BlogHer: Stretching Outside The Comfort Zone

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I’m still in that post-conference, brain-spinning-with-ideas afterglow after spending the weekend at Blogher. Elisa, Jory, Lisa…what to say? Brilliant execution. And this was just version 1.0.

Three of the stated goals of the conference were to better enable “exposure, education, and community.” There were tons of education sessions (typically multiple ones running in parallel). The face-to-face aspect of the community gelled immediately at the dinner on Friday night, and only accelerated throughout the weekend. Education? Check. Community? Check.

That leaves the “exposure” goal.

The argument has been made that “the number one rule to getting traffic to any site is content.” (Of course, the implication is the converse: if you’re not getting traffic, your content must be poor.) This is only partially true, and only to a point. To get readers to return to a blog, the content must be there, must be good, and must be relevant. That’s not the problem. The problem is getting a getting discovered by a critical mass of readers in the first place.

There’s a lot of discussion going on today on this topic, as a result of BlogHer. Jarvis (who disses the “A-list” and them embraces it in the next sentence) says “It’s not the list that makes me happy. It’s the links.” Nick Douglas asks “Why do people bitch and moan about lists of popular bloggers, then grumble ‘but you have to do what they say’?

Roots Of The Problem

This problem has deep roots, and a number of them. How did it come to pass that “number of links” became a surrogate for “quality?” It’s a result of a number of factors that lie in the technical underpinnings of how we currently “discover” new things online, namely PageRank and related algorithms. If a lot of people link to something it must be good, right? Well…sort of. The concept of “a link is a vote” is a blunt instrument.

A comment was made in the discussion at BlogHer regarding various types of relationships and connections: “weak ties” are those numerous, yet not strong, versus “strong ties” such as those that we have with family, freinds, and our close community. PageRank, the “Technorati 100, TruthLaidBear and other “TOP x” lists are based on number of links, which are based on weak ties. In the current infrastructure, quantity IS quality, based on how these systems have been implemented.

There is a second problem as well that’s even more slippery. When venturing out into blog-land, there are two tools that most of us use, our blogroll and our aggregator. And, strangely enough, these contribute to the echo-chamber problem as well. Blogrolls, once set up, are largely “set and forget.” Similarly, each of us only has so much time in the day to go through our aggregator to read what’s out there. Once our initial list is set up, it takes an increasing amount of energy to add someone new to our list of daily reads (“I don’t have the time!” we cry). And, additionally and oftentimes, the sites that DO make it onto the list are others that agree with our viewpoint, or at least cover a similar set of topics as ourselves. We may be hard-wired to read reflections of ourselves. We all contribute to the echo chamber. Beth Kanter calls them “reading ruts.”

Inertia is a bitch.

Ok, there’s a problem. Stop talking. Do something.

With the tools available today, there are steps we can each take to give more exposure to those we think are deserving. (Of course, this presupposes that “more exposure is better,” and I did hear a number of comments over the weekend that took issue with this point. There were a number of attendees who write purely for themselves, or purely for a small community.)

The first thing is…we need to make an effort to actively find new people to bring into the conversation. Staying head-down in aggregator or blogroll will NOT find as many new voices to bring to the conversation as getting out of the comfort zone and getting outside our normal haunts.

The second this is…as long as the infrastructure continues to reward links, and equates link quantity with content quality, it is exceedingly difficult to increase exposure without links. As such, actively linking to the new voices that you discover (and, mind you, quality voices as Ethan discusses, not doing it for the sake of the appearance of “being inclusive”) is something we all can do to highlight those who impress us. It’s not just lip service. It’s doing something. Scoble does it (and does it again and again and again…right on, Robert). Others seem to have a more difficult time (“Interesting that I find it easier to read and point to a man’s account of the conference.”) C’mon, Dave…there were damn near THREE HUNDRED bloggers there. You can’t find a solitary one that makes you feel “comfortable” to link to aside from Jay? (n.b. Jay’s post IS spot on, and is worth a read.) (UPDATE: Dave now has a link to Lisa Williams as well.)

