“The #1 marker is in exactly the same spot as it is in Waterway Guide. So I’ll assume that’s the one you started with when you originally pulled the Skipper Bob info into your app.”
Jeff immediately responded with this:
“That’s pure libel. Not one marker ever came from Skipper Bob. I knew Bob and originally developed ActiveCaptain to show him what his ideas of an updated book would be if it were on the internet. Unfortunately, Bob passed away and never saw it. I tend to think he’s been cheering us along for the last decade.”
Now, as I’ve been the target of both public and behind-the-scenes threats and harassment by Jeffrey/Jeff (which I can prove if it comes to that) following my earth-shattering Waterway Guide Beats ActiveCaptain story, and because libel is actually a serious charge, I am posting the following facts to show that his charge is baseless and completely without merit.
The first question is – was my stated assumption false? And the second question is – was it damaging to Jeff’s reputation?
Let’s start with the first question…
What I stated in my SailingAnarchy post above regarding “originally pull[ing] Skipper Bob info into [ActiveCaptain]” is not false – according to Jeff’s own words describing his original app:
”And it was Skipper Bob on the internet. We had no intention of making ActiveCaptain.”
“We…moved what was supposed to be Skipper Bob on to activecaptain.com.”
In fact, Jeff’s own statement in that same SailingAnarchy thread doesn’t even match his quotes above.
As for the second question, if the original app was “supposed to be Skipper Bob” as Jeff stated, why on earth would he consider my stated assumption to be damaging to his reputation?
Pure libel? How?
Before I get started digging a little deeper into these issues, I want to make it perfectly clear that IF the Skipper Bob content/data was part of Jeff’s early Skipper Bob internet app which eventually became ActiveCaptain as he’s said, I personally don’t see that as a problem. Not at all. In fact I think anyone would reasonably expect Skipper Bob info to be a part of a Skipper Bob app. Which is why the over-the-top reaction was strange to me.
So, to be clear, I am ABSOLUTELY NOT insinuating, implying, or stating in any way that there is anything shady or infringing or anything else about the what seemed to be use of the Skipper Bob info in this instance.
For anyone to make that claim or charge, they would have to know what agreements between the parties might or might not have been in place at the time.
I do not know anything about that. So I have no opinion or comment on that matter.
What I do know, and what informed my stated assumption, is what Jeff himself said regarding the evolution of Skipper Bob into ActiveCaptain – that he liked the Skipper Bob books more than other guides on the market, and that he wanted to put Skipper Bob on the internet, and that he talked with and got to know Skipper Bob at a lecture, and that he built such an internet app as envisioned, and that he called that app “Skipper Bob”, and that he had planned to give that app to Skipper Bob while he (Jeff) would run it, and that he moved that Skipper Bob app to activecaptain.com after Skipper Bob’s passing.
So, on the contrary, it seems clear to me that there was an understanding and collaboration between Jeff and Skipper Bob on building this app. And I think that’s great, if not ironic as I’ve pointed out in the past since Jeff has always liked to rail against printed guides – which Skipper Bob is.
So, with that out of the way, let’s get back to the charge of libel – i.e. – my stated assumption that data for an AC marker came from when Jeff pulled Skipper Bob info into ActiveCaptain. And let’s get the facts straight.
My comment on SailingAnarchy came from what Jeff himself said in a sailloot.com interview from February of 2015:
Here is a partial transcript of that section of the interview, along with the times for each of the pertinent statements. I’ve highlighted words (in bold) that are important in relation to a listener’s interpretation of the relationship between Skipper Bob and ActiveCaptain and in relation to my own assumptive comment on SailingAnarchy that the anchorage marker in question came from Skipper Bob info:
-“The first website was not supposed…not going to be ActiveCaptain either.”
-”We had every guide book. We were normal new cruisers and didn’t know anything…didn’t know about going to the Keys or the Bahamas or anything like that – we’d never been on the ICW.”
-”The books that we liked the best, without any question, were the Skipper Bob series. We love the Skipper Bob. We relied on it…”
-”And the reason…we’d spend hours talking about it…I don’t know if you’re familiar with it…but they are basically done on normal black and white paper, they’re very inexpensively bound…but…”
-”…the data in it was real. And Bob would go and collect data from real cruisers; you could email him and he would update the data once a year, and then put out the books for very inexpensive…They were about a third the price of anything else. And it wasn’t the price, it was the quality.”
-”But what we thought was waiting that year for that new update…was just…technology didn’t speak to that.”
-”And the internet definitely made it possible to put Skipper Bob online.”
-”I wrote the first chartplotter that worked on a cell phone. It was called Outdoor Navigator. There’s a lot of ways that built into ActiveCaptain.”
-”Because of that product, I actually was speaking at a lot of boat shows about ‘here’s why you need…here’s what the phone can do for you on a boat.’”
