Saturday, March 28, 2015

TWIT: The last straw

I Hate TWIT...

Over the past 3 years I've had my criticisms of Leo Laporte and his TWIT podcasting network but in every case I hoped to offer constructive criticism without passing final judgment. 

I've said more than once, "I don't hate TWIT" because I really didn't want to take sides even if my observations appeared otherwise.

Sadly, that ended today.  My catalyst for judgement came after watching the latest Triangulation episode with Leo Laporte and his guest, Personal Capital ( and Paypal) founder Bill Harris.

Bill Harris is in a word (or more accurately a phrase) the typical Silicon Valley "Suit."  Which is just like your normal everyday "suit" but with the added facet of living in the delusional reality that is any business based in the Silicon Valley.

His resume includes not only his current gig, Personal Capital, but also Intuit, Paypal and even a stint with Earthlink among others.

Personal Capital is an online wealth management service that advertises on TWIT.  As such there's been plenty of ad copy over the last year praising its merits to varying degrees.  Of course it's not of much use to anyone who has a net worth less than 7 figures but who cares, right? 

But really, I could care less about Bill Harris, it's TWIT that's the problem.

The Cliff Notes version is this. 

This week's episode of Triangulation would make for a great "Meet the CEO" employee indoctrination video for Harris' Personal Capital.  In it Laporte fawned, gushed and feigned interest in a man who had as much in common with TWIT viewers as Justin Bieber's hair stylist.

It was for lack of a better word, disgusting. 

The whole interview revolved around tales of Harris and his millionaire buddies like Elon Musk flying around the country "effecting change" from their Lear Jets with regular calls to "Madison Avenue" to create the buzz on their latest antics.

So who is Bill Harris to the average guy watching TWIT?  Absolutely nobody.  Like I said, he's just another suit who happened to use his Harvard education at the right place at the right time.  Just another perpetrator of the Silicon Valley serial startup.  

In short he's not like you and you'll never have anything in common with him.  It's doubtful he ever had to live on ramen noodles or worry about paying off his student loans.   

However, If you're still interested, here's a link to his bio on Bloomberg for those of you with posters of Warren Buffett above your bed.

The dime-store summary of Bill Harris' career includes such winners as: Earthlink an early national  ISP,  Paypal, the de facto Internet payment service and TurboTax, the most recognizable name in tax preparation software.  

What do all these companies have in common? great marketing for so-so products...

Earthlink was among the earliest national dial-up ISP's and was also one of the first communication services to lock customers into multi-year commitments without any guarantee of service. If you think data caps are bad try being forced to pay for a service you can't even use...  

Then there's Paypal which was a good idea at the beginning but has earned the nickname "PayPay."  A label earned by the service (and its parent company Ebay) for high percentage fees and a tendency to tie up bank accounts on a whim.  

Then there's Intuit's TurboTax, which regularly makes headlines for screwing users out of tax refunds due to flaky formula calculations.  Lest we forget security holes that have left many a taxpayer on the hook with the IRS through no fault of their own.

That's the thing.  These companies were all good ideas at the start but have had troubled histories since.  However, I'm not suggesting that Bill Harris was directly involved with anything scandalous concerning them.  To the contrary, he's a "big picture guy" who gets out just before the lawsuits start coming in.  

Which means he's about creating wealth not social change.  If he happens to do the world a good turn in the process it's likely by accident.  He is a businessman, marketer and salesman.  Nothing more.

In the classic TWIT context his experience has no more in common with viewers than the average Wall Street CEO.  Meaning it's irrelevant information to the TWIT viewership

Ok, so my hatred for Bill Harris' resume aside, the point is this...

It's one thing to pander to advertisers, it's another to be their lap dog.  We've seen this behavior before but for me the final straw came before the start of the episode.

In the pre-show, Harris happened to notice that someone in the chatroom said something about "vomiting" which brought swift response from Laporte directing his studio flunkies to shut down the "chat" on set.  

That was followed up with threats of banning chat users and a statement from Laporte to Harris that effectively disparaged the value of the chatroom on TWIT. 

So in effect, Triangulation became Bi-angulation.

On more than one occasion Laporte has called the chatroom the third side of the "triangle" since the departure of co-host Tom Merritt.  

That makes its removal a violation of a sacred TWIT tenet and creates a void  that even Laporte's sizable ego can't fill.

Look, I get it, you don't want to piss off an advertiser especially if they may be a potential buyer for your failing enterprise.

However, passing off a corporate propaganda video as content is inexcusable.  Regardless of how interesting the life of Bill Harris may have been, the information is of little value when the interviewer has a vested interest. 

Meaning there's a bias in place that invalidates objectivity.  In the case of this episode of Triangulation, Laporte turned TWIT into a Bill Harris infomercial.  Perhaps Leo's really that enamored with the guy but it's far more likely he's protecting advertising revenue. 

Coincidentally, pulling the ads from TWIT was a joke Harris made repeatedly before, during and after the so-called "interview."

That's not friendly, that's Freudian suggestion my friends.

Because of this final and blatant violation of principle there can be no redemption for TWIT.  A line has been crossed and I'm off the fence now.

As the Shark Tank's Mr. Wonderful (Kevin O'Leary) often says,

"You're dead to me...  "

The episode has been provided below, judge for yourself.  Maybe you'll be inspired to go out and buy a new suit.

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