The Sad Cafe

strawberry crepes

So I'm sitting at home all day today, trying to force a blog post out of my thick skull and failing miserably, when it suddenly occurs to me that I have already written a rather nicely-written post earlier this week and neglected to cross-post it here. This was written as I was perusing my feeds on Wednesday morning. I noticed a rather large number of posts from A-list tech bloggers trying to spin the negative reaction to the sale of FriendFeed to Facebook as nothing more than ill-tempered children who had just had their toys taken away. I could not let that stand, so I wrote this in response.

An analogy, if you will.

There is this diner, a little mom-and-pop place. Great food, excellent service, nice atmosphere. This little diner becomes something of a second home to its patrons, whether they be regular faces or occasional patrons. Occasionally, things may get a bit loose between a few of the customers, but thing tend to move smoothly more times than not. From time to time, there is talk about the prices going up, but the regulars all agree that a reasonable price would be negligible to what they get in return. And as the little diner fills up with people, the atmosphere becomes one-of-a-kind.

And in the city, there are lots of places to eat. One of them, we'll call Big Blue. Big Blue is not a mom-and-pop diner; they are a great, sprawling franchise. Big Blue wants a piece of the small diner, because Big Blue's track record isn't so good when it comes to service or atmosphere. Big Blue is, in fact, pretty restrictive about what happens in its establishments. But the executives at Big Blue recognize the small diner could, one day, be a force to be reckoned with, so they start out by "borrowing" some of the diner's better features, which, of course, don't go over so well when good food and excellent service are not what one specializes in.

So Big Blue does what it usually does when it cannot copy the formulas that were successful for another diner. They wave a large bag of money at the owners and promise senior positions at Big Blue HQ.

The owners, of course, are not fools. They know that things like great food and excellent customer service don't come cheaply or without a great deal of hard work. And quite frankly, they deserve to be rewarded for their efforts. To say nothing of the money it takes to run a classy establishment. Restaurants have a nasty habit of going bankrupt in their first year of business, mainly due to lack of funds. And we are in a recession now.

So they take the deal. Much celebration ensues among Big Blue and the diner's owners. Plans are made to keep the little diner as is "for the moment", but nothing firm is announced.

The customers, on the other hand, are less than sanguine about the whole arrangement.

See, the customers really love the place. Many of the regulars love it a bit more than they like Big Blue, which is fine if one is taking out their family for a quick bite. But Big Blue will never compare to the little diner. The regulars love talking up the little diner to their friends and family, some of whom begin frequenting the little diner themselves. Now, everything concerning the little diner is up in the air - the camaraderie, the laughter, the arguments, the people ... everything.

Because the customers are not fools. They've seen before what happens when a larger chain of fast food restaurants takes over a smaller establishment. The cooks are hired away, the better equipment and techniques go off to the home office, the owners who cared about their customers go off to the beach and the management is left to suited nincompoops who care only about the bottom line, the food starts getting blander, and a new group of customers start frequenting the diner who don't get the ambiance that was once there. The old customers start drifting away to other places. The diner starts losing money.

And then, one day, there is a Big Blue where the little diner used to be.

That would be sad enough for the customers of the little diner. Now add to it a group of restaurant critics whose sole job is to go around blathering about how great it is when Big Blue or any other large chain buys up a small diner. They purse their rarefied lips at the great unwashed masses who don't understand how business is done in this fast-paced restaurant business and sneer down their noses at anyone who doesn't understand that now, maybe, Big Blue's menu and service will improve, thanks to the addition of the owners of the little diner to the Big Blue staff and the addition of many of their recipes.

How happy would you be, knowing that you were about to lose your little diner and get a Big Blue in return? And how solicitous would you be anyone who tried to tell you that, in the face of all that has happened before, that somehow, your little diner going away is a "good thing"?

I'd be willing to bet you'd probably wouldn't be happy with the situation. Sure, you could always eat somewhere else. But you'd never have the experience of the little diner ever again.

So, when I see social media blogging fools try to tell me how Facebook buying FriendFeed is somehow a good thing, and how I should just lighten up about it all, I want to throw a pot of hot coffee at them. Because you may be able to change restaurants, but you can never change the experience.

Because, if that's all FriendFeed ever was - some sort of tool, and not a community? Well ...

I might have just stayed home and had a TV dinner.

Cross-posted at thoughts from an empty head.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Steven. And now I want to go to a mom & pop diner. Or stay on FriendFeed. OR BOTH.

Chris said...

scobleizer posted today on ff that he talked with paul and paul has promised family members that ff will be around for a good time to come... there's been almost 300 comments so far in about 6 hours... apparently in the buyout contract there is a clause to keep ff around -- i expect there to be some official word on that clause soon (maybe this week) just to calm people down a bit

great analogy by the way

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