Things I keep learning about magazines (and much more) by blogging

magnet 2010 logo

If you’re attending,
my session is next Wednesday.

Next Wednesday, I’m speaking in Toronto at MagNet, the annual conference jointly produced by a several organizations related to the magazine industry in Canada. (I wonder why such groups in the U.S. can’t coordinate their events like that?)

In a courageous unwitting mysterious inspired move by the organizers, I’ve been given 90 minutes to lead a session on “9 things I’ve learned about magazines by blogging.” The session grew out of a guest column I wrote last year for the industry magazine Publishing Executive and a follow-up interview with the UK marketing industry consultancy and media firm, econsultancy.com.

I’ve been looking forward to this presentation for several months because I think it’s a great honor (and fun) to be able to tell the story of what one learns by diving into a new medium rather than just “studying it.” Especially, since “studying it” typically means, “hoping it will go away.” And as my style of blogging is based on my personal perception of the internet as “a place” and that this blog is a major part of the way I “exist” and participate with others who share that place, I have never been burdened by figuring out what its “business model” is or what my blogging strategy is.

This blog is me. Maintaining it is a major investment of time (however, not near as much as you’d think), but the return on that investment over the past decade can easily justify that time. So I have been a lucky blogger: I had the luxury of several years of blogging without thinking of a blog as a “medium” or that I had to justify its existence in the metrics of a classic business medium. And by the time people in the “real world” discovered I blogged and asked me, “How can you spend time doing that?” I was able to answer with examples of specific opportunities it had created, complete with dollar signs attached.

In preparing for next week, I have scanned through dozens of past magazine-related posts on this blog — as well as re-reading those two items that led to the invitation to speak next week.

And, as with the final episode of Lost, I’ve decided those things I’ve learned over the years are less about specific “answers,” but rather are about the big things: relationships, curiosity, community, collaboration and how much better it is not knowing how it all ends.

The best thing about blogging

I’ve been so jammed with projects the past few days (yes, even through the weekend), I haven’t done my usual ego roundup checks (don’t tell me you don’t have a Google alert set up for your name). So I’ve been remiss in not saying a public thank you for the kind things Kate O’Neill and Dave Delaney said on their blogs last Wednesday.

And since I’m shamelessly pointing to people who have said nice things related to me, I’ll point also to a recent post “My buddy Dave,” Dave Winer, wrote. (To my geek-free friends reading this on Facebook, even if you’ve never heard of Dave, you have come in contact with many things he’s pioneered.)

No doubt: the best thing about blogging for me has been the friendships I’ve made through it.

Everything else is secondary.

I’m getting all verklempt: The Nashville Technology Council Awards

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Nashville Technology Award | Social Media / Blogging

This post, in what I’d say if I were wearing my editor’s cap, “buries the lede.

But hey, this is my blog and rambling before getting to the point is part of what I do and who I am.

Last night, I attended an impressive event at Nashville’s Schemerhorn Symphony Center. (Frankly, any event in the Schemerhorn is going to be impressive — what an incredible building.) The event was an inaugural awards gala hosted by the Nashville Technology Council, an affiliate organization of the Nashville area Chamber of Commerce whose stated purpose is “to help the Middle Tennessee technology community succeed.”

I’ll admit that, despite Hammock Inc. being a member of the organization since its inception, I’ve thought — as it should be — it has been primarily focused on what has traditionally been considered “the technology industry” in Nashville. What is that? Well visit this “Techville” map and you’ll get a sense of the companies that employ 25,000 individuals in tech-related jobs. Much of this industry is the type of work that serves the needs of Nashville’s better known industries and institutions: Information Technology services related to healthcare, education, music, publishing, automotive and traditional corporate technology and information-management and infrastructure needs.

As an individual, I’ve never really thought of myself as being a technology-industry person. Certainly, I’ve always adopted technology early for running businesses (bleeding edge, as they call it) and for creating the types of media Hammock is known for — not just magazines, as we were developing what was then called “interactive multimedia” for clients like Northern Telecom in the late 80s, for example — which is even before Hammock Inc. go started.

I’ve also, as an accidental geek and aggressive user of technology, identified more with those “outside” the tech mainstream: the open-source, start-up, indie developer, blogger, disintermediating, disruptive, free-lance, BarCamp, “unconference” digital community which tends not to think of itself as being defined by traditional geographic boundaries (unless one lives within 30 miles of San Jose).

In the past few years, the Nashville Technology Council has made a concerted effort to reach out more to this “other technology community” in the Nashville area. It has supported — without trying to take over — a wide array of tech-related grassroots efforts (i.e. Barcamps) and recently helped launch the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, for example. But other, behind the scenes efforts by people like Tod Fetherling, a veteran of tech startups who is now CEO of the council, are helping broaden the mission of the organization.

Therefore, I was happy to see that along with big corporate type awards like CIO of the Year and Technology Organization of the Year (both won by HCA) and “Green” innovator of the year (Nissan USA), among the ten awards, there were categories for students (won by Hank Carter, a student at Belmont University) and startups (won by CredenceHealth) and, interestingly, for a blogger/social media person.

And, more interestingly still, the recipient was me. (Two friends, Kate O’Neill of [meta] marketer and Dave Delaney, social media wrangler at Griffin Technology and creator of such things as Geek Breakfast were also finalists and either should have won.)

I feel incredibly honored to win. But more than a little surprised.

First (as I said on Twitter last night), for me, winning an award for blogging is like winning an award for brushing my teeth — it’s just something I do. I’ve never even thought of blogging as writing. (Which is probably obvious.) Unlike when I write, there’s little “crafting” of what I share here. Elsewhere, I write columns that go through a dozen edited versions before being printed or released. But here, it’s completely extemporaneous and improvisational. This is about as me as it gets. So that makes “winning an award” for what I do here and on Twitter and elsewhere very surprising and appreciated.