Two other other things we can do are to use the tools that are there to find new voices, as well as create new tools that take into account other mechanisms to get to the subtleties of the implications of what links mean (check the comments here). Mary Hodder is doing a lot of thinking on how other “social gestures” and measures can be used to better capture the complexity of relationships, above and beyond the link. Mary writes:

I pointed out to them that 4 or so years ago.. when there were only 100k blogs, that a relatively small group of people all linked to each other in blogrolls, and so those blogroll links are sometimes old and the networks dense, for A listers, and yet, Technorati doesn’t do anything to express a blogroll link that is years old from a current blogroll link. They simply scrape the front page of a blog, and treat all links, old or new blogroll links, and current post links, as the same and then count them, for their rankings.

Mary, sign me up to help.

Stream-of-consciousness snippets and freerange mollifications from the weekend…

Was captured in an interview of “BlogHims” by Beth Kanter on Friday night at the pre-event dinner. Definitely contains one of the more, um, interesting quotes I’ve ever given…

Talking with Anna John of Sepia Mutiny on Friday night…

Starting off Saturday at some barely-caffeinated hour working shoulder-to-shoulder (literally) with Nancy White, who was signing folks up for the various Birds of a Feather sessions while I was helping to check folks in and get them badged. Close quarters behind the check-in table, they were. Nancy, you rock…

The Identity Blogging panel (“How to Be Naked“) was standing-room-only, and then some. The epitome of “unconference” sessions…although there were three folks with mics in front of them, it was a real, civil, thoughtful conversation between and within a roomful of people. Awesome. Thanks Heather, Ronni, Koan for leading it, and leading it well…

Getting a bunch of opportunities to connect and chat with Staci Kramer throughout the weekend. Trouper…

The mommyblogging panel was awesome, and had a great conversation afterwards…How does one separate the various facets of one’s personality? Where do you draw boundaries about what gets revealed in online, offline, business, and personal situations? How do you balance personal and professional, without destroying either while feeding the needs of both?…

Kim, Rahat, and Jill…was great to meet you at the happy hour…

danah. and her hat

Chatting with Kitt Hodsden and Skye Kilaen at the final session (Kitt, thanks again for correcting my addled transcription!)…

PRWeek: Podcasts Open New Doors For Customer Relationships

Keith O’Brien gets it right in this article: Podcasting: Podcasts open new doors for customer relationships. Jason Calacanis has a great quote:

“I think it’s a great channel for companies to go direct to the consumer. I love JetBlue, and if they had a travel show that incorporated where it goes, what you can find at its destinations, and travel tips, I would certainly download it. If you’re a Flash designer and could listen to a podcast each week on Flash design produced by Macromedia, that would be of high value, as well. Just like blogs can engage customers in a conversation, [podcasts] can, as well.”

Additionally, although I normally try to avoid The Mouse at all costs, Disney’s Duncan Wardle also makes a good point:

“Say a single mother from San Francisco is thinking of coming to Disneyland. When she’s planning her trip, what if she listened to a podcast of a single mother talking about what’s good and [bad] at Disneyland? Right now, consumers are in the marketing mix, as they should be. There’s a huge change of focus where you will not be marketing at consumers; you will be marketing with them.”

(disclosure: I was interviewed for the article)

The “newvoices” Tag: Throwing On The Floodlights

The “newvoices” Tag Is A Chance For The A-List, The Z-List And Everyone In Between To Lead By Example

Measured by inbound links, or references, or by any other measure, blogs are still very insular. We find the folks we like to read, either blogroll them or add their feeds to an aggregator, and that is the view of the world we see. Sure, we occasionally serendipitously trip across someone new and add them, but when was the last time you updated your blogroll since you set it up? How many feeds can you read and track? Even someone like Scoble (who reads, what, 1500 feeds?) is only scratching the surface. I refuse to believe that all the good ideas are in the top 0.01% of all the blogs that are out there. What’s worse, once those patterns are set up, it’s tough to break out.

