At the Baffler website, Chris Lehmann eviscerates Heleo, a new web-based service whose mission is to "elevate ... thought leaders, to help today’s great thinkers spread their ideas and build online audiences." Lehmann suggests that as ridiculous and self-satisfied as these "thought leaders" sound, they nonetheless exercise a considerable (a detrimental) influence over out culture and politics. Here's a snippet:
If the logic of Griscom’s last two media launches was to take niche operations and pare them down to lucrative service sites, the business model for Heleos appears to be pointed in the opposite direction: serve up a carefully branded array of high-concept loss leaders to the general Web public, gratis—and home in on the TED-like lifestyle content. Then, once he’s whetted his readership’s appetite for Heleo’s life- and career-improving wisdom, he plans to impose a gradual subscription fee.
We’re a lighter, faster, internet-native, more humble version of the media company. Our mission is to elevate . . . thought leaders, to help today’s great thinkers spread their ideas and build online audiences. We are believers — we think that the right book, the right speech, the right new habit, the right cautionary tale or clarion call, the right I-just-can’t-take-it-anymore rant, the right insight on what makes us tick — perhaps even the right tidying tip — at the right moment, can be life-changing. Our goal is to make sure that everyone has access to these transformative ideas in a format they can use, and that the thinkers who create them have the tools and incentives they need to keep inventing fresh ideas.
On paper, it looks like a can’t-lose proposition: feed eager young professional Netizens a steady diet of content designed to improve their already elevated standing in the world—and then have them pay through the nose for it. The only problem is that there’s precious little on the Heleo beta site that bears any recognizable imprint of thought, let alone “thought leadership”—the site’s hotly touted premium deliverable. Instead, everything chimes in creepy unison to the holy imperative of maximized personal value (or, what amounts to the same thing, brand recognition) in the sprawling marketplace of Internet buzz-phraseology. Looking to woo harried VC executives to go in on a pet project on the fly? Then here’s Daniel Pink—the practiced ad sloganeer with an armload of New York Times bestselling business advice books to his credit—spewing a random assemblage of vacuous “psychological hacks”: Rhyme; One word; Get specific—but not too specific. (Would this latter mandate be best executed in one word or two?)...
Heleo’s mission statement declares “it’s high time that content is organized around the brands of the people who created it. . . . We want to meet great ideas the way you meet people at a cocktail party.” Leaving aside the glib equation of brand identity with intellectual liberation, the net effect of any sustained encounter with Heleo’s battery of content is the opposite of an exhilarating social adventure or an innovative exchange of ideas. It is, rather, a monochrome study in flat corporate groupthink—a chilling immersion in a worldview mandating that every last iota of intellectual effort must be harnessed to some witless agenda of market-share dominance or the fever dream of a lifesaving IPO. Far from an exuberantly free-form cocktail party, it’s more like a congeries of last-call hangers-on at a PR junket at Davos or Sun Valley—or worse yet, a never-ending LinkedIn meetup.