When I was in San Francisco last month (with Adriana, who was speaking at Vloggercon on net neutrality), one of the best things that happened to me was meeting BrainJams‘ Kristie Wells and Chris Heuer. These are fiercely intelligent, open, unpretentious, generous people who are doing incredible things through the power of their own personal networks.
The format will follow the laws of open space as the ‘how to classes*’ offered will be determined by the participants. We ask that a small fee (average is $5) be given for each ‘how to class’ you sign up for, and all the money collected during the evening will be donated to a charity that will be decided by those in the room (majority rules folks).
Check out the Rent an Expert wiki if you can attend and want to share your expertise and/or learn from the expertise of others in attendance. If you go, tell them that I sent you - and thank me sooner or later, because you won’t regret the experience or getting to know Kristie and Chris.
The grandfather of my fiancé, Antoine Clarke, was a famous French writer known simply as Exbrayat. He invented the genre of the humorous detective novel and wrote more than 100 books (plus several plays and films), on which his first name, Charles, never appeared. You can read more about him here, at the Exbrayat blog that Antoine and I set up yesterday.
We hope the blog will be something very special for Exbrayat’s fans. We will be adding more never before published family photographs, podcasts, and other goodies for fans as time permits. For Antoine’s mother, who has always been very publicity shy and has refused all interview requests, it’s a genuine case of blogging and social media as DIY PR - actually conversing with the public, bypassing the traditional media owned by others in order to speak directly with the people who really count, on a platform owned by the family. The network that nobody owns is a million times more valuable and useful to the family than any other.
May 5th would have been Exbrayat’s 100th birthday, and we’ll all be heading to France soon for the various Exbrayat centenary celebrations in that country. Antoine and I will be taking photos there for the blog, as well as noting the family’s observations on the events in France. And yes, we’ll be doing it in English.
This is a long post, so I won’t make you wait for me to get to the point: Real authority in the blogosphere cannot be measured by current tools, because current tools cannot account for the fact that we choose not to read some blogs precisely because they are authoritative.
One thing that happens when you let RSS do the work of pointing you towards interesting information: You quickly grow weary of certain blogs that are updated several times a day.
I do think it’s important for bloggers to post often, especially in the beginning when you’re trying to build up a dedicated audience. (As Adriana points out to people about the huge number of visitors who hit Samizdata on a daily basis, what is really interesting is that so many of them are repeat visitors and make the effort to check the site once or more each day. Maybe I’ll post some other time about what this means in terms of building an emergent brand.) And I myself used to blog several times per day, in part because it was a big element of working with tBBC, and in part because...Well, I wanted to, and I had the flexibility in my work day to do so. No more.
But there are only a handful of blogs that I really get excited about seeing updated several times a day - in particular, my guilty pleasure blogs, like Perez Hilton‘s. I ignore those in my aggregator until the weekend, and then Saturday morning is a big, indulgent catch-up session.
I recently deleted Steve Rubel‘s blog from my list of RSS subscriptions. Why? Because he’s almost too good at blogging. He updates his site several times a day, and nearly everything he posts is interesting or downright absorbing. But it’s daunting to see that there are 25 or so unread pieces from him in my aggregator, just waiting to be read.
More to the point, lots of the other blogs I read also read Steve’s blog, and link to all the cool stuff he posts with their own take on each item. So I was getting a lot of duplication in my aggregator, with the truly useful posts being the ones which added commentary to the information. Anyone who used to read Glenn Reynolds and no longer does may also be familiar with this scenario.
This isn’t me trying to knock Steve or Glenn, both of whom are phenomenal bloggers and put enormous time and effort into being stellar human filters (Steve starts blogging at 4.30 or 5 AM, seven days a week). But as I know that the stuff they link to will be linked by other filters who are also commentators, and whose insights stimulate my own thoughts, it makes more sense for me only to read the filters who add relevant commentary to those links. (Your own requirements, as always, may vary. Isn’t it great that we all have the choice to tailor this stuff according to our own needs and wants?)
This is another good example of the network effect of blogging: I don’t read Steve or Glenn anymore, but the stuff they link to reaches me anyway. And because of attribution inherent in blogging, I know it when a commentator has found an interesting link via one of them. If someone asked me to name a big PR blogger or a big politics blogger, I’d name Steve Rubel and Glenn Reynolds. If someone asked for more names for each of those categories, I could keep going, naming bloggers who I’d never before read personally, but who I see getting hat tips all over the place for linking to noteworthy items. (This is particularly true of political blogs, of which I have wearied of late; I know that Kos and Atrios and Michelle Malkin are popular information filters, but I can’t say I’ve ever spent more than two minutes on any of their blogs.)
My point once again: Real authority in the blogosphere cannot be measured by current tools, because current tools cannot account for the fact that we choose not to read some blogs precisely because they are authoritative.
So how do the metrics fetishists propose to measure authority in light of this? I’m still waiting to hear.
Cross-posted at The Hole
Just a note on the LA Times wiki boo boo: Rob Barrett, the LA Times GM, deserves praise for wanting to use blogs, wikis, and other emergent technologies to reinvigorate the output of the entire media entity. I’ve talked to him many times about this kind of stuff and to say he’s on the side of the angels is a massive understatement. And far from thinking he knows it all, he’s genuinely eager to learn how to get the most benefit out of these technologies for the LAT and readers alike. He’s a true enthusiast, an incredibly clever guy, and - as this incident shows - isn’t afraid of taking calculated risks.
Well done, Rob. Short-term stumbling often precedes huge success. Those who understand that and keep plugging away are the ones who produce truly great things.
Microsoft’s Business Solutions describes its mission thusly:
...to help small, mid-market and corporate businesses become more connected with customers, employees, partners and suppliers.
Simon Edwards is the UK MD of Microsoft Business Solutions. In an email forwarded to me by journalist Dennis Howlett, Edwards responds to his question of whether MBS is looking at the commercial applications of blogging within their app portfolio by saying:
I’m afraid I’m one of those blank pages regarding blogging that the guy on your site talks about. So, I am a long way from understanding the commercial potential.
Is there any excuse for someone in Edwards’s position to be so clueless about blogging? I can’t think of one.
Cross-posted from The Hole
As you may have read elsewhere, I accepted an offer this week to join Latitude, the world’s largest and most successful search engine marketing company, as their head of marketing.
It is not the case, though, that I left the Big Blog Company for Latitude. In fact, I told Perry and Adriana about a month ago that I felt the time had come for me to move on from our shared mission of teaching companies how to converse with their customers, potential customers, and industry peers. (Actually, we were doing a lot more than just that, but for brevity’s sake, I won’t detail every single way in which we’ve been trying to change the world.)
I have been itching to do something that would let me affect the big picture of which blogging is only one very integral part. I had no idea what that something would be, but I knew I had to try to find it. But it found me, in the form of the offer from Latitude, within a very short time of my decision to leave full-time work with tBBC. (To those who were horrified when I replied, “I don’t know” when you asked me what I was going to do next, and who thought I was insane not to have a ten year plan or whatever other rigid schemes you think people need in order to live well: The way this is working out is a good example of what we at tBBC refer to as the benefits of the emergent.)
But as I have written previously, I wouldn’t have the expertise to do what I’ll be doing at Latitude if I had not spent the last year soaking in tBBC. Most businesses pay lip service to ‘company values,’ but it’s no exaggeration to say that the values I cultivated thanks to Adriana and Perry (and our good friends like Alan Moore at SMLXL) are ones over which I’ve become obsessive in my wish to honour. Engagement not interruption. Pull not push. Individuals not ‘consumers’. Value for value. The benefit of the emergent. Your behaviour is your brand. Sneer at the Cluetrain purity of it all, but don’t doubt our sincerity. All of us from tBBC, and the people we gravitate to (and who gravitate to us), are individuals who do not like to be pushed around, who reject attempts to control our behaviour, and who resent few things more than a company that thinks it can get money out of us by pushing us around and attempting to control our behaviour.
Those are the values I’m taking to Latitude, and which will be core to my efforts there. The opportunity to bring those values to an established, highly successful company that is surrounded by the stalwarts of traditional, intrusive, push marketing is very exciting to me. Just as tBBC has been instrumental in me landing such a great gig, I hope to be instrumental in making the mentality of marketing in the UK (and beyond - if that’s not too much to hope for) one that is much more receptive to the values I learned with tBBC.
And when I say tBBC, I mean Adriana and Perry, the two people with whom I have been immersed in this stuff for at least three thousand hours over the past year. After logging that kind of time, there’s no way I can completely extract myself from what they are trying to do. Plus, we’re still friends and I still talk to Adriana on pretty much a daily basis. So you’ll probably continue to spot the occasional post from me on this blog.
So thanks, Adriana and Perry, for changing my life. Not only do I now know exactly what I want to accomplish in life, but I also have a finer appreciation for the humble hippo than I did before I met you. I could not pay you a higher compliment if I tried.
I’ve been working on a side project for top SEM company Latitude (formerly Corporem Global) in preparation for New Media Age and Marketing Week’s Online Marketing Show 2005, which is Wednesday and Thursday at the Royal Horticultural Halls in London. Past NMA centrefold and interview subject, tBBC’s own Adriana Cronin-Lukas, will be giving a talk at Latitude’s exhibition space, and I will likely be hanging around the place both days. I am looking forward to it a lot, if only to survey the extent to which traditional marketers ("RSS? You mean the extreme Hindu nationalist party involved in the murder of Gandhi?") are hanging on for dear life and job justification in the UK.
Anyway, I have a couple of spare tickets to OM 2005 up for grabs. Want them? Email me. And if you’re going to the exhibition, do keep an eye out for us and say hello!
Update by Adriana: I will also be speaking at the Brand reputations session. That should be interesting… I hope I won’t get lynched.
Hey, I accidentally discovered a new reason why Flash sites really, really, really (rillyrillyrillyrilly) suck (as if another was needed) today! If you’re doing screenshots of websites, the bits that are Flash render as big white blank spaces in the screenshots.
Speaking of Flash, I have to blog something now that I’ve been trying to hold back on, but it’s all got a bit too much and I simply must write about it.
Not too long ago, I was visiting the offices of a very profitable web agency - the kind of company that calls itself an “interactive agency,” when what they really mean by describing their work as “interactive” is “You can click on it”. It’s like describing books as “interactive” because you get to turn the page. In any case, while I was there, I started admiring some images on the wall. One of the agency partners said, “Go check out [web address]! Those are the images we used in the design.” The following exchange then took place:
ME: It’s not a Flash site, is it?
ME [as disappointed as if I had just been told that I was going to have to crawl home on my hands and knees over broken glass and then through a shallow lake of ethanol]: Oh, WHY?
HIM [slightly defensive]: Well, it was what the client wanted. It’s not an e-commerce site! They just wanted to communicate the personality of the brand.
ME: I think actual human beings have more personality than a Flash site.
HIM: Well, it’s what the client wanted. We don’t do many Flash sites these days, though.
This is a professional guy whose talents and intelligence I respect immensely, having worked with him on many occasions over the years. For that reason, I didn’t really say anything else. But seriously...What is the state of things when even the cool, fun, non-BS people in the web business think that a Flash site does anything but piss people off? What is the state of things when these people can also say with a straight face that it’s okay to piss off potential customers with a Flash site as long as it’s not an e-commerce site? How is it justifiable to piss people off online, just so they can carry over their irritation with you to your offline vending? What is the big objection to offering potential customers something of real value? I guarantee that it’s cheaper than the cost of an all bells, all whistles, all annoying Flash site.
Dear ignorant business decisionmakers: The internet is not a channel. We are not all sitting here with dumb, easily amused grins on our faces, taking what’s broadcasted at us. It’s a two-way space and when useless bullshit comes at us from your direction, we’ll throw right back at you with indifference (best case scenario) or anger and a resolve against giving you money that might surprise you in its steeliness. If you want some value from us, you’re going to have to pony up some value to us.
When MTV producer Shane Nickerson was ambushed by tabloid reporters with (what seems to be) a non-story, who showed up at his home on Mother’s Day, he didn’t let a simple “No comment” reported by the tabloids stand as the last word. Instead, he told his side of the story on his blog. And Jessica Stover, the mere acquaintance of Nickerson’s whose family was harassed by the National Enquirer on Mother’s Day? She also published her take on these events on her own blog, including Enquirer reporter Rita Skeeter repeatedly urging her to phone tips into the tabloid for “good money” or revenge.
I’m sure the tabloids would be a lot happier if relatively unknown people like Shane Nickerson and Jessica Stover didn’t have access to their own press machine via blog - another sign, as if one were needed, that things are changing for the better.
I’ll be flying back to LA on Thursday, but only until the 22nd of April. If you missed me during my last trip, drop me an email and maybe we can get together.
I know that some people contacted me about meeting during my last trip and I wasn’t able to find a slot for them, but it all depends on both our schedules. I had very productive and interesting meetings with everyone I did manage to see last time, though, so I think I’ll keep blogging about upcoming travels - just in case the stars align and one of us ends up with a (genuinely) free lunch.
In LA last week, Perry and I had lunch with the Drudge Report‘s Andrew Breitbart, who is in the hot seat now as the press clamours to find out if he is the mastermind behind Arianna Huffington’s new celebrity group blog. (Andrew and Arianna both attended our party the week before. Don’t come near us, or you’ll end up with reporters on your doorstep, too.)
This New York Observer piece about the matter, entitled “Blogorrhea” (yawn), has been much-linked in the blogosphere. It is well worth a read, if only to delight in Matt Drudge’s paranoid distaste for bloggers. Quite ironic, when you consider that he started out as the self-styled lone internet journalist attempting to challenge and usurp the mainstream media. Drudge has a history with this kind of denial, but the Observer piece is still fun reading.
Mr. Drudge said he doubted the market for news links would support more players.
“I don’t think that need is there,” he said. “I think I fill that need.”
...Mr. Drudge said Mr. Breitbart’s influence was a moot point, because “I’m the final edit. I have control on the Web site. I always have the final edit. My name is on the page.”
If anyone is handy with PhotoShop and would like to graft Matt Drudge’s face onto Norma Desmond‘s body, feel free.
Perry and I have returned from our month-long sojourn to Los Angeles, and are frantically getting caught up on London business - hence the unusual silence here. Even with our indispensible internal blog, which saves us untold amounts of time and energy in keeping up-to-speed and helping us to collaborate from even 6000 miles away, there is much to do.
Some things are more enjoyable to share face to face, though. You don’t really get the satisfaction of seeing a look of horror on a person’s face when they absorb some bit of information that you’ve posted to the internal blog. For me, the expression of disgust and revulsion on Adriana’s face when Perry and I told her of the widespread fake blogging that we heard of firsthand, from people who are actively executing fake blogs for companies, was priceless.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t making it up when I recounted to her how one PR flack we met in LA boasted of how his firm lies to big corporations and promises them good coverage on their “big traffic,” fake blog. The blog itself has been set up by the PR company for the express purpose of scamming companies into paying out substantial amounts of cash for positive postings on it. Looking at the blog, it seems to be authored by an anonymous nobody...who just so happens to pepper his commentary with glowing mentions of the PR company’s clients, and negative remarks about their competition.
