Sunday, January 30, 2005

Blog Business Summit Wrap-Up

Key takeway: the blink tag is back, baby.

The Blog Business Summit wrapped up today in Seattle, and I'm now completely bought-in to the belief that blogging renders equal sums of available power each to businesses, their customers, admirers, and competitors. How well those actors harness that power defines who best influences the marketplace's ongoing dialog. Not participating at all — an unfortunate strategy some pursue by default — guarantees anything from annoyance to disaster if your products are used by anyone who blogs. I attended in order to meet some of FeedBurner's peers in the blogging/syndication business and to gather both praise and gripes from existing users to report back to our secret mountaintop base. I'm definitely glad I went, because I've long felt this very blog is in need of a complete rethink, starting at the top with the jamoke pressing the Post button.

The presenters on hand for this two-day summit consistently struck on the same central themes for businesses who already blog or are still evaluating how best to get started:

  • Passion. If you're not passionate, your voice won't carry.

  • Truth. There is nothing worse than a corporate lie. You will be revealed, quickly, and your credibility will evaporate.{mazda}

  • (Rational) Fearlessness. The odds always favor the brave.

  • Good Stories. The best blogs have a point of view that, loved or loathed, keeps you scrolling.

These are probably obvious principles, but I think they are easy to overlook. Überblogger Robert Scoble's Corporate Weblog Manifesto covers additional ground along these lines and is a must-read if you are considering blogging on behalf of your business for the first time.
Rather than provide a stream-of-consciousness of the entire Summit (Jeff Barr did yeoman's work on that front for Day 1 of the conference, if you'd like to see that result), here are the select points I found most interesting from each session I attended. My take on some of them, where provided, is obliqued. I only missed one session. Honest!

Robert Scoble Keynote

  • MSN Spaces is now up to 1.75 million blogs. Wow. How many of those are really active, viable publications is anyone's guess. (This one is ironclad proof it's 1,749,999, at most.)

  • Lots of potential bloggers fear "giving away" advantage through their blogs. Scoble believes experts who share knowledge always gain advantage because they boost their own credibility and build a following. Strongly agree.

  • Identify bloggers who are active connectors. There's a winner in almost every domain, from politics to sports to umpteen technology topics. Getting these connectors to mobilize their followings to evaluate or even support your efforts can realize ridiculously rapid buzz.

  • Fears: If I blog I'm gonna get fired. I'm gonna look stupid. It takes too much time, I have a business to run. All of these can be conquered. But it takes organizational courage — which most are too conservative to muster.
  • People love good stories. Conflict, controversy, and background insight no else can provide on a topic guarantee traffic.This is law. It can't be denied.

Marc Canter/Chris Pirillo on Blogging Business Models

  • Marc Canter is one helluva personality. Brash, louder than penny beer night down by the river, and obviously battle-tested in conferences and junkets large and small, the man won't back down. I hadn't seen him in action before. The Summit was better for his presence (controversy, remember?)

  • Marc used his time mostly to pitch, his new startup.

  • Marc mentioned that Jeremy Allaire is working on a company to provide payment collection for Creative Commons commercial use. I always wondered what PayPal-alternative infrastructure might spring to life to monetize CC. Maybe there's a winner here.

  • Chris Pirillo is another model entrepreneur-blogger. A shameless self-promoter, his success with Lockergnome is in direct proportion to its amplification of his personality. He claims this success in terms of AdSense revenue to the tune of "covering everybody [in this room's] house payment with what I'm making." Is that in monthly or annually, Chris?

  • I didn't leave this session with, um, any new business models. But it was clear that passionate people could get results.

Molly Holzschlag on Driving Blog Traffic

  • Molly emphasized the basics: a blog needs a mission, a purpose. It needs to relate to your core business in some essential way. It also has to extend (or at least, avoid diluting or misrepresenting) your brand image. Most importantly, it needs a well-imagined audience. If you're not really writing with someone in mind, your work is adrift.I think this is something I've overlooked here on Black Background.

  • Molly also went into detail about managing comments/spam, trackback pings, and surveyed how some of the popular tools enable these features. She's a clear-voiced speaker who walks her own walk -- she reassessed and interacted frequently with the audience, asking questions to gauge curiosity and the success of her message's impact.

Steve Broback/Glenn Fleishmann

  • Steve Broback (the conference organizer, incidentally) demonstrated a clever way to locate a profitable blogging topic: reverse engineer topics by gathering estimated CPCs from likely AdSense keywords. A little bit of time in AdSense and Excel can lead to a blog that fills a niche nicely. Trouble is, precious few niches are left!

  • Glenn Fleishmann made a point that resonated with me: links don't beget eyeballs; analysis does. A 'dude check this out' blog, which is a common starting point for newcomers, isn't likely to gather momentum because it lacks purpose. Furthermore, links should be shared at'm resolving to write opinion and analysis only here on BB; interesting links will almost always be shared in the feed using FeedBurner's Link Splicer service. (Yet another feed-only exclusive for Black Background subscribers!)

Halley Suitt/Stowe Boyd - Art & Science of Blog Writing

  • This was my favorite session because it most powerfully addressed keystones I've failed to use in support of my own blog work:

    • Story: Good writing is most important. Good doesn't simply mean accurate,
      timely, politically correct. Good writing has good stories.
      Stories such as how the Aeron chair was developed. Where there's
      conflict, there's interest.