-“At a talk that I was giving at a TrawlerFest in 2004, Skipper Bob came to my lecture. And I was just so blown away, and I met him, and we talked and everything, and I got to know him.”
-”So what I decided was that we wanted to put Skipper Bob on the internet. You know, what would that look like? And that’s what we designed. It took about 6 months to actual code it and another 6 months to design it.”
-”And it was Skipper Bob on the internet. We had no intention of making ActiveCaptain.”
-“So, it’s December 2006. And we’re actually back in Maine for the holidays. Finished up the website…it was on a website called ‘ActiveMap’…again, we were never going to call it that…it was just housed there…it was a GoDaddy website.”
-”And I called Skipper Bob up on the phone. He was home for the holidays too. What I wanted to do was, on our drive back, I wanted to go through Pennsylvania, which is where he lived, and stop off and show it to him. And I wanted to let him have it. I mean, I wanted to help him run it, you know, I knew he probably wasn’t into technology. But I thought the community really needed it.”
-”And I called up and spoke to his wife. And his wife informed me that he had died that week. Of all things. He was home putting up his Christmas lights and he passed away.”
-“So Karen and I didn’t know what to do. And we sat on things – we just sat on it for two weeks. And we decided, you know, we really like the website. We really want to do it.”
-”And literally, it was early January 2007 when we were sitting there buying website names. We like the word ‘active’…One of them was ActiveCaptain.”
-“We let the other websites kind of go, and moved what was supposed to be Skipper Bob on to activecaptain.com.”
-”Basically made it alive, told one website about it, which was Panbo. And that week we had 1000 people sign up for it. Which is a lot. A lot for no advertising, no exposure.
-”Ben [Ellison of Panbo] was in Camden, Maine which is right across the bay from Castine. And I knew him and I gave him early demos of it. I probably gave him a demo of it while it was still Skipper Bob.”
-”I basically just told Ben about it. And I said ‘Hey, we’re making it live. We’re going to see what happens with it.’ And he really liked it. He played with it a little bit. And wrote a Panbo article about it on the day it was announced. And that pretty much gave the exposure.”
So, let me make a few points here.
As I stated on the SailingAnarchy thread, apart from the above interview, another reason I assumed this particular marker came from Skipper Bob data was the virtually identical location and name of the marker between ActiveCaptain and Skipper Bob. Here is the data for the marker as shown in ActiveCaptain…
…and as shown in Skipper Bob…
You’ll notice the coordinates are virtually identical (within a couple hundred feet on the entire planet), and they have the same name. Now, could a random AC crowd-sorcerer have coincidentally clicked on that very spot and provided the same name as in Skipper Bob? Sure. And it would be an impressive coincidence.
But it was really Jeff’s interview above that informed my opinion about not only this marker – but my broader understanding of where the original data for such markers came from. Where the coordinates and name for this particular marker might very well have been coincidental – the interview regarding Skipper Bob becoming ActiveCaptain was, I thought, factual.
Just a High Concept comparison?
It was suggested in that SailingAnarchy thread that Jeff was intending only a “High Concept” comparison between ActiveCaptain and Skipper Bob with his interview comments, not a direct use and/or repurposing of Skipper Bob. You can read and listen to the above interview for yourself and make your own determination on that. But when Jeff says:
- “The first website was not supposed…to be ActiveCaptain”
- “I decided…to put Skipper Bob on the internet”
- “And it was Skipper Bob on the internet. We had no intention of making ActiveCaptain.”
- “[We] finished up the website…it was on a website called ‘ActiveMap’…again, we were never going to call it that…it was just housed there…it was a GoDaddy website”
- “I called Skipper Bob up on the phone. I wanted to…stop off and show it to him. I wanted to let him have it. I mean, I wanted to help him run it, you know, I knew he probably wasn’t into technology”
- “We let the other websites kind of go, and moved what was supposed to be Skipper Bob on to activecaptain.com.”
- “I probably gave him a demo of it while it was still Skipper Bob.”
I don’t really see how one can draw this “High Concept” conclusion. It certainly doesn’t come across that way to me.
Unlike Jeff’s statement in the SailingAnarchy thread where he says, “I knew Bob and originally developed ActiveCaptain to show him what his ideas of an updated book would be if it were on the internet. ” – the above podcast statements tell a story that I think is very clear – and counter to this new characterization:
“I…put Skipper Bob on the internet. We had no intention of making ActiveCaptain. We…moved what was supposed to be Skipper Bob on to activecaptain.com.”
Then he solidly reinforced this notion when he said the following toward the end of that section of the podcast about that early version of the app that Ben at Panbo reviewed:
“I probably gave him a demo of it while it was still Skipper Bob.”
So, according to Jeff, at this point the app WAS Skipper Bob – not some “High Concept” vague approximation of Skipper Bob – and not ActiveCaptain as he implied in his SailingAnarchy comment.