The really sad thing? A quick Technorati search on the blog’s URL shows that it has only been linked to by one other blog - whose author just happens to be a friend of the PR flack. The companies - household names of the highest order - that pony up for coverage on this “big traffic” blog could easily check its credentials. Instead, they continue to pay lip service to taking part in a “conversation” with customers...and pay PR companies that claim to “get blogging” for utterly worthless “services”. Niall Cook’s prediction for 2005 is as spot-on as ever.
Big Blog Company client Kamal Aboukhater, producer of the independent film Blowing Smoke (yes, that’s our lead designer’s gorgeous creation), has put an invitation out to readers of the movie’s blog to come to a special screening of the film on April 21 in Los Angeles.
I think this is a first of its kind invitation from a film producer via movie blog - very exciting stuff. Blowing Smoke is a provocative film - the New York Post’s Richard Johnson called it ”the most politically incorrect movie ever made” - and well worth checking out. RSVP now, as space is limited.
You want people to reinvent your product in new ways, unnamed client? Well, why don’t you try asking your customers to do it for you; they’re the ones who’d know best. Start a blog. Start a conversation. Read others’ blogs. Join in the conversation. Ask people what they think. Surprise: They’ll tell you. Then all you have to do is listen.
This Creative Commons-licensed iPod stand (”Seeing as the new iPods don’t come with docks, and no-one wants to spend $30+ on a bit of plastic or metal to stand their iPods on, I’ve drawn up a template for a simple, functional and attractive iPod stand you can download as a pdf, print out, stick on some card and assemble,” says the creator) is a very good example of what SMLXL’s Alan Moore is talking about here:
[A]ll these additional devices iTrip, Airplay, etc are brand building for Apple, without Apple spending a cent...And this I think is important to think about as companies work on their siloed approaches to innovation, marketing etc. That by creating a product, a service, an innovation process, that people can co-create value, eiither economically or from a perspective of it being a valuable experience. That has got to be good...[W]hat Apple has done to my mind is great marketing. Because you don’t even know it exists.
Homework assignment from me: Spend five minutes thinking about how your company can apply this concept to its business model, rejecting siloed approaches to innovation and marketing.
I had lunch on Monday with Bon Appétit editor-in-chief Barbara Fairchild, here in LA (yes, still). I was so cheered that she was well aware of the thriving food blog niche - which, by the way, should have a lot more food companies engaging it and taking part in the conversations going on there. Indeed, Julie/Julia Project blogger Julie Powell won a James Beard Foundation Award for an article she was commissioned to write for Bon Appétit last year.
As we sat eating lunch, who should walk in but Hollwood Reporter editor Anne Thompson, who attended our LA blog party a couple of weeks ago, and who met with Adriana in January for a blogging bootcamp. It’s a small world, online and offline - especially when you blog.
Howard came to our LA blogger/media party last week, but I didn’t get a chance to talk to him at length. So it was quite buoying to hear him, as a mainstream media guy, saying quite smart and correct things about how blogging does and can relate to established media. Sometimes, just connecting with someone who knows what he’s talking about when it comes to this subject can set me on a high for the rest of the day. “Yay, a total lack of BS and a whole lot of intelligence!” Don’t worry, I don’t embarrass myself or Perry by exclaiming this aloud. Not usually, anyway.
Perry and I met today in Los Angeles with someone whose blog I have linked to previously, someone whose office we would not have been sitting in if not for the network effect of the blogosphere: John Bryant, founder and CEO of Operation Hope.
It’s clear from John’s blog that he’s got the blogging bug - not only does he post on an almost daily basis, but he has also started podcasting his speeches! John has a lot of inspiring and intelligent things to say about empowering people to do better for themselves by teaching them to do better, and these podcasts are a great gift to the blogosphere.
Thanks to our pal Loic Le Meur for helping John to set up his blog - if you hadn’t, I wouldn’t have known about what John and Operation HOPE are achieving, wouldn’t feel such an affinity for their mission (I wish I was attending this upcoming Operation HOPE event), wouldn’t have met John today, and wouldn’t be telling everyone I talk to about this amazing organization. Now let’s replicate that word of mouth online, across the blogosphere, shall we?
The theme of the event was “Mass market, smart content,” and featured four TV writers/producers/directors: Paul Feig (creator and executive producer: “Freaks & Geeks;” director: “Arrested Development;” director and writer, the feature film “I Am David;” author: “Kick Me: Adventures In Adolescence” and the upcoming “Superstud: How I Became a 24-Year-Old Virgin"), Scott Kaufer (executive producer: “Boston Legal;” writer: “Gilmore Girls,” “Chris Isaak Show,” “Murphy Brown"), Rob Long (co-creator and excecutive producer: “Men, Women & Dogs,” “Love & Money,” “George & Leo;” executive producer: “Cheers") and Tim Minear (executive produer: “The Inside,” “Wonderfalls,” “Angel,” “Firefly"). Together, they tackled the issue of how successful television writers manage to keep their distinct viewpoints when writing for the mass market.
I believe wholeheartedly that there is no such thing as ‘the mainstream,’ and that the mass market is dead, and being replaced by a mass of niches. I also believe that the mass media is not being destroyed, merely altered radically, and individuals are being liberated from the mass by the unprecedented choice of personal relevance that (thanks to things like blogs, mp3s, TV on DVD, podcasting, and TiVo) they have today - and that choice of personal relevance is increasing exponentially at a rapid rate. So the topic of the panel was extremely appealing to me as a total geek on the social ramifications of emergent technology tip.
I didn’t want to hit the guys over the head with the beliefs I laid out above, so I asked them if they thought that TV series on DVD (which they all seemed to agree was the best thing to happen to TV in a long time, even if the lack of leadership in the Writers’ Guild means that they get screwed out of decent earnings, receiving only 2 or 4 pennies per DVD sale), TiVo, and that greater choice of personal relevance is going to affect what they do in any significant way. Every panel member had something to say about that, but the most interesting answer came from Paul Feig, who said that the bottom line is that the show that draws the most advertising revenue wins, and it will always be that way.
Except I am sure that it won’t always be that way, and that the advances in emergent technologies and the rebirth of niche will bring about that dramatic shift a lot sooner than we may think. The business model of broadcast must change if it is not to die (and with only 12 per cent of US viewers getting their TV via antenna these days anyway, ripping it down isn’t a bad idea). As viewers (read: customers) get used to having that personal choice of relevance, they will throw their attention (read: value) to the places where they can get it: cable, satellite, and the internet. And if you think advertisers won’t pick up on that and move their ad spend accordingly, I’ve got some stock in broadcast that I’d just love to sell you.
The kicker being, I don’t believe that advertising revenue is going to be the bread and butter of TV on cable, satellite, and the internet. Sure, there will be ads in the world as long as there are lazy, clueless companies who believe in ”just in case” marketing. But the costs of that kind of marketing are rising, the effectiveness declining, and profits down as a result.
Which brings us to my point: This drive to niche dovetails very nicely with the need of companies to put customers at the beginning of the value chain instead of at the end of it. The increasing emphasis on the individual also means a move from push marketing to engagement marketing. So instead of wasting a great deal of money on a TV ad, a company can spend a fraction of that on, say, developing great blogs to provide value and engage the niche they are targetting. (They can throw some podcasts up there while they’re at it.)
So here’s the question I really wish I had asked the panel: Ten years from now, who exactly is going to be spending the kind of money on network TV ads that they need to maintain this broken system? And if that money isn’t there, will you be running over non-TV-watching freaks with your Kia instead of your Mercedes?
It’s a hard job, but someone’s got to do it…
Friday night in Hollywood, Perry and I hosted a party for bloggers and media types: film producer Brian Linse, LA journalist and media critic Cathy Seipp, advice columnist Amy Alkon, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, senior Variety editor Pat Saperstein, husband-and-wife journalists Matt Welch and Emmanuelle Richard (who went straight from the party to E!’s studios to do some punditry on the Michael Jackson case for French TV), and Ventura County Star director of new media Howard Owens.
There were even some people who don’t have blogs: Mickey Kaus (no permalinks, no blog, dude), Arianna Huffington (who came to our party from dinner with Barack Obama at David Geffen’s house - talk about a nosebleed-inducing descent from the A-list), Hollywood, Interrupted author and Drudge Report co-editor Andrew Breitbart, Vanity Fair contributing editor Richard Rushfield, Hollywood political activist Donna Bojarsky, digital motion picture guru Bijan Tehrani, LATimes.com GM Rob Barrett, journalist Ruth Shalit, transatlantic TV and filmmaker Peter Stuart, The Hollywood Reporter senior film editor Anne Thompson, film critic Jeffrey Wells, and director James Orr. There were others there, too, but I’m not sure how they feel about being blogged.
It was a great bash. I got an email from one of the attendees this morning, saying: “It was like a party with old friends.” After hearing about it, someone asked me today, “So are you from LA? With that guest list, it’s like you’ve lived here for years.” Well, no. I’m from Ohio, where I grew up on a farm. My first trip to California took place in December 2004. All the people I know in Los Angeles, even those who are themselves not bloggers and perhaps not even internet users, I know because I started blogging and engaging with other bloggers. I’ve said it once and God knows I’ll say it again, but while the technology that enables this is certainly remarkable, it is the network effect of blogging that is truly amazing.
Perry and I went to the Art Institute of California yesterday to talk to some students about blogging. The campus has a lively atmosphere, and the students we met were all bright and personable - and very curious about blogs.
We had a great conversation, as I talked to them about how building an online portfolio with a blog - perhaps using one of Typepad‘s mixed media templates - could help them to make their talent and expertise tangible, searchable, and accessible to the sort of people to whom they would love to show their work. Bijan Tehrani, the editor of Digital Journal Online and the man who arranged our talk with the students, said that just two days ago he had talked to someone at one of the major global entertainment companies who volunteered the information that they are scouring blogs for new talent. These kids are lucky to be entering the workforce at a time when it is so easy and inexpensive to reach a network of millions and demonstrate for the people within that network who are worthwhile to them - like the guys at entertainment companies who scout blogs for new hires - exactly why they should sit up and take note of their talent.
One artist who should take note of this is a guy named Todd Goldman. Walking around The Grove in Los Angeles earlier this week, I wandered into an art store that was full of his prints. They’re all pretty humorous, and there was one in particular that made me think, “I want to have my picture taken with that one!” Inside the store, I asked the manager - who pounced on me as soon as I entered, which I hate - if my friend could take my photo inside the store. “No,” he replied, in a tone that suggested that he had mistaken me for a retarded child. “We want people to buy the prints, not take pictures of them.”
If this guy thinks he’s selling more prints by limiting peoples’ ability to spread the word about them, I want to know what he’s smoking. The real kicker? There are multiple websites where the images of the prints can be easily downloaded in various sizes. So I can do that, but I can’t take a picture of myself with a print and post it to my blog, along with a link to the artist’s site, thus increasing the chance of him selling some of his work - which, in addition to the prints, includes a whole line of licensed merchandise. Bad business decision, dude. I’ll let one of the artist’s images speak for me, because it really does say it all.
Yep, Perry and I are still in LA. One of the nice things about being here is that - with the torrential downpours and landslides (hopefully) over for the time being - we get to have meetings outside in the sunshine.
And so it was on Tuesday, when we worked on our tans (yeah, as if pasty white London dwellers ever get tan) while talking to stellar film journalist David Poland of Movie City News and Hot Blog. David’s been blogging at the latter since the autumn of last year, and in that time has broken a fair number of stories on his blog. And he told me and Perry that when big media outlets pick up on his scoops, they will never cite his blog as a source - it’s always “an online report” with no actual credit given. Amazing, especially coming from people who see fit to lecture bloggers about how they need to sharpen their journalism skills.
I had a similar problem with the Guardian newspaper here in Britain, when they picked up two different scoops from one of my blogs and refused to cite the source. Instead, they attributed the items to “an internet website” (as opposed to those websites you get in places other than the internet...I guess). I got an apology from an editor, but never any sort of clarification - and it happened not once, but twice. This was more than a year ago, and the Guardian has some clever sticks on board now who actually do understand a lot about blogging - Simon Waldman, Neil McIntosh, and Bobbie Johnson amongst them - so one would hope that they now understand that scoops grabbed from blogs do actually count.
I think that the only news publishers who will be able to charge are those with extremely narrow and unique content niches. For everyone else, the benefits of being reachable in a Google-driven world outweigh what can be gained from subscription revenues. That’s because the network makes it so easy to find similar or the same information elsewhere for free.
Further testament to the fact that the mass market is dead, to be replaced by a mass of niches. If that’s not news that’s fit to print, I don’t know what is.
Well, Perry and I landed safely in LA yesterday, and I’ve already had my first conversation with a total stranger about blogging.
After having my eyebrows and nails done in Beverly Hills, I got a cab back to where I am staying in Park La Brea. Along the way, the driver asked me what I do. “Have you heard of blogs?” I asked. “Of course I’ve heard of blogs!” he replied. “That’s all we hear on the radio all day in our cabs, the conservatives and the liberals are all blogging and it’s all blog-this and blog-that. It’s pretty interesting.”
As it turned out, the cabbie had grown up in the UK, gone to boarding school there, but was born in Iran. When I told him that there’s a thriving Iranian blogosphere, he was surprised - and eager to find out more. I gave him my card and promised to email him links to Iranian blogs. “Wow, that really is something,” he said. “I had no idea those kinds of worlds are out there on the internet.”
I’d love to be a fly on the wall when that guy actually starts getting into the Iranian blogosphere. For now, I’m just happy to have pointed him in its general direction.
Dissemination of information is great, but how much of it is trustworthy? [Blogs] are an interesting phenomenon, but I don’t think they will be as talked about in a year’s time.
-Mike Smartt, (now former, but not before getting an OBE from the Queen) editor of BBC News Online, 25 March, 2003
First, big media denied that blogs existed or mattered. Then we saw anger...We are starting to see bargaining as blogs are incorporated in, gingerly, by some big media. I’ve seen depression; some people I know in this business say it will never be the same (and I try to supress my grins). Acceptance isn’t far off.
In a very brief post, Fred Wilson encapsulates the thoughts that jolt me every day when I consider the times we live in and the reasons I love the things I get to be involved with in working for tBBC. The amazing thing is, many of us who are aware of these developments are incredibly nonchalant about them. The even more amazing thing is, the progress does not stop here.
Link via Jeff Jarvis
I gave my blogboy presentation to a bunch of strategic guys at a certain major mass media company (not my employer’s) the other day and said that the mass market was dead, to be replaced by the mass of niches, and the young MBAs in the room screeched as if I’d goosed them. Fine, I said, imagine that things won’t change and others will come along and eat you up bit by bit. You’ll still be there, but you’ll have new competitors and your growth will be gone.
Last night, Adriana and I attended The Fall and Fall of Journalism, an event at the London School of Economics which aimed to debate whether the traditional role of journalists is being usurped by simply anyone who has access to a digital camera, camcorder and the internet and explore the new phenomena of citizen reporting, blogging and other new technology/new media-enabled reporting. (Details of the panellists can be found behind the hyperlink.)
