Gnomedex, the Chris Pirillo-organized geekathon that took place over the weekend, claims to "unlock the attendee's spirit." Instead, the highlight of the event was the opening of a giant can of whoopass. Relentless self-promoter Jason Calacanis and blather-prone blogfather Dave Winer locked horns, and it wasn't pretty. Calacanis's presentation, unsuprisingly, was an infomercial for his latest venture, the human-powered search engine Mahalo. A few attendees started to heckle Calacanis, and Winer jumped in with the proclamation, "You're spamming us!" The presentation continued but led to a one-on-one berating, a weekend blogfight, the dissolution of a "friendship", and Winer withdrawing from Calacanis's TechCrunch20 startup conference. Winer's offended by Calacanis's self-promotion, Calacanis by Winer's lack of manners; but what really cheeses me off is their rank amateurism when it comes to heckling.
Both Calacanis and Winer need to stop taking themselves so seriously — hah! — and pop their self-created bubbles. The best way to do this? Turn on the boob tube and take a lesson from "Last Comic Standing."
In the reality show, which aims to select the best up-and-coming comedian, competitors must hone their chops by heckling one another. They also have to show they can handle being heckled. The hecklers, knowing who they'll face going into the competition, come prepared. They take notes on their opponents. The heckled are at a disadvantage, but if they are on their game, they can turn a heckle into a bigger laugh for themselves and come away the winner. The comedian usually leave the stage amused and stronger from the abuse.
Now, back to our pair of blowhards: Was Winer actually surprised by Calacanis's presentation? Has he been asleep for the past decade? When has Calacanis not promoted himself and his latest company? If that's so offensive, why were Winer and Calacanis ever "friends" in the first place?
Of course, Winer was certainly stirring the pot, trying to drum up attention for himself. But "You're spamming us!"? That's the best heckle he can come up with? Do your homework, Dave. Calacanis is a treasure trove of heckle material. You can do better.
And Calacanis? Calacanis will frequently indulge in a blogging feud with copious non sequiturs and ad hominem attacks, but in this case, he couldn't come up with a humorous rejoinder to keep his presentation moving and show he can take criticism. Disappointing. The man who successfully talked the Valley's top VCs into investing millions to start an also-ran search engine, can't extemporaneously respond to a lame comment from the back of the room. It's not as if Winer doesn't come loaded with plenty of his own ammunition.
This blogfight, sadly, has devolved into an all-too-serious bitchfest. Calacanis and Winer both could have shown that they are aware of their personal foibles and willing to address them. Instead, they showed they cannot function without their tactical crutches— Winer, the conference-panel ambush and blog retort; Calacanis, Twitter hysteria. The art of the heckle is lost on these two oversensitive blowhards.