We read what we know…and we link to whom we know.

Halley Suitt threw down the gauntlet back in March.

She wrote:

“So I’m throwing down a month-long challenge in March, to promote TEN NEW VOICES. I’m asking all the bloggers in the room at Harvard (Jay Rosen, Jeff Jarvis, David Weinberger, Rebecca MacKinnon, Susan Mernit, Shayne Bowman, Ana Marie Cox, Lisa Stone, Chris Willis, Craig Newmark, Bill Gannon) to find TEN NEW VOICES and promote them by writing a post about each as an introduction and blogrolling them.”

Jay Rosen and Lisa Stone went out and found fourteen. A great start. But then it seems to have fizzled.

Additionally, to this end, Scoble seems to have an interest in going down this road as well. He even seems to have a system. But…he can’t share it.

“I’m playing with some secret new technology that makes the tech blogging world even flatter. Not from Microsoft (the inventor asked me to keep it quiet until he’s ready to release it). But, it totally is going to change how I blog (and it really already has although I can’t change my style until you all get it too). It brought me Leslie’s blog, for instance.”

Secret. Greeeaaaat.

So. Here we are. The one-shot crusades don’t work. Too time-intensive. There’s some secret technology in the works, but that’s not very open, is it?

Here’s what I propose: At least once a week, do a very simple thing. Find someone to whom you’ve never linked before, link to them, and tag the post with the following tag: newvoices.

Then, either in your aggregator, on your MyYahoo or MyGoogle (I know it’s not really called “MyGoogle,” but whateverthehellitis) page, or wherever you want, subscribe to a feed of newvoices-tagged posts. Here’s what’ll happen: the good, emerging folks will come to you. Now for the really cool part.

This is a self-dampening system. It can’t evolve an “A-List,” since once you’ve linked to someone and tagged that initial post with a “newvoices” tag, that individual ceases to be a new voice for you. The next time you link to them, don’t tag the new post in this way, since for you, it’s no longer new. But…and here’s the cool part…the really smart, cool, funny insightful folks who emerge will gather a lot of “newvoices” tagged links as they become visible. (N.B. Even if someone else has pointed to somebody with a newvoices tag, you should too! It’s not a contest to see who’s first…it’s an endorsement of someone to whom you haven’t linked previously.)

In this way, there may be a lot of links to a particular new voice that show up in the newvoices tag-stream over a short period of time. The new voice gets the spotlight it deserves for a day, or a week, or a month as the person gets widely “discovered” and linked to for the first time by a number of people. But then, it’s someone else’s turn. The newvoices tag is a catalyst, in the literal sense of the word. It enables the reaction, without being consumed.

How to tag a post in this way:
In Technorati:
<a href=”” rel=”tag”>newvoices</a>

In IceRocket:
<a href=”” rel=”tag”>newvoices</a>

In Typepad:
If you set up a “newvoices” category, this should happen automagically if you put the post in the “newvoices” category.

Simply tag the URL with a “newvoices” tag. It’ll show up here.

Subscribing to the “newvoices” River-o-Goodness:
Here’s how to do it in Technorati. Subscribe to this feed:

By the way, as of today (27Jul2005), “newvoices” tagged items bring back:

    None on Technorati

  • None on IceRocket
  • One on

So, here we go!

Gonna start this off with a two-fer. Starting out on-beat and on-topic in SocialCustomerLand, Amy Gahran has a great rant on “Let’s Put Press Releases Out Of Their Misery.” A sample:

“The next time you’re tempted to issue a press release: STOP!!!! Instead, post a web page or blog item that explains what’s new – and more importantly, why anyone should care. The “so what” should go right up front. Even more, you should indicate who should care about your news, and why.

Then make sure your announcement gets picked up by the blogwatching services like Technorati. (Blogging tools and feeds make this very easy). It’s more likely to get noticed there fast.