It can be quite a drama, in Britain, to be very straightforward about the quality of debate on blogging in this country. If you take issue with a particular argument that someone has made, people seem to feel that you are insulting the person who made the argument. The alternative is to nod and smile and pretend that a splendid bunch of people have inevitably produced a splendid event, full of splendid insights and imparted knowledge for the audience.
That alternative is, quite frankly, dishonest - and it is not the sort of thing any self-respecting, truth-seeking person (blogger, journalist, or otherwise) can do without compromising his or her integrity. I preface my comments on the LSE event if only to prepare people who may be very unfamiliar with blogging for something that is one of the universal truths about those who operate in blogosphere: Our BS detectors are very sharp, and we do not hesitate to use them.
FT Magazine editor John Lloyd, who knows of what he speaks when it comes to old media and particularly newspapers, made some very good points about the ‘tabloidization’ of the media. In his book, What the Media are Doing to Our Politics, Lloyd explains that the expense of producing well-researched, in-depth journalism is what has turned so much of the media towards the infotainment model of ‘journalism’. I especially loved his comment - sure to wind up two very different, sensitive groups - that Britain’s Independent “viewspaper” is the Fox News of the UK media, using strong front page headlines that appeal to emotion to shift copies.
Lloyd also feels that this same expense of producing good journalism is what makes it difficult for bloggers to do so. His thinking is that bloggers don’t have the time or resources to devote to getting to the heart of a story, discerning fact from spin, and understanding complex subjects. What I think Lloyd would be pleased to know is that some of the most significant features of blogging are what make those issues less of a problem. Most notably, the network-building that is inherent to the blogosphere and the fact that blogging gives people who are already experts in certain fields and situations the ability to quickly and easily make their expertise tangible, accessible, permanent, and searchable to a network of hundreds of millions - the latter of which obviously helps other truth-seekers out there ("proper journalists” among them) in their quest for a grip on reality.
What I found somewhat disturbing about Lloyd’s comments later in the panel was his contention that traditional journalism is something of a civic service, and one that we should be very careful to preserve. This sentiment smacks of the current, hysterical cries coming from old media types who are far less aware than John Lloyd - the idea that journalists are the guardians of truth and that, to some extent, we should take a kid glove approach to this most holy of disciplines. The message is that those armed only with their own expertise and journalistic skills learned outside conventional bounds, never blessed with a sanctifying paycheck from an authorized credentials broker, should really not believe their own hype. Lloyd said - and I will give him the benefit of assuming he was joking - that traditional journalism is such a precious thing that we almost need a government-funded National Journalism Service, as Britain ‘needs’ (debatable) a National Health Service, to safeguard it.
This angle, with its stasist attitude to how journalism must be produced, is at odds with the dynamism that our circumstances demand. And it echoes quite loudly the attempts of the trade unions of 1980s Britain to dictate how newspapers ‘had’ to be produced - actions correctly ridiculed by Lloyd in his opening remarks.
If everyone’s main concern was the truth and how we get to it, the focus of last night’s discussion would not have been so squarely on old media versus bloggers. What seemed to be missing was a basic understanding of exactly how and why blogs really are fundamentally different from traditional journalism - a shocking oversight on a panel that included the LSE’s resident new media and internet professor, Robin Mansell, whom one would expect to be aware of such elementary facts.
What no one on the panel seemed willing to point out, if they did indeed know it, was that the aim of bloggers is not to replace traditional journalists. While definitely not a collective, as some panel members seemed to believe, the blogosphere is made up of individuals whose motivations for revealing truth and correcting untruth are not borne of a desire to bring down the media. To be quite blunt, I don’t think “the media” looms as large in the minds of people as perhaps certain elements of “the media” would wish. What really gets to people is sloppy reporting, spin presented as fact, and audiences being misled.
These people sometimes become bloggers. Most of them do not become bloggers in order to police journalism, but to share their knowledge and opinions with whoever is interested in reading them. But that same disdain for reporting in the traditional media that lacks credibility also fuels the ongoing peer review to which bloggers naturally subject themseves and which keeps everyone in check. An audience member at the event, Professor Ivor Gaber, seemed quite angry that - as he sees it - blogs whose reporting is informed by a particular worldview may be mistaken as ‘objective’ news reporting by dim internet users. He cited Spiked (which is, it should be noted, not a blog) as an example of this danger. (I can’t help but wonder if Gaber eschews email and warns others against using it, lest they be taken in by spam scams.)
When people start wringing their hands over provenance and how to protect the unsuspecting man in the street from his own stupidity, for the common good, in the public interest, etc, etc, things are going down a frightening path.
What no one on the panel pointed out was that the self-regulating, peer review aspect of blogs goes beyond pulling people up on their shoddy reporting, and that many bloggers are recognised experts in their fields, not (as often with traditional media) generalists who move from one subject to another and whose reports are often received with assumed authority. For example, Brad Delong is a noted economist who served in the Clinton administration and who - fancy that - today corrects a statement from a group blog produced by UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh. Blogs are not, as Gaber and Mansell seemed to think, message board-like stomping grounds of the illiterate and uninformed. What we see much more of in the US - and France and Japan and Iran and Poland, for that matter - than we do in the UK currently is noted experts blogging about their discipline and subjecting themselves to the scrutiny of fellow experts and others. The blogosphere is not a world where traditional journalism is regarded as a group of scum to be scalped - no matter what some scared journalists seem to think - and other bloggers are treated gently and go uncriticised. And guess what? Those who read blogs have brains, too, and can work out for themselves that Instapundit is a law professor who isn’t a news reporter and comes to the table with a worldview that informs his writing, just as those who read the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph know that those publications are not - like the BBC is - operating under the pretence of complete objectivity.
Believe it or not, I could go on cataloguing the errors touted as truth and misguided thinking presented as expertise that was on display at the LSE event. Mick Fealty, journalist and editor of the superb Slugger O’Toole blog on Northern Irish politics, covers some of the bases I have ignored in the interest of time (mine and yours).
Look around at this blog: It’s my job to know all this stuff. So I find it depressing that we are still at the stage in the UK where many or all of the panellists at an event like this - even the LSE’s own new media and internet professor - will come to the table without a basic grasp of the fact that the internet is not a broadcast channel, but a two-way conversation whose one-to-many information distribution differs significantly and inherently from that of traditional media.
So consider this post a demonstration of the “narrative of fact” that John Lloyd spoke of as being sacred to society. And if the fact that I’m doing it on a blog, instead of in a newspaper or on TV, makes you uncomfortable, just wait till blogging actually breaks in the UK. Some people - in media, academia, and other fields, and often calling themselves experts - are in for a very rude awakening.Go back on the hippo's back...
Considering how well Microsoft does blogging, in general, it’s disappointing to see that they think a page of text with no permalinks is a blog. Amusing content, courtesy of Gael Fashingbauer-Cooper - who does actually blog at the excellent Popculturejunkmail - but not a blog. (Considering that Fashingbauer-Cooper also writes Test Pattern for MSNBC, which does have permalinks, I’m not sure how they got the Oscars “blog” so wrong.)
Congratulations to my favourite obscure SME blog, Butler Sheet Metal’s Tinbasher, for winning the best small business blog award from the 2005 Business Blogging Awards. I would say that the best recognition one can get from one’s business blog comes from customers and industry peers, but I’m glad to see Tinbasher blogger Paul Woodhouse receive this gong. If his piece on the benefits of business blogging is anything to go by, he understands all too well that his company gets far more than just awards out of their blog.
Back in November, a BBC interviewer asked me if blogging is “the new jazz”. I cannot tell you how hard my eyes rolled at that one.
When I related the exchange to Mike Sigal from Guidewire, the group that stages DEMO, his eyes widened. ”Actually,” he said, “the interviewer didn’t realise it, but his question could be interpreted to make sense.” Mike’s take was that, since bloggers riff off of one another, in a way the whole process of blogging is somewhat jazz-like. Well, okay.
Slate’s Josh Levin has taken an analogy that just about makes sense and managed to get it all wrong. No, I’m not referring to his mistaken belief that credential is a verb (c’mon, dude, didn’t a grasp of basic grammar come with those credentials of yours?). His claim that rappers and bloggers were “separated at birth” is, I guess, supposed to be a humorous take - or so the exclamation point in the subtitle indicates. Levin proclaims:
[I]n newspaper writing and rock music, the end goal is the appearance of originality—to make the product look seamless by hiding your many small thefts. For rappers and bloggers, each theft is worth celebrating, another loose item to slap onto the collage.
Levin maintains that citing sources in blog posts equals stealing. The logic that has led him to this conclusion can only be imagined, and it ain’t pretty. (Does he pride himself on never citing research or sources in his own work, or did I imagine all those links to, er, bloggers in his piece?) Still, he’s demonstrated adept use of another trick of the trade that makes “credentialed” journalists, as he’d refer to himself, so goshdarned special: Dressing up an incorrect argument as a humour piece, all the better to claim, “Hey, it was meant to be funny, don’t take this stuff so seriously!” when he gets laughed at for being wrong. As Peggy Noonan wrote recently (and Adriana blogged here even more recently):
When you hear name-calling like what we’ve been hearing from the elite media this week, you know someone must be doing something right. The hysterical edge makes you wonder if writers for newspapers and magazines and professors in J-schools don’t have a serious case of freedom envy.
Congratulations on your credentials, Levin. I hope they have served you well in an industry where you imagine that citing research and sources is tantamount to theft, because you won’t be getting by on them for much longer.
For those who haven’t seen it, you simply must check out Jon Stewart’s Daily Show take on bloggers. In addition to hitting the nail on the head about credibility and journalism, using words like blogosphere without explanation, and providing a graphic illustration of the waves of influence of blogs and how a single permalinked post from one blog can eventually reach the mainstream offline press, it’s pretty freaking funny, too.
Now, what I want to know is, why doesn’t the Daily Show have a blog?
Link via Jeff Jarvis
It’s about a year ago that I started the Butler Sheetmetal Ltd site and also the first time I’d ever touched one. I’d never touched a blog and I thought SEO and SERPS were something you had to attend when they stopped your welfare benefits...[I]f I could go back a year knowing what I know now, the only thing I’d have done differently would be to have a blog from the off. It’s now the most crucial aspect of our web presence by a country mile.
It’s just a shame that it took so long to work it out.
-Paul Woodhouse, Butler Sheetmetal Ltd
tBBC’s Perry de Havilland and I will be descending on Los Angeles for the month of March, in order to deal with clients there and do all sorts of interesting things (plus a lot of sitting in traffic jams) in the name of blogging.
Our calendars are quickly filling up, but I know we’ve got some clever people reading us (and linking to us) in LA. So...Wanna get together? Drop me an email (jackie - at - bigblog.net) and let’s talk, even if our previous conversations have been confined to the blogosphere, or even if we’ve never talked before. If nothing else, we need people to help us sample all the delights of the Farmers’ Market on the tight schedule of four weeks to do so…
Jeff Jarvis has some wisdom to share with his fellow Big Media players about what the resignation of CNN chief Eason Jordan - and all of the other big stories pursued relentlessly by bloggers and all but ignored by mainstream media until someone resigns or is fired - means to them:
First, journalist-priests are no longer the gatekeepers in either direction—to authority and truth for the public, or from newsmakers to the people. Now the public can demand answers from the powerful and the powerful can avoid the press and talk to the public in new ways.
Second, news just speeded up and old media isn’t ready for this. We used to control the speed of news because we were the gatekeepers. No more. That is a big disconnect between big and citizens’ media: We want answers and we don’t want the press or the powerful to take their sweet time to give them to us.
Third, off-the-record is dead. Now that everyone has access to a press—the internet—anyone you talk to could be a Wolf Blitzer in sheep’s clothing.
Welcome to the age of transparency.
How long it will take old media - and business - to get up to speed with this new age is anybody’s guess. I suspect the ones who lag will find themselves left behind. Forgive me if I don’t shed too many tears for their demise, though.
The article on Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble in the current issue of The Economist ends on a pondering note:
Will corporate bloggers start to get tongue-tied and sound just like tedious press releases? [...] Will [Scoble] criticise only the small things, but toe the line on the big issues? As his page views, fame and influence increase, it might become increasingly difficult for him not to feel self-conscious, and to resist the deadening effect that this can have on any writer’s prose.
Could happen. And if it did, who would suffer? Well, as the article implies, both Scoble himself and Microsoft would be worse off if the ongoing peer review called the blogosphere calls him on his (at this point hypothetical) suckage. That’s the thing about blogs: anyone can have their say on one, and if the influential nodes in the network are of the opinion that you are full of BS and nothing more than a PR puppet, well, word gets around.
Look, the only reason Scoble has credibility is because he has earned it. Earned it with whom? Sure, with his employers at Microsoft. But it’s the credibility he has earned with the blogosphere that makes him so influential.
The key thing to remember is this: When it comes to credibility, the blogosphere giveth and the blogosphere taketh away. I’m pretty sure Robert Scoble understands this perfectly. How long it takes other companies to cotton on to it is another question entirely.
Blogger Patrick Crozier is wondering how in the world the blogosphere, considering its relatively limited readership, has brought down yet another mainstream media journalist, CNN’s Eason Jordan.
As I explained in Patrick’s comments, there are several waves of influence with blogs:
1. That blog’s own readers
2. The readers of other blogs, whose authors link to Number 1’s posts
3. The readers of online publications - Guardian Online, Wired.com, MSNBC.com, Slashdot, Janes.com, etc - which pick up on blog content
4. Offline publications which pick up on stuff from online (such as when Matt Drudge in 1998 broke the Lewinsky scandal and it then hit everywhere in the mainstream media)
5. Readers of those offline publications spreading the news via more traditional word of mouth
Because, you know, this is what it’s all about - word of mouth, but in an incredibly accessible, unprecedentedly permanent, tangible, searchable way. It is entirely correct to credit the blogosphere and not blogs. The format makes all this possible, but without the network to pass on the information, it goes nowhere.
I get more out of my blog than it gets out of me. And you know what, I started out as an advice columnist by giving free advice on a NYC street corner. Sometimes, chasing a dollar at every moment isn’t the best way to get to piles of them.
-Advice Goddess Amy Alkon (in the comments at fellow journalist Cathy Seipp’s blog), whose column is syndicated in more than 100 newspaper, and who is also an ardent blogger (Amy goes on to say: In fact, after putting all this down in a paragraph—it occurs to me that I should probably have to pay a fee to blog—but I’m glad that it hasn’t come to that.)
Jeff Jarvis asks his readers to leave comments on his blog post which asks, ”How has blogging changed lives?” - and they submit some good examples. Tony Pierce gives a testimonial that, while amusing (and true), is the sort of thing people seem to want to hear when deciding whether or not to blog:
[I’ve] gotten press, chicks, and money from my blog.
More intriguing is the impetus behind Jeff’s post - he was contacted by a reporter who was interested in writing about all of the possible negative outcomes of blogging. Jeff persuaded her to convince her editor to include all of the wonderful things that have come out of blogging for so many people. For a taste of the positive that has come out of the blogosphere for one blogger - namely, me - check out this blast from the past post from the older design of the tBBC blog.
