Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Weblog Business Strategies 2003 XII

Jason Shellen: Where Weblogs Matter

Jason Shellen is associate program manager for Blogger. He works with the Google technology team to drive and manage enhancements and new features for the Blogger service. Here is a rough transcript of his comments:

We've already heard about the why and the what, so maybe I'm being cheeky by asking where. We think about blogs in several ways at Blogger and Google. We think about writing, reading, and connecting. Blogs connect individuals into groups. They build bridges between content.

There was a lot of talk yesterday about what is a blog. We think about what is a blog post? It's an atomic form of self-expression. It's the most granular we get in the blogging world. Every blogger has an audience in mind. Sometimes it's an audience of one. Sometimes it's a personal journal. But we've found that most blogs have an attended audience. It's assumed that they'll be read.

We've got these camera phones that can post to a blog now. This is just a quick hack so you can post to your blog from your cell phone. It's called moblogging by some people. Mobile blogging. People will be able to blog video. Audio as well. We've got a service called audioblog where you can post MP3 files. All of these are blog posts.

That gets us to the second item: reading. Blogs are meant to be read. They're shared, passed around, linked. Writers get to know much of their audience pretty well. The most avid blog readers have clamored for other ways to access this information. If I want to read all of the blogs in this room, am I going to go to a Web site? I need to access this another way. You probably have one of these. It's a news aggregator. Feeds have sprung up.

Matthew Berk is right that a lot of these are in an email-like format. It's no happenstance that they're called newsreaders, but we're reading blogs. It's very email-like. It's newsy. It hearkens back to newsgroup postings. BlogThis lets you post directly from the newsreader. The reading and the writing are very connected.

The technology is moving toward to connecting blogs. You can listen to blogs in your car. There's something called Read It to Me that converts a feed to MP3 audio and synchs it up from iTunes. It sounds a little bit like Rosie from the Jetsons right now. All of this is very early stage technology, even the phone cameras. The composition of a blog post is changing and evolving. Fotoblogs are definitely coming to the forefront. People want to upload photos and comment on them. But it's a very old concept. How can I get galleries online? What constitutes a blog post?

How do people connect with relevant blog content? If you can't find it it might as well not be there. Where Weblogs are located and linked is an important part of the experience. People do part of this through blogrolls to show what's relevant. Blogstreet is another example. You enter your URL and it tells you who your neighbors are -- what blogs are similar to you.

It's the links in and the links out that are key. Today, people find blogs primarily through Google, I would argue. As an aside, just for the record, from the center of the room, Google's not removing blogs. What blogs are great at are being fresh, relevant, and recently updated. You can't really blame the media for being fresh and relevant. Any content like that Google would like. The tools in this space are very good at that: push-button publishing. We are at Google now. It would be silly of us not to take advantage of some of their technology.

We're here to explore blogs for business. People read blogs for many reasons. There are a growing number of people who are keeping track of a certain space like finance or bonds. They have some sort of vertical that they're writing in. Where can business intersect with blogs? As a tool for collaboration in teams. To follow what's happening in your industry. Blogs lend a human voice to business. It's nice to hear individuals talk rather than entities. I hate it when entities talk. It's hollow.

Blogs have been around for a long time. Especially in Internet years. But I believe that the proliferation of the form that we recognize as blogs, the tool providers sprung up in 1999. Blogging is a long-standing community. It has standards, a code of ethics, and a dedicated membership. There's a big sense of community. I'm a reader of this. I'm connected to this site.

Here's the big fear. The big fear in the blogging community is that big business is going to come in, mow down the farm, and put up a Wal-Mart. As Joni Mitchell said, "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot." The blogging community is going to watch everything you do very carefully. There is a community, and there is a bit of apprehension.

I'm going to pick on Kathleen's blog and look at some examples. I believe this is linked off the Jupiter events page. Kathleen set up this blog. There's a lot of good stuff up here. There's a lot of data. There's lots of good things happening. To nit pick, there's a section that says "one blogger pointed out." Maybe she has a good reason not to link to that blogger. Maybe it was me! I want that link. Also, if you look at the timestamp, you want some sort of permalink so I can point people to that. Still, I would call that a good business blog because it follows most of the best practices.

Business blogs don't have much to do with blogging, really. They have a lot to do with your other content. You can't really link easily to flash. But Jakob Nielsen's working on how to better link deeply into flash. E-commerce systems are also difficult to link to because they have these big URLs. It might as well not be if you can't find it.

Who's using blogs in business today? Macromedia is using all sorts of tools. Groove Networks' Ray Ozzie keeps a blog, which I find fascinating. They're working on a group collaboration tool, and they're using blogs. MSNBC is doing something called Blog Central. Who's using blogs internally? It's hard to tell. Traction might have a good number on that. What we've installed before is an install at Cisco way back in 1999. We did an install, and then we never really heard about it again. It's behind the firewall. There's no way for me to know what's going on. We did a trial install at Sun. They're using it in their customer center. And last summer we worked with Stanford University on a trial program for students and faculty.

Let me show another good business blog. As people mentioned yesterday, it's experts sharing knowledge in a business blog. In sales, the common goal is to become the perceived expert. It's hard to argue that you don't know anything about the VC space if you've been keeping a blog for five years. This is VentureBlog. Right now the places where there's an expert space is marketing, Web design. It's taken a leap into the financial world. There are law blogs. We'll start to see this seep into other areas. In a few years, we'll see things like the 1967 Shelby Cobra blog. It'd be nice to see people not tied to the Internet professionally in some way. Mechanics. That'd be nice to see. But it's not just big business. HTML newsletters are hard to copy and paste into my blog, but something like LooseTooth.com will easily spread throughout the blogosphere.

What are we doing about this? How is Blogger doing this? How is Google doing this? The first thing we said is that we need an internal version of that blog that we've been keeping since 1999. We did a version of Blogger for Google. We were pretty clever about the name, and it's behind the firewall. It's called Blogger in Google, BIG. The Shellen Conspiracy is a popular blog. Ev Does Stuff is another popular one. This is all behind the firewall. On Blogger.com we keep a blog called What's New. But BIG is internal.

It's been interesting to see what becomes popular. The Internet becomes more popular. The Internet lets you link deeply to information you haven't seen for years. You can keep a loose association with groups you find interesting just to keep up with what they're doing. People emerge as blogging enthusiasts within their groups. There's an engineer who's doing a blog on search quality.

What's also interesting are cultural blogs within the company. We've got a blog called customer love notes, emails from users to customer support. "Google saved my dog." That sort of thing makes it to Google Love Notes. We've got a list of interesting search strings. Why aren't they public? Sometimes they're private. There's a consent thing we can talk about.

We don't have a product yet. But now that we're at Google, we know that a great blogging tool and a great search tool can make a great intranet.

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