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Office

How I Started Blogging

Blogger Con

Dave Winer posted a call for co-remembrances of the BloggerCon conferences he held in 2003/2004 which got me thinking about how I started this blog and kicked off a series of events that brought me to California to work at a blogging company and catch a wave that I’ve been on ever since.

I attended BloggerCon II in Boston in 2004 on a hunch. I was working at Dow Jones, publisher of The Wall Street Journal, for the Electronic Publishing division (only a newspaper company would have such a division) and was working with enterprise customers integrating news into corporate intranets. Most companies at that time were using large portal software packages such as Plumtree or Microsoft Sharepoint to drive their portals so blogs for corporations were very much under the radar. At the time, I was a regular reader of John Battelle’s Searchblog and Joi Ito and was playing around with Blogger so I could see the promise. My gut told me that the blogger community was something worth investigating.

When I got to Cambridge, where BloggerCon was held, I immediately knew that I was in the right place. The unconference format was very natural to me and the sharing openness of the attendees was a welcome change from the competitive world of enterprise software.  Each session included an IRC chat and seeing the IRC scrolling on the screen behind the speakers was a philosophical shift that echoed the shift of the conversation from the publisher to the community that was taking root with blogging. I think their was some kind of streaming audio for remote viewers as well. I recall someone typed something into the IRC that made the entire room erupt in laughter,  that person then typed “Cool, I just made the room laugh.” It was a powerful learning moment for me, to listen and include your audience. It was a pre-cursor to what we see today when the twitter/hashtag feed serves as a back-channel commentary to the podium. The community could drive the agenda. This was in 2004, before the Kryptonite/Bic Pen video and all the other Social Media fails that were to follow.

I had been pretty much all alone in corporate-ville trying to explain the power of this new self-publishing platform but most of my talk was falling on deaf or pretentious ears. Meeting others at BloggerCon helped me put more eloquent words to what I was trying to say and emboldened me to spin up a few initiatives of my own.

I was a always struggling with the best way to get the word out to our more developer-minded customers. All communications were filtered through the Marketing and PR departments where things I wrote were watered down and stupefied to the point where they didn’t make sense. We sometimes had outages and by the time my post-mortem communications were approved and made it to the customer, it was too late and only served to remind them of something they had already forgotten about.

I launched a product blog for my product and gave the address to a small group of customers that I knew would appreciate it. On that blog I would give them a head’s up on new features and asked customers questions about future product direction. They left thoughtful comments and the knowledge shared in the commentary helped everyone who read them. It was a lightweight community, an alternative to more formal “focus groups” which cost a lot to set up and required people to travel in order to participate.

I was nervous because I was going around the Marketing Department so after a couple of weeks I mentioned to the VP of Marketing what I was up to and his response was, “Don’t tell me anything more. I don’t want to know what you’re doing but keep doing it.” From that day on the die was cast and I was off and running. Within a year, convinced of the power of this form of communication, thanks to an introduction from my sister, I had a long, animated conversation with Anil Dash who had already moved to California to work at Six Apart, an early blog software pioneer. Within a few months I joined my sister, Anil, Andrew Anker and others as the company geared up to launch Six Apart’s hosted blogging platform, TypePad.

The rest is history. Since BloggerCon, my career has always leveraged lessons that were put into motion that weekend in Cambridge. Every job I have held since has involved an appreciation of the social media community that started at BloggerCon. Thank you Dave for giving a home to the early pioneers and setting me on a path that I am still blazing down today. It’s been a glorious ride.

Categories
Office

Blog Business Summit – Day Two

One thing I learned from looking at my Day One post on the various aggregation engines and trackback excerpts is to never lead with an image again. You get his horrible “<img src . . . ” as your lead in which doesn’t exactly draw readers to the rest of your post.

Day Two was demo day with Matt and Om walking us through WordPress 1.6 and WordPress.com over breakfast coffee, Dean Hachamovitch, Sean Lyndersay, and Robert Scoble running through Internet Explorer 7 in the first session, and our very own Anil Dash speaking faster than I’ve ever seen him during his run through of Movable Type 3.2.

The gulf between pro-bloggers and the corporate types that are still trying to figure this all out became very obvious to me today. Dean summed it up when he said that there, “are some good tail lights to follow” but no one has it all figured out yet. Everyone said in their presentation somewhere, you just need to start blogging and then it will come to you what you need to do. I don’t think this really sat well with the visiting corporates who need to summarize this all into a PowerPoint SWOT Analysis of having a corporate blog with steps on “how to” listed up nicely, one, two, three.

