Is Apple the antithesis of the Web 2.0 ethos or is Steve Jobs just an asshole?

Scott Karp references an article by someone I make a practice of not reading or linking to* (so I haven’t read or linked to the referred to article) and uses Steve Jobs as an example of someone who creates great products because he doesn’t adhere to the “Web 2.0 ethos” (which can mean anything to anybody, but usually has something to do with collaboration or ‘user-generated-content’).


“For all the love-festing around “social,” “sharing,” and “community,” mosts of the biggest successes of recent years have been driven by a singular vision, rather than “collective intelligence.”

I must admit, everything I believe on this topic, I’ve completely ripped off from Kathy Sierra, who continuously informs me with her wisdom. (However, I also learn a lot from the wisdom of all those users who generate content in the form of comments at the bottom of each of her posts.) So, rather than piping up about “dumb crowds” vs. “collective intellegence,” I’ll just refer you to her.

As for Steve Jobs and the success of Apple, I am a student of the man and his products and his strengths and weaknesses. I have already blogged how I think the iPhone is (except for the phone part) a wonder to behold. I feel certain it will change the world in ways people who are doing all the analyzing today haven’t considered. I say that because, as with lots of things Apple does, the market does find uses for the products they create because the company focuses relentlessly on elegant design and intuitive interface rather than features and protocols geeks view as holy grails. What people do with the products after they purchase Apple products often account for their success.

Flashback: Make a powerful, but simple to use computer someone can create and publish magazines with and, wow, people who couldn’t afford to before can now publish magazines. (That previous sentence sorta sums up my career of the past 20 years.) Another flashback: In a million years, Steve Jobs personally would not have dreamed when overseeing the creation of the iPod that RSS and podcasting would ever have anything to do with the product, but there are currently over 100,000 podcasts now being distributed free via iTunes. Before podcasting, all of the content on iTunes had to be purchased — after podcasting, you can use iTunes to obtain enough free content to fill a roomful of iPods. Heck, look at the demo for the new AppleTV and you’ll see “Podcasting” has its own place on the interface menu — gee, AppleTV is an RSS newsreader. Was podcasting something that sprung from the mind of Steve Jobs and his secretive staff? No, it was the most valuable marketing gift ever handed to a company by a group of folks who are, collectively, genius — but no iPod securities analyst or tech-observer ever saw it coming when the iPod was first introduced.

Also, I’ll skip over the value of the Apple user community to its success or the enormous ecosystem of suppliers and developers and hackers who, collectively, makeup the cult of Mac. That’s not what I want to talk about. I’ll also skip over the fact that “user-generated-content” and a wide variety of “professional-generated-content” is often generated with a Macintosh by millions of professional and amateur content generators. The Mac is popular with creative content generators for reasons too numerous to review. But that’s not what I’m wanting to talk about, either.

What I want to talk about is a blog post from Bob Sutton about Steve Jobs being the poster child for the upside of being an asshole. (Stanford B-School) Professor Sutton is the author of the book The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t that is queued up in my shopping cart for when it is published next month. In his post, Sutton mentions that Jobs is featured in the book:

“When I was writing The No Asshole Rule, one Silicon Valley insider after another after another argued to me “What about Steve Jobs, doesn’t he show how being an asshole make leaders and their companies more effective at times? Doesn’t he show that assholes are worth the trouble” which led me to write a chapter on “The Virtues of Assholes” that starts out with the curious case of Steve Jobs, and goes onto make an empirical case for the upsides of assholes. BUT I also make clear that I still don’t want to work with assholes — there are plenty of other successful companies that aren’t led by assholes. Jobs is famous for saying the “the journey is the reward,” and for my tastes, even if the journey ends well, it still sucks when you have to travel with an asshole, or worse yet, a pack of them. If you are successful asshole, you are still an asshole and I don’t want to be around you.”

In other words, Apple’s success may have more to do with Jobs being an asshole than with any eschewing of the mysterious Web 2.0 ethos. And, believe me, I know this for a fact, one can be an asshole and be a true-believer in and adherent to the Web 2.0 ethos.

For me, personally, I don’t know if he is one or care how big an asshole Steve Jobs is. His products have changed my life and business. He may be — again, I just know what I read — an asshole, but he’s surrounded himself with some creative people who he’s let create stuff that really matters to people. Somehow, he’s adhered to the unusual philosophy (in Silicon Valley, at least) that a product is not just a feature set executed by a committee. He’s had some incredible flops (I’ve pointed to lists of them before) and some can argue his arrogance has prevented Apple from reaching the heights it deserves. Again, I don’t care. My relationship with the products Apple creates is purely personal. I don’t care about the secret geek handshakes they may adhere to, or not. I am not a cult member. I love his products and can say with no reservation that he’s the Michael Jordan of CEO presentations, but I am not a worshipper of Jobs.

One last thing about Steve Jobs. While he’s never been an asshole to me personally, making me become a Cingular AT&T customer comes close.

Bonus: Dave Winer: “You don’t need to lock us in.”

*I’ve come to the conclusion that even when I agree with the writer to whom Scott links, he presents his arguments with such toxicity it riles me for the rest of the day.

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