"We're all canaries in the coal mines now, like Josh Harris was back in the '90s," writes serial entrepreneur Jason Calacanis in his e-newsletter this week.
Harris was a prescient Web pioneer with an Andy Warhol-like flare for publicity. In 1993, he founded Pseudo Programs Inc., developer of the Web casting site pseudo.com. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2000, but Harris is probably best known as the creator of a controversial Truman Show-esque online experiment. Now he is the subject of We Live in Public, a film directed by Ondi Timoner that won the Grand Jury Prize for a U.S. documentary at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival last weekend.
While Harris certainly took his experiment to the extreme -- and suffered something of a breakdown as a result -- his creative energy and pioneering of streaming video is still admired by many of the enterpreneurs and investors who lived through the dot com era with him.
Fred Wilson, the co-founder of Flatiron Partners back then and Union Square Ventures now, spoke of Harris fondly when The Deal interviewed him for our video series "A Decade of the Deal." Lest anyone think Josh Harris' contributions were limited to the '90s, consider the real-life drama that has enfolded this week with TechCrunch editor Michael Arrington in the starring role. After the unsettling incident of being spat at outside a conference, Arrington announced that he had also been the recent victim of a stalker and that he would withdraw from public for a month to heal his wounds.
While many in technorati circles have expressed sympathy for Arrington's plight, others have wished him and his drama-king antics good riddance.
"You can't have it both ways, Mike," blogs Charlie O'Donnell, the CEO of career builder site Path 101 Inc. and the founder of NextNY, a grassroots tech community. To Arrington, O'Donnell says, "Your business *thrives* on controversy. You've profited from the fame, and like a celebrity who pushes the camera papparazzi away, even though they always *amazingly* seem to know exactly where those celebrities will be, you want the upside but you don't want the risk."
Those who watch We Live in Public may feel mixed emotions about Harris, too.
"The viewer's sympathy for Harris often is strained by his use of friends as virtual-reality guinea pigs," says a recent review of We live in Public. "Some will feel that just desserts have come to the control-freak streaming-video innovator who squandered an $80 million fortune on bacchanalian 'aphrodisiac parties' and ill-advised business decisions as the dotcom bubble burst."
Calacanis -- who lives much of his life in public but who is also bristling at the hostility of some of the online feedback he has received recently -- views Harris and the documentary about him as a cautionary tale.
"We're harvesting our lives and putting them online," he says. "We're addicted to gaining followers and friends (or email subscribers, as the case may be), and reading comments we get in return. As we look for validation and our daily 15 minutes of fame, we do so at the cost of our humanity." -- Mary Kathleen Flynn
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