FON and its ‘Interested’ Advisors

9 Feb ’06

Shortly after the recent FON financing announcement, several A list bloggers who were also on FON’s advisory board blogged the news. It certainly helped spread the FON news to generally praiseworthy reaction, until folks started questioning how ISPs would react (the FON plan would put bandwidth-sharers offside most ISP’s TOS), and certainly only until Speakeasy, a large ISP, denied that it had the relationship with FON that FON had apparently claimed (though the extent of this claim is still unclear).

At the time, I was startled by the scope and immediacy of the A list coverage – partly because it was so obviously well-engineered, but also because I sensed it was perhaps hasty for those involved to get so on the bandwagon so quickly. Now a controversy has bubbled up over whether some of those bloggers adequately disclosed their interest in the venture (as one would generally be required to under the usual editorial requirements of mainstream media). I’ve no doubt that all of this was quite innocently done and well-intentioned – FON is, after all, a really cool idea. But the disclosure issue is a fascinating one that highlights the growing pains of this new media form. Mathew Ingram of the Globe covers the issue in some detail in his post “The blogosphere is growing up“, as does Mark Evans of the Post – two observers who are quite familiar with the world of editorial oversight.

For my part, the dynamic that I found interesting was the blowback the bloggers no doubt experienced from the adverse publicity of the Speakeasy denial and the general perception of clumsy footwork that that development helped create. As I noted on Mathew’s blog (and now shamelessly repeat here):

One of the untrodden angles is that dangers do indeed lie in wait for “A list” bloggers who they [sic] visibly cast their lot in with the entrepreneur. An [sic#2 – good grief] the Speakeasy matter shows the potential of blowback hitting them later. Live by the sword, die by the sword; reputation flows in both directions.

So, two issues. First, do you disclose your interest? Failure to do so will inevitably tarnish reputation. Second, are you prepared to accept the risk of such a visible close association? If one is going to visibly promote, one is inevitably going to be associated with whatever happens with the promotee – good or bad.

Finally, even when the interest is disclosed, I think there is reputational risk for the A listers who use their blogs ‘too often’ – whatever that means – as a vehicle for talking about projects they’re involved in ….

This is an intriguing (to me, in any event) issue – well understood by the MSM but probably only dimly so by the blogosphere. The Internet remembers – and putting onself and one’s affiliations out there – well, that has consequences. The debate over these issues swirls on in the comments to Mathew’s post. Paul Kedrosky, who tends to be audaciously clever about these sorts of issues, comments on the issue here. Meanwhile, Seth Finkelstein speculates about the emergence of a new blogging business model.

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