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Pop-up Ad Inventor's “I'm Sorry” Upsets Celebs, Raises Fears of an “Apology Avalanche” in Silicon Valley

Henri Vidal's Cain, Jardin des Tuileries, Paris.

If pop-up ad inventor Ethan Zuckerman's apologising ways prove contagious, facepalms like this could become a common sight in tech enclaves like Silicon Valley. PHOTO: Henri Vidal's Cain, Jardin des Tuileries, Paris. From Wikimedia Commons.

Maybe it wasn't “the greatest apology since Plato's account of Socrates’ defense,” as one overenthusiastic commentator put it, but the ripples caused by Ethan Zuckerman‘s recent mea culpa have certainly been felt across the globe.

Media outlets from Bolivia to Bhutan have been linking to and quoting widely from an article penned by Zuckerman for The Atlantic, in which the Global Voices co-founder/MIT Center for Civic Media Director atones for his role in the creation of the pop-up ads pioneered by the early Internet startup Tripod.

“We ended up creating one of the most hated tools in the advertiser’s toolkit…” wrote Zuckerman. “I wrote the code to launch the window and run an ad in it. I’m sorry. Our intentions were good.”

Zuckerman’s apology has pissed off at least one major celebrity—British entertainer Sir Elton John, who reportedly criticised Zuckerman for calling the central thesis of one of the singer's hit ballads into question. “Sorry seems to be the hardest word for everybody except Ethan Zuckerberg (sic),” an openly peeved Sir Elton has been quoted as saying.

Singers Tracy Chapman and Madonna, both of whom have songs entitled “Sorry” in their repertoires, could not be reached for comment, nor could any member of the band Chicago, whose ballad “Hard to Say I'm Sorry” made it to number one on the Billboard charts in 1982. Another artist who could not be contacted was “No, je ne regrette rien” (No, I regret nothing) singer Edith Piaf, as the séance scheduled to communicate with the French cabaret legend (Piaf died in 1963) proved unsuccessful.

One artist who did weigh in was Taylor Swift, who warned that Zuckerman’s apology shouldn’t necessarily be taken at face value. “Men say things like that all the time,” said Swift, who released a song called “You're Not Sorry” in 2008.

Zuckerman’s admission has, unsurprisingly, caused serious consternation in Silicon Valley, where inventors of other ubiquitous but totally annoying digital tools and features have expressed concerns that Zuckerman’s penchant for penitence could set off an “avalanche of hair-shirt-wearing and hand-wringing” in their community. 

“If this apology thing goes viral, I’m pretty much f***ed,” said one developer, who spoke on condition that neither he, nor his impossible-to-avoid web browser feature that everyone hates be named.

“There's a bunch of us out here that have a ton to answer for,” said a member of the team that developed Google Wave. “And if we're shaking in our boots down here, you can imagine how petrified they must be up in Redmond [Washington, where Microsoft has its headquarters].”

At Global Voices, the international citizen media network Zuckerman founded, along with Rebecca MacKinnon, in late 2004, staffers and authors are said to be spending long hours in meetings, pondering what Zuckerman might apologise for next.

“In my country apologies, like deaths, come in threes,” said a Global Voices contributor who asked to be identified only as belonging to a country located somewhere between the Arctic Circle and Antarctica. “I’d be very surprised if an apology for the Cute Cat Theory isn’t forthcoming within the next few weeks.”

Some believe the next thing Zuckerman will apologise for is his 2008 "Cute Cat Theory of Digital Activism".

Some believe the next thing Zuckerman will apologise for is his 2008 “Cute Cat Theory of Digital Activism.” PHOTO: 1905 cat postcard by Harry Whittier Frees, from Wikimedia Commons.

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