Then talk it up – in forums with your target audience, in appropriate, constructive comments to other blogs, etc. Include a direct link to your posting. If you’re honestly adding value and not just shilling, this is not spam. It’s part of the public conversation. (By the way, to do this well you need to actually read and pay attention to what other people are saying.)”

The other, while off the typical subject, is Melissa Summers who is just a friggin’ great read when she’s on. Like this.

The drill and your mission, should you decide to accept it…

  • Once a week, find someone new on your beat
  • Link to them and tag your post with the “newvoices” tag
  • Subscribe to a newvoices tag feed

Steve Rubel, are you in? Jeff Jarvis? Dave Winer? Dave Sifry? Ross? Hugh? Doc? Susan?

That’s it. Simple. Distributed. And ridiculously powerful.


The Fourth Wall

There was an amazing, emergent effect at the AlwaysOn conference this week. Although the conference was set up in the “traditional” conference format (talking heads on stage, audience in neat, supplicating rows), there was a balancing factor between the two groups. Perhaps, actually, it was more than a “balancing” factor…it turned the “balance of power” in favor of the participants.

Take a look over at Denise Howell’s photo over to the right. See the HUGE screen, stage left? That was a live text chat, consisting of people both inside the room and from around the world who were “participating” in the conference via the streamed webcast. Sometimes the commentary, floating above the heads of the folks on stage, was civil. To whit:

Chris Heuer: a bad strategy – mostly because we are bad at storytelling and getting the people behind our casue – but this is changing with the blogosphere

mike symmetry: NOW WE’RE GETTING SOMEWHERE!!!!

Lisa: ok – so this is what I was talking about in tems of being disatisfied with having my options limited by the entertainment chain of power

Ed Daniel: everyone should read Lawence Lessig’s the future of ideas


(from here)

Then again, sometimes the chat was less-than-civil. This, from the opening panel on Wednesday night that went awry:

Chris Heuer: you know, we could always start talking about innovation between ourselves and not get into flamable conversations

PA: change the questions!

Tom: yet we wont attacck North Korea will we?

Doctoro: Please bring up subjects common to silicon valley and uncommon to cable news.

x: innovation summit?

whats going on:: okay..if on politics..

Allan: Wait, wasn’t Shock and Awe(TM) innovation?

(from here)

By the second day of the conference, the chat became as much of a participant in the conference as the individuals on stage and seated in the room. And, wisely, Tony and the moderators chose not to control it, but instead embraced it.

As expected, some of the very public comments were spot-on, many were snarky, some were downright rude. But they were there, a part of the event. The Fourth Wall had been not broken, but obliterated.

One challenge with the chat, however, was that it was pseudonymous (was that really Ray Kurzweil asking Bill Joy a question via the chat window? If it was a good question, does it matter? What if it was asked by Ramona?). This seemed to allow more incendiary ranting than would have taken place in a face-to-face situation, or even in a situation where someone needed to stand by their words in perpetuity (say in the case of a blog by a named author). Although some of the comments were perhaps inappropriate, the words on the wall added an element of reality to the conference, a check-and-balance that wasn’t afraid to call B.S. when the folks on stage were perceived to be acting below-board. (The folks on stage knew this was happening when the chuckles would roll through the audience in response to a particularly sharp riposte on the screen.)

And, judging by the number of people commenting on this, I hope this meme continues to spread, and becomes integrated into conferences across the board. Web 2.0, indeed.

Liveblogging: Tapping Into The Power Of The Blogosphere

Liveblogging the blogging panel

Dan Gillmor: “Blogs are a proxy for something bigger. Increasingly, media that are not text will be included.”

Gillmor, cont’d: The issue is that we need to find the “good stuff,” and not go through 500 slashdot comments, or thousands of pictures of the London bombings.

David Sifry, on London bombings: Access via blogs was key. There aren’t enough journalists to get there, to get there in a timely manner and once the area was shut down to gain access.

