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Some important bloke on some important blog.
September 15, 2004
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Former Friendster engineer Joyce Park has told the story of her sacking to technology title Red Herring. Rick Bruner asks:

I still haven’t heard Friendster’s side of the story. Have they told it somewhere that I’ve overlooked?

Friendster reminds me of an infant who can’t figure out that, just because he can’t see the jack-in-the-box once it’s stuffed inside and the lid is closed, it doesn’t mean that the jack-in-the-box ceases to exist. The lid was blown off this story long ago, and Friendster is still pretending that the jack-in-the-box isn’t there. For a company whose business is social networking, Friendster has a very tenuous grip - at best - on the fact that not showing up for the conversation does not mean that people aren’t talking about you.

Richard Herring, blogging comedian
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...I propose that all war memorials to the dead are knocked down and replaced with war memorials to the survivors (the people who did their job PROPERLY), not to all the idiots who couldn’t even parachute into a barrage of gunfire and manage to carry on living. After all it was not dead men who liberated Paris or shot Zulus (in that equal tussle between guns and spears) or captured Saddam Husseins. The people who were dead were no use at all (I would almost go as far to call them lazy, but certainly unhelpful) and should be ignored and forgotten...And when they’re being thrown into their graves, [there] shouldn’t be ceremony or flags or 21 gun salutes. No, a man should just sarcastically shout, “Oh thanks a lot,” and then add “For nothing” in case anyone hasn’t picked up on the sarcasm. And then punch their grieving widows in the face for good measure. And let that be an end to the whole embarrassing episode.

So says British playwright, author and comedian Richard Herring on his blog, Warming Up. Yes, it is meant to be funny. No, do not send us complaint comments or emails if you do not personally find it funny.

I talked to Richard about his blog recently, and he tells me that as well as the increase in traffic to his site (it has nearly doubled, with the one million mark looming after less than two years online), his blog readers have helped him to raise more than £8,000 ($14,000+ US) for charity. On a really cool note, more than 8000 of his blog’s readers around the world contributed to his book and one man show entitled - and let us clear our throats here again - Talking Cock. Richard adds to that:

Obviously a lot of those people would have come to the shows or bought the book.

Summing up his experiences with and feelings about his blog, Richard says:

[I]t has helped keep a dedicated army of fans interested in what I’m up to. And thus has some promotional benefits, though that’s not why I really started it....Generally I think it makes great sense to do a blog from my point of view. It keeps fans in touch with me and what I’m doing...[P]eople seem to love reading personal stuff...[P]eople do seem to get well into these things.

That they do.

In addition to keeping existing fans abreast of what Richard is doing, his blog has also helped him to create new fans. And just check out how many blogs are linking to his. For a British comedian whose humour is far from the mainstream, that is saying something. In an age of unfunny jokes forwarded to us from our older family members for whom the novelty of email has not worn off, a truly hilarious comedian engaging people via a blog is giving a better name to the concept of humour on the internet. If I could only get Chris Rock (warning: audio plays upon opening) to dump the slick-but-good-for-absolutely-nothing Flash site and start blogging, then Richard Herring’s blog might have some competition in the online comedy stakes. 

September 14, 2004
Setting the (business) world to rights
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We had dinner here last night with a familiar face at tBBC HQ: Alan Moore, who blogs for his company, SMLXL.

alan moore of smlxl

As always, the food was fantastic, the wine bountiful, and the conversation stimulating. I was slightly cheered when, after Alan pointed out that the word blog is kind of funny and hard to take seriously in a business context, I responded:

Yeah, well, that’s what they used to say about the word Google. Now? Not so much.

I hope that Alan will elaborate on the SMLXL blog on the idea, which he spoke about at length last night, that branding professionals need to move away from the touchy-feely, brands-are-an-opportunity-for-a-social-love-in attitude and address more concretely the financial issues that surround branding. I have a feeling that the brand bloggers in our midst may have a thing or two to say about that one.

One thing we talked about was how certain industries are dying on their feet - and doing absolutely nothing about it. Why? Because they don’t do change - and no, I don’t mean handing out pennies and nickels. For instance, just how many times does the music industry have to get pounded by the dynamic changes that are affecting its bottom line before the guys in charge decide to stop trying to halt progress and start figuring out how to adapt to an evolving world? As Alan put it, they need to realise that the choice is to hold on as long as they can, doing what they have always done, or do something clever and live to fight another day.

For some companies - or entire industries - this means taking an honest, hard look at what’s broken. This isn’t an activity that most will be eager to undertake, especially if it could mean the culling of high-paid executives at the top - which probably has more than a little to do with the fact that these evaluations aren’t done as often as they should be.