There’s a great piece in the latest edition of Venture Capital Journal about the business of venture capitalists who blog. The journalist did an unusually good job covering the whole blog thing, and profiles several venture bloggers and their experiences in blogging. Unsurprisingly, every single blogger featured specified that the best thing about blogging is the networking aspect - meeting clever, like-minded, well-networked people through their blogs. Additionally, the VCs say their blogs help tremendously in giving entrepreneurs an idea of what they are and are not looking to invest in, which saves time and effort all around, and reduces the number of totally off-the-mark pitches the VCs are subjected to.
VCs are busy people who have to be careful about what they do and do not reveal on their blogs. That so many are blogging so successfully is testament to the fact that blogging your expertise does not mean you’re giving away that expertise. Done right, it will mean you reap the benefits of a vast network and are able to work more efficiently and from a more informed viewpoint. Because, lest we forget, blogging is not a one-way “You, customer/potential customer, read NOW about why I rock and you should spend money with my company!” deal. Unfortunately, I meet a lot of very clever people whose business models could be fed substantially by blogging, but who are so protective of their knowledge that they are afraid to show a little of it off via a blog. Those who can’t let go of that white-knuckle grip on their competence are the ones who are missing out on enhancing that competence - and who will continue to do so.
Link via Andrew Anker at VentureBlog
Since Al Gore “invented the internet” (*cough*), it is only right and proper that his new television network, INdTV, is hiring people on the basis of their blogging. Case in point: Anastasia Goodstein, who blogs at YPulse and who has just joined INdTV as the manager of audience participation. In a San Francisco Chronicle profile of Goodstein, we learn that:
Goodstein’s been contacted by Kate Lee, an assistant at International Creative Management who surfs the Web to find bloggers who can write and broker book deals for them, to write about how technology has changed teens. And she’s getting calls asking about her opinion about teen products.
So yes, companies whose employees blog will demonstrate their expertise and competence in matters, but blogging is equally as useful for individual experts who wish to share their knowledge and opinions on those matters that concern them. Anastasia Goodstein is not the first blogger to be hired and pursued on the basis of blogging her savvy, and she certainly will not be the last. As the last two letters that PR blogger Steve Rubel answers here show all too clearly, there is a sharp divide between those who see the value in blogging and those who don’t. No prizes for guessing which camp will fare better in business as a result of their views.
Six Apart’s Loïc Le Meur has been busy in Davos, but he managed both to harangue Michael Dell about getting in on the CEO blogging trend, and to hang out with new CEO blogger John Bryant. Bryant has just launched his blog - and if he can find time to do that, after flying to Davos for a day, flying back to Washington, DC for a meeting with President Bush (which he duly blogged), and then flying straight back to Davos, well, any cry of “I don’t have time to blog!” seems rather weak in light of that effort. Welcome to the blogosphere, John. (And is there any chance of a blog for your Operation HOPE? What better way to spread the word about your efforts than via the blogosphere?)
The picture below reveals a dilemma that has only recently come into effect: When one is being moblogged by multiple mobloggers at the same time, which camera does one face?
Last night, several members of the Six Apart gang descended upon tBBC HQ for a shamefully healthy dinner. As well as the company’s co-founder and President, Mena Trott, we had the pleasure of the company of CEO Barak Berkowitz, Loïc Le Meur, and Alistair Shrimpton. Pukka London-based bloggers Tom Coates, Brian Micklethwait, and Monica White rounded out the group of guests.
I don’t think there’s much that we talked about that is really blogworthy. Well, quite a lot of it was very interesting indeed, but perhaps better left unblogged, despite this exchange between Mena and Tom when Loïc was moblogging masses of pictures (as above):
Mena: You know, some people don’t blog everything that ever happens in their lives.
Tom: Yes, but are any of those people here?
Could not possibly comment on that one…
Back at the beginning of October, I blogged about the British Heart Foundation’s Stop Smoking Blogs. Back then I wondered where the blogrolls were, and made a point about how the network effect is what actually makes blogging so useful.
For some boring reason, I stumbled upon the BHF’s blog project again today, four months later. Still no blogrolls, and the Technorati results for the blogs show the results:
Sorry, no results found.
If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a thousand times: Anyone can set up a blog. Some 23,000 blogs are created every day. Understanding the medium, the elements that make it so powerful, and the network that surrounds each individual blog is the bare minimum that an organisation needs in order to be on their way to successful blogging. For every company that thinks it doesn’t need that knowledge, or believes some know-nothing PR or web agency that tells them they have this blog thing all figured out, we’ll have another example of mediocre-at-best blogs that are barely - if at all - hooked into the network they need to engage. (Just two days ago, a PR who claims to be an expert in blogging admitted to me that he had no idea that linking to someone’s personal email address instead of their professional blog, in the context of a professional blog post, was bad form. The mind boggles.)
So I am afraid Niall Cook’s prediction for this year, that there will be more examples of bad corporate blogging in 2005 than you would care to shake a stick at, is proving to be true. And - give me strength - we’re barely through mid-January.
On the back of the news that Howard Dean’s campaign paid two pro-Dean bloggers for “consulting”, with the goal of influencing their blog posts, the Wall Street Journal reports today that this revelation:
shook the confidence of many people in the blogosphere
If this WSJ report was a blog posting, that line would have to include a link to supporting evidence. But it’s not a blog posting, so it doesn’t - and I don’t think the supporting evidence could be found anyway.
Let’s be clear, here: Both bloggers, who were openly pro-Dean long before his campaign started paying them “consulting” fees, disclosed on their blogs that they were employed by Dean. Why in the world this would shake anyone’s confidence in the blogosphere is beyond me. I could see it maybe shaking someone’s confidence in the two specific blogs involved, even though the bloggers fully disclosed their connection to the Dean operation. But beyond that, it gets a little crazy.
The nature of the blogosphere is that individual blogs are constantly subjected to an ongoing peer review. That’s how credibility is earned, undermined, and maintained. Through that ongoing peer review, blogs lose credibility and they gain it. To suggest that that self-regulation, that system of checks and balances that no boss or law has imposed - but that thrives anyway - undermines the blogosphere is bizarre. It’s one of the things the blogosphere does best, and with so few people trusting big media to get it right, I think it’s bloody cheeky - as they say here in London - for Wall Street Journal reporters to be writing unsubstantiated lines about “many people” having their confidence in the blogosphere shaken.
After all, who brought the news to light of the aims with which these two bloggers had been paid by the Dean campaign? Yep, that’s right - another blogger. (She thinks the WSJ line about shaken confidence in the blogosphere is dubious, too.)
A big-name British journalist and author recently said to me in an email:
Who or what is RSS? It sounds vaguely like the extreme Hindu nationalist party involved in the murder of Gandhi.
That kind of ignorance is about to be Nooked.
Fergus Burns, CEO of Nooked, came down to tBBC HQ yesterday to meet up with me during a flying visit from his base in Glasgow. If a company wants to generate RSS feeds from their website so that journalists can subscribe to them, Nooked has their webmaster insert a few lines of code (literally: two or four lines of code, depending on the job) into a page on the company’s website - this has to be done only once, and then Nooked can scrape the site and generate those RSS feeds. Nooked also hosts the feeds, so they can produce comprehensive stats and validation services for the company, too. (The good news for PR agencies: Nooked also does white label deals. For any PR company that wants to differentiate itself, especially in the tech realm, offering this as a value-added service would make a hell of a lot of sense.)
Journalists are increasingly begging for companies to put out RSS feeds and stop spamming them. Indeed, there are quotes aplenty from the likes of American journos like Dan Gillmor and John Udell on this subject. Here in the UK, uptake of RSS has been much slower. But we’ve had a few journalists attend our blogging bootcamps here in London who are using it, including Journalism.co.uk news editor Jemima Kiss, who told me:
I’m a big fan of RSS and seem to regularly send pestering emails to my favourite sites asking why they don’t have RSS feeds as well as email newsletters! I’ve unsubscribed to as many newsletters as I can. I get 500+ a day - about two-thirds of which are junk - and it’s such a waste of time. RSS is the single biggest thing for web publishers to get their heads around. And it’s so easy, there’s really no excuse not to do it.
With Microsoft adding RSS feed reading to its MyMSN homepages - looks like Yahoo opened the floodgates on that one by adding RSS headline reading to its MyYahoo hompages - maybe more companies will sit up and take notice of the fact that flooding journalists’ email inboxes does not an online PR and marketing strategy make. And once they realise that they’re bombarding their customers (or people they wish were their customers) with spam, too, and that perhaps pushing at these people isn’t the cleverest move to make, well, then we’ll be making some progress.
If you’re in Britain and into interactive marketing and business, you may have noticed tBBC’s own Adriana Cronin-Lukas featured in a two-page spread in the latest issue of New Media Age magazine, out today. In an interview with NMA editor Michael Nutley that touches on emergent branding via blogs, using blogs in internal communications, and commerical use of blogs in general, Adriana, whom Nutley describes as “on a mission,” pulls no punches - hence the title:
Yep, we’ve been accused of that a time or two - and not just in our own blog comments. So well done to Adriana for very clearly speaking her mind, and thanks to Michael Nutley for using so much of it as direct quotations in the article. Now, we just have to get Adriana back to London from LA so she can read the piece for herself…
I guess MSNBC’s Howard Fineman didn’t get the memo about blog and blogger being banned, dirty words with some big media types (lively debate on which is going on here), because he’s one big media guy who’s celebrating the emergence (good word, that) of what he calls The Blogger Nation.
Link via Jeff Jarvis
Despite Bob Lutz’s blog (discussed previously here), Instapundit doesn’t think General Motors actually gets blogs, saying:
[A] company as big as GM doesn’t get anything that fast.
Based on how Michael Wiley, the guy in charge of GM’s blogs, reacted when offered some constructive advice on the Smallblock blog, and based on all the things that need to be changed or improved on GM’s blogs, I agree with Glenn’s assessment. I have a feeling that GM got some advice from PR people who claimed to know all about blogging, and it wasn’t all good advice and they left a lot of stuff out - probably because they’re not as clued up as they think. Aside from that, Glenn links to a troubling - though, sadly, not surprising - incident recounted in the Wall Street Journal:
A Texas computer consultant said he stumbled upon photos of a silver-blue Z06 on the Internet and posted them that afternoon on a Corvette online discussion forum he frequents. Five days later, on Nov. 14, two men from Securitas, GM’s contract security firm, knocked on the door of his Houston home demanding to know who gave him the pictures. He said he refused to let them in, and their parting shot was “We’ll see you in court.”
As soon as the security men left, the 36-year-old computer consultant, who requested his name not be used, posted details of the visit from the “two goons,” as he described them, on two Corvette Web sites. He also posted scanned images of their business cards.
As Instapundit says, a company that gets the internet (and, I would add, the conversations going on in the blogosphere and how to take part in them) doesn’t pull stunts like that. How Lutz reacts to being Instalanched on this one will also be a pretty good indicator of whether or not GM understands that not taking part in the conversation doesn’t mean the conversation isn’t happening anyway. Let’s see if Lutz responds, from the show floor or elsewhere, and how long it takes him.
So newspaper editors don’t like the word blog. My response to that? Tough noogies. The blog movement has come from the bottom-up and will continue to do so, and no executives in shiny suits with not a clue to spare between them are going to start calling the shots on what millions of bloggers around the world call their blogs. Or, as ZF in the comments of the blog Buzz Machine, says:
It’s hilarious to think that any newspaper editors still think they have enough clout to veto the usage of words they don’t like, let alone the word ’blog‘. As if. Meanwhile the blogs are blowing their doors off!
Just reading the independent report into the Rathergate affair (download it here as a PDF), the following caught my eye:
Within hours after the Segment [sic] aired, questions about the authenticity of the Killian documents were raised, initially in an outpouring from the so-called blogosphere on the Internet.
Heh. “So-called blogosphere.” And how does the report define a blog?
A blog is a website that contains an online personal journal, often with reflections, comments, and hyperlinks provided by the writer.
Uh, how about an independent report into the sloppy reporting of this independent report? It’s not like there aren’t freely available resources where such information can be obtained…
On the day that CBS News announced that four staffers will leave their jobs - three asked to resign, one fired outright - after an independent panel found that CBS News failed to follow basic journalistic principles, we held another blogging bootcamp for journalists in London. The role of bloggers in Dan Rather’s downfall was one of many topics discussed, rest assured. And I have it on good authority that Adriana and Perry just may be doing something similar today, on another continent, many time zones away. Watch this space for more details on all that.
In the meantime, we’re going to keep up the momentum of these blogging bootcamps here in London. To that end, we will be holding further sessions on January 24th and January 31st, at 10 AM. (We do happen to have one open slot remaining for our bootcamp on the 17th, at 12 noon, too.) If you’re interested in attending any of these sessions, email me: jackie -at- bigblog.net, or leave a comment with your email address and I will get in touch.
So General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz is now blogging. It looks like Michael Wiley and the GM PR crew learned some lessons from their initial stumbling with the GM Smallblock Engine blog - Lutz’s blog not only has links to auto sites, but even to other blogs. And the PR people aren’t (so far) deleting the critical comments which have been posted in response to some of Lutz’s blog entries. Encouraging. It looks like Lutz is writing posts that are then blogged for him in the back-end by a PR flack or maybe even a webmaster, which is disappointing - the ease and do-it-yourself aspect of blogging is one of the things that makes it so infectious and so useful. But still, good effort on the part of Lutz.
And, of course, it’s nice to see another non-IT-related exec blogging. I have a sneaking suspicion that he is the first of many who will take the blog plunge in 2005, especially in light of this revelation from Lutz:
You real people have more faith in us than many media seem to do!
Wonderful - yet another business exec realising that talking to people through his company’s own medium (instead of relying entirely on other media) yields unexpectedly encouraging, positive results. Tell your friends, would you, Bob?
Link via SMLXL
[In 2005], more agencies will tell clients they know all about blogs, when they don’t. Forget about corporations seeing the weblog light, uninformed agencies will see the weblog dollar and their clients will pay twice - first, for the “advice” that they will receive and then for the damage it will do to their brand.
As a result, there will be more examples of bad corporate blogging in 2005 than you would care to shake a stick at (but at least that will provide something for the rest of us to write about).
Lots of juicy goodness over at Jeff Jarvis’s BuzzMachine. First, Jeff gets hassled by Jason Calacanis, who has been keeping a close watch on the ratio of props that Jeff gives his blogs versus the props that Jeff gives Nick Denton’s blogs. Yawn. But the glimpse at Jeff’s email exchange with Jason provides some entertainment.
Second, Jeff points to Micah Sifry’s project to compile a directory of bloggers who concentrate on state and local politics in the US. Wonderful stuff, showing that blogging is also excellent for network building and information exchange on a local (and hyperlocal) level as well as at the national and global level. But I find myself disturbed by the lack of permalinks on Micah’s site. It looks like they’ve been deliberately disabled. What’s going on, Micah?
I said way back then that the Visual Communicator folks were missing the boat by not targeting bloggers. It took them two years to wake up but now here is a vlogging tool.
I suspect this is one of many companies who will wake up this year and realise that they’re missing a trick by ignoring bloggers. Long may the trend continue.
