Yesterday in Does “A VC” have a blind spot for Apple? we outlined how Union Square Ventures VC Fred Wilson was drinking the Adobe Kool-Aid on why Apple hasn’t seen fit to allow Flash on the iPhone. His piece got dozens of comments, many of them quite negative as Wilson himself noted in comments he left here.
I’m glad to see that Wilson had his own “So I screwed up” moment and says he learned a lot from the commentary and moved on. That is as it should be.
I am, however, bothered by the way he concluded his follow-up piece, From Blog To Forum, with this:
All of this is fantastic for many reasons but there is one that stands out as the most valuable to me. It makes me a better investor. Kontra said this in his comment on the Apple/Flash thing:
Hopefully, you have people advising you on platform choices on a strategic level, going beyond press releases.
I do have people advising me. It’s you. And thank you for doing such a damn good job of it.
The part that bothers me (that I emphasized) is his consideration of his commentators. Though we live in the same city, I never met Wilson and don’t know him personally so I have no basis to judge whether he’s being condescending or not. And that personal stuff isn’t important to me, but the relationship between publishers/bloggers and their commentators as the bedrock of a new social order is.
Information is cheap and money for nothing
As the title of his site indicates Wilson is a venture capitalist; he invests in companies. The currency of his practice is the ability to make strategic decisions on the viability of ideas/companies he invests in. To do that he needs information.
Though he says he’s not a “technologist,” with an engineering degree from MIT and so many years in the business, it’s hard to ignore that he knew so little about the subject matter he himself chose to write about. Apparently at Union Square Ventures, partners’ blogs don’t get tech-checked by technology staff. Wilson says that’s not needed because I and his commentators are here to provide the necessary information and fact-check.
After all, aren’t we living in the Web 2.0 era with crowd-sourcing? Isn’t this supposed to be the antidote to closed-doors editorial practices of the mainstream media? Hasn’t User Generated Content mushroomed recently as a fertile ground for investment? Isn’t the crowd smarter than the blogger?
If Wilson knows the answers, he’s a better man than I. But what I do know is that I don’t “advise” Wilson. He doesn’t know why I chose to point out his errors or defended Apple. And I don’t know why Wilson promoted Adobe and Nokia at the expense of Apple. These could all be because we both have a monetary reason. For all we know, he might be getting ready to invest in Flash-based startups and I might be working at Apple.
Information vs. Judgment
What exchanged between us was information. But what a VC needs most of all is judgment. Information is cheap and bountiful. Good judgment is rare and expensive. I offered no information to Wilson that he couldn’t get himself by Googling for an hour before he wrote his piece. I offered no judgment to Wilson, because he hasn’t paid for it.
Who’s your daddy?
That brings us to the primary question here: in the age of information abundance and what seems like infinite commentator willingness, can we create businesses that harvest information and monetize it without compensating those who provide it? Further, is that sustainable? Would Wilson open up all of his investment decisions to his blog commentators before finalizing them? And if that were to happen, would he compensate those who contributed profitable information? Otherwise, is Wilson buying judgment, but getting his information for free from his commentators? And is that fair?