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January 24, 2008

Why Jason Calacanis For a Third Time at SES?

By Li Evans

Searchenginestrategiesnyc_2 I read an announcement that yet again, Search Engine Strategies is featuring Jason Calacanis for yet another keynote session.  I just shook my head and wondered what on earth has possessed the conference to bring this guy back, yet again, for a third time.  Is it for controversy's sake?

Now before I get to far into this, I have give you all a disclaimer, I speak at SES events, am a trainer for SES Classes and SMG live blogs the conferences.  I also really like the folks on the SES team, the Kevins (all three of them in fact), Matt, Rebecca, Marilyn and Stewart have always been nothing but courteous, gracious and extremely great people to get to know.  But honestly - I really have to ask - why bring this guy back for a THIRD time?

Keynotes should be from people who truly have something positive to contribute to the conversation, people who make you want to be able to really bring something tangible home from a conference, not want to tear your hair out.  Keynotes should be from people who should be respected - how does calling SEO Bullshit, dropping the F bomb numerous times, claiming that he's the greatest SEO there is - garner you respect?

I honestly would rather hear from someone who has TRULY contributed to the Search Industry.  I don't want to hear from someone who sold a bunch of blogs to a conglomerate, not someone who's built a Digg clone, and not someone who promotes a totally gameable "social search engine" just to promote himself, and not someone who totally trashes our industry every chance he gets just for link bait and to see himself in the press.

Apparently I'm not alone, I asked a few people around the industry what their thoughts were, here are their thoughts:

  • Donna Fontenot of SEOScoop
    "It seems fairly obvious to me that any search marketing event that features Jason Calcanis as a keynote speaker is engaging in nothing more than a linkbait ploy.  Obviously Mr. Calcanis will make some idiotic anti-SEO remark, and every blogger and his brother will make a big deal out of it.  Instant buzz, but frankly, I hope it backfires, because we should all be tired of his antics by now."

  • Bill Slawski of SEO By The Sea & KeyRelevance.com
    "The announcement of Jason Calacanis as a keynote speaker for the 2008 New York Search Engine Strategies has me puzzled. 

    The world is filled with bright creative people, who bring value and a positive frame of reference with them to every endeavor that they tackle. People who are articulate, engaging, interesting, and who would draw an audience to see them. People who would make people feel positive about building something online, marketing it, and making it more visible, which is what a keynote speaker for SES should do. 

    It would be amazing to see someone like Trent Reznor speak, who has shown an extremely creative online and offline approach to making people aware of his latest musical efforts.  Or Ze Frank, for his charismatic approach to drawing attention to himself online and his wonderful speaking abilities.  Those are just two folks, but I'm sure that with a little effort, a fairly large list of prospective keynote speakers could be found.

    A keynote speaker should set the tone for a conference, make people excited that they decided to attend, and provide a unique and remarkable experience for those in attendance.  If the words of a keynote speaker define the fundamental or central ideas behind a conference, bringing back someone whose previous SES keynote "central idea" was that "SEO is bullshit" doesn't excite me much.

  • Simon Heseltine of Search Engine Tigers & Endless Plain (Serengeti Communications)
    "J.C. is a great guy.  He built up a company and sold it for quite a bit of money.  He's known for sometimes being controversial, and people love to hear him speak.  Unfortunately John Cleese isn't the keynote speaker at SES-NYC, it's Jason Calacanis.  I've attended 2 of his keynotes in the past, the first was the infamous Chicago '06 "SEO is BS" talk, the second was this past November at the SES-Local / Kelsey ILM show in LA.  Quite a few people told me not to bother going to listen to him, but I wanted to give him a chance to see what he had to say.  I'd like 45 minutes of my life back please.  At SES-NYC, I'm going to spend my time much more wisely, and check out the sponsors in the expo hall."