What more than a few may find is that the kid who delivers the mail or makes the tea actually has more value to offer them than the MBA-possessing bullshitter with the corner office, company car and expense account. In a similar way, giving the guys on the bottom a voice, especially in a top-heavy organisation, can reveal value in a company that the powers that be never knew they had. Obviously blogs - internal and/or external - are an extremely good way of ripping the top off a company and exposing where the real value lies. And I daresay that the companies that have the courage to do this will be much better off than the ones who are afraid to peel back the lid and find nothing but rot and hot air. But how long will the latter type of company last anyway?

September 13, 2004
The Garden State
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This may be older news but relevant nevertheless. The Daily News reports that the movie “Garden State” is taking on cult-like status among young adults in part because of the role Zach Braff’s blog played in marketing the film.

I had a look at the blog several days ago and the comments section is usually in the 1,000 plus figure. Usually comments are not an indication of much, however, in this case it shows that Zach Braff has managed to engage not only his audience but created a strong community around his blog.

The gimmick is smart PR, allowing Braff to continue the conversation he started in the movie and drawing fans back for another look.

And take it from a PR professional:

Remember how the Blair Witch Project took off like wildfire a few years back? It was a seminal event for online viral marketing. Well, blogs are making this easier and engaging for both the directors and the audiences. Way to go Zach. Show the big boys how it’s done.

This is what I am hoping too. I am in the process of explaining to a film producer how blogs could help him promote his movie. I do not think he knows what a blog is although in the last few days I sent him links to the Garden State, QT diary (whether real or fake, it is still a great example), Jersey Girl Diary and some other ones to show him what blogs are.

A blog could become the smartest and most effective way to halt (or at least complement) the spiralling cost of marketing that can swallow up huge proportion of any film budget. There is a sort of Laffer curve of revenue and marketing spend - past a certain point the marketing cost will make it virtually impossible to make profit.  By the way, I did not come up with this, they did.

As for film blogs, the old value-for-value rule applies. Give the fans something interesting and they will come back for more. A production blog is a natural start. Another film producer friend of mine created an ‘accidental’ production blog for his film Den of Lions - I believe the original purpose was to give his crew’s nearest and dearest a chance to keep up with them while filming in Hungary.  The blog’s audience spread well beyond those involved in the film.

I can imagine following up on the production blog with updates on post-production and news of distribution etc. There is always a story behind producing a film, usually the nerve-wracking, last-minute-problem-fixing, people exploding crisis management kind, but nevertheless, oddly satisfying once the damn film is out. Or so I’ve heard.

I will be trying to make the point about how blogs can help him reach his audience, Real Soon Now. Will blog what comes out of it.

September 12, 2004
Blogging the PR nightmare
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Daniel pretty much sums it up:

I have a job that makes you lie. To everyone. All the time. It’s tearing at my soul.

Check out the lie-filled email he had to write to one director who has produced what Daniel calls “the worst, most offensive movie I’ve ever seen,” which he closed with:

Thanks and best,

[too humiliated to sign my own name]

But at least it gives him good fodder for amusing blog posts. 

September 09, 2004
Business is war (and war is business)
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In past times of conflict, walls had ears. In modern conflicts, blogs have eyes:

But Spc. Buzzell’s writing aspirations may prove his undoing as a professional soldier. Recently, shortly after his commanders discovered My War on the Web, Spc. Buzzell found himself banned from patrols and confined to base. His commanders say Spc. Buzzell may have breached operational security with his writings.

A salutory reminder that your blog posts can be read by anyone, inculding the enemy.

The same lesson extends to company bloggers on civvie street. Many employment and service contracts contain a ‘confidentiality’ clause which prohibits the employee from divulging sensitive company information or trade secrets to anyone outside of that organisation. An employer is likely to take an exceedingly dim view of an employee who provides sensitive commercial information to a competitor who happended to stumble across said employee’s blog.

So before you unzip your trusty fingers and unleash then across your keyboard, you would be well advised to check with your company as to what information you may and may not blog about. Failure to do so may lead you to the doghouse (or glasshouse, for those in uniform).

Pirates of the Brand
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It’s more fun to be a Pirate than to join the Navy.

A quote from Steve Jobs has been taken on as a metaphor for brand culture and brand building by Adam Morgan in his book The Pirate Inside. I just finished reading the excerpt from the book, the Introduction: Necessary Pirate.

You see, what is interesting to me is that he [Steve Jobs] doesn’t talk about processes; he talks about a type of people. He doesn’t talk about saying; he talks about being. And I find those two distinctions interesting and important. The idea that perhaps it’s the kind of people that we are or choose to be, individually or collectively, that will make the difference to our futures. Perhaps we shouldn’t focus so much on the processes we use, or the tools we have, or the architecture we discuss, or the organizational structure we find ourselves in but on who we are and how we behave.

Brilliant, simply brilliant. And compulsory reading for all around me. Please indulge me while I am having my ‘told-you-so’ moment. image

via Brand Autopsy here and here.

