Sunday, October 28, 2007

Podcamp Boston

I'm not a podcaster, though I am an old radio guy. So that gave me an interesting perspective on some of the things I heard at Podcamp Boston this weekend.

Regardless, John Federico gave a good talk toward the end of day 1 on podcast measurement in which he basically calls for some standardization to help the industry earn some credibility. Essentially what he's asking for is a way to anonymously track listenership, including playback data. That is, how much of a given podcast did someone hear?

He's asking for something that the broadcast industry has been dying to have for as long as there has been measurement. Though, he rightfully pointed out that new media, such as podcasts, have a tougher hill to climb, since they are unproven. TV, for example, can exist with woefully inadequate measurement because it's always been done that way and the advertising industry has learned to accept it.

Isabel Hilborn over at MarketHum did a pair of very good sessions, probably the best that I attended. The first focused on defining social media and contained an excellent case study on how her company created a group blog for one of their clients. Without going into to much detail, MarketHum essentially took the custom publishing model and applied it to blogging, resulting in some great SEO value as well as marketing value. They did this by taking bloggers who were already writing on a given topic and then hiring them to write on a topic blog, while also giving them complete editorial freedom.

Isabel's second session looked at marketing mistakes and how Web 2.0 tools enhance those mistakes. For example, how companies with lousy customer service are often called on that by bloggers who point it out. But what made the discussion interesting was the fact that the crowed became very interested in picking some of these apart and discussing where these were true mistakes or just perceived mistakes because the voices of the offended were so loud.

In any case, a good event and one worth attending. I got to meet some interesting people and hear some interesting thoughts.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Framingham Fight on Free Speech

There's an interesting fight brewing in Framingham that has implications well beyond the town borders. The Southern Middlesex Opportunity Council has filed suit in federal court against several individuals, saying that there is a coordinated effort to keep certain social services out of the town.

Regardless of whether this is true, one part of the lawsuit is rather disturbing. Among the names of the defendants are a couple of private citizens who spoke out on privately-run electronic forums. Being someone who runs such a forum, this has me a little concerned.

I haven't read the emails and posts, so I can't say whether the speech was hateful or otherwise, but if the SMOC is accusing the town of this kind of coordinated effort, does it have the right to rope in citizens who speak out on the subject?

The editorial board of the Metro West Daily News doesn't think so:

The inclusion of private citizens in this suit is even more regrettable. Yes, some of the comments posted on Web sites and included in e-mails are inflammatory, hateful, or inaccurate. But we don't need the First Amendment to protect speech that gets no one mad; if speech that offends a powerful organization isn't protected, no one's speech is really free.
You may want to read the articles covering the topic. The first one is here, and the one focused on the electronic message board is here. You may also want to check out the Framingham Neighbors discussion board.

Certainly something worth watching.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Tech Blogging Event

This is a cross post of something that also appears on the Schwartz Crossroads Blog, where I am also a contributor.

I'm tired of going to events in which someone stands up and says "So, can you tell me what exactly defines a blog?"

Yes, this is an important question for someone just coming to the table, but many of us are well beyond that and the discussion is now about more high-level topics, such as "how are the current crop of blogs affecting coverage?" and "how can bloggers, reporters and PR people work together?"

That's what last night's great event at the Cambridge Innovation Center was all about. Scott Kirsner put together a great group of panelists, including Bijan Sabet, venture capitalist at Spark Capital; Barbara Heffner of CHEN PR; Don Dodge, director of business development at Microsoft; Jimmy Guterman, editor of Release 2.0 and blogger at O'Reilly Radar; Scott Kirsner, who writes the Boston Globe "Innovation Economy" column; and Nabeel Hyatt, CEO of Conduit Labs. Both Schwartz Communications and CHEN PR sponsored the event, as well as Morse Barnes-Brown & Pendleton and the Cambridge Innovation Center.

The panel was just a start, as I was charged with running around the room to bring in discussion from others attending the event. Dan Bricklin has a few pictures as well as the full podcast up, so rather than me running through the whole thing, go and have a listen.

Discussion items included:

  • Why do you blog?
  • What is your most popular post?
  • How addicted are you to statistics?
  • Where do journalistic ethics come into play?
  • What does blogging do for your business?
  • How do you maintain an authentic voice?
  • How do people who cannot write well engage in this environment?
  • What role do edited blogs (like this one) have both in the corporation and in the blogosphere in general?
  • Can you do a "news" announcement only through social media?

Don Dodge shared great pieces of advice--both of which I violated on my various blogs--that he received from Robert Scoble.

First: include your own name in the name of the blog. Of my personal blogs only two have any part of my name involved, the Tanoblog and Tanophoto. And second: include your picture. While my picture is on my Schwartz bio, it is not on my Media Metamorphosis page, which may be why Paul Gillin didn't include my name in his roundup of the event.