So, I don’t think it needs to be any more difficult than that. It seems very straightforward to me. And this is precisely where my understanding of the relationship of Skipper Bob to ActiveCaptain came from – and what informed my assumption in my comment on SailingAnarchy.
Could I be misinterpreting what he said? Possibly – but let’s look at another point.
What does ‘Skipper Bob on the internet’ mean?
Again, my interpretation of those statements is literal. If you’re going to “put Skipper Bob on the internet”, you put the Skipper Bob content on the internet. And what does that content look like? It’s several hundred pages of data points like this…
…along with a few images here and there, and narrative descriptions of certain Points of Interest. Wouldn’t it make perfect sense to put this kind of info on the internet back in 2006? I think it would. It’s really smart. And that’s how I interpreted these statements of Jeff’s.
But, again, it has been put forth in that thread that perhaps these statements are NOT literal – and that they have some other vague and generally comparative meaning. To determine the validity of that, I think we have to look at how Skipper Bob is defined by Jeff himself and what of that definition makes sense to “put on the internet”.
Note: I want to make it clear that I have no idea about the actual facts or details behind this seemingly prickly issue – so prickly that I’d immediately be accused of libel for even assuming it out loud. I can only go by what Jeff said in this podcast interview.
So let’s look at those statements a bit.
What exactly is Skipper Bob as defined by Jeff in this interview?
“The books that we liked the best, without any question, were the Skipper Bob series. They are basically done on normal black and white paper, they’re very inexpensively bound…”
Okay, they are books that are done on paper and inexpensively bound. Can you put a book on the internet? Sure, you transfer the content of that book from the paper page to a digital version of that content – either a scan of the page or the actual text/data from that page.
So what is that content? Back to Jeff’s statements…
“…the data in it was real. And Bob would go and collect data from real cruisers; you could email him and he would update the data once a year, and then put out the books for very inexpensive…They were about a third the price of anything else. And it wasn’t the price, it was the quality.”
So, Jeff defines the content here as “the data”. And remember, this is what he means from the Skipper Bob book itself…
Jeff talks about the quality of that data (not the paper and the binding). So, again, in the context of this statement, what of the Skipper Bob books makes sense to “put on the internet”? The answer seems clear – the content, the data. How else would you interpret this? Is it really vague and mysterious?
Finally, Jeff states the purpose for “putting Skipper Bob on the internet”.
”And I called Skipper Bob up on the phone. He was home for the holidays too. What I wanted to do was, on our drive back, I wanted to go through Pennsylvania, which is where he lived, and stop off and show it to him. And I wanted to let him have it. I mean, I wanted to help him run it, you know, I knew he probably wasn’t into technology. But I thought the community really needed it.”
What I took from this is that Jeff did exactly what he said, he put the Skipper Bob content on the internet, in an app, so that he could “let [Skipper Bob] have it” and Jeff “would run it”. Makes perfect sense to me.
Also, to be clear, this 2007 app was not simply a repurposing of “a book” such as a digital facsimile of pages – or simply a listing of each of the content/data points shown in the image of a Skipper Bob entry above. It appears to have been what we know ActiveCaptain to be today (see image below from 01/26/2007 Panbo AC announcement article)…
And here is the description of the app that we are very familiar with…
“The site was created by the talented Jeff and Karen Siegel, and its goal is to let all of us contribute details of marina services and give them ratings. Other useful POIs, like anchorages, will be possible soon. The Web interface, using Yahoo maps and sat photos, is wicked slick, and totally free. And it will remain free, as the Siegel’s business plan is to develop and sell software that will enable mobile devices like cell phones to easily access ActiveCaptain, while leaving regular Web access free, even of advertising, so that hopefully a critical mass of “captains” will contribute to it.”
So, this appears to be Jeff’s “Skipper Bob on the internet” that he spent a year creating, which, as he said, then became ActiveCaptain when he moved it onto that domain. It’s a live map with markers containing data on marinas very similar to what is found in Skipper Bob…
…along with additional info like Dockage/Fuel/etc.
Again, this map-based Skipper Bob app (as Jeff referred to it) was a very smart way to present and update such data. It was unquestionably a lot better than cheaply bound paper books that only come out once a year – and clearly a better means of providing updates to that data over the traditional way of emailing Skipper Bob and waiting as Jeff said. It’s great.
Finally, to complete this picture of what exactly “Skipper Bob on the internet” means, we need to understand the timeline here – and what exactly was in that first iteration of ActiveCaptain when Jeff “…moved what was supposed to be Skipper Bob on to activecaptain.com.”
So, what was in that early version of the Skipper Bob cum ActiveCaptain app? Was it just a virtually blank canvas with a couple of data points entered by Jeff and a few other testers, awaiting the influx of crowdsourced data?
