SD Forum Search SIG

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I went to the SD Forum Search SIG over at the Microsoft Silicon Valley campus last night. The first session was a talk between John Battelle and his old editor at MacWorld, Dan Farber (now Editor in Chief at ZDNet). Then there was a panel discussion featuring the viewpoints of four companies that are building vertical search engines

I must say I like these smaller gatherings better. When John asked how many in the audience were working on their own search engine, almost 30% of the room of 150-odd folks raised their hands! With such a knowledgeable audience, the questions were good and the speakers could go deep into what interested them.

Some notes:

Battelle: the web 1.0 companies that survived were the ones that created platforms, not web sites.

What is the number one frustration users have with search engines? Bad results.
What is the number one frustration search engine companies have? Bad questions.

Search marketing is not advertising – it’s a sales channel. If done correctly, every dollar you put in should return more than what is invested in revenue. It’s measurable so budgets can be held accountable. This is why, to a certain extent, John Battelle feels that Google’s dependence upon advertising revenue is somewhat immune to any downturn in the traditionally cyclical advertising market. It’s not advertising, it’s sales. More on this on CrunchNotes.

Interesting note – while one of the keys to success is a platform which improves based on user interaction, none of the companies that were demoed yesterday had a real social aspect to them. To that end, they are more nodes for information than hubs of activity. Opportunity?

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Belated Review of Web 2.0

I’m a bit slow out the gate with this post and I expect you all to take whatever I say with a big ol’ grain of salt because of my new position with Yahoo. Truth is, there’s lots going on both here at Yahoo and the industry at large. Let’s take a quick rundown over the events of the past week:

No wonder we’re all out of breath! I only attended the workshops and opening day sessions but feel like I was there because I picked up on the buzz at the afterparties and have read through lots of the posts about the conference.

Two points of discussion that I wanted to highlight because I didn’t see them mentioned anywhere else.

Esther Dyson contributed and interesting riff on the variable of time and how that might impact the relevance of what an advertiser might be targeting or a search engine presenting. If someone subscribes to a feed or buys a book today, they may not continue to have that interest in the  future. We all must keep in mind that behavior profiling via a clickstream may actually deceive. If someone is a starving student that likes to browse expensive car sites, does that really make them a qualified buyer to the BMW advertiser? If they did a lot of research for a new computer last month, post purchase, that may not be their interest and in fact, it may be more appropriate to target marketing messages for accessories instead of new systems.

The challenge is to build an ad network which can take feedback from it’s participants. The example I’ve been turning over in my mind is the banner ad that has a button which allows you to block future instances of ads in it’s category from every appearing again. If I’m presented with an ad for a Buick Lacrosse, I should have the option to "opt out" of those ads. This feedback should make it’s way back to the advertising engine and modify my profile appropriately. Not only is the beneficial to me, as a consumer who never wants to see and ad for a Buick again, it also is beneficial to Buick who will not have to waste their inventory on me.

The second point was best summed up in a one-liner attributed to Ross Mayfield, "Let’s stop measuring impressions and start measuring the impressed." Online advertising in the Web 1.0 world looked at banner impressions and then, with self-serve networks such as AdSense, cost-per-click. In the world of blogs, trackbacks, and rss subscriptions, it’s now possible to measure something like a cost-per-influence. It’s time for the publishers and advertisers to come together and experiment on this new unit of measure and try out new business models that are made possible by this innovation.

In my mind, advertising is useful and complimentary if it adds to the experience of what I’m reading. It can do this by being either educational, entertaining, or highly contextual (or best case, all three). The tools we have at our desposal are improving and modern day metrics allow us to also to measure not only the nameless "daily uniques" but also the quality of an audience demographic and impact of a writer like never before. I am hopeful that this will ultimately reward quality writing which will benefit us all.

 

Fear of being blogged

One last thing about the Blog Business Summit and then I’m done. Really.

I was sitting next to a PR person from a major company and she was expressing frustration that the sessions were not going the way she wanted them. Since the bloggers that ran the session love to run things in an interactive way, I asked why she wasn’t asking more questions to drive the sessions to answer what she was interested in. Her reply (I’m paraphrasing slightly) punched right to the core of some of the difficulties faced by a corporation that is trying on their blogging boots,

"Ask a question? Are you crazy? This place is not only full of press, it’s full of bloggers! I can’t have my company’s name all over the place tied to some stupid question of mine."

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Slogging up the Business Blog Slope of Enlightenment

Debbie Weil, a blog business consultant, points to a Gartner conference call in which they place RSS and Corporate Blogging heading into the Trough of Disillusionment. As you look at Gartner’s Emerging Technology Hype Cycle for 2005, (check out page 6 on the PDF) you can see that they place corporate blogging about two years out to widespread adoption.

