Beleaguered Software Engineer Makes Web Plug-In to Screw Over Valleywag (Update)
Update, 9:20 a.m.: Sam Biddle responds. (See bottom.)
Now that well-heeled tech workers have become the most readily available scapegoat in San Francisco -- for crises as disparate as the housing crunch, the nearly eviscerated taxi industry, and the revival of flannel -- some of them have begun searching for a target of their own.
Sam Biddle Twitter Eventually, someone was going to do this.
They've found one in Sam Biddle, the 26-year-old, smirking New Yorker who blogs about Silicon Valley for Gawker.com, and who's managed to single-handedly skewer the upper crust of San Francisco's tech sector. (He deployed an extremely well-suited Marie Antoinette reference to describe the Sean Parker's $10 million wedding, for example.)
While much of Valleywag's content consists of snappy editorials rather than reported stories, Biddle and the other writers occasionally get great scoops: In early December, staff writer Nitasha Tiku reported Uber's internal revenue numbers.
Perhaps it stands to reason that the site's notoriousness increases with its popularity, or that Biddle quickly accrued more haters after he carved out a small sphere of influence. But over the past few months, spite for Valleywag metastasized to the point that it became more bewildering than flattering. Last Wednesday the tech news site Pando Daily published an apoplectic screed against Biddle, just weeks after the Chron ran its own scolding commentary.
And because Valleywag's most passionate haters all dwell in the tech sector, it seemed almost preordained that eventually, one of them would turn his hate into a product innovation. That, in fact, one particularly enterprising software engineer would create a downloadable tool to "disrupt" Sam Biddle -- who is, himself, an archetypal disruptor.
That's right. You don't have to manually type out hexes, or curse Biddle's mother's grave (she's alive). As Business Insider reported Friday, there's an app for that. Actually, it's a Google Chrome extension -- or widget you can put in your Browser -- that replaces all links to Gawker media sites with links to their cached pages. Meaning it allows curious readers to browse Biddle's content without ever clicking on it. Since clicks are the main currency for most web publications, it amounts to stealing food off a table.
The San Francisco-based software engineer who created this device, Tim Herd, provides a simple raison d'etre in his product description: "Those fuckers don't deserve clicks."
In theory, media of consumers of Herd's ilk might detest Sam Biddle's writing so fervently that each new post drives them into maniacal, vein-popping rage -- and yet they can't seem to stop reading it. Like a pair of sweatshop-made skinny jeans, or a leggy femme fatale, Biddle is equal parts pleasure and poison to his detractors; his blog is the lurid supermarket tabloid that no one in Silicon Valley can pass up. Now, thanks to Herd's aptly named Antigawker, they can obsessively hate-click and not feel guilty about it.
It's mostly a joke, Herd explained in a follow-up email interview, indicating that very few people appear to have downloaded the plug-in thus far, not to mention it received lackluster ratings on YCominbator.com and Reddit. He plans to keep it free, given that no consumer should be expected to pay for "a silly novelty like this."
Yet when Herd further elaborated on his position, it became clear that he shares many of Biddle's sentiments -- that, in fact, the two of them are equally critical of Silicon Valley excess, albeit from different perspectives.
"I'm pretty turned off by the irresponsible opulence of the tech elite. I think that there is real value in someone acting as a watchdog to the excesses of the startup scene," Herd writes. "However, I feel that often Valleywag will go for the low-hanging fruit instead of more meaningful issues. It's easy to cherry pick the one jerk who says something dramatic. It doesn't necessarily represent an entire cultural movement."
Ironically, Biddle took an uncannily similar stance in a tweet published Saturday:
Tech has floated in vacuum of criticism. PG wouldn't get so many chances/apologists elsewhere, but this is one of the last great status quos— Sam Biddle (@samfbiddle) December 29, 2013
"I get the teen angsty thing," Biddle said in a phone interview this morning. "But it seems like [Herd] would only make this if he still wanted to read the site -- so I'm kind of flattered."
In other words, he continued, Herd can try to paint Valleywag as an evil, fascist, cretinous, tech-hating media vessel, but at the end of the day, he invented something to allow himself to comfortably read it. He seems like a disgruntled fan, rather than a true hater.
Biddle also noted that it's not really practical to filch page views from Valleywag, since the site has no ads.
Villanova University assistant professor Michael Risch told us that Gawker could probably sue Herd for indirect copyright infringement, were the Anti-Gawker app to actually make a dent. Biddle thinks that's highly unlikely.