The Screwing of Noel (and Joe)

First, let me say, I don’t know Nick Denton at all. I also only know Noel Jackson through email (though we’ve emailed a bit for two complete strangers) and I’ve only read some of Joe Clark’s stuff online, here and there.

But, when I read this post by Noel, and then more here on the same topic by Joe, I couldn’t help but feel like Noel and Joe obviously got the royal Denton for Christmas this year. The big question for me is “what can Nick and/or Joe do about what’s happened?”

The best answer I can come up with is “pretty much, nothing.”

Sure, they could likely sue Nick and/or Gawker Media, but that would most likely cost more than it was worth, and they did submit an unsolicited idea to a company… those unsolicited ideas are generally not something an individual can claim much of a pay-off for after giving them to a company, unless those ideas really pay off in the long term for the company that ‘steals’ those ideas.

So, is there a lesson here for the rest of us? I think so:

Don’t give away unsolicited (or solicited) ideas to companies that you may want to work for in the future… It doesn’t pay you enough and not all companies follow “honourable business practices”.

Another lesson (this one for Denton) is that if you are a company that “can’t afford” to compensate someone for their ideas and work properly, don’t use those ideas and/or work… bad PR is worse than no PR.

7 Responses to “The Screwing of Noel (and Joe)”

  • Nick will probably go back to using Jason Kottke for his various needs. Good designers are everywhere, but don’t “borrow” their code and then snub them. That’s pretty much lands you on a blacklist.

  • I am good friends with Denton, so that that for what it’s worth. But if you read Nick’s IM transcripts that he added to the comments field on Noel’s post, I think it’s fairly clear that Nick was explicit he couldn’t pay, he got Noel’s permission to use it anyway for Fleshbot, Nick then explained that it was a good-faith misunderstanding that he applied the same template to his other sites (which have all shared pretty much the same template all along), and he expressed that he was open to continuing to discussion to Noel’s satisfaction and that he was planning to use Noel for a future project.

    This is the same interpretation of the debate reached by Matt Haughey, founder of MetaFilter among other sites and code purist supreme, according to his comments on Noel’s post as well, so this isn’t just my glossy friend-of-Nick spin on it. I don’t see how that has been missed by Nick’s critics in all this.

    But rather than waiting to sort it out with Nick, Noel went public with his grievances. To me, he just comes off as a petulant nerd. I notice that, for what it’s worth, his blog is ranked in the 4 million range on Alexa, while Fleshbot, Gawker and Gizmodo are each under 20,000. Nick is one of the most ambitious, capable and accomplished people I’ve ever met. He’s been profiled most recently in the New York Times and before that just about everywhere else (Guardian, Business Week, Wired, Financial Times, etc., etc.)

    Noel would have done much better, in my estimation, to have quietly worked things out with Nick to everyone’s satisfaction instead of making such a fuss over it and an enemy of a very influential person in the process.

    DailyCandy just sold for $3.5 million. I can only imagine, based on that kind of (absurd) valuation what Gawker Media will be worth in a year’s time. Soon enough, Nick will be able to pay a proper designer to do whatever he needs for his sites, and you can be pretty sure at this point it won’t be Noel. And you can also be sure that if Nick’s money is still green, he’ll certainly find some other self-respecting talented coder to take the job instead. And no one but a few sour-pussed geeks are going to remember this squabble by then.


  • I think it’s cute Nick still maintains he can’t afford a designer… Jason Kottke, God among bloggers did Gawker from the start! In its first week, Fleshbot several *million* pages, and it had ads from day one. Gizmodo does 1.2 million a month, and Gawker pretty close to that.

    If Nick’s not making any money of 7-8 million pages a month (easy), he needs to hire John to sell ads.

  • What a polarizing issue. This guy Nick Denton is so “ambitious, capable and accomplished” yet he lacks the basic social skills to say “thanks” or the understanding of the Internet’s gift culture to give someone else credit for their work.

    Apparently, he’s quite willing to use (in various senses of the word) designers without actually paying for their services.

    I guess we could all be profiled in the “New York Times and before that just about everywhere else (Guardian, Business Week, Wired, Financial Times, etc., etc.)” if we were willing to be jerks.

  • “I notice that, for what it’s worth, his blog is ranked in the 4 million range on Alexa, while Fleshbot, Gawker and Gizmodo are each under 20,000.”

    It’s worth nothing. Alexa’s ranking is far from trustworthy. In fact, I could probably boost my own website very easily by installing the toolbar and visiting my own sites a couple of hundred times.

    Also, if this guy is so rich and ambitious, how come he can’t afford a designer? (I don’t personally know him nor have I ever heard of him before)

  • I hope someday Denton apologists will read all the documentation and note that Noel went to quite a bit of trouble behind the scenes– only some of the IM transcripts were posted, posting of which, you will note, is questionable in the first place– to resolve the issue. It isn’t an issue of whether or not Denton is more popular or more fabulous than Noel is, or whether or not person X knows Denton well, hence is biased. (Essentially, it’s OK for famous friends to steal code. Right?)

    You want to use it, you pay for it. Any businessman whose sites, we are told above, will inevitably be flipped for millions of dollars will understand that.

    There’s one aggrieved party in this dispute and it ain’t Denton.

  • You can add me to the Denton crime blotter. On April 12th, I sent Nick an e-mail suggesting he hire me to write a blog named “Idolator”. It was to be a political blog on the Neo-conservative movement. Nick replied saying he liked the idea, but the field is too narrow, plus they were already covered in “politics”. Fair enough, I thought and moved on. Now I discover that just a few weeks later, he begins work on a music industry blog entitled “Idolator”, which officially launched in September.

    Nick Denton, of all people, knows how hard it is to come up with just the right name. A little credit would have been nice. A check for my time and trouble would have been better.

    Instead, I registered and created the blog that I originally offered to Denton 8 months ago. Until the URL propagates, it’s at

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