries written by Dr. Jekyll, not Mr. Hyde.