I also enjoyed the discussion on edited blogs, in which Nabeel noted how the corporate blog at Conduit is, in fact, edited. The point is to have a common voice and to acknowledge that the company must come first, in this context. But also it's because there are people within the organization who have great thoughts when they're standing at the whiteboard, but do not have the ability to express themselves in writing. In this case the editing process is not about sanitizing the content, but about saying to those who are more self-conscious, "hey, we've got your back."

I found the ethics discussion to be among the most interesting and will be writing more on that later. But let me just share this from Don Dodge on conflict of interest: "No conflict, no interest."

On a personal note, I got a chance to meet David Laubner, who writes the excellent 93South blog, one I've been reading for some time.

In all, a great discussion of some of the primary issues facing modern tech journalism. I'm sure there will be more discussion on the various Boston-based tech blogs, but the podcast is probably the most complete recounting of the event. Though, not everyone identified themselves before speaking, so it sometimes be tough to follow.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Big Names, Big Guns, Big Potatoes

When my wife and I started talking about adoption, we looked around at the books for kids and realized that none spoke to our sons. Many books focused on bringing home a baby, and many focused on bringing home an adopted baby, but few looked at the idea of having a set of biological siblings and bringing in a third. Also, most of the books that focused on bringing home an adopted child tended to have, as a character, an adopted older sibling. But in our house (and many others that we know) this just isn't the case.

So I wrote one myself. My sons liked it OK, but they really would have preferred if it were illustrated. I'm a lousy artist, so I didn't attempt it. I also thought about getting an artist friend of mine to illustrate it.

Then I had the idea of getting it published. My friends gave it uniformly good feedback, and I'd been reading these horrible children's books written by celebrity authors, so I figured a book that tapped into the adoption market would work. As I read I found out that I shouldn't have it illustrated but let the publishers handle that.

I called a friend who HAD published a work for this very audience. Her immediate reaction was that getting published at this point was nearly impossible unless you already had some celebrity status. She was in the process of working on her second book and had run into difficulty, even though her first was a bestseller.

That's why I'm finding the flap over Jessica Seinfeld's children's recipe book so fascinating. In both the Wall Street Journal story and the New York Times story, the publishers admit that they met with the author specifically because of her name. The same publisher had shortly before rejected a book by a relative unknown that is, according to many, remarkably similar. They both take healthier foods, like sweet potatoes and squash, and mix them in with brownies and mac and cheese. That book eventually got published, but that author hasn't been invited on Oprah or anything like that.

I don't think this is an isolated incident. The fact is, the creative media process in the old-school manner is broken. Seinfeld got heard because she's Jerry Seinfeld's wife and she had a good agent, which she got because she's, um... well... a Seinfeld. This is the same reason why Jamie Lee Curtis has a line of children's books. Is she that talented that the publishers just HAD to have her writing?

But I'm also thinking about a quote I heard from an industry executive dismissing the need for consumer generated content, suggesting that there is only so much talent out there and the rest is crap (I can't find the quote).

Yes, there is a lot of crap. And yes, it would be great if those arbiters of taste got it right. But too often they don't, so we need another outlet.

Still, if anyone wants to help me publish my story, give it a read. Even if you don't, go ahead and read it to your kids. Someone should enjoy it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Creationists vs. Consumerists

Antonio Rodriguez has an interesting post about creating and consuming content and asking the basic question of whether all content is worth creating or whether some is just cyber-junk and should be cleaned out.

Go ahead, read the post, then come back... I'll wait.

OK. Antonio is an intelligent guy and very good at reading what's coming. But his argument is flawed from the start, since he assumes creating and consuming content are absolutes. That is, that all content is created for all consumers. It isn't. Especially in the modern social media world.

I started my family blog to reach an audience of six: my parents, in-laws and brother and sister-in-law. If anyone else wanted to read, that's fine, but not my intent. Just because something is open to the greater world doesn't mean it's intended for anyone and everyone.

Does that mean it's junk and should be cleaned out? Not at all, it just means people who don't care shouldn't bother reading it. As things get easier more people will publish, though not all of this content will be published publicly, some will only have private distributions.

The question isn't about what's worth publishing and what's not, it's about how to get content from the person creating it to the right consumer.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Save the Date: October 23

On the evening of October 23 you'll find me at the Cambridge Innovation Center in Kendall Square attending the "Tech Blogs" conversation. Details are below, but be sure to RSVP. Space is limited.

If anyone wants to grab a drink afterward, let me know.

Tech Blogs: How are Blogs Changing the Way Technology is Covered?

Entrepreneurs, CEOs, VCs, journalists, and PR professionals are increasingly cranking out blogs, podcasts, and video dispatches. How does this change the way the tech sector gets covered? What does it mean for CEOs trying to get their stories out, PR firms trying to get coverage for their clients, VC firms touting their investments, journalists trying to cover important news, and customers tracking the market? (Not to mention the relationships between all of these players.)

