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Blogs and business culture February 25, 2007

Posted by Steve Field in Blogs, Naked Conversations.
2 comments

Finally.

In the second half of Naked Conversations, we finally get to any potential downfalls of businesses using blogs as communication tools. Until chapter 9, Scoble and Israel are nothing but blog cheerleaders. I agree that they are powerful, and that the way they allow people to communicate has fundamentally changed. But they are not without their pitfalls.

The appeal of blogs, for readers, is that they are expressed in human voice. Business, however, is anything but. True, business are made up of people. But the exciting thing about blogging is that it is fluid and can be done at any time. It is free and unrestrained. Organizations, are not.

A coworker of mine put it best — communications officers are there to present opportunities; lawyers are there to present risk. Unfortunately, most businesses are risk averse, desire to be safe and in control, and will reject the use of blogs for communication purposes.

The risks are numerous:

  1. Negative comments
  2. Disclosing confidential information
  3. Loss of message control
  4. Time vs Audience
  5. Employee misbehavior

And others.

I truly believe in the premise laid out by Scoble and Israel. Blogs do have power, and there is plenty of potential for businesses to leverage them (I wouldn’t be working where I do and doing what I do if I didn’t believe that.) However, presently, I think many businesses are, culturally, not in a position to truly embrace the blogosphere. Over time, this will change. People will become more accustomed to blogs as they seep further into popular culture. As this happens, business culture will begin to accept them as well.

Still, cultures change slowly. This is going to take some time.

But we’ll get there.

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The Search (Part I) February 18, 2007

Posted by Steve Field in The Search.
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In his book, The Search, author John Battelle poignantly points out that when advanced technology works well, it is like magic — the user doesn’t know how it works, but is impressed that it does.

Much like We the Media catalogues the rise of citizen journalism, the first half of The Search reads as a history of the search function. It describes what it is, how it works, and who the key players in the world of Search are (namely Google).

In this case, understanding the history is especially important. Search in America and around the world has become ubiquitous, but the vast majority of people are unaware of how the “magic” works. They have never heard of terms such as “page rank” or “crawler,” but it is terms like these that make search — and the vast knowledge it provides — possible.

It was especially interesting to read about the CEO of Google coming to the realization that his company is not just a technology company. Google truly is, in every sense of the words, a media company. It just isn’t media in the 20th century sense.

While our assigned reading only covered the first half of Battelle’s book, I still ended this week’s reading feeling empty. The history is important, but Battelle leaves out much of the so what factor in his writing.

Yes, it is interesting to know how search works and how Google rose to become the media empire it is today. But what is missing from the reading thus far is the following question: what does this mean? How does Google impact our society? Is it a positive or negative thing that online search has become such an integral part of our digital culture?

As a final thought, I am reminded of my first thought when opening the cover of the book and reading the title of the first chapter. “The Database of Intentions.” It deeply reminded me of a flash video I had seen called EPIC 2014.

If you haven’t seen EPIC 2014, you should check it out. The video was created a few years ago by the Museum of Media History, and outlines a fictional history of the rise of a digital media empire that allows users to maintain their own database of knowledge. In this fictional future, Google merges with Amazon to create “Googlezon,” a media company which ultimately takes out the New York Times (by using advanced search combined with Amazon’s preference recommendation to deliver personalized news for every person on Earth.) It is an entertaining video, and relates well to Battelle’s discussion of the overwhelmingly fast growth of Google.

Is a Googlezon in the future? Only time will tell. For now, I hope that the remainder of The Search delves deeper into some of the societal implications of search. The book thus far has been informativ; I just hope it goes beyond historical documentation.

The power of blogs February 11, 2007

Posted by Steve Field in Blogs, Naked Conversations.
1 comment so far

The subtitle of Naked Conversations — how blogs are changing the way businesses talk with customers — is no hyperbole. The way businesses are communicating is changing, and Scoble and Israel illustrate this well in their book.

