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September 03, 2004
Friday
John Battelle on upside down advertising
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A fascinating article by John Battelle on ‘sell side’ advertising. Well worth a read. Seth Godin has a good summary:

Imagine online ads that carry money and rules with them. If you’re a blogger or web publisher or even someone sending out email, and you fit the rules for a given ad, you can publish it. Every time you do, you get paid.

The ads deplete the money in their account and then vanish. If the ads are working, the advertiser refills them. If publishers find that readers like them, they publish them more often.

It’s upside down because control is now flipped from advertiser to publisher/reader.

The concept sounds very appealing indeed and I will comment on it later.

PR is dead and blogging killed it
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This post has made it round the blogosphere already but I still want to mark it here.

It is the presentation by Roland Tanglao, who blogs for living, to Reputations and its message to all businesses is:

Start reading and writing blogs today to gain a competitive advantage!

There was much juicy goodness and after much deliberation the following is what I’d ‘take home’ from the presentation:

  • Don’t overestimate the impact of blogging in the short term and underestimate it in the long term
  • Blogging is another example of disintermediation cf. Travel Agents, Programmers, Dell
  • Blogging not just for tech companies anymore… is the web just for tech companies?
  • Blogs have a high Google rank because they are networked digital paper
  • Link frequently to competitors and sources
  • Connect with customers, speak in your voice (i.e. not 100% self promotion since that’s not a natural voice) and have a two way conversation through links and comments; take criticism in stride

So traditional PR is dead, long live DYI PR.

Wine, Johari Windows, and customer-driven brands
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Wednesday evening saw some of the good people we collect (as Adriana puts it) descend on us for an evening of blogtalk, good food, copious amounts of wine, and - as always - plenty of emergent value that we could not have predicted would come from the evening before it happened.

Kate Whalley, a glass of wine, and the reflection of lots of other glasses of wine

Rocking up to tBBC HQ for the night were Alan Moore of SMLXL, Kate Whalley and Adrian Bailey of PeopleFanClub (yes, you have read about them here before), as well as tBBC tech maestro Dominic and his girlfriend Clara Zermani, a very clued-up communications scientist (yes, really) from Italy.

Kate Whalley, Clara Zermani and our Dominic

Rest assured that blogging was only one topic of conversation for the evening - we do know how to talk frivolity. (That said, at the point when we were all laughing at Johari Window jokes - “Alan, thank you for sharing your love of Marilyn Monroe-emblazoned accessories with the group. That was a bit of information that used to reside in your facade, but is now in the arena. This may not be an entirely good thing.” - one had to wonder at our sanity.)

Clara was telling us that she is interested in customer-focused brands. She reads the SMLXL blog, so she has probably read Alan’s recent post on how customers use brands, not the other way around. You should, too.

Companies need to recognise that the value of their product or service is increasingly in the role it plays in consumers’ lives. It is in the every day that real value is found.

Companies that are information rich have an asset which they can offer to their customers in more meaningful ways. Be that retailers, financial services, travel companies, media etc. It is more of a question of sitting down and thinking through what this value is that can surround a product or a service. Tesco‘s is a good example of a company that has worked at unlocking and creating value to the benefit of its customers & shareholders. For example: 72% of all UK expectant mothers sign up to Tesco’s baby club.

Alan Moore is exactly right in what he says about brands finding their everyday value to customers and using it to benefit them and shareholders. Engage by making yourself truly useful, instead of enraging by making yourself truly intrusive. Exchange value for value and let everyone reap the rewards.

That is kind of what we try to do at these dinners and parties, and considering that people keep coming back, we must be doing something right. (The wine helps, I suspect).

Don’t try this at home
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While roaming at large through the wild, borderless world of the internet, it is easy to forget that the real world we actually live in is anything but wild and borderless. Down here on the ground, jurisdiction matters.

Take, for example, Mr Alan Meckler who has been blogging away in the USA about the current litigation in which his company is engaged:

At a recent court hearing over the eMarketer case that I have referenced, I learned that the eMarketer folks have been using my blog entries in the court (See August 17, 2004). I can only presume that this action was taken to show that Jupitermedia means business when it comes to legal actions. I just re-read my recent entry “update” about the case and can find nothing alarming other than an objective report on where the case stands.

