For the past two years, I’ve eschewed on this weblog the topic of most of the early blogs that inspired its creation: the topic of blogging.
However, after spending the past 48 hours in a room with many of the rock stars of “blogs about blogs,” I decided I should take a few moments on the flight home to record my impressions. Thinking back, I’ve attended some other meetings that remind me of this one (the first Apple Interactive Multimedia Conference in 1989, the first Red Herring-East conference, the first two Personalization Conferences) in which it was still early enough in the cycle of a concept for the pioneers to still be fighting over what the meaning of is is. I regret now that I didn’t collect my thoughts then (however, I did do quite a bit of writing about one of them, I recall.)
So, in no particular order, here are some thoughts I have about the state of weblogs in general and about weblogs in business, in particular.
1. Weblogs are a lot farther along than the pioneers realize. They primarily read each other’s blogs and don’t realize there are active communities of bloggers who write about their family’s genealogy or other very narrow topics having nothing to do with technology or the nature of the virtual self.
2. Weblogs aren’t even out of the starting gates yet. (I know this contradicts number 1, but since this is my blog and I am comfortable with the concept of paradox, I can do that.) Other than from the few employees who I shame into looking at my blog on a regular basis, some folks in the magazine industry and a few unique individuals I know, most of the visits to this weblog come via Google searches. I have no friends in the magazine world or in my broad circle of friends and business contacts who blog. I have run across only a couple of Nashville bloggers. I still have really smart, savvy, educated people look at me with blank stares when I say I keep a blog. Metaphorically, we’re about at the place we were in 1996 when I addressed the Nashville Rotary Club on the topic of the Internet. I asked for everyone in the audience of about 300 business, government and non-profit leaders to raise their hands if they had their e-mail addresses printed on their business cards. About 10 raised their hands. If I were to ask the same group today how many have a weblog, I’d be lucky to get five. (Although all of them have web access and all the other ‘website’ stuff their organization is supposed to have.)
3. When I hear passionate bloggers talk about the future of weblogs, I get a creepy déjà vu feeling. Perhaps that’s because I once drank a near-fatal dose of Cluetrain Kool-Aid and thought I could change the nature of the small business world by capturing the power of conversational knowledge-sharing. I spent two years with like-minded, devoted folks who cared very deeply about understanding and creating the philosophical foundations and technical infrastructure and, oh yes, the human voice, necessary to create a business-oriented community of those willing to share their knowledge and those who desperately need such knowledge. I have an incredibly well-written business plan on the topic by the way. I even have a very expensive demo of what one can do in this field. It all sounds so familiar to what is now being described as new.
4. It is hard for people who don’t blog or use blogs or use a newsreader with RSS feeds to understand what the hell this is all about. That’s one of the reasons the seminar today was so frustrated with Tony Perkins’ description of his venture Always On in a way that merely pieces together the language of weblogs into something that sounds vaguely media-like. In the old days (1998), Perkins could have raised millions on his Power Point. To anyone who has spent a few years passing from a CompuServe forum to usegroups to listserves to forums to Slashdot to weblogging, Perkins’ presentation and business ideas are sadly naïve and ironically clueless. For god sakes, he was the editor of Red Herring and has other familial ties to the powers that be in tech financing. No wonder he had his ass handed to him. No wonder so many people who read his magazine had their asses handed to themselves. No wonder that I, who subscribed to his magazine and attended his conferences, had my ass handed to me. That he would, in the year 2002, marvel at the Iming abilities of his college-age daughters, should indicate his painfully low level of understanding of the whole “always on” thing.
5. “Push-button publishing” is a great phrase from Jason Shellen of Blogger to describe the technical phenomenon that enables bloggin. I used to call the smallbusiness.com platform a content management system for user-generated content. I later marveled at the simplicity of weblog platforms like Manila. I am convinced (philosophically, not as an investor, however) that the marriage of simple push-button publishing tools and incredible search technology will be as significant as anything we’ve seen so far in the Internet. I think the marriage of those two streams of development will bring into reality what we were trying to do at smallbusiness.com.
6. I believe that advanced search and push-button publishing will combine to enable the evolution of (please give me credit if this one day becomes a buzzword, although Jason get co-creator credit) “push-button knowledge management.” I think push-button knowledge management will replace a lot of what we now know as sales management software and collaborative process-management software and even the notion of a “business weblog” (it will need a more biz-speak name) and other things I can’t imagine.
7. This has little to do with blogging, but I thought about it today anyway: I spend my life trying to help people who run companies and associations better communicate with their employees, customers and members, yet I am sometimes frustrated with my inability to help them understand the power of pure, human conversations and the nature of real community. This used to bother me until I realized that it was enough for me to just continue my own personal journey of discovery. In fact, I’ve decided that the world is a great place and I’m happy that I don’t feel the need to rant at people who don’t get it. I’m just so happy to know some folks who do.
8. I love information and discussion and debate and conversation. That’s why I like blogs. But more than blogs, I enjoy being with my children and reading books. And, no matter what, I will always think of myself as a magazine person first.
9. When a big percentage of a seminar room full of people is blogging live and some are even participating in an IRC chat simultaneously, it’s a peer into the future of pedagogy. It’s like having several presentations going on at once: What the people at the podium are saying; that conversation that’s going on in your mind; those conversations going on in other people’s minds that you’re getting to observe. You then are able to have the really strange experience on going back and reading the transcript of the presentation along with the commentary and snide comments and you realize how much you missed of the presentation the first go ‘round. For instance, I can read someone else’s blog on a particular speaker’s presentation and marvel at the insight they recorded because, despite listening to the same presentation, I didn’t even hear that particular insight. (Or maybe we’re just living in the Matrix or something.)
10. Weblogs and personal journalism are never going to be a threat to Adweek or Advertising Age like several people implied (as an example) today. This is one of the few times where I have been up close and personal to a decade-long series of such predictions regarding the demise of century-old B2B media companies and have, at the same time, known personally the people who run and own those companies. I only need to mention the company Vertical Net to remind folks that at one time, there was a company with the mythical stock-market value of several billions of dollars that was going to be a threat to all Business to Business media by moving it all to the web. I think it’s great that people are blogging about media and marketing. I am happy to note that I’ve been blogging about magazines for the past two years. But friends, I am never going to be a threat to Folio: with just a weblog. (Not to imply they don’t have threats.) I’m apples, they’re oranges. The world is big enough for me to do what I do for whatever reasons drive me to do it and for them to do likewise. VNU and Crain have nothing to worry about from bloggers threatening their established media properties. That is especially true about Crain Communications (Ad Age, Automotive News, etc.), as Keith and Rance Crain are two of the most unique media executives left in America: They both have voices (very human voices) of authority, integrity and truth and near-radical independence. They mince no words and back down from no one. I doubt they will ever blog, but their decades of commentary about automobiles and advertising are the purest examples of human-voice insight those two industries will ever hear. Come to think of it, however, I think they would blog if they didn’t have all those other ways to tell the world what they believe.