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An open letter of apology to Stephen Toulouse (Stepto)

Posted by joeabbott on March 16, 2013

imageThis post will be a bit long and rambling and really directed to one guy, but illustrates the dangers of assumptions, the queer emotions engendered by too much social media, and how I need to watch my yammering.

A few years back I started working in “the Xbox division” at Microsoft and found a curious lens placed on my video game playing. I’ve always enjoyed a good game but when I started to cast my eyes on moving to that organization, it brought to me an intensity and interest to all things gaming. It’s most immediately evident by the fact that I now play games nearly nightly, and I’m playing a lot more co-op (which means, with other people); it’s secondarily accompanied by my reading a lot more about games, the industry, and personalities.

One of the key personalities who helped form basic online gaming etiquette, or at least on the Xbox Live service, Steven Toulouse was the BanHammer. That is, in his role as Microsoft’s Director of Policy and Enforcement, he defined appropriate behavior and, when someone on the service violated those policies, he’d have them removed. To my knowing, his every policy and action were to ensure everyone enjoyed the service and could have fun gaming. His sign-off tag line was, “Be excellent to each other”. Good advice from a fine human being.

As I was preparing to move to the “Xbox division” and ramping up on all-things-gaming, I asked for, and received as a Christmas gift, a copy of Toulouse’s book A Microsoft Life. It was a quick read and a lot of fun and, more than that, very telling about Stepto … which is the name Stephen went by after receiving “stepto” as his email alias. He had humble beginnings in the world of online support, he has a life-passion around both gaming and technology, and he was a rapid riser in the organization; a quintessential “Microsoftie”.

By 2012 I’d made the move and was working on all-things-Xbox and, early that year, Stepto sent a broad mail stating his intent to leave Microsoft. In response I shot him the following email:

From: Joe Abbott
Sent: Friday, February 03, 2012 11:15 AM
To: Stephen Toulouse
Subject: RE: Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen.

Stephen … or, Stepto.

I bumped into your book on some Amazon audio clip or other and put it (the paper version) on my wish list. For Christmas a thoughtful niece sent a copy my way and over the course of a few weeks I read your stories a few pages at a time before dropping off for the night.

Thank you.

It was a delightful read and the spirit of your passions brought me back to a Microsoft some 15 years ago when I was doing a stint as a new dev in the Developer Division. Tech interest and curiosity ran deep, we stayed up late, and dug into anything with a transistor. Times change but I have missed that spirit. Reading your book was like sitting down with an old friend who had some of the same experiences I did.

Well, maybe not the bare bottom spanking part. I never had the … er, experience.

I finished the book some weeks back but never found the right time to say thanks for the entertaining read. This seems like a good time: thanks. Best wishes on your future.

Stepto.jpgI received no response, but that’s to be expected: we weren’t friends, of which he had many to whom I imagine he was responding, and he was also wrapping up this portion of his career. Busy times. But, he left the company and that was the last I’d heard of him for a while.

And then there was a convergence: I got a Twitter account (@JoeAbbott8) in late 2012 and I came across a YouTube video of Stepto speaking at some conference or other. Somehow in that whole mess I thought, “hey, I’ll follow Stepto’s Twitter feed!” Easy enough.

My Twitter usage is pretty primitive: I follow fewer than a dozen people, I read each and every message, and follow a lot of their links/feeds/suggestions. I also don’t tweet (that is, post short messages on Twitter) much myself: I have 21 to show for the 3 months I’ve been online and the majority of those are from auto-tweets that occur when I post to this blog. But I’ll get on with the story.

Over the next two months I followed Stepto’s daily exploits as realized through tweets and got to learn a few things: 1) he really likes hockey but specifically the Dallas Stars (note: I stopped following them when they stopped being the Minnesota North Stars), 2) he likes to cook, and 3) he has an insatiable appetite for tech. Oh, and he tweets a LOT. All of this was perfect. I like the hockey talk, took note of recipes and prep suggestions, and learned a bit about tech. On top of this, I felt like I got to know Stepto, to be chums. Heck, we share this small talk each and every day!

But, it came to an end.

A few weeks back (2/21/2013), Sony announced the PlayStation 4 and spun up the hype machine. There was a several hour news conference and continued updates after that. In all it was a lot of demo videos, of talk about the features, and different companies singing praises to the new console and gaming platform. If you’re in the industry and just love tech, it’s a very exciting time.

While I’m not sure if Stepto is still in the industry, his roots in gaming and passion for tech burned bright: over the course of an hour, I believe I saw some 35 tweets from him. And then things took an ugly turn.

While reading one of his posts, I saw a small box that said, “Reply to @Stepto”. And I typed in:

@Stepto unfollowing. You’re fun but not "more tweets in an hour than there are minutes" sorta fun. You just went on an unfiltered gush.

And I clicked the “unfollow” link. I absolutely meant no ill will, wasn’t mad or trying to make a point, but was having a hard time “keeping my Twitter feed clean” … that is, reading all the messages. But, I absolutely expected to jump on again a few days later and pick up with my ol’ chum Stepto to see how the Stars were doing and how he was preparing that night’s flank steak. Instead I saw this message on my feed a minute later:

@JoeAbbott8 here let me make it easier for you: blocked.

It was sort like leaving a room that was getting too noisy for you and, as you step out, seeing the door shut and hearing the lock set behind you. Quite clearly I’d done something wrong but it took me a few seconds for it to register.

First, Stepto and I are not friends, and my message was a bit too familiar. I thought my note a bit funny, sorta sassy, and might get a laughing response … something you’d say to a friend without the slightest ill-will exchanged; to a stranger, yup, rude. I’m not sure why I didn’t just quietly “unfollow” but it was my chance to share in the kibitzing rather than just be a silent listener.

It also occurs to me now that the “reply to” box didn’t just send Stepto a note, it tweeted to the world! So now a comment I’d made between he and I was posted (likely to his feed) for all the world to see. And it’s one thing to say something rude to a person in private, and quite another to say it to them in front of a lot of other people.

So the @Stepto Twitter feed is dead to me. When I visited his account just after his “Twitter BanHammer” smote me, I saw the feed said something like, “no tweets here … go away”.  I thought about sending him an email through his personal account (you can find his website/page pretty easily) but thought that felt a bit too stalker-ish. And what would I say, “no, really, I’m not a jerk” … I’m not sure he’d have cause to believe me and I can’t say I’d feel differently if the tables were turned.

So, in short, I’d just like to extend apologies to Stepto and his Twitter followers for my lapse in etiquette with my inappropriate post. If you’re looking for an entertaining read, get his book, follow his feed, or hear him live at some geeky convention or conference … I’m sure he’ll be around. And for me, well, I’ll try to be a bit better behaved on the Internet. There are enough nutters out there without me adding to it.

Oh, and if you bump into Stepto, point him to this post, please … I hope some day he’ll understand I wasn’t trying to be rude. And to steal his line, be excellent to each other.


2 Responses to “An open letter of apology to Stephen Toulouse (Stepto)”

  1. Hopefully you learnt your lesson!


    • joeabbott said

      I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this … it didn’t sound like the response I expected or from someone who lives by a “be excellent to each other” credo, but appears to have come from Stepto’s domain. So, let’s see if I have learnt something about interacting on the web, follow my own commitment to be a bit better behaved, and accept it for acknowledgement. 🙂

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