Mr. Meckler reminds us that the US judicial system is famously (or infamously, depending on one’s point of view) open on matters of publicity compared to its British counterpart.

Hence, UK bloggers should steer clear of following his example. Under UK law, reporting restrictions on court proceeds apply as a matter of course. Although the bar is set lower in civil proceedings than in criminal matters, once a case is underway the issue is sub judice and publishing details could land the blogger with a charge of Contempt of Court. In serious cases, this can lead to a custodial sentence.

The only safe way to publish details about court cases is to wait until after ‘disposal’ (i.e. the verdict).

And there is also a second important point to remember here, again as kindly illustrated by Mr. Meckler:

… I learned that the eMarketer folks have been using my blog entries in the court.

Remember that everything you blog can be taken down and used in evidence.

There oughta be a blog: Personal Touch Carpet Cleaning
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One thing I have learned over the years since I emigrated to the UK from America is this: In the age of the internet, being 3000+ miles away from your family does not necessarily mean that you escape knowledge of the minutiae of their daily lives. (Just as importantly, I find that I don’t want to escape the minutiae of their daily lives. Learning about it makes the distance between us seem far less than it is.)

So of course, when my parents decided to get the carpets in their home cleaned, I knew all about it. Today, my father emailed me with a full report on how things went:

The carpet cleaning went well...The guy said it was fairly easy to do so he did a few extras like clean four rugs we have at no charge. He also left me some spot cleaner. He even cleaned our little rug we have in the garage before you go up the steps. Needless to say, he has the right idea to encourage repeat business.

Apparently so; if the testimonials on Personal Touch Carpet Cleaning‘s website are to be believed, Jeff Martin’s company is appropriately named.

Looking more closely at the site, I was surprised to find a lot of valuable information that Personal Touch is giving away for free. There’s a guide to the most common carpet stains and how to remove them, a tutorial on different styles and fibres of carpets, and tips on how to keep your carpet clean. (I never knew, before reading that, that you’re supposed to vaccum carpets in both directions. So there’s my value take-away from their website right there.)

This site ought to be a blog. Jeff and his employees could blog on a regular basis about different jobs, show satisfied customers with their clean carpets, inform and pontificate about new developments in fibres and styles, talk about disgusting or funny pet-related stains, announce special offers...there is lots of scope for good content here. Running ads in the local media is one thing. But using Personal Touch’s own medium - their website, in the form of a blog - to demonstrate their knowledge and skills, and to establish themselves as experts in the field, would take their business’s success to a whole other level.

Personal Touch is selling its competence - in order to employ (and re-employ) their services, people have to believe that Jeff and his staff know their stuff, know what they’re doing, and will do a good job cleaning their carpets. Scope for repeat business is high, which is why Jeff has figured out that making customers happy is worth doing - he wants people to be pleased with his services and to evangelise his company to other potential customers. Giving them valuable content that is easily linked to and passed around, updated on a regular basis and often amusing, would make that customer evangelism a million times easier and more infectious. Air conditioning contractors are doing it, so why not carpet cleaners?

Blogs are not just suitable and beneficial for monolithic, global companies. If an evangelistic customer like my father has me, all the way in London, totally sold on this small business and its services, imagine the value in making it even easier for local customers to evangelise to local potential customers.

Personal Touch’s website oughta be a blog.

September 01, 2004
Wednesday
Sun’s ambassadors
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Sun Microsystems has hired the principal author of the open-source Roller Weblogger software, a move that’s part of an attempt to build closer ties with developers and customers.

Sun is encouraging use of blogs to communicate directly and efficiently with people as different as bankers and Linux users, Schwartz explains:

What better ambassadors than our own employees? And what more efficient vehicle than a network connection?

Indeed. Couldn’t have put it better myself.

August 31, 2004
Tuesday
Quotes to remember
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Is political blogging really a new form of journalism, destined to challenge the big boys? Or an echo chamber for the hyper-informed and/or over-agitated?