As has happened before, Om Malik broke the news, and now it’s been officially confirmed: Six Apart has purchased LiveJournal. I was talking to Six Apart’s big cheese in the UK, Alistair Shrimpton, about this earlier this morning, and I couldn’t help imagining my (currently hypothetical) kids and their friends starting out with a free LiveJournal as their very first blogging platform, then moving up to TypePad, and finally ending up with Movable Type for their professional blogs. (Then again, what self-respecting parent/blog professional wouldn’t have their kids on Movable Type or Expression Engine from day one? Heh.) Well done to Alistair and the gang for another smart acquisition.
We have a couple of slots left for our blogging bootcamp for journalists on January 10th - that’s this coming Monday - and have also added a bootcamp the next Monday, January 17th. The session on the 10th is at 10AM, but we’ll be starting at noon on the 17th in order to accommodate those journalists who need a later start. If you’d like to put your name down for the 10th or the 17th, email me: jackie -at- bigblog.net, or leave a comment with your email address and I will get in touch.
First, big media denied that blogs existed or mattered. Then we saw anger...We are starting to see bargaining as blogs are incorporated in, gingerly, by some big media. I’ve seen depression; some people I know in this business say it will never be the same (and I try to supress my grins). Acceptance isn’t far off.
What’s more interesting to me is how people who already have published books - authors and publishing companies - can use blogging to help them sell more books.
When people ask where the money is in blogging, we point not to ad sales or one-off bloggers like Andrew Sullivan who can attract subscribers who will pay to read their bonus material, but to companies who are already in business and how they can use blogging to boost their bottom line. Without the huge promotional budgets that can be spent on trying to deliver a company’s messages in other peoples’ media, businesses can use their own medium - their blog - to have a conversation with potential customers, existing customers, and industry peers.
Case in point: Seraphic Press.
Just seven months ago, Hollywood screenwriter Robert J Avrech started blogging about his son Ariel, who died in 2003 at age 22 of pulmonary fibrosis, after a lengthy struggle with cancer. Ariel, a scholarly rabbinic student, loved literature. Several months before he died, he told his father, “Dad, you should start a publishing company.” Seraphic Press, as it was so named by Robert’s wife Karen, was to produce books of the highest quality, which were also suitable for observant Jews. Niche audience? You bet.
So that’s what Seraphic Press does. When Robert started blogging about Ariel, the company had not yet published its first book, The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden. Robert, who has won awards for his film scripts, wrote that first novel himself. He would occasionally blog about the book, but the emphasis was on he who was the inspiration behind the company: Ariel. In beautiful language, Robert captured the raw pain of losing a child and how, as he put it, “time grinds away...doing its terrible work”. At other times, the posts were darkly funny - at all times, though, they were searing and real.
Of course, by writing these stories on his blog, Robert was deeply affecting those who were reading him. (Full disclosure: I was one of those people. That is another story for another time, though.) His readers left comments, exchanged emails with Robert, and in some cases spoke to him on the phone and came to his home to visit. They also asked him when and where they would be able to buy this book he had mentioned. Without actually setting out to do it, Robert was creating a market for Seraphic Press’s offerings.
Fast forward to last month, six months after Robert created his blog. In that time, Jason Maoz, editor-in-chief of The Jewish Press - America’s largest circulation Jewish publication, with about 250,000 readers - had become a fan of Robert’s blog. He featured excerpts from his blog posts on the front page of The Jewish Press, noted Robert’s blog as one of their most recommended websites, and ran another front page story about Robert in December. Other publications had turned their attention to the blog, too. When Ithaca Journal writer Bryna Fireside, a faithful blog reader, gave the first book from Seraphic Press a rave review, suddenly the large bookstore chain that had refused to stock the title changed their tune. They decided to carry and feature the book, after only a few weeks earlier rejecting it as “too small, with not enough of a publicity budget to back it up.”
It didn’t matter that Seraphic Press was a small, niche publisher without megabucks to spend on marketing. With Robert’s blog, Seraphic Secret, which tBBC gave a makeover and moved from Blogger to Movable Type and its own host, he could communicate with potential customers, garner press attention (both online and offline), and build a distribution network that would have otherwise been unattainable to an operation of Seraphic Press’s size and budget.
Offering value-for-value works. Robert Avrech certainly understands that. After healthy sales of The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden since its release in November, he is offering the book for free to all visitors of his blog, in PDF format. Unsurprisingly, he has noticed downloads followed by orders of multiple copies, in some cases.
With Robert now developing the book as a motion picture, it has been suggested to me that it will be interesting to see where the story of Seraphic Press ends. Of course, the story of Seraphic Press will never end, not as long as the blog is available and the connections - on the blog and off - are being made, and all of the stories - on the blog and off - are being told. And what’s the ROI on that, metrics fetishists? (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)Go back on the hippo's back...
Monday saw another blogging bootcamp for journalists in London, which was great - almost too great, if that’s possible. Because far from the one hour timeframe, Monday’s attendees were so eager to stick around, asking questions, and learning more, that the last journalist didn’t leave until nearly five hours after he had arrived. His name is David Tebbutt, he’s a tech journalist, media trainer and software developer, and now he is a blogger.
We certainly didn’t mind having David and others stick around; far from it, we find such curiosity and enthusiasm extremely refreshing. And when people are clever enough to pick up the implications of blogging that reach far beyond mundane diary blogs and politicians trying to appear to be in touch with their constituencies, we think: “A ha! Got another one!”
Today, we got another one - more than one, actually. But for now, welcome to the blogosphere, David Tebbutt.
It was also fascinating to see how cynical some Fleet Street veterans are about the possibilities of blogging. I suspect that a hundred years ago their great-grandfathers were telling everyone not to bother buying one of those noisy internal combustion thingummies. I don’t think blogging is the Second Coming, but one of the things I most like about it is that it’s starting to undermine the stultifying clubbishness of London journalism. The conversation is getting louder, and more interesting.
-Clive Davis, of The Times (London) and The Washington Times, amongst other publications, upon returning from tBBC’s first blogging bootcamp for journalists
This morning saw the first in our series of blogging bootcamps for journalists here in London. The weather was - gosh, so unusually for London - absolutely miserable this morning, so our guinea pigs were somewhat waterlogged when they arrived at tBBC HQ. But everyone was very keen to learn about this blogging thing, which made for a wide-ranging conversation. It is impossible to get into the nitty-gritty of everything about the art, the science, and the law of blogging in one brief session; while that was not the point of today’s bootcamp, I was thrilled to see people new to blogging who are so eager to find out how it all works, what the big deal is, and what’s going to happen next.
Many thanks to the journalists who came along to this morning’s session. It will be interesting to see how they decide to go forward with blogging, if at all - we await the opportunity to blogroll you with great anticipation.
"Dissemination of information is great, but how much of it is trustworthy? [Blogs] are an interesting phenomenon, but I don’t think they will be as talked about in a year’s time.”
-Mike Smartt, editor of BBC News Online, 25 March, 2003 (Yes, that’s the same BBC News Online that is now blogging, and reported a few days ago about ‘blog’ being the word of the year. Writing, wall - it’s on there.)
In response to the invitation to journalists to attend the blogging bootcamps that we will be running in December and January, DotJournalism editor Jemima Kiss emailed me with a list of questions for a piece she is writing for that outlet about our sessions. Some of the questions are very basic, but they are worth answering - and for those who want to know more of the nitty-gritty about what we’ll be covering and about blogs and journalism in general, here you go. (Jemima’s questions are in italics.)
How much (and how long) are the sessions?
The sessions are free, and last one hour - though people will be able to stay afterwards and keep asking questions and talking if they like.
Would they be suitable for computer beginners, or is some level of experience and internet familiarity required?
Some level of internet savvy would be extremely helpful, but we can work with those of all levels of experience. Accordingly, we will be grouping people of similar proficiency together for each session.
Why are blogs such important tools for journalists?
The network of blogs - the ‘blogosphere’ - is a network of 4 million+ publications and their readers, which allows for greater visibility for journalists and their work. And that network is also superb for making contacts. The best blogs are also excellent sources for journalists, so it’s important to know how to find the information you’re after in as little time as possible. There’s more, but you’ll have to come to one of our sessions to get all the juicy goodness.
Are blogs really any different to a traditional newsprint column?
Absolutely. How many people do you know who still cut out noteworthy newspaper columns these days, and pass around copies to tens of thousands of people? With this self-publishing technology, each entry on a blog can be distributed as if it were a stand-alone publication, and will remain indexed, searchable and useful to internet users for years to come. And the biggest difference between newspaper columns and blogs is that the former is a one-way broadcast, the latter a conversation. The voices taking part in that conversation come in the form of commenters on blogs, readers who send emails, other bloggers who link to and respond to what has been written, and even print and television journalists who pick up on blog stories (Rathergate, for instance) and take them to other audiences via their media.
Is there any way of making money from a blog?
That’s what we’ll be discussing in our sessions. While some big-time bloggers may make a packet on ad sales, the real trick for journalists is how to leverage your blog to attract greater opportunities, collect a stable of useful contacts, and to do better work. If you can do all that, the money will come.
Can I post remotely from a blog?
You can post to a blog from any computer with an internet connection, or even from your mobile phone.
How much does it cost to run one?
It is possible to start your own blog for free, but there is a whole range of blogging options that vary in degrees of professionalism and stellar look and feel. When it comes to blogging, you can ride the bus or you can drive a Ferrari - the choice depends on how much you want to spend.
What are the secrets of the most successful blogs? Is it just a news tool, and do people really trust the opinions of a lone blogger?
Blogs aren’t just a news tool - in fact, aggregating news in the fashion of CNN.com or The Register is a full-time job for those companies’ employees, so it’s not something that a lone blogger should really attempt to do. What interests people about blogs is the human aspect in the form of punditry - the commentary on the news of the day by informed and opinionated writers.
When someone reads a blog - say, Neil McIntosh of the Guardian’s completetosh.com - they are not just trusting some disembodied voice that is coming at them with no context. Blogs are an excellent way for informed writers to establish credibility, as the network that surrounds each blog - those other bloggers that you link to, the bloggers who link to you, the comments you receive on your blog - helps readers to quickly discern whether the blog is creditable or not. And the nature of blogs means that bloggers are each undergoing a constant peer review by one another. Those who do not know what they are talking about will quickly be identified, with the corresponding lack of authority with those within the network.
Are blogs really here to stay?
Blogs are here to stay - with a network of 4 million+ blogs, with 15,000 more created each day, there is no turning back the tide on this. And there are already journalists who have figured out how to make their blogs work for them. The business case for making the most of this tool and the network that supports it is undeniable.Go back on the hippo's back...
I’m in Los Angeles at the moment, combining work and pleasure (as always) and fortifying myself with the awareness of blogs in this city. I got the same fortification from a trip to Paris in October. Yes, awareness of blogs and blogging in the UK really is that low - though we, along with some others, are slowly changing that. But it’s nice to be in a place where people not only know what blogs are, but feel a real sense of possibility about what can be done with them.
Journalist and blogger Cathy Seipp invited me to a small gathering of other journalists on Friday night, at Yamashiro - an amazing restaurant that overlooks the entire city. There, I met some big name, world class journalist bloggers: Mickey Kaus, Roger L Simon, Matt Welch and Emmanuelle Richard amongst them. It was so unspeakably wonderful to hear even the non-blogger journalists in our midst talking about blogs so intelligently, because they read them on a daily basis and know lots of people who blog. (Are you getting the picture that such encounters are more rare in London?)
On Saturday night, I went to an entertainment industry party where I met a journalist whose work regularly appears in the British press. She was talking very excitedly about blogs, and saying that she feels she needs to get blogging, because she sees how effectively other journalists are using their blogs. When introducing me to someone else at the party, I first thought she was being sarcastic when she said, “Jackie’s a professional blogger! Isn’t that glamourous?” I laughed and assured her that it was fun and pretty cool, but not exactly glam. “Don’t you see, though?” she asked. “You’re working every day in something big, something that’s changing the way the world communicates and learns. That’s just amazing.”
I guess it is pretty amazing, even if it’s not glamourous. And it’s nice to be in a place where so many people feel as enthusiastic about it all as I do. At the risk of sounding as if I’ve been in California too long, let’s hope I can bring some of that positive energy back to London with me.
If you dismiss blogging as the blatherings of the Internet elite, you will miss the most significant transformation in communications since the arrival of the Web.
-business and technology authority Chris Shipley, who we were delighted to have as a guest at tBBC’s Thanksgiving feast last night
[W]hen you have on one side a big, faceless corporate airline, associated like all airlines with the usual flight delays and discomfort, and on the other a fun-loving, six-foot-tall blonde flight attendant in a short skirt, it’s not hard to imagine where most people’s sympathies will lie.
-Journalist and blogger Catherine Seipp, writing about Ellen Simonetti, the (former) Delta flight attendant who was fired because of her blog
A couple of weeks ago, I critiqued the GM Smallblock blog here and in the comments of this post, along with Paul Woodhouse. Looking at the GM Smallblock blog now, I see that they have taken my advice on adding author names to posts...though the posts are still marred by a “posted by guest columnist” label at the bottom. Oh, well - take what you can get, I guess.
Michael Wiley, the GM employee in charge of GM’s blogging efforts, seemed quite hesitant to take any professional advice on how to improve upon the Smallblock blog. Indeed, his response when it was pointed out that engaging the petrolheads in the blogosphere would vastly extend the blog’s reach and effectiveness was as follows:
We fully understand the network effect possible with blogs but we are in no hurry to be everywhere.
GM fully understands nothing when it comes to blogging. You don’t have to be everywhere, nor should you want to be. But you do need to engage your curve of the blogosphere, and there is no business case for not doing so.
Link via Tinbasher
One of my guilty pleasure reads is Popbitch. The massively popular celebrity gossip website also has thousands of subscribers to its weekly e-newsletter. But dayum, that site shoulda been a blog. (Note to self: Write a case study of Popbitch and why the site would be so much more valuable as a blog.)
Neil Stevenson, former editor of British style mag The Face and the once-anonymous brain behind the Popbitch empire, knows how he would have used a blog back when he was starting out in journalism:
If I was starting again now, banging my head against the walls at dance magazines, I would definitely start a weblog. At least that way you have examples of your voice, opinions and writing skills out in the public domain and you don’t have to struggle to get clippings.
To put that a slightly different way: Journalists - aspiring or otherwise - who blog are not giving away content ‘for free’. They very much see the returns when it comes to visibility, contacts, opportunities, and the chance to strut their journalistic stuff without having to seek permission from an editor to go ahead and write that opinion piece on whatever issue of the day is on their mind.
Link via Neil McIntosh, deputy editor of the Guardian Unlimited and dedicated blogger.
Journalist Matt Welch comments on Jason Calacanis’s idea for a blogger code of ethics:
In my experience, the people keenest on Ethics Guidelines are those made nervous by truly free expression, those frustrated by a lack of comprehensible industry standards for outside advertisers, and/or those looking to see how much they can “ethically” get away with.
But things really get good in the comments to Matt’s post, where Calacanis drags out his usual “I’m not in business for money, it’s all a charitable effort to help bloggers” line. As one commenter puts it:
Ethics? How about starting by telling the truth?
