Sunday, October 12, 2008

Ready for Prime-Time Players: Blogs

Blogs have come a long way.

Reading Technotati's annual report "State of the Blogosphere" got me thinking about the recent history of blogging. The report underscores how much blogging has become an integral part of the internet.

Just a few years ago blogs were starting to get recognition as a new phenomenon in our culture. ("Blogs take on the mainstream" -BCC News, "Blog" named 2004 Merriam-Webster "Word of the Year". Today four of the top ten entertainment websites are blogs (including the top two)!

Blogs have also become a platform for launching personalities and products into the mass media. The blog FiveThirtyEight written by Nate Silver is a good example. Nate is a managing partner at Baseball Prospectus, a baseball statistical analysis firm. Nate invented a system which predicts the performance of Major League Baseball players and teams. (This past season he accurately predicted that the Tampa Bay Rays would follow up their last place 2007 effort with a trip to the playoffs in 2008).

In late October 2007 Nate began to apply his statistical prowess to politics. He began blogging at the liberal mega-blog Daily Kos under the username poblano. In March 2008 Silver launched the blog and stepped out from anonymity. In less than a year he has become a well known expert on political polling. This was all made possible via blogging.

In an environment where "content is king" blogs provide a relatively quick and inexpensive way to establish yourself as an expert. Nate is a good example of effective blogging today.

Here is Nate Silver talking about the FiveThirtyEight and the 2008 presidential election on The Colbert Report:

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Blog! What is it good for?

Effective adoption of web 2.0 technology is often a difficult task.

As an IT professional I am frequently asked what is the value of having a blog. Usually the person asking the question already thinks blogs are worthless. It brings to mind the first few lines of the song "War" by Edwin Starr "War/What is it good for?/Absolutely nothing/say it again y'all."

I think the root of the issue behind why some people assume blogs have no value is that they misunderstand how a blog should be used. Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff explain in their book Groundswell that a blog can be an effective tool to facilitate two-way communication with customers.

In my experience, getting people who are unfamiliar with web 2.0 to engage with one of these new technologies (like a blog) is often a big challenge. A recurring issue is getting the new user to understand that the new medium isn't simply a new way of doing something they are already doing... but on the internet. When people first started building web sites they basically put their brochure... on the internet. When they adopted email they were just sending letters... on the internet. But when they start thinking about a blog they often assume they will just be posting their press releases... on the internet. When this new user learns that the number of people that might read the blog are relatively low compared to the exposure they might get with a newspaper ad buy they look baffled. Many people think a blog is just another way to declare their message to the world. But as Li and Bernoff explain in "Groundswell" this is a misunderstanding.

What is a blog good for? Two-way communication. A blog is tool for having a conversation with customers about your company and your products. This doesn't neatly fit into any preconceived models for doing business. Li and Bernoff are advocates for a new way of operating companies. One that is face-to-face (business to consumer) rather than top-down (business over consumer).

When trying to implement a web 2.0 (or groundswell) technology I think it is critical to communicate that this new tool facilitates a new way of interacting with the customer.

Have you had an experience where you were trying to integrate a web 2.0 in your office and ran into people who "didn't get it"? If so, were you able to bring them around? How did you do it?

Here is live performance of Edwin Starr singing "WAR":