Our take: It doesn’t matter. ... Blog software took the ideas behind e-mail lists, discussion boards and home pages and combined them into a relatively easy-to-run and elegant-to-read medium. For people eager to publish online, it was like inventing cheap paper – writing was possible before, but tools were more cumbersome and time consuming.
- Tim Hanrahan and Jason Fry, Real Time Wall Street Journal

via BL Ochman

Great blogging tips
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Simon World has a briliant line-up of 50 blogging tips: Everything you wanted to know about blogging but were afraid to ask. This one is particularly true:

44. You will encounter plenty of ignorance in this blogging caper. Much of it will come from other blogs. However even more of it will come from your friends and family. Blogging is like renovating: you find it endlessly fascinating, but no-one else gives a sh!t. They are unlikely to have even heard of blogs. It is your job to talk their ears off about it. Bamboozle them, tell them how great it is, print business cards with the URL on it. They all think your mad already.

Heh.

August 27, 2004
Friday
VC or not VC?
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Doc Searls has some wise words about the good news of Technorati VC funding:

I always thought bragging about bagging VC money was kinda strange in any case. If you were starting a new business in a non-tech sector, would you send out a press release bragging about your banker, and how much he loaned you to get going? I know it’s different in tech, but does it have to be that much different?

He also recalls a buzzword onslaught from an acquaintance who was on his Nth startup at the hight of the dot-com bubble who presented his business as “an arms merchant to the portals industry”.

When I pressed him for more details (How are portals an industry? What kind of arms are you selling?), I got more buzzwords back.
Finally, I asked a rude question. “How are sales?’’

“They’re great. We just closed our second round of financing.”

Thus I was delivered an epiphany: every company has two markets--one for its goods and services, and one for itself--and the latter had overcome the former. We actually thought selling companies to investors was a real business model.

That is probably one of the best and certainly the most succint analysis of what
was wrong with the dot-com era I have come across. It is true that with innovation, a new language needs to be invented too, sometimes. But there is no excuse to underwrite non-existent business model just because something is new, revolutionary and exciting.

What dot-com era has not really taught most companies is that the user rules. It wasn’t the bloated IPOs and young CEOs that sank the companies, it was the markets that found their offering wanting…

On the other hand, you need capital for development in the technology sector. It is a dilemma of most entrepreneurs that need and can get investment face at some stage. Do you keep your independence or have some money to try more new things before your business grows big enough to accumulate it?

Yeah, it’s a tough one. 

A cool business idea
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CoolBusinessIdeas, a Singapore-based business intelligence company has built its new website around an open blog. The company publishes a free, monthly e-newsletter, collects new business ideas and innovations globally. It has expanded its reach to cater to an international audience. Adrants reports:

The blog and newsletter tracks emerging business innovations in overseas markets which businesses around the world can emulate. Written in a concise yet informal manner, the articles in the newsletter touch on business ideas such as “Micro-Purchasing”, “Supermarkets of the Future”, and “Innovation + Style = Lots of Customers”. The idea are intended to serve as inspiration for business professionals and entrepreneurs to think of how they can use these new concepts in their companies.

Apart from the intrusively long plug for their ‘free business ideas newsletter!’ and business books and whatever else they can think of to push to the hapless reader that came to read the blog, it is indeed a blog. With permalinks, trackbacks and categories and more. The annoying clump of text - you can tell I don’t like the ad, can’t you - is so long that they need to helpfully point to the blog by a heading ‘latest entry’ just where the blog begins. And the blogroll is miniscule, but these are early days.

CoolBusinessIdea have the right idea. Chunk-sized information, flexible trend-spotting and commenting, interesting and informal style can make them an easy but informative read and their blog the envy of their industry peers.

August 26, 2004
Thursday
Where satisfaction at work and blogging can meet
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We got together this morning at tBBC HQ over muffins, fresh cut mango and copious amounts of coffee with Alan Moore and Axel Chaldecott of SMLXL, as well as Adrian Bailey and Kate Whalley of PeopleFanClub.

The bunch of us see each other fairly regularly, and I am pretty familiar with Alan and Axel’s business, but today was the first time that I had had the chance to see the nitty-gritty of what Kate and Adrian do for companies. By the end of our time together, my hand was somewhat sore from note-taking, and my head was buzzing with ideas. (No, really: I was the only one who abstained from coffee.)

One of the important points behind what Kate and Adrian do for organisations via PeopleFanClub is the fact that, in trying to improve teams and teamwork, many companies ignore completely the individual. Anyone who has ever been on a “team away day” or retreat will likely be familiar with all of the probing into how one sees the company’s values, or the team developing, or the company moving forward...with no consideration given to the individual’s values or goals or aspirations.

