Friday, December 10, 2004

BzzAgent Xmas Party

After a week of endless press and some blog controversy about BzzAgent's very successful word-of-mouth business, it was a treat to attend their Christmas party in downtown Boston last night and go to "the source" so to speak and see what was buzzing in their actual hive.

I was wearing my Worthwhile editor hat I think, or perhaps my Halley's Comment hat, but for sure, I was wearing a hat -- my black russian fur hat which always makes Boston parties more fun.

Also super fun was to get Stowe Boyd -- the excellent, brainy blogger behind much of the informed discussion about BzzAgent and Marqui -- to go with me. He was up north for the Berkman Votes, Bits and Bytes, so after we'd made the scene in Cambridge at the Harvard Kennedy School, we got to trot downtown to see what all the Bzz fuss was about. I appreciated Stowe's inside info and at least we both made the effort to really encounter the people there, as opposed to just rant and write about them.

I can report that it was a perfectly lovely party -- not wild or dangerous or even too loud -- quite subdued and I got to chat with some favorite folks there -- Dave Balter, the CEO who's apparently soon to become a dad (yeah!), Jono (like Bono, no last name needed, and everyone knows he's the head of all bzzing around there), Aaron (mysterious roadie band guy and employee number three), Dev (good man, fun to talk to), Kristin (I'd been keen on meeting her, she's cool), and Chris and Hanna (spelling?), both of whom were wonderful to hang out with. Hanna and I had a mind-melding on a certain subject. And even beyond that, after the party, we met a lovely Bzzwoman on the subway platform and we got into a great chat about what she does there and why she loves it.

Do I think their idea is sound? I have to say my interest is more in how their business is taking off like wildfire and why it is, than in answering the question of whether it is some how illegitimate to buzz about a product. I've known Dave Balter the CEO for a while now and I feel I'm in no position to make a judgment call about word-of-mouth marketing, expect to notice, he's very successful at it. He's a nice guy, a moral person from my experience and has a wonderful sensibility I've seen in young CEO's before -- that they care a lot about their people, a lot about their clients and want to do the best by people and therefore sweat the details and take their responsibility very seriously. I really respect that.

Does he twist people's arms to be enthusiastic about certain products ... NO! They offer a range of products to their bzzagents to bzz or not to bzz about, and the agents are free to embrace or ignore any given product. As Stowe argued on the other hand, is there a sense that one is "crossing the line" when one endorses a product and receives some sort of benefit from the marketer of that product (even if no money changes hands), and then that person makes an effort to pose as neutral, naive, unbiased and simply enthusiastic ... YES.

Do I have endorsements or advertising here on my site? No. I do believe they would constrain the editorial freedom I enjoy here, especially when I want to write about politics or sex. If I blog at other sites, do I give myself the editorial license to "diss" the sponsors of those sites ... NO. I joked with Stowe that I need to become the new "XXX Marqui" representative -- that with my steamy, sexy content here, large well-known corporations should pay me money NOT to mention them on Halley's Comment.

Do you want more disclosure? I talked to BzzAgent last summer about working on some projects with them, but it didn't seem like I had the time to take on the work they offered, so I turned them down. End of story.

Am I pissed off someone someone wrote nasty comments on their site this week and signed off on with a phony email address, posing as me? ( is NOT ME!) You bet I'm pissed off about that. Dave knew me well enough to drop me an email and ask "is this really YOUR comment?" which helped me turn the troublemaker into my friends at Google for using gmail fraudulently.

Meanwhile, back to the party. The food was excellent -- there was NOT enough music and it was not loud enough and no dancing -- but it was a real company Christmas party and these days none of them are wild enough for me. Hell, there aren't even any lampshades in modern offices these days to comfort drunken employees who want to humiliate themself and don such gay apparel as they careen around with the department secretary in a samba. I did keep teasing them last night that I might just sit down and blog if they weren't careful, but I restrained myself.