On the Web, no one can hear you scream. But no one can stop you, either.
In a world without the hard borders and the finite frame of a sheet of paper–and without the mediating effects of various supervising editors and copy editors–Web-centric writers are free to go on at length and without restraint about whatever topic happens to interest them. And they do, convinced that millions of loyal readers want nothing more than for them to share their definitive takes on everything from the latest MacBook to Michael Jackson to Barack Obama to the sandwich they’re eating for lunch.
The term for speaking or writing verbosely and windily is bloviation; and to judge from their output, certain online practitioners are more adept than a pod of humpback whales at endlessly spouting vaporous nothings. Some even make a living at it.
After much debate, we’ve rounded up our favorite Web blowhards, ten leather-lunged loudmouths whose loquacity knows no bounds. Now, don’t get us wrong: We love these guys (and gal); after all, they ultimately make our jobs easier. So please take our commentary in the spirit of good fun and (every now and then) constructive criticism in which it is intended. And of course, we’re not above a little blowhardism ourselves. It’s an occupational hazard–and if your friends and admirers won’t tell you, who will?
A former Microsoft suit and perennial Valleywag whipping boy, Scoble excels at saying nothing about absolutely everything. (Typical headline: “RSS: interesting or boring?”) These days he mostly just plugs his Web host employer Rackspace and interviews a stream of utterly random Web execs, but he can still get his dander up over the most banal of tech topics. (Please don’t get him started on what he thinks about FriendFeed!) Scoble and his camera crew have long been a staple at even the most minor of high-tech events; and at the approach of this entourage, most people scurry for the bar or the buffet.
Arrington built a veritable empire by tirelessly blogging about Silicon Valley–often breaking news that no one else had and covering companies that no one else would touch. Now the rest of the tech blogosphere chases after him. Arrington isn’t happy with the size of his kingdom, however; and when public attention starts to dissipate, he’s happy to stir the pot with one wild story or another. Last January he went into self-imposed exile, citing concerns over people spitting in his face and a newfound fear of death threats. The previous summer, Arrington blogged, he had received death threats from a man with a felony record and a gun. The incident forced Arrington to hide out at his parents’ house for a week.
Then, last month, after the hideaway hubbub had faded, a British court found him guilty of libel and “sustained character assassination,” all but banishing him from the shores of England lest he be arrested at the airport. (In fairness to Arrington, he refused to defend himself against the charges.) The upshot is that his future exile options have diminished.
As hoary old sacred cows go, none are closer to “downer” cattle than the venerable John C. Dvorak, who has been expounding on computers since before computers were invented. Dvorak’s official bio claims that the man has written more than 4000 articles, a number that seems small in view of his omnipresence.
Beneath those millions of words, Dvorak has buried just about every company and product in the industry, often (nay, usually) with wild prematurity. He famously declared the iPhone a disaster months before Apple released it; and more recently he pronounced Windows 7 to be a total mess, using a forced march of 1000 words to redeploy his argument from a comparison of Windows 7 to OS/2 to a diatribe against the Windows Registry. It’s bad enough that people keep giving Dvorak outlets to complain in print, but he also somehow keeps persuading people to put him on TV–or at least on Web video. His most noteworthy video endeavor is Cranky Geeks, a show in which Dvorak invites three tech experts (I’ve appeared twice) to talk about current events in the industry, and then cuts them off and repeatedly changes the subject to something completely irrelevant and boring. Also: He had nothing at all to do with the Dvorak keyboard.
Jason Calacanis is to Nick Denton as Donald Trump is to Warren Buffett. A serial entrepreneur, Calacanis has made a living off of building smallish, dot-commy businesses and then selling them off to outfits with much less business savvy. His biggest hit: Selling Weblogs, Inc. (home of the mega-tech site Engadget) to America Online, reportedly for more than $25 million. His latest play: Mahalo.com, a human-powered search engine that seems to have dedicated itself to the goal of beating Wikipedia to the top of the list on a variety of common Google search-term results.
Of course, Calacanis isn’t happy just to run these various businesses. He likes to crow about his achievements on his blog, on Twitter, on Facebook, on Flickr…everywhere. A master of self-promotion, Calacanis rarely lets a day go by without plugging something that’s under his thumb–and if he has nothing to say about Mahalo, he’ll blog about whatever else comes to mind. Recent posts have included scans of childhood photos, a weather report, and–a Calacanis trademark–videos of his pet bulldogs.
Whether you’re a political junkie or a borderline anarchist, you can’t easily escape the Web publishing machine that is Arianna Huffington (born Arianna Stassinopoulos in 1950). Despite sounding as though it would be exclusively about herself–seriously, what else could “The Huffington Post” cover?–Huffington’s “HuffPo” Web newspaper has arguably become the leading liberal political Web site (er, excuse us, “media brand”) on the Net.
It’s also the leading source of gale-force sententiousness, stuffed to the gills with blustery editorial after blustery editorial about every political subject under the sun. Huffington’s actual comments appear relatively infrequently on the site–she blogs just a few times a week–but her influence is ubiquitous.
Lest the humble domain name throw you off, Cuban’s ego is even bigger than his supersize bankroll. The man who created Broadcast.com and sold it to Yahoo for billions has fashioned himself as more than just the owner of a playoff-caliber but not quite championship-caliber basketball team (whose name, incidentally, was Mavericks 20 years before he bought it; actor James Garner owned a stake in the expansion team). His blog spans myriad topics in the world of business and technology, and Cuban is altogether full of advice, mostly of value to fellow billionaires.
After decades of toiling in software startups that you’ve never heard of, Winer was in the right place at the right time and became a pioneering force during the early days of the Web. Nevertheless, he’s still working off the chip on his shoulder that came from inventing RSS and (debatably) blogging itself without receiving adequate credit for them. Winer caused his biggest disturbance in the Force when he abruptly (albeit temporarily) shut down his free blog-hosting service, Weblogs.com, leaving thousands of users in the dark. Hates everyone. Tried to push the idea of providing a permalink to every paragraph in a blog, as if it were a Bible verse.
This smug CNBC commentator is the only guy in Silicon Valley who wears a suit and tie, and seems completely oblivious to the joke. He’s the outsider version of Kara Swisher, full of commentary on most big Valley companies, often heavily reliant on the infamous “sources inside the company.” Finest hour: Fancies himself an Apple expert but was royally and publicly spanked by Fake Steve Jobs over sloppy (and flatly wrong) reporting.
Want to know what the 2874th line of your Windows Registry really means? Paul Thurrott will tell you. In a seven-part, 5000-word blog post (bonus: with screenshots!). But Thurrott is perhaps most notable for his tendency to compose angry-sounding blog entries aimed at anyone who dares criticize Windows, as demonstrated in this hilarious blog by one of Thurrott’s targets, ZDNet’s Ed Bott.
Holier than thou and–more important–smarter than thou, Coursey (the “Tech Inciter“) pushes the hot-topic buttons of the day while expounding on his superior knowledge of everything from iPhone architecture to how the First Amendment should be interpreted.
Of course he does all this for PC World, so we forgive him: He may be an opinionated loudmouth, but he’s our opinionated loudmouth.