    • Truth obviously important. Whoever author is, factual, truthful
      is important.

    • Passion Critical. Without passion, truth/story can't be

    • Things of this world if you fall into abstractions, it's boring.
      I want word pictures. I want picture pictures, too, if you can
      swing it.
    • Brevity The soul of wit and all that. How long is this post right here?
    • Freshness how often you post is do/die. This is a killer.
      of course, passion powers freshness.

    • Voice. The implied author, the chewy rhetorical center of the
      work. "people don't have to sound a certain way...they have to
      sound alive. not PRish."

    In fact, on this note I'm ending this post. Day two happened, and some stuff happened then, too, but I'm
    putting the rest of this on the other attendees' backs. (Aside to FeedBurner's accounting department: I was in attendance on day two. Swear.) Time to rediscover my original voice.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Almost Victorious Yet Again

Looks like I didn't best the competition in the The New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest. I like the winning caption; it's got that classically oblique quality that my original entry lacked. What would be as invaluable as it is unlikely is some feedback from the editorial staff -- I'd love to know if I was even close.

Too bad I can't trackback ping the New Yorker, huh?


Monday, January 24, 2005

at the BBS in seattle today

I'm at the Blog Business Summit today. I'm not quite live-blogging this thing (tons of others are, however) but I do plan to write a post summarizing each day's events and my take on them. So far this is yet another ferociously self-documenting event (no surprise there), but there are enough interesting personalities on-hand to help make some meaning out of the noise.

If you're a FeedBurner user or are curious about our services for bloggers and RSS publishers of all stripes, and you're in attendance, please seek me out. I'm the guy with the PowerBook. (The black sweater and nametag might be a bit more of a giveaway, however.)


Friday, January 21, 2005

The Palm for Pilots

Garmin has released theiQue 3600a — an updated version of their GPS-equipped iQue3600. This little number includes Jeppessen aviation database info, so it's valid for use in flight. I'm convinced Garmin released this based solely on my own uppity feedback; I was indignant that when they released the original 3600, it had no support for aviation. The addressable market for a device like this, of course, ain't exactly huge, so I spose it's no surprise Garmin didn't just rush in with a fix.

Looking at the screen shot of the device suggests that the snap-on "cradle" of aviation-related function buttons is a clever idea. You don't have to carry a too-bulky PDA around with you on the ground, and when you're in flight you aren't burdened with softkeys and pop-over display menus that would obscure your view of the map. Distractions aren't quaint in the cockpit.

As a pilot, I'm definitely interested in checking this out. $1099 seems like a steep price for any Palm OS device, but I paid almost that much for a GPS-only Garmin 295 a year ago. The iQue has a 320x480 color display, the new Garnet processor, and all my usual favorite Palm apps. I might still have a Palm in my work bag as well as my flight bag, even though "convergence" was supposed to mean everything goes on my phone. If I can get my hands on one I'll definitely write up a review.


Thursday, January 13, 2005

Porsche History in Miniature

I've had a thing for old Porsches since I was a teenager and my Dad and I located and restored a tired, un-wired 1977 911S. (By restored, I mean, uhm, paid the right people to fix the hard stuff. I mean, we vacuumed the carpets and washed it at least several times on our own. Honest.) One rebuilt flat six engine later, it ran like it was born to circle the N�ring.

Stumbling around the net looking for some year/model info, I bumped into this fun page:

40 Years with the Porsche 911 - A miniature review

It's a great, quick read and gives you an abridged view of the 911's enduring character and colorful variation through time and car consumer trends.

FWIW, I still think Corgi makes the best-looking small scale miniatures. Just ask any airport gift shop cashier which ones sell best!


Sunday, January 9, 2005

A little late reflection for Gene Keady

A nice, out-of-the way editorial from the Herald & Review Newspaper points out the a truism in coaching college sports: it's very, very difficult to go out on top. I'm disappointed that Gene Keady's final season is going as badly as it is, because I remember the back-to-back Big Ten Championships in the early nineties. I guess I can now relate to the many laments of Penn State fans regarding Joe Paterno. Sometimes you have to admit that time and trends have passed you by and that it's time to move on. For Purdue, that peak might've been in 2000, after just missing a Final Four appearance with a loss to Wisconsin.

Purdue could have managed a tremendous succession in the men's basketball program had they held onto longtime assistant Bruce Weber; instead, as this past Saturday reinforced, Boiler fans will only be able to appreciate his efforts on the receiving end. We can only hope Matt Painter has a plan and the will to make the program his own once this swansong season is mercifully concluded. I really like Keady, and I'm pretty sure I would've enjoyed watching him (as the opposition has) even if I had not become a Purdue fan. There's certainly a consensus that he does deserve better on his way out. But Keady himself remarked, "I probably should have left a long time ago...loyalty can be stupid. That's pretty much tongue-in-cheek, but you can stay in one place too long and maybe I did that."


Monday, January 3, 2005

Volkswagen: Your next crash is on us

Volkswagen is testing a program that offers free insurance for new car buyers in Wisconsin and Illinois. I expect to see more banged-up Jettas on tow trucks in the coming months around here.

Still, it gets them some PR.