Emily Jones brings a bit of humour to the debate with her suggestion:
It seems to just to be a push to start a club where members can congratualte themselves for being better than the little bloggers who won’t play by their obviously superior rules and standards. If they have the need to feel special by adopting some standardized “code”, I say let ‘em. Maybe they can all get matching jackets, like the T-Birds in Grease.
Last night saw the Adam Smith Institute’s Democracy & the Blogosphere event in Westminster. An interesting mix of bloggers, blog readers, journalists and other interested observers pitched up to the ASI’s Great Smith Street HQ to hear from a panel comprised of our own Perry de Havilland, journalist and blogger Stephen Pollard, Ideal Government‘s William Heath, and Sandy Starr of Spiked. The BBC was also on hand to record the event, highlights of which will be broadcast on Radio 4’s Westminster Hour on Sunday evening at 10:45 PM (GMT).
I always think that I am in danger of harping on this theme too much, but last night I felt compelled to point out that it is what you do with the technology of blogs that is the really interesting bit. If the blog format is overhyped - and by some sources it is - then the network effect of blogs has been incredibly underhyped.
Ignoring the fact that I would not be working for the Big Blog Company if I had not met Perry and Adriana through our respective blogs and that I would not have been sitting at the ASI event last night if not for the connections I have made through blogging, I used as an example the man who was sitting next to me at the event - my friend, blogger Norman Geras. Norm and I come from very different backgrounds: Norm is a few decades older than I, from Africa, is Professor Emeritus of Government at the University of Manchester and a noted scholar of Marxism and acclaimed sports author. I am, well, me.
I ‘met’ Norm in the blogosphere in early 2003, when I started my own personal blog. He began blogging shortly after I did, we read and linked to a lot of the same blogs (including one another’s), and we started exchanging emails. Soon, his wife and I - the author Adele Geras - were emailing and collaborating on our own project.
In January 2004, I finally met Norm Geras in person.
When we got together face-to-face for the first time, we already knew a great deal about one another, had already shared our fair share of laughs and groans (some politics-related, some technical as I helped Norm sort out the back end of his blog), and had already established a context to our friendship. We had other friends and acquaintances in common, most of whom neither of us had (have) never met. Since that first meeting, we’ve met up other times - in London and in Manchester, at Norm and Adele’s home - and continued our conversations, introductions to new people...all of the stuff that makes blogging so significant.
Do you see here what the interesting bit is? It’s the network, stupid.
Good content matters. But good content alone will not do the trick. You need a network of people to read and appreciate your content, to pass it along through their respective network(s) and get you the attention of other people who will read and appreciate your content, pass it along through...Well, you get it. (Which puts you further ahead of the game than a hell of a lot of people who feel qualified to pontificate on blogging and what it’s all about.)
[S]omeone told Doug Englebart a long time ago that things needed to be “easy to use” and “easy to figure out”. He said, “oh, right, that’s why everybody is riding tricycles.” His point was that nobody really understands how they ride bicycles; it is a very complex activity, yet people figure it out and it becomes natural.
- Glenn Reid, Five Across CEO and faithful blogger
Case in point: Paul Woodhouse, Butler’s blogger/businessman extraordinare, and I are talking to Michael Wiley, who is in charge of GM’s Smallblock blog (which we have written about previously), about what is missing from that blog. Michael seems a little defensive about the blog, but I’m sure he wants it to work as effectively as possible - so I hope he takes on board Paul’s comments and my suggestions.
If blogging for companies was a no-brainer - and we have established that it can be damned difficult to get it right without proper guidance from experts - the Big Blog Company would have no reason to exist. If experts give you free advice, it is - to put it mildly - worth hearing us out.
Your web presence lies. Everybody does it. You aren’t the only one who’s built an all singing, all dancing website with more bells and whistles than a schoolful of referees whilst your actual workspace resembles a bombed-out Anderson shelter.
Initially, the ability to be able to present your business as you’ve always dreamed of is intoxicating. But it’ll come back to haunt you in the long run - mark my words. You need to present your business as it is now otherwise you’ll find yourself deluged with enquiries for work you can’t do, or worse still, no enquiries at all. Let a blog make you honest.
But what about metrics? comes the perennial cry.
Before I started up The Tinbasher again, the Butler Sheetmetal site had been bookmarked twice. This week alone it’s been bookmarked fourteen times. We’ve also received as many hits this week as the whole of August and September combined. I appreciate arguments can be made about of all this, but that’s not my point. More people are visiting the site since the reincarnation of this blog and more people want to return to the site too.
I read alot about metrics and ROI (return on investment) and I agree you can’t measure it scientifically. But let’s be perfectly frank, you don’t need to. I see hits going up, stickyness going up and, most importantly, enquiries going up. It’s out of your hands once your salesperson or sales department gets hold. But at least they’ve got something to get hold of! And don’t claim you can’t write or don’t have the time. You can look at your blog in the same way as you’d look at a business meeting with a potential client.
There is more, all very quotable - go read the whole thing.
I read about the idea via Tinbasher, the sheet metal blog. Strange world, interesting idea.
Johnnie Moore has a good post on emergent branding and the perils of management trying to impose affinity on employees. It’s all worth reading, so I hope he doesn’t mind me skipping to the conclusion, which really resonated with me:
You know, I think it’s quite hard to articulate and stand up for a less formulaic, more emergent way of approaching brands. Because there is this constant pressure to come up with easy answers, and to avoid paradox and at all costs keep out of the discomfort of not knowing.
When I was in Paris a few weeks ago, I had a meeting with a PR person, wherein we discussed the whole metrics silliness that grips marketing and PR. After agreeing that a headshift away from the metrics mindset was needed, I was asked what was going to happen to make that headshift happen. I said, quite frankly, that I did not know. “Well,” came the reply, “I do not accept that answer.”
Some people cannot accept this uncertainty, but the fact is that whether they can accept it or not, and whether they find the acceptance easy or difficult, some things in life are uncertain. Is it this very metrics mindset that makes such uncertainty so hard to swallow?
The Cheap Revolution will not—cannot—come from the top down. It will come from the bottom up. It will come from you. You want to start a media property? Blog. You want to start a radio show? Podcast. You want to start a TV show? Vlog. You want to ad an adman? Build a Gawker Media blogvertorial (sorry about that). Or better yet, rethink what it means for a marketer to have a conversation with customers; that’s what these guys at Ad:Tech still don’t seem to get. They will.
- Jeff Jarvis, blogging from AdTech
I read with interest Jeff Jarvis’s report from AdTech of a joint presentation by Nick Denton and Jason Calacanis. I suppose because of the business models for Gawker Media and Weblogs Inc - that is, taking the publishing model and imposing it on blogs, making their money from interruptive advertising - Nick and Jason are pretty hot on metrics. Yawn. (See
Yesterday saw yet another meeting with our comrade in the struggle to champion engagement and end interruptive marketing, Alan Moore of SMLXL. Alan came round to tBBC HQ for a lunch of bangers and (cauliflower) mash - and some business, too.
One topic we got onto, which we invariably do when we see one another (which is often, but not often enough), is how the UK really is lagging behind when it comes to anticipating and preparing for the seismic shifts that are happening in business. I’m not sure if it was Alan or me who came up with this line, but it is as if they are standing at the foot of the volcano, having a picnic and drinking champagne. Maybe if they pretend everything is going to be okay, they won’t have to change. (See, on this note, SMLXL posts passim, including yesterday’s Another business model under threat.) Yes, we have covered this ground with Alan before.
Similarly, the UK market is way behind when it comes to blogging. I met in Paris last week with Guillaume du Gardier of PR Planet, and he was surprised to hear that France is much more developed on the blogging front than Britain. Does that make sense? On the surface, no, it doesn’t. The UK, sharing a common language with the US, should be much more up to speed on these things.
I am sure it can be annoying for a Brit to hear it from an American, but I suspect that one of the reasons for the slow uptake of blogging in the UK is that in general it is quite unlike Brits to get overly excited about anything. It is almost something of a sin to be wide-eyed and evangelical about anything, no matter how worthy that thing may be. Brits excel at cynicism and being understated and controlled; they are not entranced by the sort of hype that excites people in the US. (I again emphasise the generality, as I know and work with many Brits, like Alan and Perry and David and loads of others, for whom the appearance of cynicism is not a concern.) In Britain, it is far more the done thing to be looking the other way when the bandwagon rolls up, and then scoff and roll your eyes when you finally see it, as it goes past...and then run run run to jump right on it, usually about 18 months behind the rest of the developed world.
Indeed, I remember as far back as a year ago, observing many conversations in British blog comments and on UK-based blogs, wherein bloggers themselves were turning their noses up at the buzz being whipped up in the US about blogging. Sure, it is good enough for them and they spend hours a day in the blogosphere, but God forbid they appear genuinely enthralled by this ‘phenomenon’! No, it is far easier to seem cool towards blogging. A shrug of the shoulders and a yawn would suffice...and then back to updating the blogroll and commenting on their daily tour of their niche of the blogosphere.
And so it goes. In the end, all you can do is shake your head and smile at such people - they can appear as unfussed as they like, and the bandwagon will roll on with or without their enthusiasm. But it is a shame for Britain that it once again is playing catch-up with the rest of the world when it comes to blogging and to the shifts in business that will be necessary for success in the coming decades. At times like these, that usually charming cynicism costs - big-time.
One of the people I met with while doing business in Paris last week was Elizabeth Albrycht of CorporatePR. It was nice to meet up with a fellow Yank and to trade notes on our respective lives as “modern nomads,” as Elizabeth put it.
Over our lunch at La Robe et Le Palais, Elizabeth related to me some of the challenges she had encountered in getting various companies to blog. Let’s face it: If it was easy to do, then tBBC would not have a business model and would not have any clients. This is what we do for a living. Even those who may be longtime bloggers themselves will generally be at a loss when it comes to helping a company to blog successfully.
I see now that Elizabeth has made some of her experiences accessible at The Kitchen. Reading through, several points jump out at me - points that are worth making to those who are trying to champion blogs for businesses.
First of all, I am a huge proponent of blogging for corporations, associations and other types of organizations.
Right off the bat, it is imperative that the right corporations, associations and other types of organisations blog. Not every company should have a blog, point blank. If you try to impose blogging on a group for whom it is inappropriate, the results will not be pretty. As a blogging champion, don’t make a rod for your own back by trying to force blogging on a company that will never be able to do it well.
One of the biggest challenges for corporate blogs (true also for personal blogs) is the amount of time required to do it. In response to this, I say, “Talking to your customers has to be a company’s number one priority. A blog is a powerful channel for communicating to this audience. How can you tell me you don’t have time to do this?”
This has always struck me as a rather curious objection to blogging - that it takes time. Indeed, I remember once talking to a potential client - a highly technical company, where the man hours involved in everything from doing documentation to walking between desk and coffee machine are carefully calculated and tracked - about this issue, and they understood immediately and without breaking a sweat that professional blogging is at least partially about taking your employees’ competence and making it tangible and accessible to the rest of the world. And staying informed and on the cutting edge of their industry and area(s) of expertise is something that employees should be doing anyway - it is already part of their job. Blogging is not an ‘extra,’ but a much more efficient and valuable way of doing what they should be doing in the first place.
If a company cannot see the value in establishing and maintaining thought leadership with its customers, potential markets and industry peers, then they don’t understand blogging at all. (See above note on which companies should and should not blog.) The companies that do get this will find it much easier to blog successfully, and the life of the person who is helping them to do so will be much less stressful, too.
In my example, for a high tech start-up, we had the following blog team: the CEO, a couple of people from marketing, the CTO, and the sales director. It worked relatively well. We set up a series of guidelines in advance, delineating the types of topics each person would write about.
Coming up with ideas for possible topics or areas of discussion is no bad thing, but I would warn strongly against attempting to exercise too much control here. Sometimes the very best content comes from unexpected people, writing on unexpected subjects. Suffocate that, and the blog and bloggers will be all the poorer for it.
Elizabeth then discusses how she has helped new bloggers along by editing their posts for clarity, writing:
There is nothing wrong in seeking help from a professional communicator to help make sure that someone reading a post will understand what you [sic] writing about.
Elizabeth’s mistake illustrates a good point: Even “professional communicators” get it wrong sometimes, and as such their editing skills should not be relied upon to turn someone from an unclear communicator into a good blogger. Choosing the right people to blog is essential.
And of course there is a role for someone to help new bloggers along - that is why tBBC trains all our clients’ employee bloggers. Our background and experience in running incredibly successful group blogs for several years means that we have the expertise and knowledge to do so; it is because doing so is so difficult, as Elizabeth has found, that we have a business in the first place.
So there is something to be said for helpfulness, by someone who genuinely knows how to train bloggers and help them to blog successfully. That helpfulness should not extend to strict editorial control.
In discussing conference blogs, Elizabeth goes into some detail describing how she tried - and failed - to turn a group of people into bloggers.
I prepared a step-by-step guide to blogging, using the software I chose. I set up a sandbox blog where they could play. I kept in touch, asking them if they had questions. I worked with PR people and administrative assistants to make sure they were ready. And in the end, none of this worked. Not one guest author tried out the sandbox. None of them posted appropriately to the blog. They were supposed to post once a day for a week; each posted only once. They received no comments, and the effort was a failure.
From this, Elizabeth concludes:
Their attempt was a victim of time.
Actually, their attempt was a victim of trying to impose, from the top-down, a new technology and way of communication, without any consideration for the benefit to the individuals involved.
This is probably the thing that PR and marketing people ignore most about blogging: the importance of the individual. Show them what is in it for them, and believe me, they will have more than enough incentive to make the time to blog. Connect them to the blogosphere, and they will be even more keen. To refer back to something I wrote a few months ago:
[T]he intrinsic motivation of individuals flourishes when three key human needs are satisfied: competence, autonomy, and relatedness.
People feel competent when they get feedback on what they say and do, and when they are able to respond effectively to challenges they face.
People feel they have autonomy when they feel they are trusted - “empowered,” even (it is a word that has been abused by far too many, but it is still appropriate) - to take initiative, to learn and develop their own skills and talents, and to explore and expand their horizons.
People feel relatedness when they can tell that others are sitting up and taking notice of the fact that they are doing good work and thinking interesting, clever thoughts.
Now, exactly how much competence in blogging can a person feel when it is being dictated to them what they may and may not blog about? (If the person does not have the nous to work out what is inappropriate content, keep them away from the blog!) How much autonomy in blogging can a person feel when they have not been shown that big blogosphere out there and all it has to offer them in terms of learning and developing, exploring and expanding horizons? (Not to mention how autonomous the blogging experience can ever be if his or her posts are vetted by PR before publication.) And if, in trying to become a successful blogger, the person is not given an introduction and education on the interconnectivity of the network, how much relatedness are they going to feel when it comes to their blogging efforts?
In short, these blogs fail not because of a lack of time but a lack of motivation and fulfilment resulting from a lack of proper training and education. As Elizabeth herself says (in a sentence that lacks clarity, albeit):
I remain optimistic about conference blogs, but I think that a pragmatic approach that offers a variety of options beyond, “Here is your user ID.”