This is not to say that you should throw in the towel and sit on your hands for the next two years while the rest of the world figures it out for you – it just means that companies, now that they have begun to experiment with blogging tools realize that effective blogging is hard work. A blog requires someone not only to write intelligently and consistently, it also requires someone to monitor blogs and respond to comments. I can still hear the sigh of disappointment from the realtor that called me the other day to ask if he could pay Six Apart to also feed him content for his blog.

I have received a few good comments in reaction to my post yesterday about how there is still a gulf between those that blog and those in the corporate world trying to figure it all out. Robert Scoble’s advice to hand out your card at geek dinners isn’t going to really work if you’re promoting a blog for Sarah Lee or Quaker State. The Blog Business Summit was held to try and address this and their upcoming one day seminar will further the education on the nuts & bolts of corporate blogging.

As with any hyped trend, self-help books are rushing in to meet the need. A few good books out already or very shortly include:

  1. Naked Conversations, by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel is available for pre-order on Amazon. They also have a blog.
  2. Debbie Weil is writing a book on corporate blogging for Penguin due out in 2006.
  3. Blog Marketing, by Jeremy Wright is available today!
  4. The Weblog Handbook, by Rebecca Blood is one of the first books on blogs and a great primer.
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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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Blog Business Summit – Day One

I was at the Blog Business Summit all day and weaved in and out of discussions about basic blogging principles as well as a smattering of debate on what this all means to the corporate world that still is just getting a handle on it.

It was great to connect with folks that I’ve corresponded with over the past year and I had more than one occasion where the person sitting right next to me happened to be someone I already knew via their blog, email, or from a phone conversation. Everyone should put a photo of themselves on their blog so we don’t have to crane our neck for their name tag and in that spirit, I just updated mine.

Lots I could write about but here’s the stuff I really enjoyed:

Chris Brownrigg’s story of how he hand crafted Boeing’s first prototype (image map for the calendar!) in response to an emergency call to build a blog using Boeing’s existing infrastructure in 48 hours to the discovery of modern blogging tools. Great plug for Movable Type from someone who has a profound appreciation of how the right tool for the job can make things so much more pleasurable. Notice it is called Randy’s Blog in the prototype and now the site is Randy’s Journal because of the potentially negative/fringe connotations. The debate at Boeing now is if it should be changed to Randy’s Blog now because a “blog” is keyword folks use when looking for this site. My how we’ve come full circle!

Several people talked about the importance of participating in the community in order to build visibility. The days of “build it and they will come” are over unless you already have an established brand. You need to cruise around and leave comments on other people’s blogs which will not only get you on the radar of that blog’s author but also that blog’s readers. Comments that are considered, authoritative and contribute to the discussion will be welcomed and your name and link will draw people to your site to read more about you. This has been my personal experience when I first started getting into blogging at my previous company. Leave your comments enough times and you begin to feel silly putting your company’s top level domain name into the URL field, it adds almost no value. You really need to tie it back to your own profile to give your comments the full context. This is why you need a blog if you’re going to participate meaningfully in the conversation.

Dave Taylor talked about the importance of spending time to pick a good headline for your posts in order to get the right keywords into the search engines. I would add that it’s also an important art because, in the world of RSS readers, it’s going to be the headline that’s going to tease your readers to read the rest of your article – full text feed or not. For an example, John Paczkowski over at Good Morning Silicon Valley is a master at this art. Google claims secondary offering is “for the Christmas Party” – who wouldn’t click through to read that?

DL Byron and Buzz Bruggeman were their usual humorous and unassuming selves telling the “how the heck did we get here?” story of how their blogs told a simple story and rippled out to connect them in ways they never thought possible. Byron telling the story of Clip-n-Seal blog and how they just landed an order from NASA for the Space Shuttle (new way to fasten heat tiles?). Buzz, and how his ActiveWords universe has expanded beyond his wildest dreams and his customer-focused marketing has landed him to site licenses and introductions to very influential executives.

I had to step out but did catch the tail end of Janet Johnson and Robert Scoble in the Dealing with Bloggers session (a provocative title if I might add). This was my favorite session just because it was the most interactive. Robert was running around and the audience was tossing the pair some real good questions. As always, Robert’s candor and shoot-from-the-hip style was perfect. Answering why a company that sells exit poll research to a very select customer base (major network TV stations) should spend limited resources engaging the greater public on their arcane science, Robert shot back that network TV is ultimately dependent on the public for their business. By publicizing their methods to those that are curious, they give crediblity to these networks that use and rely on their research, everyone wins.

Another important lesson from Scoble is what to do when bad news surfaces. Link early to the news and then set off to find the details. The sooner you link, the sooner you take the air out of those that might say that you’re not aware of the problem. Conversations in the blogosphere are like a spider web. The linking and authority ranking around rumors is usually built over the first 24 hours. If you’re not part of that inner circle of links, you’re going to be hard pressed to work your way in when you actually do have something substantial to add.