PR gone bad
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brian d foy just wanted to review some new software I wrote to the company’s marketing address asking them for an evaluation license. It’s one of the perks of writing about software. I get an email back asking for more information about me, and the marketing person wants to set up a meeting with the CEO so I can ask questions.

But after a frustrating and pointless conversation with the PR person:

Then I realize that she really knows nothing, and that she probably doesn’t even work for the company. She says “we” in an odd, insincere way. She’s an outsourced public relations person. I’ve dealt with this situation a lot. She probably runs her own boutique public relations shop, so at the same time that she’s supposed to be selling the product to me, she’s trying to retain her position of authority as the owner of a company.

And the rousing finale:

Eventually I just hang up on her. For a couple minutes I ponder if I should hate this company too, and that’s not what a real public relations person wants anyone to think after a meeting.

Now, I realise that the episode was just PR done badly and one should not judge the entire industry by it. The incident does highlight that the industry uses standard practices that inevitably leads to a gaping void between the company’s ‘message’ and its hired messangers and its audience and customers. So, as Steve Rubel sums it up:

Another day, another victim.

The node is not stronger than the network
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Further to Adriana’s post on the International CEO Bloggers’ Club, I have been having some interesting conversations lately with a few blogging CEOs.

What I am hearing from these execs is that whatever benefits they imagined would come from blogging have been more than surpassed - and, in many cases, they just were not sure that any tangible benefit would come of it. As Five Across founder and CEO Glenn Reid told me:

I was unconvinced that it would be worthwhile, that no one would ever read it, so what would be the point?

...I was still not convinced that it was valuable to the business, but I type very fast, I’m a pretty good writer, and I thought: what’s there to lose?  I have been quite amazed by the response, I have to say. People really are reading my blog, people I’ve never even met - like you! - and, well, it surprises me even now.

That is all well and good, some might say, but what does that mean to the bottom line? Show us the metrics! comes the usual cry from the traditional business contingent.

Expanding your network and giving the business greater visibility and credibility isn’t enough - we need to see numbers

Glenn Reid reports that, apart from the increased traffic to the company website (which is certainly measurable), there has been another significant boon to the business as a result of the blog:

My blog delivers results comparable to our Google ad campaign in terms of delivering visitors to our site, an unexpected benefit!

Those are metrics that any cake decorator (as an IT Director friend of mine refers to marketing people) should sit up and take notice of. As Glenn put it to me:

My take-away is that you can’t predict or control the network effect…

That may be scary to some people - Spend money without knowing exactly what the ROI is going to be? There’s some risk there! To me, it’s far from scary: It is perhaps the most exciting element of what is possible with emerging technologies like blogging and RSS. I have written here before about the unpredictably beneficial, pleasant results of this network effect, and I could write a hundred more posts about other such connections. As movie blogger Stephen Reid keeps saying:

The node is not stronger than the network.

Not every company needs a blog, but every company needs the support of a network. Some companies make the mistake of thinking that their node is strong enough to circumvent or even topple the network - just think back to AOL’s ‘walled garden’ delusions only a few years ago. They thought that their content could supplant or compete with the entire internet.

The network that each respective company needs in order to succeed will vary. We have had conversations with enough people to know the usual objections - My company doesn’t need to engage with angsty teenage bloggers! Our customers and industry peers are high-level executives in a very specialised area! - so I will utter something that should go without saying: Within the wider network, within the wider blogosphere, there is a more specific (though not wholly identifiable) network, a more niche curve in the blogosphere, where your company should probably be engaged. If the curve is currently unoccupied, be the seed that kicks it all off and watch the flora flourish.

Ignore the network at your peril. Engage it and reap the benefits. 

The best of Eyetrack III
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A very interesting project called Eyetrack has been conducted by the Poynter Institute asking what people see when they view a news website or multimedia feature. Is it what the site’s designers expect? ... Perhaps not.

The Eyetrack III study literally looked through the eyes of 46 people to learn how they see online news. Here is the review the study’s key findings. For example:

We observed that with news homepages, readers’ instincts are to first look at the flag/logo and top headlines in the upper left. The graphic below shows the zones of importance we formulated from the Eyetrack data. While each site is different, you might look at your own website and see what content you have in which zones.


Advertising is also taken through its paces:

We found that ads in the top and left portions of a homepage received the most eye fixations. Right side ads didn’t do as well, and ads at the bottom of the page were seen, typically, by only a small percentage of people.

These are but two highlights. Prove them right and read the whole thing, here are the directions:


September 08, 2004
CEO Blogger’s Club
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I guess that was to be expected. First, it was techie geeks, then political obsessives and journalists, followed by ‘turned’ PR and marketing wonks. And now CEOs and other executive fat cats are onto the blogosphere.