Yes, there is a word or two missing from that quotation, but I believe the point is, turning people into good bloggers should not be an afterthought.
I cannot emphasise the following strongly enough: Do not focus solely on the blog. It is crucial to focus on the individuals involved. Without doing so, you end up with failures like the one described in Elizabeth’s post.
Further, I would add that it is equally important to really know what you are doing when it comes to this stuff. If you do not have the expertise and experience in training successful bloggers and creating successful blogs, do not expect a miracle to happen when you try to do so professionally. Failing to deliver for a client the necessary training and expertise to facilitate a successful blog is just bad business. And the fault does not lie with blogs or the blogosphere or imagined problems intrinsic to them (such as time being the thing that kills blogs instead of inadequate preparation and education).
No, blogging will not die because a bunch of people who don’t really know what they are doing are getting their hands on it and failing. But what is the business logic in not doing it the right way, with professionals who have the competence and seasoning to have done it multiple times?
As they might say in France, savoir-faire is not a minor detail.Go back on the hippo's back...
Charlene Li writes on blog metrics:
[I]f a company is going to sanction (or at least ignore the productivity impact) of someone blogging, there has to be a clear, measurable benefit to the company.
While in Paris, I had a meeting with a PR person who was expressing in one breath the opinion (one held by every good marketing and communications person to whom I have ever spoken) that trying to measure ROI for blogs is meaningless and stupid, and in the next breath insisting that “it’s a game we are going to have to play.”
I could not have disagreed more with her, and I could not disagree more with Charlene Li. As we have written before:
Neither businesses nor blogs have reached consistency in the measurement of their influence and authority. By applying the current metrics - as understood by ‘interactive media’ types (hits, clicks, etc) - they are not only one-dimensional, they change the way people see tools such as blogs and other communication media. This is the problem of understanding what communication is all about. Just because you cannot measure something the way you are used to, it does not mean it is irrelevant or even intangible.
And how exactly do you measure affinity and loyalty? You can’t.
Look, if you think that the metrics sham is bullshit, call bullshit. As the Paris PR person agreed with me, a change in mindset is long overdue when it comes to marketing and metrics. You do not shift a mindset by helping to perpetuate it. Do not feed the metrics fetishists.
Li goes on to say:
[I]n the case of tolerating employee blogs, appropriate metrics may be employee satisfaction and retention.
Now how exactly do you accurately measure feelings like satisfaction? I asked this question at a seminar I attended in Paris at the Institut Economique Molinari, where Jérôme Vallée spoke on chapter 2 of Murray Rothbard’s Man, Economy & State, dealing with direct exchange. After the speech, the person next to me was discussing ways of measuring customer loyalty.
“But how do you do that?” I asked.
“Well, you assign values to attitudes, on a scale of one to five or something.”
“In other words, you pull numbers out of your ass.”
This was greeted with a thoughtful nod and a grin. “Well, quite.”
As for companies “tolerating” employee blogs, well, we have written about that before, too.
“Hold on, Jackie,” you may say, “I hate the metrics lies too. But how else do I get clients if I can’t give them the numbers they crave, no matter how pointless and artificial they may be?”
That’s between you and your conscience. In fact, not one of our clients has ever pressed us to tell them what the ROI is going to be for their respective blogs. Do we pick clued-up organisations with which to do business? Absolutely. Is this something of a luxury for us? Absolutely not. tBBC is a young company, and by no means do we have a licence to print money. But we do not play the metrics game, and we never will.
Yes, we have been asked about ROI - once. In that instance, dealing with a monolithic, global brand, we knew way before that question that it would be a difficult company with which to work. (Indeed, we were only talking to them because of a personal contact on the board of directors; this company was by no means low-hanging fruit.) In that case, we refused to play, and the deal never materialised for quite unrelated reasons. But had we played the metrics game and pulled some numbers out of our backsides just to please the corporate boneheads, I don’t think we would have been able to sleep very well.
If any of us wanted to play stupid games with execs who know little about what we do but whose egos we need to massage, we’d go back to working as desk monkeys in companies that are 5 billion light years from the nearest solar system to clued-up. If we can’t do business the right way, a way that is enjoyable and fruitful beyond anything possible in the world of meaningless metrics and lame business jargon, then we can shut up shop right now.
It is not possible to measure the ROI of any of the blogs I have been involved with, and all of the friendships and business associations and deals they have made possible. If you can think of one good reason to pretend otherwise, I will eat my hat.
Link via Steve Rubel
On Tuesday 16 November, the Big Blog Company will be taking part in an Adam Smith Institute blogging event in London, Democracy and the Blogosphere. If you’d like to know what the event is all about before putting on your jacket and tie and heading over to Great Smith Street, check out the blurb:
Much hype surrounds the internet’s self-publishing phenomenon known as blogging. Many claim that the blogosphere - the community of millions of blogs - is the key to reinvigorating the political process. Some believe that, using blogs, politicians will better serve their constituents, the disaffected will become involved in politics, and public confidence in the ability of government to solve society’s problems will skyrocket.
There are also those who fiercely believe that, if only MPs would all start blogging, public debate would be dramatically revitalised. Is this wishful thinking in the age of spin doctors and party whips? Would more conversation with the public encourage our MPs to follow better policies, or lead to governance by opinion poll?
Does the blogosphere really strengthen the political progress, or is it more anti-Establishment than the Establishment would like to believe? Should the unprecedented ability of citizens to spread criticism of the state, its actions and its employees be cause for governmental alarm? Can our political process withstand such scrutiny? And is the blogosphere the big, equality-driving democracy so many claim that it is, or is it really a meritocracy, where the most interesting, compelling, and worthwhile ideas rise to the top?
For information on how to book your your place - space is limited - for the seminar and champagne reception, check out the ASI blog.
I didn’t bother to take my wifi-enabled laptop with me to Paris - why bother when there is an internet café (complete with huge M&Ms vending machine and plenty of high-caffiene energy drinks) two doors down from your hotel? And when that internet café is charging a mere €3 per hour of usage, it gets even more difficult to justify lugging a laptop around with the rest of your luggage.
But I am always on the lookout for good wifi hotspots, especially in London. If only this one that Stee has found was here instead of in Brooklyn - it has free wifi, good (and cheap) food, lots of comfy seats, as well as a full bar.
And… and you’re going to think now I’m just lying… videogames. Joust and Ms. Pac Man. I know!
Anyone know any good wifi hotspots in London?
I do not believe that this excellent rant against clueless corporate drones’ plans for the internet can be linked to enough. There is lots of juicy goodness there, and the entire thing should be read, but this is certainly worth keeping in mind:
If you actually had even the faintest glimmering of what reality on the net is like, you’d realize that the real unit of currency isn’t dollars, data, or digicash. It’s reputation and respect.
Learn it, live it, love it. As the author says, If you don’t understand right now, don’t worry. You’ll learn it the hard way. We’ll be there to help you learn, you filthy corporate guttersnipes.
Just back from Paris, where there was much business and pleasure to attend to. On Sunday night, I headed to American expat Jim Haynes‘s atelier for his weekly dinner party, which - much like the blogosphere - brings together people from all over the world, of varying professional backgrounds and personal experiences. Jim usually invites up to 50 people, but this week there were at least 80, each of whom brought along €20 in an envelope with their name on it; this covers the cost of the food (delicious) and drink (alcoholic, non, and plentiful), with profits going to finance Jim’s small press and help various causes and friends he deems worthy. I took superstar French blogger Clotilde Dusoulier - whose mention in French Elle‘s article on blogging I got to see for myself upon arrival - along for the night.
We talked to a curious mix of people, which is after all the point of Jim’s parties - and the reason I was so excited to be invited (thanks to a connection from another blogger, syndicated advice columnist Amy Alkon, a mutual friend of my journalist friend Cathy Seipp, who is also a blogger.). What struck me was that, no matter their age or occupation or level of technical awareness, every single American I talked to knew exactly what blogs are. I knew that the awareness of blogs in the US is much, much higher than in Britain, but I sort of expected at least one Yank to give me the blank stare that I usually get from Brits when I mention blogging. Instead, the response was invariably, “Of course I know what blogs are!”
What was a bit disappointing, though, was that even these people seemed only to be aware of two kinds of blogs: political blogs and ‘kitty’ blogs (aka personal diary blogs). They seemed truly amazed to hear that there was an entire blogosphere out there, with blogs catering for an innumerable amount of topics. It was certainly news to them that, as Frank Kelcz put it at our networking day earlier this month, the blogosphere allows for every imaginable specialist publication in the world to exist and thrive if the market for it is there or can be created.
One of these people, a lovely American mathematics fellow at an institute in Paris, wondered if there might even be blogs about math. Google says: ”Sure there are.”
It was a fun night, with a few more conversations that - while unrelated to blogging - made me think of that which occupies me no matter what country I am in. More on those soon, but in the meantime, I loved this sign that Jim has hanging in the sitting room of his atelier - and it is a sentiment with which I can get on board:
This Slashdot interview with author Neal Stephenson makes for a great read - and I have never even read any of the guy’s books. There is so much juicy goodness there that it is difficult condensing the quotes that really made me pound the desk in excitement, but for starters, read this and see if it reminds you of anything:
The novel is a very new form of art. It was unthinkable until the invention of printing and impractical until a significant fraction of the population became literate. But when the conditions were right, it suddenly became huge. The great serialized novelists of the 19th Century were like rock stars or movie stars. The printing press and the apparatus of publishing had given these creators a means to bypass traditional arbiters and gatekeepers of culture and connect directly to a mass audience.
If the parallels with blogging do not slap you in the face...Well, come here, because I want to do it. (Not really. Okay, maybe a little.)
Stephenson discusses the differences between what he labels “Beowulf writers” (writers who are held accountable by the market) and “Dante writers” (writers who are held accountable by their patrons - in modern terms, academia and the “literary” world). Stephenson, with his insanely popular best-sellers, is definitely a Beowulf writer. Again, see if this reminds you of anything:
[P]eople on the Beowulf side may never have taken a writing class in their life. They just tend to lunge at whatever looks interesting to them, write whatever they please, and let the chips fall where they may. So we may seem not merely arrogant, but completely unhinged. It reminds me somewhat of the split between Christians and Faeries depicted in Susannah Clarke’s wonderful book “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.” The faeries do whatever they want and strike the Christians (humans) as ludicrously irresponsible and “barely sane.” They don’t seem to deserve or appreciate their freedom.
Any resemblance there to the attitudes of some Big Media journalists to bloggers? I would say so.
And in a passage that reminded me of the cynicism with which some non-commercial bloggers (those into blogging sheerly for the love of interacting in the network and self-publishing their words) regard commercial bloggers (companies using blogs to communicate with their markets, industry peers and potential customers), Stephenson relates:
...I just got back from the National Book Festival on the Capitol Mall in D.C., where I crossed paths for a few minutes with Neil Gaiman. This was another event in which Beowulf writers and Dante writers were all mixed together. The organizers had queues set up in front of signing tables. Neil had mentioned on his blog that he was going to be there, and so hundreds, maybe thousands of his readers had showed up there as early as 5:30 a.m. to get stuff signed. The organizers simply had not anticipated this and so---very much to their credit---they had to make all sorts of last-minute rearrangements to accomodate the crowd. Neil spent many hours signing. As he says on his blog the Washington Post later said he did this because he was a “savvy businessman.” Of course Neil was actually doing it to be polite; but even simple politeness to one’s fans can seem grasping and cynical when viewed from the other side.
One more quotation, then you can all go read the whole interview for yourselves. Here is something to remember:
It has happened many times in history that new systems will come along and, instead of obliterating the old, will surround and encapsulate them and work in symbiosis with them but otherwise pretty much leave them alone (think mitochondria) and sometimes I get the feeling that something similar is happening with these two literary worlds.
Link via Samizdata
Via Rick Bruner, I read that American writer and broadcaster Garrison Keillor has a blog.
Except he doesn’t.
Keillor’s “blog” is actually just a basic web page, built by some coder, with text presented in reverse chronological order. There are no permalinks whatsoever, only links to entire months’ worth of text. As we have written in our All About Blogs resource on what makes a blog:
The most important feature of the blog format are permanent links aka permalinks. So few people understand that permalinks are not just a ‘nice’ feature for a blog to have, they are a crucial element in what makes a blog a blog. The ability to permalink to an article is one of the two absolute pre-requisites for defining whether of not a site is a blog or is just a ‘blog-like website’ (the other feature being articles presented in reverse chronological order).
Without permalinks, it is very difficult for others interested in what you have written to link to it on their own blogs so that they can say what they think: permalinks facilitate discussion and dissemination. Without the ability to link to discreet articles and chunks of information via permalink, you do not get the network effect that makes blogging what it is.
This is basic stuff. Perhaps that is why Keillor’s column is only referred to as a blog in one place, and is entitled Garrison Keillor’s Travel Diary on the page itself. Maybe somebody realised that, whatever it is, it clearly ain’t a bloody blog.
The story has made a big splash in the British mainstream press, but all it really amounts to is that McDonald’s is going to morph its golden arches into a golden question mark during a two week ad campaign in the UK. The tagline “McDonald’s. But not as you know it” will accompany the images. Big whoop.
This story sprang to mind as I walked past the McDonald’s in the Kilburn High Road in London yesterday, where I snapped this photo.
I am not sure when this McDonald’s incorporated an Easy Internet Café into its premises (if it was after June of this year, I’d wonder if the franchise owner is a reader of Seth Godin’s blog), but I think it’s a move in the right direction for the chain. While I agree with most of Godin’s free advice to McDonald’s, I do disgree sharply with the suggestion that they completely phase out their sales of Coke. This is for the same reasons that I roll my eyes at their much-hyped salads: Who the hell goes to McDonald’s for health food? What Mickey D’s does best is nutritionally bankrupt fast food. That is why people go there. If some of the people who go there choose to go there a little too often, eating much too much, I don’t think McDonald’s should be too wishy-washy about it. They can’t cook for their customers and babysit them. And I think that most people are clued-up enough to recognise that McDonald’s doesn’t force anybody to eat in their outlets at gunpoint.
Worse, McDonald’s is doing a direct mail campaign in the UK, to the tune of 17 million households being bombarded with junk post. They are doing it to highlight the fact that they are now offering more fruit and vegetables on their menu. That sound you hear is McDonald’s marketing people banging their heads repeatedly against the wall (and me slapping my forehead with an open palm).
It all comes back to what Seth Godin said in June:
[C]hanging the marketing without changing the underpinnings of the business is almost always a bad strategy. If all the people, the systems, the real estate, the factories and the menus are organized around monolithic marketing, slapping a little brand journalism on top isn’t going to work awfully well.
For confirmation of this, take another look at the strapline that McD’s is using in the British ad campaign:
McDonald’s. But not as you know it.
It, not us. We all know that McDonald’s is a monolith. Having Ronald McDonald as a mascot does not mean McDonald’s is not a faceless, voiceless company. (Indeed, do they still use Ronald McDonald in their ads? I haven’t seen him in one since I was a kid growing up in the US.) The difference is, this time, they’re trying to convince us through “brand journalism” and salads and juice that they care, that they are all about their customers, that they want a long, lasting, fruitful relationship with us.
