Bye, Jason

It’s not as if 99.999% of the world cares, but Jason Calacanis is leaving AOL, and I can’t say I’m upset in the least about it. He’s a voracious self-promoter and polarizing force. Everything he says has to be viewed through the “how does this make Jason look better” lens. He somehow became the “voice of AOL” in Silicon Valley, and that always bothered me. He hadn’t put in the time inside the company, and he took credit for a lot of new features and products here that he had absolutely nothing to do with.
For example, he responded to a comment on that same post with this:
bq. “…Blogsmith is the best piece of technology inside TW/AOL.”
Excuse me? It’s a blogging tool, and not even done yet. He doesn’t know about all the other technology at AOL or what we’ve done, and people believe that he somehow knows what he’s talking about. Jason was never the face or voice of anything but Jason Calacanis.
He was the wrong voice at the wrong time for AOL. We’ve still got a lot of work to regain standing in the technology world, in web development in particular, and that takes humility and earnest effort, not grand standing and self-promotion – the two things Jason’s best at.
Update: In response to Jason’s comment, I do have to give him credit for one very important thing. He did a great job of opening up the internal debate about the direction of the company and of products. It’s one of the good things about being controversial and polarizing is that you get people talking, which he certainly did, inside and outside the company. If that’s Jason’s legacy at AOL, that’s something to be proud of. Unfortunately, that legacy is tainted by what I felt (and a lot of people who will never say it publicly) was way too much self-promotion along the way.

9 thoughts on “Bye, Jason”

  1. Ouch. I wish you had said this stuff last year… why wait until I’m leaving?!
    I did the best I could for the company, and although it seems like I’m always trying to get press I can tell you that I’m not. I’ve got enough press for one (or two) lifetimes.
    My goal was to be 100% transparent in running my projects because that leads to the best project and business result in my experience.
    The transparency we are used to at Weblogs, Inc. was very different than how any big company (like AOL or Yahoo) is used to. I think it was that combination of massive transparency + big company that lead to all the press. It wasn’t by design, honest. I came to a company that never talked to the public and was very open… this opened the door for other folks to join the conversation and debate.
    You have to agree with me–at the very least–that my time at AOL resulted in better debate and transparency right?!
    In terms of taking credit for products what are you talking about? AIM Lite? AOL Search? Those are the only things I really ever mentioned that were outside my departments, and I never took credit for those projects. I was honest about the problems with those products, what people were doing to fix it, and praised the hell out of folks when we did.
    In terms of Blogsmith it’s been running the largest blog network in the world for years (and the largest blogs in the world: Engadget and TMZ), so it is done. Like beyond done!
    Now, it might not be ready for a consumer launch, but that isn’t what we built. We built a professional blog platform and it’s running most of AOL’s new content projects. Have you looked at TMZ, the music blogs, and the sports blogs!??!?! They are kicking ass with blogsmith behind them!
    Also, I wouldn’t discount Brian’s ability to have Blogsmith ready for pubic use in a very short period of time–it AOL asks him to do that.
    Yeah, I know I’m out there….. but I always did it for the company not myself. My goal was always to get people to pay attention to AOL again, and to push the spirit of debate inside the company.
    I’m sorry you took it the wrong way.
    best and good luck,
    Jason

  2. I have to argue about doing your best for the company Jason, you took your position and ran with it. Anything dealing with AOL IMO was all a platform to add to your resume.
    Debate and transparency, yeah sure. You got to say that you wanted AIM Lite, a few months later it was made…yay.
    The blogs are great Jason, and when I think about AOL’s acquiring Weblogs Inc I think of the product and a few of the people.
    Frankly Jason, I think this comment that you left has probably been the most you’ve mentioned AOL. “You’ve always done is for the company and not yourself”…that’s got to be the best one I’ve heard as of yet.
    Kevin and I took it how it was presented. I completely agree with Kevin.