Well, if we look at the screencap image above of Jeff’s home port from the 2007 Panbo article, and even look at the markers that are STILL in AC from his early testing way back then, one could be forgiven for thinking that, and for thinking that Skipper Bob was indeed simply the “High Concept” for ActiveCaptain (despite Jeff’s statements to the contrary).
But then we have to look at AC’s own news release of 01/23/2007. Here, AC says this:
“The fist release of ActiveCaptain has been pre-populated with approximately 8,000 marine facilities. Each facility entry holds 116 fields broken up into 5 sections and 49 groupings. The database includes common things like phone number, lat/lon, and website, but also tracks information not typically documented – are pets welcome, diesel price/date, internet access, slip price per foot, and many other items. There is also an extensive capability for reviewing and rating a facility. Anchorages and “local knowledge” will be added next.”
So the Skipper Bob cum ActiveCaptain app launched with approximately 8,000 markers. Also, we see where both Panbo and AC say that “anchorages will be added next”. Added by whom? And from what data?
The second thing we need to look at is the dates. As Jeff said in his interview, the app was finished up in late December of 2006 after about a year of work; and he was ready to show this app he was calling “Skipper Bob” to Skipper Bob himself.
Jeff then said that he “sat on things” for two weeks after finding out about Skipper Bob’s passing – which takes us to mid-January. Then ActiveCaptain announces their launch on 01/23/2007 and Panbo follows on 01/26/2007. This is about 1 month after that sad news.
So if ActiveCaptain at launch was an “empty crowd-source-ready” application with only the interactive map and input interface and only a few markers that Jeff had entered himself as shown in the 01/26/07 screengrab – then where did the 8,000 other markers come from? Surely they couldn’t have been crowdsourced in the period of a few days – especially when the app didn’t yet have that first 1,000 users. And it’s not clear whether crowdsourced markers were even a thing yet in the app vs. crowdsourced updates to existing markers.
So, were these 8,000 markers added in those couple of weeks before launch? Where did the data for those markers come from? And how did it get done so quickly? I obviously don’t know – but that’s another reason I naturally thought what I thought when Jeff said he put Skipper Bob online, and then moved it to activecaptain.com.
Finally, regarding those anchorages mentioned in the Panbo article, you’ll notice that they come online about 2-weeks after launch per this 02/12/2007 News Release from AC:
“ActiveCaptain is a place where the cruising community can find marinas, anchorages, and local knowledge visually on worldwide maps. Released just last month, ActiveCaptain added over 1,000 registered users and over 13,000 user updates in the first few weeks. The first release provided listings of 8,000 marina markers in the United States. Anchorage makers are now available and “local knowledge” markers will be available shortly.”
What does “anchorage markers are now available” mean? And how many of them were there, in addition to those 8,000 marina markers? I don’t know as I wasn’t using the app back then. But you can derive a bit more that seems to indicate they are pre-populated markers like the marinas were by this other statement from that same release…
“A great place to visually find marinas, anchorages, and local knowledge on maps and satellite images.”
Sounds like markers to me. And that would be a hell of a lot of crowd-sourced markers coming into the app in a very short time if it started as a blank slate – which, along with Jeff’s statements, takes us back to my assumption about that anchorage marker in my SailingAnarchy post.
So what does all this mean?
Well, I don’t know for certain. By Jeff’s comments in that podcast interview, I think it’s perfectly clear that ActiveCaptain literally was Skipper Bob before it became ActiveCaptain. And in that regard, info being pulled from Skipper Bob into ActiveCaptain is not by any means “false”.
As for anything nefarious about this evolution of the app itself, I honestly don’t see it since Jeff says he’d talked with Skipper Bob and they knew each other. I simply see it as an early collaboration that ended with the unfortunate passing of Skipper Bob, after which Jeff “moved what was supposed to be Skipper Bob onto activecaptain.com” just as he says. Nothing more.
And though there may be a perfectly valid explanation – in light of all the above it completely escapes me how “Not one marker ever came from Skipper Bob” as Jeff just said on SailingAnarchy. The application he was building, according to him, WAS Skipper Bob! And, according to him, the data was the primary value of those books! So what “Skipper Bob” was Jeff “putting on the internet”?
Listening to that 2015 interview, that complete disconnect between the versions of the app certainly did not come across. In fact it was quite the opposite. Hence, my stated assumption on SailingAnarchy.
So now with Jeff’s meritless charge of libel and his reversing what certainly seemed to be a clear and compelling story in that 2015 interview – I sure have a lot more questions in my mind. Maybe he’ll publicly clear those up here, there, or elsewhere. Who knows?
For me, I’m going to stick with the chain of events Jeff laid out in his 2015 interview above. I’m going to continue to believe he was being truthful at that time. And in my re-stating his own statements from that interview that I took to be true, I’m confident that “libel” on my part is not possible.
One thing is for sure, though – that escalated quickly!