Although the latest Edelman Trust Barometer indicates that that trust in business is on the rebound around the globe and that, as an institution, business is trusted more than media and government, only about half of people have a high level of trust in business. The majority of Americans (and people in 17 other countries surveyed this year) say that they place the greatest level of trust in “people like them.”

That is the benefit of blogging. Blogs are inherently conversational. Consider the features of blogs:

  • They are generally written in first person and express the voice of the writer
  • They link between and respond to other blogs and bloggers, creating a virtual community
  • They allow for visitors to leave comments on the blog and engage in conversation with the blogger and other visitors

These qualities add a human dimension to a faceless technology. Rather than just sitting in front of a computer, blog visitors are able to engage and see the human side of the blog author.

I think Scoble’s recount of how Microsoft bloggers put a human face to Microsoft is a particularly poignant example. Referred to as “the borg” or “the evil empire,” Microsoft had a public perception problem. By embracing the bloging phenomenon and creating an environment where their employees could blog freely allowed people to see that Microsoft wasn’t an evil empire — it was an organization powered by real people.

As media fragmentation continues and people continue to slide down the spectrum from consumers of news to participants in history, conversational marketing will become even more important. I am not sure that it will continue to be in the form of blogs though.

Shel Holtz, was right when he warned that corporate blogging should not be overrated (p. 109). While powerful, it is just one tool, and a sea of new technologies exist around the corner. Some of these technologies, things we might not even be imagining right now, may prove to be 100 times more effective than blogging.

What is important (and Holtz, Scoble an Israel all agree on this point, as do I) is that the rules for corporate communication have changed.

And blogs are a great way to communicate in this new communication environment.

A new media history February 6, 2007

Posted by Steve Field in Blogs, New Media, We the Media.
1 comment so far

The first two weeks of reading for Introduction to the Digital Age can be summed up with one word — history.

New media history sounds like an oxymoron, especially when considering that the word “blog” just came into popular conscience in the past few years and that the founding technologies that made mass adoption of user-generated content came about just decades ago. Still, the readings for class this week (both from the book We the Media and from selected blogs) reveal that while the revolutionary new media changes did not happen to long ago, there is an important history there that needs to be remembered.

We the Media

We the Media, in addition to serving as a primer on what community-created content is and how it has shaped society in the past decade, is a history book. This isn’t just true in the opening chapter when author Dan Gillmor looks at historical trends of community journalism from Thomas Paine to present day. The understanding of the book as a work of history permeates through all of the chapters.

Consider these examples:

  • 2002: Bloggers jump on the mainstream media’s failure to cover the racist comments made by then Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, which ultimately led to his resignation (chapter 3)
  • 2004: Wikipedia publishes its 500,000th article (chapter 7)
  • 2004: Internet billionaire and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban launches Blog Maverick, which has become a leading CEO blog (chapter 4)

At first glance, these events might not seem like history; they are still in recent memory. However, they are part of the recent record of events that has had a significant impact on the way that we need to look at and understand media and the way that people consume information.

Blog Readings

Just as We the Media can be read as a historical reference, so too can the blogs assigned for class reading over the past two weeks.

Dave Winer is a major part of the history of the social media revolution. This week, he added a bio to his blog that explains it all:

Dave Winer, 51, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software. Former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a masters in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelors in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

Without Winer, the popular blogging technologies (such as RSS) that are widely used today might not even be around.

Or consider Jeff Jarvis. His work has been famous for a long time, but thanks to new media he himself has become a brand — and, as he pointed out on his blog, led him to be named one of Forbes’ 25 “Web Celebs” for 2007.

These are just two examples, and there are many, many more. (Some of these prominent bloggers are mentioned by name by Gillmor.) A key take-away from all of these bloggers (and Gillmor) is that these men and women are history makers. They are pioneers in the field, and can teach a lot to newcomers like me who have only been blogging for about a year (first here and then here).

As professional communicators during the day and students of communication at night, it is important not to forget our history. Because where we came from illuminates where we are headed and makes us better professionally and academically.