Is Google's Matt Cutts a PubCon party pooper?

Not everyone involved in this tempest agrees, but that's the "accusation" by Jon Henshaw on a blog post headlined: "Matt Cutts Ruins 'Link Buying' Session at PubCon."

We'll get to the alleged candy-bar crumpling in a moment.

Background first: Cutts is head of Google's Web spam team, one of the search industry's best known bloggers, and a vociferous critic of link-buying schemes. PubCon is a conference happening right now in Vegas for search and Internet marketing types; an event which, according to Henshaw, has come to fancy itself a DEFCON-like force because it delves into the black arts of search engine optimization, including link buying. (Can't you hear the DEFCON regulars chuckling?)

Henshaw writes:

One of the highlights of PubCon Las Vegas 2007 this year was the session on Link Buying - at least it was until Matt showed up. The headlining panel of speakers included experts like Rand Fishkin, Aaron Wall and Jim Boykin. However, once they saw Matt in the back of the room, the panelists were too afraid to talk about anything interesting or important in regards to link buying. The best example of this was when Jim Boykin stood up to give his presentation, and basically told everyone he didn't have anything to say.

Fishkin, CEO of SEOmoz, didn't see things exactly as Henshaw describes, although by his account there was at least a draft if not a chill in the room. Here's what Fishkin tells me:

I had spoken with Matt (Cutts) last week and knew he'd be in attendance. I don't believe that Aaron, myself or John Lessnau (from Link XL) changed much of anything we were planning to say. Jim Boykin, however, did appear less than thrilled with the prospect of sharing his tactics (which have been highly successful) with the audience due not only to Matt Cutts' presence, but that of Eytan Seidman (an engineer for Microsoft's Live search), Tim Mayer (from Yahoo), Maile Ohye (from Google) and several other search engine folks.

As for the less-than-thrilled Boykin, my efforts to contact him have so far proved unsuccessful.

However, this account of the session by Scott Willoughby, attributes Boykin's apparent reticence more to a lack of preparation than anything else. Willoughby also manages in a single breath to link Cutts to Joseph McCarthy and Vito Corleone, quite a rhetorical two-fer.

(Friday update: Boykin explains his stance here ... and it's right out of "Fight Club," which, coincidentally, I happened to have watched the other night.)

Oh, yes, the candy. In addition to accusing Cutts of stifling discussion, Henshaw also alleges that the Google guy attempted to send an intimidating message to the session speakers via a rather unusual means: a chocolate bar.

In the back of the room - as this picture clearly captured - Matt Cutts took out a candy bar and crushed it in the palm of his hand, obviously signaling to the panelists that they would be next if they said the wrong thing.

I wasn't there so it's not for me to say whether he did or didn't send a candygram, but the charge seems dubious and the photographic evidence inconclusive.

And, hey, had he been serious, he would have used a horse head.

(Friday update: Fishkin on the candygram: "Matt likes to be theatrical sometimes, but the candy bar thing seems like a stretch. I didn't personally see it."

I've sent word to Google's PR department in hope of getting a comment from Don Cutts. (Friday update: Google PR tells me they're trying to find Cutts.)

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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