Well, they don’t - it does. I don’t have relationships with its, and neither will most of the people McDonald’s is trying desperately to lure through its doors with golden question marks and illusions of health food within. Give us a friendly face from inside the company, speaking in a credible, human voice, who can let us know that you still make a mean McFlurry (and still serve up those icy Cokes), and we just might pop in sometime - and stay for the free wifi. We just might come back again, too.
Paul Woodhouse of Tinbasher is calling on his readers to help him find a guillotine between 4′ and 6′ that will cut 2-3mm. And yes, this request is totally legit and business-related.
I have to say, that may be the most out-there blog post I have ever encountered. No surprise that it comes from the most obscure business blog I have ever read. Can anyone beat Tinbasher, the sheet metal blog, when it comes to obscure commercial blogs? If you can, tell me about it in the comments.
When we needed new tBBC business cards, we went to Aubergine Print - they had done beautiful, sturdy cards for Kate and Adrian at PeopleFanClub, and when Adrian told us how reasonably priced they were (£49.50 per 250 litho-printed in full colour on 350 silk art board with matte laminate as standard), we were sold.
Fast forward to last week. I sent our artwork, created by our talented designer, to Aubergine. Late Thursday night, I got email telling me that our order had been despatched. It was due to arrive on Friday, when we were having our all day session at the Phene Arms. Luckily, the Phene is no more than a 60 second walk from tBBC HQ in Chelsea, but sitting in all day, waiting for Business Post to deliver our order was not an option.
First thing Friday morning, I phoned the Business Post depot in Park Royal, from which our order had been despatched. (How did I know which one had it? Because Aubergine had helpfully included that information in their despatch confirmation email, along with the directions for how to track the order via Business Post’s website.) The line rang for ages, but eventually someone answered. I explained that no one would be around to sign for the delivery, but that as we would be just around the corner, it would be hugely helpful if the driver could call us when he was either on his way or on the doorstep. It took a couple of phone calls between the girl who answered the phone, the driver, and me, but eventually the driver agreed to ring me when he was on his way.
And he stuck to his word, calling when he was 20 minutes from tBBC HQ. Perry nipped out of our session and over the road, and was back in no time with the order. The cards are every bit as gorgeous as we could have hoped, and several attendees of our session commented on how nice they are. We are extremely pleased with Aubergine’s work, and with Business Post for finding a way to get our delivery to us as planned - so much so that I said, when we were admiring how attractively the order was packaged and presented, “These are so great - I am definitely blogging this.” After all, how better to spread the word than via the blogosphere?
Which reminds me: At least one of these companies should have a blog. I cannot be the only one who would be massively interested in reading the diaries of a Business Post deliveryman.
When I talked to Times (London) reporter Andrew Heavens last month for this article (good luck accessing that if you’re not in the UK), I mentioned to him a blog I knew about, Tinbasher, that is solely about sheet metal. I did so not because I am myself a sheet metal enthusiast - Egyptian linen sheets, maybe, but nothing metallic - but to illustrate the point that there are micro-blogospheres within the larger blogosphere, and that businesses should find theirs and engage them. Or, as Frank Kelcz (who held senior roles at publishing companies Bertelsmann, ACE Electronics Publications and VNU in Europe and launched Ziff-Davis over here as well) put it at our day session on Friday, the blogosphere allows for every imaginable specialist publication in the world to exist and thrive if the market for it is there or can be created.
Well, I got an email from the proprietor of Tinbasher, Paul Woodhouse of Butler Sheet Metal, not too long after the Times piece was published. Apparently all the attention from that mention forced Paul to give the blog a makeover - and he’s done a good job. As he puts it:
This spurred me into action with the same gut feeling you have when you know you’re expecting visitors and frantically start hoovering.
And how did I know about Tinbasher? Well, Paul is an old friend of a blogger with whom I am friendly, Harry Hatchet. Harry linked to Tinbasher once upon a time, and although I am nowhere near the target audience for such a site, it always stuck in my mind as a wonderful example of the kind of niche publication that is so easily possible only with blogs. Paul and I have also exchanged views in the comments at Harry’s blog, but it wasn’t until he emailed me about Tinbasher’s mention in the Times that the penny dropped and I realised exactly who was behind that sheet metal blog.
Small world, big blogosphere. Don’t forget it.
It has been quiet on tBBC’s blog today - with very good reason. After an interesting dinner last night with Six Apart‘s European MD, Loïc Le Meur, and Six Apart’s UK Manager, Alistair Shrimpton, today we brought the two of them back to Chelsea for a networking day with some of the other good people we’ve collected over our months of doing business. As well as our friends from Six Apart, we also had on hand David Steven of River Path, William Heath of Kable and the Ideal Government online brainstorm blog, the shamefully blogless Frank Kelcz of Pitango VC, WiFinder, and the Guidewire Group (which organises the BlogOn events), 3G guru Tomi Ahonen, Axel Chaldecott of SMLXL, and Adrian Bailey of PeopleFanClub. And of course, the whole London contingent of tBBC was there as well.
It was a great day - exhilarating and exhausting, never boring, and it fulfilled one of the main aims we had in hosting such an event: to bring together those interesting, clued-up people we have encountered in separate environments and get everyone talking about how we want to do business, what we hate about business as usual, the value of networks and how blogging and related technologies play a part in all this. It was a truly fascinating series of discussions, and I cannot speak for anyone else, but I felt very fortunate to be able to be in that room with those people, talking about these things that matter so much more than the mainstream world seems to be ready to recognise. We all come from different industries and backgrounds, but the common ground there is vast: frustrated with some of the tired, outdated ways of doing business and invigorated by the opportunities and potential offered by emerging technologies and an increasingly networked world, we are finding new ways to operate and to be successful, and making fantastic personal connections while we do so.
My friend Cate sent me an email late last night which mentioned having trust in the fact that you are exactly where you are meant to be. Okay, it sounds a bit Chicken Soup for the Soul-ish, but I think we all know that sometimes in life, it is possible to feel as if you are nowhere near where you are meant to be. I have to say, I felt very strongly at our day session that all of us in that room really were in the right place, with the right people. The best part? That space extends outside of that room, out into our own respective niche(s) of the blogosphere and beyond.
It is a good place. It was a good day. These are great people. Can’t think of a better way to start the weekend than on the back of an event like today’s.
Huh? Since when has it been possible to smoke blogs? Well, never. That’s just the British Heart Foundation being a bit unclear. What they are actually doing is giving those who are trying to quit the cancer sticks the opportunity to start their own smoking cessation blogs. And they come complete with permalinks, comments, TrackBacks, RSS, and archives. But...where are the blogrolls? Plus, call me cynical, but all of the existing blogs have the stale stench of PR-created content. I guess the BHF is just trying to kick things off, but they should have drafted in some real people who are trying to quit - goodness knows there are enough of them out there - to launch this initiative. Better yet, check out our All About Blogs section to pick up some pointers on how to get the most out of the really revolutionary thing about blogs: the network effect. I’ll keep an eye on this one and see how things go.
Link via Adverblog
That’s what Rich Ord of Insider Reports thinks blogging could be, according to his article that focuses on CEO blogs.
Via BL Ochman, I see that this past Sunday’s New York Times featured an article on how blogs are used in recruitment (annoyingly, a subscription is required to read the NYT’s content). As well as job seekers using a company’s blog(s) to get a feel for the corporate culture and whether or not it would be a good place to work, and writing their own blogs as “living résumés,” employers are increasingly scouring blogs for leads on candidates. Heather Hamilton, senior marketing recruiter at Microsoft, says that she has found great candidates through blogging, and that she thinks blogs will change how companies recruit. That echoes what Thomas Nelson Publishers’ COO Michael Hyatt told me recently:
I think it’s a way to contribute back to our industry and recruit new talent to our company. I have had several people write to say, “Gee, I’d like to work for a company that is this forward-thinking.”
But the recruitment and HR uses for blogs go much further than the NYT piece explores.
- Industries where competition is fierce for the most talented, highly skilled candidates stand the most to gain from blogs: people who blog and read blogs tend to be very educated and exceptionally networked, as well as innovation junkies. These are the kinds of people that most organizations would love to have working for them, but those cut-throat sectors where lots of companies are vying for the best and brightest need them more than ever. These are the businesses that should engage the blogosphere as a matter of some urgency.
- Companies can get their vacancies and corporate culture in front of ‘valuable eyeballs,’ as some marketers might say. For example, the pharmaceutical industry is a hotbed of competition for a handful of exemplary candidates. If a pharma company publicises on its blog those roles it needs to fill, the link to that post can be picked up and blogged by the bloggers throughout the pharma/scientific niche of the network.
- One of the reasons why jobs fairs have tanked is because recruiters can use the internet to reach people - blogs take that to a whole new, more valuable level.
- It’s crucial to find the right person for a role as quickly as possible - and information moves at breakneck speed when it is blogged.
- With blogs, people have a choice of personal relevance that we’ve never had before. That goes for job seekers, too. If they come across a company’s blog and think, “Hmm, wouldn’t mind working for them,” they can keep tabs on their recruitment very easily, while keeping up with what the company is doing and where it’s going. You get a sense of the corporate culture from a blog - how people interact, if they’re straight-shooters or blowhards, how inspired and engaged the employees are - and that can be highly informative to someone who is considering whether or not to work for a certain company. Someone who reads the Google blog won’t need to read the employee handbook to figure out if a shirt and tie is required daily wear.
- The above can be valuable during the on-boarding process - new hires don’t need as much time to get up to speed with the corporate culture and default business mode.
- Companies that don’t want to pay market rates for certain jobs or are just crappy places to work may well be on the receiving end of rough treatment from the blogosphere. If you’re not a good company to work for, that can really shine through in your blog. Companies whose authentic voice is more of an authentic snarl probably should not have a blog.
- Last, but certainly not least, internal blogs can serve as a huge asset to HR. It is unfortunate, but much of HR’s time is spent filling in forms and acting as glorified administrators in a role bogged down with paperwork. There is a huge need for HR to spend more time on the ‘soft’ issues of working with people and less time on tedious tasks that are not making the most of HR’s potential value to their company. Using internal blogs to - amongst other things - remove a substantial amount of that admin burden, engage employees, and make employees feel more fulfilled would be a huge boon to any HR department’s efficiency and effectiveness.
Go back on the hippo's back...
A brand’s palpable sense of its higher purpose must be communicated to its customers. Service or enhanced value offerings that simplify, enable, or that help customers navigate information are key. The opportunities afforded by richness and reach of digital platforms in conjunction with other forms of media can deliver that differentiation.
- Alan Moore, SMLXL, Differentiate or die
The World Association of Newspapers is having a conference in Prague in November, expecting around 300 delegates from the news industry. Some of them may arrive with a clue, but will any of them leave with one?
The WAN’s director of communications, Larry Kilman, says in a dotJournalism piece entitled How to make money from online news:
Newspapers have enormous amounts of content which they poured onto the internet - and then realised they were pouring away their most valuable asset without any revenue.
Oh, like the Guardian has done, with huge success?
Many are now finding out how to go backwards and get the content paid for.
Going backwards? You got that right.
The conference will examine a lot of strategies that are working in different markets.
Huh. I wonder if the WAN would like to share with the rest of the world what these strategies are that are “working” in multiple markets - or any markets for that matter. I guess it depends on what you mean by “working,” and for whom it is supposedly doing so. Somehow, I seriously doubt that Kilman’s definition is the same as ours…
For teachers, blogs are attractive because they require little effort to maintain, unlike more elaborate classroom websites, which were once heralded as a boon for teaching. Helped by templates found at sites like tblog.com and movabletype.org, teachers can build a blog or start a new topic in an existing blog by simply typing text into a box and clicking a button.
Such ease of use is the primary reason that Peter Grunwald, an education consultant, predicts that blogs will eventually become a more successful teaching tool than websites.
I remember the huge amount of money that my school district spent on a fibre optics lab when I was a senior in high school, primarily because it would allow for real-time conferencing via video link with people on the other side of the county. County, not country. County, not world. That was revolutionary in 1995 - with the price tag that went with it. Meanwhile:
Some social studies classes at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, for instance, are using a blog to study the Holocaust with high school students in Krakow, Poland.
...And they ripped down my high school, including that expensive fibre optics lab, last summer.
Yes, I was definitely born too early. But it’s nice to see that a school district from my home state is very much hip to blogs:
The Little Miami School District near Cincinnati plans to require teachers to maintain blogs for their classes once they are trained on the technology, which should be completed some time in the 2005-6 school year.
I often think of how school - especially report-writing - would have been different if we had had Google when I was a kid. Sod Google: What would it have been like if we had had blogs?
It’s all about our hungry customers, says the mastermind behind Cracked Cauldron Spillings, a bakery that a mother-daughter team is breaking their backs to open in Oklahoma in five weeks. And they are using a blog to tell the story of where they are, how they got there, and where they are going.
It makes for fascinating, affinity-building reading. Stuffed full of great content, with stories of sourcing cheese from a local dairy farmer, naming their sourdough starters and the difficulties of funding a new business, the CCS blog is an addictive read. In fact, these two are canny enough to understand precisely the importance of storytelling.
Describing how they got there, “Moneybags” (the mother, whose house is on the line to finance the bakery), tells of what led to her and her daughter ("Manager") becoming homeless years ago, and what they want their bakery to do to help those who are homeless now:
The money earned at it will support us (of course! We may be bonkers, but we’re not stupid), support the business, and fund a homeless resource center. We won’t be accepting government money for this because government regulations will prevent us from helping the very people we feel most needs the help - the working homeless, the displaced homeless, and the temporarily homeless - people with no children, singles, couples, mostly.
So not only are they gearing up to run what sounds like a very tasty business, but that business has an agenda: to help the homeless. Moneybags and Manager are smart to realise how a blog can help them, and that they needed to find their niche in the blogosphere (I found them when they linked to my food blog, and I consequently linked to them there and now here. Gotta love that network effect.). I hope that they continue to blog as the business launches and grows. I, for one, will be pulling for them and checking back on a regular basis to see how they do - and already I want to go to Oklahoma City to check the bakery out in person. Who knows? I have made stranger, more unexpected trips as a result of blogging…Go back on the hippo's back...
Emerging technologies will completely break down the last vestiges of mass media and mass marketing.
The issue is now, it’s not tomorrow, or next year. The issue is how then do you spend your marketing budget, how do you reach your customers, how do you differentiate in a crowded marketspace? How do you create pull to your brand?
For the answer, click here.
The first is that in business, as in life, giving is a great experience. The second was that most businesses wait until a client or customer gives them money before they start adding value to that customer’s life. Now I say ‘Why wait’. Start adding value now and believe me, the customers will come to you.
That is a sentiment I can definitely agree with - wholeheartedly. Giving is the new marketing. More:
The irony is that if there is a secret to your success it is to stop worrying about your success and start thinking about the success of your customers and potential customers. Pay attention to their problems, their needs. Go out of your way to make their lives easier, to put a bit of joy into their lives. Will the occasional one still treat you badly? Sure but who cares. The majority will be simply stunned by the way you are so different from the masses.
Chris, you should be blogging this stuff.