Sifry, cont’d: Other powerful feature of blogs was that people who were near the area on 7/7 (and today) could post “I’m ok.” When the phone lines were down, relatives and friends could find out that people were alright through a parallel mechanism.

Gillmor, on Blogging and PR: “PR is a lot more than just dealing with the press…if you have to have conversations with your various constituencies.”

Allen Morgan: “You can use blogs to have conversations with your customers.”

Rich Karlgaard: “Blogs are also important with respect to product development.” Also, quoted a great story about an airline company that is being forced to address a set of product issues that were initially denied, but were brought out due to blogs (a la the Kryptonite example).

Sifry, quoting David Weinberger: “PR is no long ‘public relations,’ but now ‘public relationships.'”

Sifry: We get our best feature ideas from our users.

Ned Desmond: Editors are a tyrrannical force in the print world, but now are wanting to blog. Also are now running PopWatch, the writers love it, they can’t stop posting, and the audience loves it, sometimes getting 100 comments in an hour.

Gillmor: Protections should not cover “journalists,” and not cover “bloggers,” but should cover “journalistic acts.”

Tony Perkins: People own their words in the blogosphere, and are representing themselves. Blogs are opinion…and so are newspapers.

Sifry: The NYTimes brand stands for something, so does Forbes, so does Glenn Reynolds. “I pretty much know where the slant is.”

Desmond: Bloggers as reporter. Three top stories…Trent Lott. Dan Rather. Christmas in Cambodia, all moved by bloggers.

Gillmor: Has begun to dislike the word “objectivity.” Dropped it in favor of four other words: thoroughness, accuracy, fairness, and transparency. If those things are met, readers/viewers can get a view as to what’s going on.

Sifry: Number of blogs can’t keep doubling every five months…there aren’t that many people. What is more interesting is the number of posts. What’s going to matter is attention…we all have 24 hours in a day, whether you’re Bill Gates or a Masai warrior. Additionally, blogging brings accountability to the author; you have to back up your words the next day.

Morgan: Remember, everything you write lives forever. Looking out 30 years, everything kids are written today will be discoverable.

Karlgaard: This will increase our knowledge base. The business model will be for the aggregators of this information.

Gillmor: The ecosystem that is being created around media is underway. The persistence of what we say…it’s not just text…but we’re building a surveillance society. One outcome, if we’re lucky, we’ll have a society where we’ll learn to cut each other some slack. We’ll not hold against a future President what she wrote on her weblog in high school.

Perkins: I think if big media is smart, in the future they’ll see their journalism as a “first post” and a “best guess”…and when the readers interact, big media will adjust.

Customers Don’t Just Want “Choice”

A gem that was nearly obfuscated by George Gilder’s rantings yesterday.

“The concept that you can be successful by pushing things on the customer is doomed. The user becomes the producer.”

The Long Tail is the embodiment of “life after television.” Customers don’t want choice…they want their FIRST choice. A first choice culture is superior to a multiple choice culture, or a least-common-denominator culture (like television).

“TV stultifies its viewers, and kills itself. Book culture, and blog culture, can reproduce itself.”

When he’s not talking utter crazy-talk, he’s spot-on.

The Here Web, The Weird Web

Sitting on the floor at the packed-to-the-gills AlwaysOn conference next to Doc, who is also blogging away. Bill Joy is up on stage, being interviewed by Steve Jurvetson.

Joy is talking through his six “modalities” of the web. These include:

  • The “near” web…your desktop computer.
  • The “far” Web…simple interaction through a remote control device, e.g. on interactive TV
  • The “here” Web…mobile Internet devices
  • The “weird” Web…voice and presence activated devices, such as door that opens on your command
  • The eCommerce Web
  • The “pervasive computing” Web

Although Joy’s been talking about these items, broadly, for a while, the distinctions still seem to hold. In the near term, mobile devices such as the Treo are going to be the most ubiquitous applications of the web…the “here” web is it, according to Joy.