The aim of this Club is to gather CEOs who believe in the blogosphere and its extraodinary potential and to offer them a place to share with other companies leaders the experimentation they are conducting thanks to weblogs. Corporate blogging, CRM, marketing, PR, internal communication, are part of the different ways blogs are being used today, but as we all know, we are only at the begining. And who is abble to say how weblogs will affect our business tomorrow?

So far, so good. There are two ideas behind this new club:

  1. Creating an online resource available for every visitor who might want to learn/share how blogs could take part in a company’s development.
  2. Organizing bi-monthly meetings every first thursday evening of the month in Paris to meet in off line sessions.

I guess, we will have to organise them in London too. UK companies and their CEOs have some catching up to do with the bloggers across the channel, as this wiki page listing CEO blogs would suggest. Please email me at adriana at bigblog dot net, if you are an executive and blogging about your business or you know of any who do so.

Skype lives up to hype
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I have been using Skype, the popular VoIP application. We run parts of our business using it, talking to our designers and techies in different countries. I have introduced several friends, clients and associates to it, who after initial incredulity, happily joined the ranks of the Skyping.

So, I was not surprised that James Fallows gave it the thumbs up.

Skype’s distinction is that, for now at least, it is the easiest, fastest and cheapest way for individual customers to begin using VoIP. It works this way:

First, you download free software from Skype runs on most major operating systems, including Windows XP and 2000, Linux, Pocket PC for portable devices and, as of this summer, Mac OS. On three of the computers on which I installed it, it ran with no tweaking at all. On the fourth, I had to change one setting for the sound card, following easy instructions on the site.

What is the secret of Skype’s success? Network effect and open and free access, which despite being the watchwords of the fiasco, are increasingly validated in this era.

Skype illustrates network economics in the purest form: free connections within the network become more valuable to each user as more users sign up. Because of the system’s peer-to-peer design, loosely related to the Kazaa file-sharing program that Mr. Zennstrom and Skype’s other co-founder, Janus Friis, invented four years ago, the system scales well - that is, it doesn’t bog down as more users join. The peer-to-peer design also allows it to work behind most Internet firewalls.

However, there seems no reason for Skype not to make it even bigger, other than eager regulators and entrenched telecoms rising to the VoIP ‘challenge’.

In the meantime, let’s Skype into the sunset.

via Boing Boing

September 06, 2004
Blog Blabble
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Blabble is a blog research and analysis tool, giving companies access to the buzz of blogs.

We parse millions of blogs giving you access to influential thoughts on your brand dedicated to making sense out of the seemingly endless supply of blog information.

Interesting. They do not currently accept any new applications at this time while they are upgrade their infrastructure. But they will be accepting users again starting 6th September. But so far, so good. Let’s see what happens.

via BL Ochman

Update: Just signed up for the service, will report later.

More fake blogs
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Cool ringtones blog has been exposed as another marketing ploy:

Though the blog introduces Cindy Schmelky, 15, from Wayne, Penn with a picture and a quote “I love ringtones more than life”, she’s really just a figurehead for those articles as various members of the company’s team write them, according to Ringingphone co-owner Bob Bentz.

This is the first time (to the best of my knowledge) that a ringtone company has created a blog and though it does somewhat bring to mind Dr. Pepper / 7 Up’s infamous Raging Cow blog campaign - in that who’s really blogging is misleading - the content is not all self-serving, but is mixed the with some interesting articles from this industry.

That a ringtone company has a blog is a great idea. But there is no need to mislead readers into thinking the blog is written by a 15 year-old, when it’s not.

I can only agree with that. It is remarkable how the traditional marketing seems to prefer buzz generated by deceit and marketing ploys rather than attempt to create it by genuine engagement.

via Doc Searls

September 05, 2004
Blogs vs. Forums
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A very good overview of the difference between an interactive medium (blog) and ‘interactive medium’ (forum).

Commoncraft does some useful analysing focusing on Locus of Control, Authoring of New Topics, Intent, Responses, Tools, Chronology, Personal Connections, Pollution Control, Content Buckets and the future:

I believe that weblogs and message boards *are* different—different enough to happily exist together in the same online community web site. My conclusion is that online communities will use the two resources to fill two different roles. Their ability to fill independent niches will make the subtle differences between them make more sense.

Absolutely. As I have argued before a forum is like a collective drawing:

...each participant draws his own line(s) sometimes without regard for the others’ efforts. Who draws most lines wins. The result is a criss-cross of lines, overlapping shapes, in short, a mess that takes too much time to unravel to get any lasting value.

A blog is a painting that has been hung up on the wall and everyone standing around can comment on it, say how they would have done or why they like it. There is a clear hierarchy between the author of the article and the person who comments on it. No drawing of mustaches anywhere but plenty of interaction. To me this is what makes blogs so suitable for communication between companies and their audience.

There is also a very handy table to go with the comparison.

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