Some Notes:

Microsoft on RSS:
The power of RSS subscription model is that it’s like a TiVo for the web, it changes people’s lives and puts the web on their own terms.

For businesses, it’s less about the technology used to drive the site but more about what you can do with this technology. Businesses now have the ability to reach out directly to their customers and present them the “unvarnished truth.”

Internet Explorer will make subscribing to RSS feeds as easy as adding favorite bookmarks. If used in conjunction with Windows (XP service pack 2 and above) all RSS feeds and their content will be stored in a central location that can be used by other Windows applications. Additional extentions which Microsoft is releasing under Creative Commons license will allow IE 7 to sort and filter feeds based on feed-specific parameters such as price, date, or neighborhood for a real estate feed that was used in the example.

A point was made that Microsoft originally embraced RSS and handed out jackets at Gnomdex with RSS written on them and that this message is now confused with their re-naming it a “feed.” Scoble countered that there’s confusion in the industry – Safari calls it RSS and Atom RSS, Computerworld calls it XML Feed. Dean sums it up by saying, “I’m unaware of any decision in the tech industry that has be unanimous – Feeds will be Microsoft’s label. In their view, they are both “Feeds” and talking about “RSS Feeds” is akin to talking about “TCP/IP” instead of “networking” or “HTML pages” instead of “Web Pages.” In order to really widen the adoption, you need to ditch the acronyms.

At one point, Dean talked about using RSS to update Calendar events. That got me thinking – RSS as a version of distributed Exchange? Hmmm. Interesting.

Will RSS replace email? Scoble counters, “did TV replace radio? did radio replace newspapers?” Dean says that until there is a security in which you can create a secure feed for a specific, authenticated individual, it will be impossible to replace point-to-point communication for which email is best. I would add that there would need to be a financial incentive to go this route – email still works really well for point-to-point messages, it’s just the anonymous and group email stuff that needs to be taken out.

Lessons Learned: GM & Intuit

Intuit has a “follow me home” interaction with its customers in which they are used to following users home from the store and seeing how they use their products. This level of interest in user feedback is in the company’s DNA so blogging is a natural extention of this. There is no formal approval policy but, Paul Rosenfeld just last week met with the Founder and the CEO to ratify a corporate blogging policy which they kept to one page. Training on blogging is encouraged but not required.

Paul’s word to future corporate bloggers is to resist the requirement by “blogging police” to post at least once every three days. It can wear you out and cause you to lose focus. Keep to your audience and only post what they want to read. Respond to comments and questions honestly and faithfully.

A bit of legal advice from the audience. Rather than put your blogging policy on the page as with Intuit Quickbooks blog, best to link to the legal disclaimer with a more prominent link higher up on the page.

A day in the life of GM’s Fastlane team. Posts are sent from Bob Lutz’s Blackberry for approval by two communications handlers who review and, if necessary double-check facts before posting. The approval process has been streamlined and now only takes a few hours. There is someone on the team that spends about half her day monitoring comments for approval. There is a weekly editorial meeting to understand what types of posts they can be expecting from executives posting.

Other notes:

“Dress for Success” says Darren Barefoot Your site design reflects as much about your business as the way you dress says Darren who is one of the few in conference wearing a necktie and suit.

Rebecca Blood – has a good page linking to corporate blogging policies. “When blogging for your business, don’t blog about your work or office, blog about your profession.”

Funniest Line – “At one point there were 9 rules but since I never wrote them down, I forget what they are.” – Paul Scrivens of 9rules.com

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Current Events

James Lileks on Old Media

The Daily Peg pulls together some choice zingers from Star Tribune columnist and prolific blogger and ephemera archivist, James Lileks, on the impending implosion of the old media.

Blogs haven’t toppled old media. The foundations of Old Media were rotten already. The new media came along at the right time. Put it this way: you’ve see films of old buildings detonated by precision demolitionists. First you see the puffs of smoke – then the building just hangs there for a second, even though every column that held it up has been severed. We’ve been living in that second for years, waiting for the next frame. Well, here it is. Roll tape. Down she goes. And when the dust settles we will be right back where we were 100 years ago, with dozens of fiercely competitive media outlets throwing elbows to earn your pennies.