See you on day two!

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Voce Hosts Event on Corporate Blogging

Voce Communications who advised Yahoo on their popular Search Blog is hosting an event in Palo Alto with local law firm Cooley Godward next week. The topic will be about corporate blogging but also the legal challenges. "transparency must be balanced with purpose and responsibility" says the invite post. Space is limited so  contact them in advance for an invite.

Online Media Meet Market

Most writers view advertising as a necessary evil. Working for a weblog software company which makes the tools that many writers are using, I’m always on the lookout for an interactive agency that "gets it" and can provide a bridge for the considerable financial resources of its clients to make its way to my customers’ pockets so they can succeed. In my ideal world, good advertising should compliment good writing and create an experience which can co-exist in a way that adds value to a site.

I regret to say that I didn’t see it on the Ad-Tech trade show floor. As with my previous brush at another online advertising show, it was the usual mosh pit of smartly-dressed Search Engine Optimizers and Ad Network hucksters. There was a group of busty women in tank tops that had "Wanna be on top?" written across their chest running around promising to get your site to the top of the search engine results heap and a firm called Blow Search that promised Search as, "swift as the wind" from their "Super-Meta PPC search engine." It seemed like every other booth featured shot glasses as the giveaway-de-jour. Less a conference on how to create carefully-crafted editorial products and more a carnival on how to hoodwink the blinking masses into buying your product.

Not all was lost though. I did meet up with some folks from Nielsen/Netratings that slipped me their latest white paper, The Rules of Engagement, Online Media’s Missing Link, that introduced the subject of audience measurement in this new world of interactive media. Contributors include Rick Bruner, noted blogger, who has semi-retired from his blog in order to focus on his new role at the soon to be acquired DoubleClick.

The point of the paper is that the old metrics of unique visitors and pageviews may no longer apply to the world of blogs where they are seeing a flattening of growth in online visitors but a sharp increase in the number of pages viewed and time spent on a site.

There is little evidence demonstrating that changes in technology translate into changes in human nature. Technologies come and technologies go, but for as long as media has been consumed, engagement has truly been the sine qua non of success. It is precisely because engagement in the online environment is on the rise that the era of "proving" the efficacy of the online medium is over.

We have seen only the tip of the iceberg in audience fragmentation, and we are all in for a long, bumpy ride. Marketers choosing to cling exclusively to traditional media will miss the mark in two critical areas. First, and most obvious, they will miss opportunities to meet today’s customers where they are spending more and more time. But most important, participating in the online environment today will give marketers a deeper appreciation of how changing media preferences will impact their sales tomorrow.

I’m going to see Esther Dyson’s keynote tomorrow. In the meantime, you can read more on Ad:Tech San Francisco on this blog.

Mary Meeker on Online Advertising

Yesterday I visited the Ad-Tech show here in San Francisco to catch the last 20 minutes of Mary Meeker’s keynote and visit the exhibition hall. Let me first say that Mary’s presentation was fascinating but left me winded. We blew past 50 slides dense with stats and tidbits that raised an eyebrow when I first ran across them in my readings over the past several months but now, when gathered up and presented together, are nothing short of inspirational.

My key takeaway was that with broadband penetration now hitting 25 – 30% in North America, we’re going to start to see even greater adoption of the internet as the alternative delivery format for rich media. As more families experience life with an always on connection (I have an iMac in my living room and the little white window has become a hub of activity throughout the day), they begin to view the internet as a viable alternative to existing delivery methods.

Weblogs replace the letter from friends. Topix replaces your local paper. Weather.com replaces your local TV forecast. RSS feeds replace your local sports wrap-up. The list goes on. Mary’s point was that we’re only just beginning a new adoption phase as it is only when penetration of a new medium hits 25% that the volumes start to make sense for others to follow. Once all these families start hanging out on their always on broadband connections, you’ll see the advertisers follow which will enable more interesting projects which will draw more people online which will draw more advertisers, you get the idea.

More tomorrow on the exhibit hall.

Bite PR on Doc’s “snowballs”

Bite’s Trevor Jonas posts about the marketer’s perspective of Doc Searl’s snowball metaphor – "frightening."

I think it’s all about giving into the loss of control. It’s no longer about having a message to control and more about participating in a conversation as a participant and not a leader. This gets to what is still a new concept in marketing circles. Brands are owned by their customers, not the company. This leads to a whole new style of marketing that empowers the external champions of a brand. in this new world it’s all about working through the customers to drive a point, not leading them.

Blogging is a platform that amplifies a message. If your story is told in a way that resonates with your customers, it will be picked up. If it’s well written, it will be picked up with all the contextual detail that will tell the story with less distortion and greater impact.