We'll bring together representatives from all four camps for a wide-ranging conversation (definitely *not* a panel) about the way blogs are changing the game in the tech world.

Participants will include:

Networking begins at 6:30, conversation from 7-8, more networking afterward. Refreshments will be provided.

This gathering is sponsored by Cambridge Innovation Center, CHEN PR, and Morse, Barnes-Brown & Pendleton.

Space is limited, so please RSVP only if you plan on being there.

Friday, October 05, 2007

CEO Blogging: Yes or No?

I thought this discussion was pretty much over, but at a recent Social Media Club event that I was unable to attend, Larry Weber told the assembled that CEOs shouldn't blog.

Now, Larry is far more experienced than I am and has a couple of successful companies under his belt. Plus, he's advisor to any of a number of organizations. All that being said, he's wrong, sort of.

Though, I will give Larry credit for being consistent. As Scott Kirsner points out, Larry doesn't have a blog despite writing a book on how to effectively use social media. Though, since he doesn't think CEOs should be blogging in the first place, the fact that he doesn't have one is in line with his core message.

Larry's basic point is that CEOs are boring and blogging should come from the trenches. On this he's partially right: blogging should come from those who are bit more exciting. But that doesn't mean it should be banned from the corporate suite. In fact, there are many CEO blogs that are worth reading, even when they're no longer CEOs. Really, if you're looking for a blogger it's not about their position, it's about what they have to say. If the CEO has strong opinions, is a strong writer and has a strong vision for the company, then that's your blogger. But if someone else has the power to convey a the core message, maybe the CTO, then that person should be blogging.

Still, Larry rightfully points out that there are any one of a number of pitfalls for the CEO blogger, but if the takeaway is for a CEO not to blog, then it's wrong.

The fact is this, someone in the organization is going to be blogging, sanctioned or not. If you're going to have a corporate blog, it may as well be someone who knows the company well.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Stretching the Medium

Many people, my wife included, reject comics or animated cartoons as kid-stuff. And while shows like The Simpsons and The Family Guy have challenged that notion pretty well, the comics pages remain the domain of Garfield.

The first comic I know to truly try to change that was Doonesbury, which has been a constant companion of mine since Gary Trudeau relaunched the strip in the 1980s after a 5 year hiatus. Even in high school I remember friends (usually those with a more conservative political bent) arguing that the strip was misplaced on the comic pages and should instead be labeled as editorial.

Others have come along to push the notion of storytelling a bit. For Better or For Worse is a great example, in which the characters grow and change, giving it almost a soap opera feel (that comic is also on its way to dealing with the death of a major character). This is very different from the Peanuts, in which characters stayed unchanged by time for nearly 3 generations.

Today, Tom Batiuk killed off Lisa Moore in Funky Winkerbean (a good story on it is here.). I've been reading the comic for a while. I came back to it a couple of years ago to find that the characters had aged and were taking on more interesting rolls. In fact, they were all around my age, starting families and dealing with their own demons. Lisa had been a pregnant teen who gave up her child for adoption, married, had a baby and had been once a breast cancer survivor.

But this week the cancer took her in, what I think was a rather touching series of panels. A lot of people don't agree. A lot of comments out there criticize Batiuk for taking the fun out of the funnies, or just doing a lousy job.

They have to recognize that the form does not drive the content. Just because a story is told in a few drawn panels does not mean it can't provoke feelings, emotions or thoughts. Comics are a form of communication, and just because we've come to expect them to be humorous, doesn't mean we need to tie them to that.

The same goes for any medium.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Who's the Top?

Whenever I talk with a PR person about new media the same question comes up: how do I figure out what are the top blogs? Sometimes they get more specific in asking for the top blogs in a specific area, but no matter how many times I try to point out that there are several ways to cut this, people still want numbers. I try to focus people on the site's community and readership, intelligence of the discussions, the author's credibility and whether the topic is relevant to whatever is you're doing. It's a more complex way of looking at the issue, but also very effective.

I've long been critical of the idea that links determine much of anything, partially because they don't measure readers but also because they assume that readership equals active participation from other blogs. Shel Israel has made the point that if you have a blog with no links and three readers, it comes up as unimportant in the blogging world, but if those three readers include President Bush and his Chief of Staff, then it's rather influential.

I also believe that as blogs and other social media services move more mainstream in their consumption, the readership levels will go up while participation levels may remain steady. My family blog remains well-read, but doesn't have much by way of links or comments, that's because it appeals to an audience that would much rather read than discuss.

Then there is the idea that you can pay for links, a practice that TechCrunch calls out when it writes about Techmeme's Leaderboard list as a direct competitor to Technorati's last major stronghold.

No list is perfect, but at least Techmeme offers a major alternative and one that will evolve over time. I'm looking forward to watching it.