Robert Maxwell: Maxwell’s Peacocks

I will be assembling a list of the names and terms I make up and keep using to talk about Quora. I like assembling my own personal mythologies; but that does get in the way of communication.

One of the terms you may well have seen me use recently is Peacocks. The term describes the union of “life coach” types and “personal branding” types, who seem to use Quora primarily to enhance their commercial social media presence, and whose contributions to Quora are primarily platitudes and anecdotes of how to live life to the fullest, like them.

I was startled to discover one such, advertising how to game Quora metrics, and I named him here. I got a Benburr for that (oh, that’s another glossary term), and I deserved it.

Because I was sanctioned, I held back from reposting Robert Maxwell’s tirade against that kind of person in comments. But it does not name anyone, and it is actually a critique and not just a rant. And since it was the genesis of the term, and a magnificently written piece of prose, I’m now choosing to elevate it to a post.…

I went to university with a bunch of these marketing/growth gurus—they were wannabes at the time—and, well, let’s say my personal opinion of them would strongly cross the BNBR line. The terminology is spot on—”thought leadership,” for instance. I think of this sort of thing and feel my bile rise on some atavistic instinct, an in-born genetic memory on par with how elephants find graveyards and retirees find Florida. Perhaps, in some dark corner of my ancestry, Glug went on about referral metrics until half the tribe got eaten by a sabretooth.

That said, this is a symptom, and, as much as we might tell ourselves that this is a Quora we don’t inhabit, I sometimes worry it may be the other way around. Quora has long since been the preserve of marketing, PR, startups and that entire ecosystem of preening peacockery that puts one in mind of Hunter S. Thompson’s comments on used car dealers from Dallas chasing the American Dream in the predawn chaos of a stale Las Vegas casino. Even in the early days, those topics dominated.

Another comment asks if we remember the time when people didn’t have to promote themselves on Quora—I think people always did, if, perhaps, more naively, and more narrowly. But now the hucksters have figured out the system, as they do.

Instead, we’ve dug down and built dens and hollows in the earth, showed each other the tunnels and mistaken it for the surface. And when one of the peacocks manages to peck into the tunnel, we shudder and tell ourselves that it’s not of this world. It’d be too terrifying, otherwise.

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