I’m hoping that the brouhaha (or maybe it’s actually more of a kerfuffle) over whether or not TechCrunch50 co-organizer Jason Calacanis plagiarized something written 10 years ago by a former DEMO organizer is actually a clever, top-secret strategy to boost the Google News page-rank of both conferences. Because the alternative is that this is one of the most childish outbursts I can recall from a group of alleged adults — right up there with photo-blogger and Zooomr CEO Thomas Hawk calling a staffer at San Francisco’s MOMA an a-hole on his blog for not letting him take pictures in the museum’s atrium.
According to a post at TechCrunch and one at Alexander Muse’s Texas Startup blog, someone named Deb McAlister, who was once involved with the DEMO conference but apparently isn’t any longer, wrote to Muse and said that an email Jason sent around to his oh-so-private mailing list (don’t get me started on that whole fiasco) with tips for startups on how to do a demo was actually a blatant rip-off of something she wrote for DEMO founder David Coursey about 10 years ago. According to Ms. McAlister, approximately 1,893 of the 2,200 words in the Calacanis mail were “DIRECTLY lifted” from her piece.
How did she arrive at this number? We have no idea, because no one has been able to produce the article in question. As Sarah Lacy and others have pointed out, many of the tips that Jason included (don’t use PowerPoint, etc.) are accepted wisdom in the conference world at this point, and trying to claim ownership over them would be like trying to copyright the Bible. In any case, what possible purpose could this accusation serve? McAlister apparently hasn’t been associated with DEMO for more than 10 years, and current DEMO organizer Chris Shipley wasted no time in throwing her under the bus and disavowing any knowledge of the email. A ploy aimed at plausible deniability? Who knows.
The whole thing is a farce. But I suppose it’s not surprising — TechCrunch arguably started this particular train moving with the whole back-and-forth with DEMO when the TechCrunch50 (originally the TechCrunch40) first appeared, and Mike Arrington said that DEMO “needs to die.” Why not just put on a conference and let people decide for themselves whose is better? Would that be too much to ask?