  • Kim Krause Berg of Crea8PC
    "What?  Why?
    I thought a choice for keynote speaker was about presenting someone the people in the industry respect and would pay money to see?  Or if not that, someone inspiring and informative, which he hadn't been on previous occasions. Has something changed? "

Now you don't think I'd let this all be on the "bashing" side of the issue, did you? :)

If anything Jason Calacanis is the Search Industry's biggest target.  We love to hate this guy.  Some people have even made it their mission in life to garner links from the guy.  Some view him as the "Howard Stern" of the Search Industry, and others even see him as giving the Search Industry a good kick in the ass from time to time.  I agree with some of that (Howard Stern has better hair though).  Our industry tends to get all high and mighty sometimes, and needs to be taken down a few rungs on the proverbial ladder.  Jason tends to do that from time to time.

  • Matt Bailey from SiteLogic
    "I think it’s a great idea to have one of the SEO industry’s biggest critics to a show like this.  Sometimes I think that the SEO industry needs a little smacking around.  This industry tends to have a rabid hunger for links, wrecking everything in its path.  Course corrections are necessary, and I think that Jason brings a good voice of balance."

  • Matt McGowan from Search Engine Strategies
    "A wise man told me a few days ago that Jason is the Howard Stern of Search… people who hate Howard listen to him for hours a day, why those who love him listen for minutes.  Jason has a lot of valuable information to add to the Search conversation and I for one am looking forward to his keynote"

  • Jennifer Laycock of Search Engine Guide
    "My mom always told me that if you don't have anything nice to say, you shouldn't say anything. :) Thus, I'll reserve my commentary until after the event."

Respect_my_authority_cartman Even though I think Kevin Ryan is a great guy, and we agree on a lot of things, I'm just not agreeing with this choice of keynote speaker in this instance.  Honestly, if you give me vegetables to throw at the guy from the front row - I won't even waste my time, I'd rather be hassled by that obnoxious magician that stands at that one trade booth at ever SES (I think that means I'll be tagging along with Simon this time in NYC).

Please SES, don't bring Jason Calicanis back, it just really looks like you can't find any other credible, noteworthy people to interview.  That's something that I know isn't true, you brought in Seth Godin.  Surely you do not have to stoop so low as to having this guy back again?

< / end rant>


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A few have eluded to the fact that it may be for the shock value. I am not sure if I'd use that angle if I were trying to get people to pay to come to the conference. although it does seem to make for good pre-conference press, hence this article.

Matt Bailey has it right...

I would agree with Matt if JC was actually attempting to engage the audience, or provoke a discussion on salient points, instead he just walks in and makes sure to offend his audience with "SEO is bullsh!t", "Local is a sh!tty business", and several variations of "F@ck, F@ck, F@ckity, F@ck", which to me is just his blatant attempt to continue to be this controversial personality.

Bill has the right idea, as a community we should be able to come up with a list of people that we, and the general audience of SES would like to hear speak, and would benefit more from hearing.

You know I could agree with Matt if it was the first and only time JC has said stuff that was "OMG Kick in the Pants" type stuff. But its not, and as one person said to me:

"Why Would I Pay 3k to go to a conference to hear someone yell at me and drop the F bomb all the time? If I wanted that I'd got to a George Carlin 'concert' and pay a lot less and laugh a lot more!"

The first time, it was a wake up call..... now, I think it's just lame. I think SES could do a heck of a lot better than to keep bringing the same guy who's just going to say the same nonsense again and again. If you're going to bring back someone who has an issue with SEO again - at least bring Seth Godin back - he had better hair and was a lot more entertaining.

JC is one of the most forward thinking people in the business. He understands that all the effort in the world you put into your SEO techniques won't amount to anything if you don't have the right contacts around you push your messaging forward.

I've been a huge fan of JC's for years now and if I missed him the first two times around, I'll make sure not to miss him this time.

"Keep your friends close and your enemies closer!"

I hate to use an old cliche, but the fact of the matter is that he brings many in our industry together, at least to fend against his attacks. Don't get me wrong, I don't think that Jason has a clue about real SEO, but he gives us insight into what others think of the industry and the craft. I agree with Bill that there are other marketing channels that could/should be explored, but that doesn't mean that there is nothing that can be learned from this experience!

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