Monday, January 02, 2006

By Jeff Saperstein and Eileen Clegg

Last year blogging was a curiosity to most people; today it is a force. Blogging is changing journalism, marketing, the way people are engaging with each other, and the power structure of society.

The blogging revolution was explained by Robert Scoble of Microsoft, during a New Years Day meeting at the home of Douglas C. Engelbart, technology visionary and inventor of the computer mouse. The venue was not a Microsoft platform; in fact, Engelbart once stridently walked out of a project with Microsoft. Scoble faced a collection of open-minded but somewhat skeptical writers, educators and inventors who are part of our loose-knit community of practice called the Next Now.

Scoble, who started blogging five years ago, offered a surprising theory about why blogging got started in the first place and, more important, he explained what is going on behind the scenes to make blogs serious business.

People are using blogs as a running journal. People record their thoughts, then other people react, and there is a dialogue. If it’s something topical—Hurricaine Katrina, the Xbox, the truth about your company or product—your blog may be faster and more accurate than traditional sources.

How did blogging get started? Scoble said that after the year 2001 tech economy crash, people were laid off and had time on their hands. They were bent out of shape about corporate scandals and wanted a voice. They were looking for work and needed to communicate with each other. They could be a neutral source of information – sifting through the hype about products. It worked for Scoble, who helped run the camera section of LZ Premiums in the 1980s and early 1990s and began his blog to write about different camera products. People read him because he had no vested interest in one manufacturer over another.

A few years back, you had to be pretty savvy to start a blog but now the barrier to entry is low. Anyone can start one. But not everyone makes it to the top of the list. Yes there is a list, and it is based on qualitative not just quantitative factors.

It’s not how many people link to your blog, but who they are. Somewhere there is a map of who is linking to whom. The search engines are driving this. It’s not just like posting bulletin boards. It’s not anarchy. If someone deemed highly credible links to your blog, your blog moves up the list. The links and rationale are all transparent. But qualitative evaluation of the blogger’s authenticity, veracity, and knowledge as well as how well they respond to comments, criticism, and corrections also counts. A good buzz sets off alarm bells.

Scoble gave five reasons for blogging:
1. It’s easy to publish. There are particular sites that get you started:, Anyone can create a blog without it being a big production
2. Discoverability. In the old days, to get discovered, you had to pay for it. Today, Google knows about you and tracks the quality of response to your blog and which experts are linking to you and that’s how you get discovered.
3. Conversationality. People can go back and forth, commenting on each other’s blogs.
4. PermaLinking. Instantly there is a record of posts, whose linking to whom. It’s all transparent.
5. Syndication. There is a “human filter.” People can create RSS feeds (RSS=real simple syndication), enabling them to see who’s writing about topics of interest. People can choose not only link to your blog but the parts of your blog that are getting the most feedback.

What are the implications for marketing? Consumers are paying attention to what bloggers are saying about a product. It’s a new journalism. If bloggers are saying that a product really sucks, people listen. Companies have the choice to respond to the feedback. Instead of press releases, people are listening to each other to learn about what’s hot, what’s not?

In the past, product marketing and communication has been a one-way street. Today, you can’t stop people from making comments about your products – in real time. Scoble says smart companies let employees blog and talk to customers instead of relying solely on a public relations department being responsible for all external communications.

Companies profit by empowering employees to monitor blogs. For example, Scoble said, Microsoft is monitoring blogs, and responding to complaints by writing back, “we’re hearing you….” It works to bring down the anger level. Microsoft can say, “we saw your blog and we want to address the problem.”
Being blog-savvy is a necessary current competency for companies.

But what about blogging for individual, ordinary people? Scoble said the best blog is when you are passionate and authoritative. You can designate different parts of your blog for different subjects and interest or just integrate everything into a running journal. People want reality. The best blog is informative, but the passion has to come through. People who share your passion will link to your blog.

Blogging is learning, Scoble said. You learn by the response you get on your blog. In traditional communications, there is an expert telling you how it is. In a blog, you are looking for response. If you are dealing with a service or product, you will get very good feedback even if some of it is critical.

How you deal with that feedback is critical. If you don’t want to listen, you are not going to have a good blog. If you are completely defensive, you will be out of the game. If you are open to listening and ready to engage, you will create a dialogue and everyone benefits, according to Scoble.

An interesting metaphor: The Jewish Talmud was developed by people responding to each other through commentaries over the centuries about a particular passages in the Bible. From that interaction, the Jewish laws emerged. Blogging expands this Talmudic practice, but enabling everyone to apply it to everything. People developed laws for living based on the asynchronous dialogue of rabbis over the centuries. In different disciplines today, instead of centuries, the dialogue is instantaneous.

(This article is based on the synthesis of Robert Scoble’s talk by Jeff Saperstein as related to Eileen Clegg on January 1, 2006. The meeting was convened by Bill Daul, leader of the Next Now: . Jeff will be starting a blog soon; visit his website at JEFF SAPERSTEIN Wikipedia entry about Scoble’s is ROBERT SCOBLE)

Please add your thoughts!

1 comment:

Yvonne said...

Great write up Jeff and Eileen!

Here's another link about the gathering, my first blog entry inspired by yesterday's get together! .