  3. Shawn: You were not there when I was talking to Leonsis, Miller, and Bankoff non-stop about how great Light AIM was and how we had to release it and show the world that we could make a range of products.
    I fought for that for MONTHS, emailing and IMing folks like crazy. The same with the size of the client, our horrible uninstall issue, and the advertising screen real estate problems.
    90% of what I did was bringing up the issue internally. Don’t you remember all the debates on the listsrvs? You know miller was on those lists and taking it all in right? Those debates wer not happening two or three years ago were they?
    Now, did I come up with these debates? Not every time—not most times.
    Did I fight non-stop to get people to a) look at the issue honestly and b) do the right thing? You bet I did!
    Did I push folks hard to face the problems at AOL? Oh yes.
    Did I pay the price for that? Many times.
    I think the reason some folks feel like I was self-promotional at AOL was because many times I was the ONLY AOL EXECUTIVE talking to the public about the issues in an honest fashion. If I’m the only one in the conversation with the public the perception of my position goes up–way up.
    I begged Ted to start a blog at the same time I talked to Mark Cuban about doing one–in 2004!!! When Ted came to blogging last year that put two raw AOL voices out there, and you’ll notice the attention started to come off me on every issue. People looked for Ted and Jason’s reaction to “the call” and “data valdez” — not just Jason’s.
    Now we’ve got, what, 20 folks inside of AOL who are blogging about how they feel? That’s 20 voices talking about what they think we should do as a company–making me 1/20th of our blogosphere voice–not 100% or 50%.
    Next time we make a mistake we’ll have 20-30 raw voices talking about it. We’re human again! The industry knows our names again… AOL was a big, old dumb company to many people in the industry 2-3 years ago–now we’re transparent, open, and… SMART!
    That was my goal… to push folks to debate the issue, to fight for products, and to fight for the folks making the products.
    If you’re the only one standing up you’re going to get the attention, but as you can see from this post you two guys are willing to go at it with a former SVP—I love it!!! Kick my ass… push me to do better… it’s all good!
    I just wish you guys had taken me on six months ago!!!! The whole point of my time at AOL was to fire up folks like you to have a voice and that fact that you’re standing up to me make me smile. :-)
    I hope you guys keep up the spirit of debate and transparency long after I’m gone… give ‘em hell!
    best jason

  4. I think the key phrase in your comment, Jason, is “2-3 years ago.” You were here for a year, and a lot of the openness you’re talking about started before you got here. I think a lot of the frustration you’re feeling from people like Shawn and me is a perception that you’re taking credit for stuff that started long before you got here. I’ve worked for AOL for over eleven years and have spent the last five trying to get AOL moving towards the web. Now that we’re there and moving, to have someone come in and appear to take credit for a lot of that openness is frustrating. Yes, you IM’ed people and e-mailed them, but it was a small group of employees who started and launched Lite AIM. You harped on AOL Search, but long before you got here, I built a version of AOL Search that was standards compliant and faster than Google (which they broke after I left the Search team). Your fire is great, and you deserve a lot of credit for doing more to open up the internal debate and conversation in the year you were here than any executive before you, but there were people here before you who toiled in near anonymity doing what they could to accomplish the same thing. They deserve credit as well.

  5. Kevin,
    I’m sorry the folks who did a lot of hard work 2-3-4-11 years ago didn’t get enough credit–really I am. That happens all the time in business.. folks who do the real work are not allowed to talk and don’t get credit.
    … but that has nothing to do with me!
    Everything I stood for at AOL was empowering the people in the trenches. I never asked for credit for AIM Lite or AOL Search… if I got it that’s because other folks were not blogging–BUT I’M THE GUY WHO KEPT PUSHING EVERYONE TO BLOG!
    If I really wanted to take all the credit I would have/could have pushed people NOT TO BLOG and been the one voice of AOL in the blogosphere. I didn’t….
    In fact, I did the opposite… I went to the communications department and Miller talked to them over and over about the value of letting our product people blog. I told them the risks were low and the rewards were high… I fought–and won–that fight more than anyone did.
    In fact, me even being at the company was a big test to see how “AOL Open” would work–and it worked.
    You can take shots at me now that I’ve left, that’s fine… but I fought for your right to take those shots and I hope you realize that!
    Rock on.
    best j

  6. I’ve learned my lesson. Next time I’ve got criticism for someone, I bring it up sooner, when something can still be done about it. You could have done more to find out who worked on the products you talked about and send some love their way, but we could have done more to reach out as well. It was a missed opportunity.

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