On Monday, when I read GigaOm’s post about a very likely acquisition of Techcrunch by AOL, I just thought it was weird for GigaOm to go the linkbaiting way. Unfortunately, the next day, the deal was made official. To tell you the truth, this acquisition feels really odd. Michael Arrington explains that the synergy between AOL and Techcrunch is real, but the creator of the recently-sold tech blog should also admit that being acquired greatly affects the “independent press” label of Techcrunch.
By that, I do not mean that the editorial team will adapt its content to the expectations of its advertisers or its owner (AOL). Michael Arrington made it clear that content-wise, the Techcrunch philosophy would remain the same.
The problem is as follows: Belonging to a big Internet company jeopardizes the trust factor between Techcrunch and technology creators. As a young and defenseless entrepreneur who just developed an innovative concept/product, would you feel safe sending the details of your project to an email inbox that belongs to a huge technology-gulping mogul? Of course not! Unless your product is branded with your company name and already known by the tech crowd, sending the news of a new prototype for potential coverage and a first buzz on Techcrunch becomes extremely risky because you could always imagine that AOL could intercept your message and develop your great idea internally. Additionally, if Techcrunch doesn’t write about it, nobody will really know that YOU created it.
The problem is trust: During all these years, Michael Arrington seems to have built a humongous network in the tech industry by being in close relations with the people who matter the most. Since the guy was independent and successful, everybody trusted that Techcrunch was a safe harbor for exclusive news and ideas. Making the news was his major leitmotiv.
Even if things haven’t changed on the Techcrunch side of things, AOL is now the boss, so anything that happens in Techcrunch could not stay in Techcrunch, and might also travel all around AOL. Trust: A lot of entrepreneurs have a trust issue, are scared of sending press release and even getting press, fearing that interesting parties might steal their idea and outdo them. Psychologically, Techcrunch loses a lot of trustrank towards the tech community by selling out to the big guys.
Things can only go downhill from there. As part of the Readwriteweb writing team (Readwriteweb France), I am delighted by this news, because it gives Readwriteweb a nice leading position as an international independent tech blog. I just hope that this deal between AOL and Techcrunch won’t force Readwriteweb into selling out for the egomaniac needs of some uninteresting tech company too.
As a side note, I have contributed two posts to Techcrunch France in the past months (for free, of course), but I won’t be doing this anymore knowing that Techcrunch now belongs to the filthy-rich AOL.
Trust, and a sense of independence, it’s all it takes to build a strong community. Techcrunch had it all, and they blew it. Can’t be too hard on Michael Arrington (I am an hardcore Techcrunch fan): He achieved something extremely remarkable, and luckily, that’s one startup that won’t end up in its own deadpool.