August 25, 2004
Wednesday
Rude marketing deserves a rude response
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There are many annoying things about computing but one of those things that is most likely to reduce me to screaming at the monitor and firing up Google to hunt down the home addresses of certain programmers is rude software.

Yahoo is a particular offender.  Download and install their Yahoo Instant Messenger (or better yet, do not) and you get, unasked for, an icon in the taskbar and two more in Internet Explorer, all without so much as a ‘by your leave’.  Install the whole suite of Yahoo products and you get even more.  This is ‘interruption marketing’ and contravenes the cardinal rule of ‘do not piss off the customer’.  If I wanted the frigging icons taking up my screen real estate, I would have damn well asked for them.  So if you find that as intolerable as I do, download Trillian and use Yahoo Instant Messenger’s services without actually having to sully your machine with Yahoo Instant Messenger.  Hey Yahoo, my response to you trying to shove your products in front of me? Let’s try “Screw you, I am going to use your more congenial competitor”.  I am willing to pay to be treated more to my liking.

August 24, 2004
Tuesday
Go Blogs!
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Some basic rehash of the goodness of blogging (which always bears repeating but we would say that, wouldn’t we?) in an article by The Globe and Mail last week.

Apparently, blogs are going big business. And according to advocates of the technology such as devotee Jim Carroll, it is about time.

Whatever it is you do by marketing, you can do by virtue of a blog.

They’re a useful and valuable tool to build a relationship with your customers so that your brand name, what you do, who you are, is in their minds. You can do wonderful things [with blogs] if you really apply your creative thinking.

Mr Caroll is future-trends author and consultant who asserts that blogs adapted for business use have a host of applications, ranging from customer relationship management to increasing consumer awareness of one’s business on-line. Blogs also seem to attract a valued consumer demographic.

A study released by Jupiter Research last year showed that 61 per cent of Internet users who read blogs at least once a month have an annual household income of $60,000 (U.S.) or more. A recent survey conducted by U.S.-based Web ad network Blogads revealed 61 per cent of blog readers are over the age of 30, and more than 45 per cent spend five to 10 hours reading blogs each week.

Now, if I could only link this ‘blog metric’ to the concept of “prosumers”, we are rolling - marketing professionals stand aside! grin

Note: I found the best description of “prosumers” in the Economist feature on The future of advertising.

...there is a wider group which marketers sometimes call “prosumers”; short for proactive consumers. Some people in the industry believe this group is the most powerful of all.

Euro RSCG, a big international agency, is completing a nine-country study of prosumers, which it says can represent 20% or so of any particular group. They can be found everywhere, are at the vanguard of consumerism, and what they say to their friends and colleagues about brands and products tends to become mainstream six to 18 months later.

Such people often reject traditional ads and invariably use the internet to research what they are going to buy and how much they are going to pay for it. Half of prosumers distrust companies and products they cannot find on the internet. If they want to influence prosumers, says Mr Lepere, companies have to be extremely open about providing information.

Technorati gets VC funding
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Om Malik has a scoop on venture capitalists’ love affair with RSS.

I have learned exclusively that Technorati has/or is about to close its first round of funding. My sources indicate that it was a mega-round, about $6.5 million at a valuation of around $12 million for the company. Draper Fisher Jurvetson led the round.

Om draws attention to Newgator’s funding received in June and drops hints about Feedster, and Bloglines. All in all, good news and congratulations to Technorati. May the network prosper…

August 22, 2004
Sunday
The revolution will be (mo)blogged
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In his piece Olympic Sized Arrogance, Dan Gillmore paints a vision of the future:

Look past today’s technology. What’s coming will utterly wreck the Big Media monopoly over Olympic images, and all Big Event images. When all spectators have a high-quality video camera in their phones, will the powers-that-be ban phones? Unlikely. But even if they could ban phones that are obvious, what will they do when we’re carrying video cameras in the buttons on our shirts, and when our eyeglasses contain phones or other transmitting devices?

This reminded me of something I observed the other night at a Madonna concert in London. All around us, people were whipping out their mobile phones and sending still photographs and video of the show to their friends and family. When the first person did this, security told her to stop. But before long, there were so many people waving their phones in the air and using them to broadcast their impressions of the gig to those not present that security gave up trying. They could not stop the flow of information - it wanted to be free and it was.

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