Coolest “trophy” ever.

Second, and most importantly, this is a personal blog. Yes, sometimes I write about business and technology, but I don’t have a niche other than the niche of stuff interesting to me. Such an editorial focus is one I would never recommend to a client — ever. Had I picked an editorial focus when starting this blog, it would have a better name and, likely, it would be long-gone by now, as I doubt I would still have something to say about one topic after ten years.

This blog, in other words, is more like a columnist’s blog than a reporter’s blog. The only niche it serves are those people who may be interested in my random observations. (i.e., 10-12 people). Only some of those observations are related to Nashville. And only some of them are about technology.

So, therefore, I would think I’d be the last blogger/social media person to win an award from the Nashville Technology Council.

So I’m really surprised and extremely appreciative.

And I’m also really blown away, as the “trophy” is a personalized electric guitar from a Nashville-based “technology” company: Gibson. (Photos to come.)

See also:

•A great Flickr set from the ceremony via Miiacom.
VentureNashville.com recap of the awards.

FTC moves to regulate paid blog endorsements

On July 28, 2005, I blogged this: “I say podcasting won’t officially be mainstream until it has its first payola scandal.”

I thought of that short post (these, days, such a short post would have been relegated to Twitter) when I read this headline on AdAge.com:

FTC Cracks Down on Blogger Payola

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) — The Federal Trade Commission is cracking down on blogger payola.

The agency, which protects consumers from fraud or deceptive business practices, voted 4 to 0 to update its rules governing endorsements, and the new guidelines require bloggers to clearly disclose any “material connection” to an advertiser, including payments for an endorsement or free product.

Wasn’t it like about a week or so ago when blogs were the mosquitos of media?

(Disclosure: This blog is one big advertisement for me. I pay myself to endorse those things in which I believe.)

Remembering Katrina: And thoughts on why Twitter is not a blog shrunk down to “micro-” size

I can’t go through these few days each year without thinking back to 2005 and how I anticipated Katrina approaching the gulf coast leading up to August 29 and then gradually realized the severity of what was taking place. By reviewing my blog posts, I can see that even I did not understand how bad things were until late on the 30th or early on September 1. By September 2, I was doing all I could to point to Nashvillians and web-based efforts responding to the human needs caused by the aftermath of Katrina.

As Katrina is now seared into our consciousness as being one of the worst natural disasters in American history, it is helpful to me to glance through my posts over those few days — as I used this blog more as “a diary” then than perhaps at any other time over the past nine years. I can see how I (and collectively, “we”) went from being concerned to “shocked” at what was taking place.

For example, it was not until September 3, that I wrote a a short post called “Sinking in”:

Perhaps symbolic of the collective delay in responding to Katrina has been how Amazon.com has responded. Universally praised for turning over its front page to tsunami relief almost immediately, Amazon.com did not add a donation link of any size (noted by Jason Kottke) to its front page until three days after the hurricane. Today, six days after, the dominant position of the Amazon.com front page is finally devoted to Katrina relief. This is not a criticism of Amazon’s response, rather a curious observation of how there was an apparent initial disbelief by lots of people that an unprecedented tragedy of historic proportions was unfolding. (I’ll reserve my criticism for Apple, who has hyped the Mighty Mouse in the dominant position all week.)

Having a blog can help me recall how my colleagues and I at Hammock, on September 14, adopted a magazine in New Orleans called Louisiana Cookin’ after learning their staff had been evacuated to places all over the country. Our assistance was more technical and “holding hands” and becoming friends than anything, but it lasted a few issues and I’m happy to see the magazine is still being published today (and I just renewed my subscription).

Because I have a blog, I can review and recall the impact on me and my then 15-year-old son (and photos) of spending a couple of days working in coastal Mississippi with a volunteer group from our church six months after Katrina. And then, almost a year after the storm and aftermath, how he and I travelled to New Orleans to finally meet our new Louisiana Cookin’ friends and join them in celebrating some outstanding young chefs who were (and still are) committed to continue making the region home to some of the most wonderful food in America.

Because I blog, I can look back and read at how that trip both made me realize a part of New Orleans will likely never return, while marveling how another part of it came back to life almost immediately:

While an incomprehensibly broad swath of neighborhoods are still struggling through the very earliest stages of coming back to life, and may never recover fully, — and these range from inner-city to affluent neighborhoods — such a tourist-iconic spot as Jackson Square was stunningly beautiful when I strolled through it Monday. And all those seedy joints on Bourbon Street are still seedy — in a touristy, seedy way.

As I reflect on all of this now, I wonder how much of this blogging would have been relegated to Twitter if Katrina struck today. I guess I would be able to reflect back on what I “tweeted” using FriendFeed*, but having a calendar view or archive of a period of time, or the use of keywords, categories and tags to help me recall and reorganize my impressions — would they be available to me? No.

Using Twitter is something I do with frequency and I believe it and other means of real-time expression can play a vital role during future events like Katrina (or in not-so-important-events as, say, while watching a football game). But tweeting (or what is often called “microblogging”) is not blogging. It’s not even microblogging, now that I think of it. Something called “microblogging” should have archives and tags. It’s something else, completely. And that’s not bad — indeed, it’s good. And as I’ll always admit, I don’t quite get Twitter — but that’s not going to stop me from using it. But the more I use it, but more I realize it’s not just a blog shrunk down to “micro” size.

Sidenote: Here’s a hack to address my concerns with “losing” the chronological context of tweets. As Twitter does have the blog-conventions of RSS and permalinks, you can set up a Tumblr.com account and stream all of your tweets into it. You’ll at least have a nice archive of your tweets.