So, the whole “bloggers vs. journalists” debate was getting a little tired from my point of view, and I just figured out why. It was getting tired because that debate doesn’t matter. It is trivial in comparison to a more fundamental change that is taking place.

  • The cost of publishing has effectively dropped to zero for any individual.
  • The cost of aggregating information that has been published by others has effectively dropped to zero for any individual.
  • For any information topic of interest, there are people who are passionate about it, who will share their passion and knowledge for free.

Now put those three things together and make a picture. Stand back and look at it. The picture I see is the following: if you are in any role where the only thing you provide is information that is available from publicly available sources, your industry is about to experience a tectonic shift. The only reason this came out first in journalism is because journalists have the barrels of ink.

This “knowledgeswarming” has been taking place for years in areas where there are a large number of individuals who are passionate about a topic. Usenet and other online forums are great examples of this. The twin problems, however, were the barriers to both publishing and accessing the information in these areas, since some level of technical acumen and knowledge of technical arcana were required to participate. No longer. Now, anyone can publish anything with two clicks, and anyone can aggregate information on their myYahoo page.

An industry that is about to be swept up in this maelstrom is the “analyst” community on both on the finanical/Wall Street side of things, as well as the high-tech industry analysts. In both cases, the attack will come from the low-end, a la Christensen, and the entrenched players will be left wondering “what happened?” if they don’t get out in front.

Historically, the Wall Street analysts have had priviliged information given to them by their clients. This made the analysts a valuable asset to their customers, since the analysts possessed information not available to the average investor. This is no longer the case since Regulation FD went into effect. Now, anything that is “material” needs to be disclosed publicly, without any preferential treatment given to analysts, insiders, or anyone else. In other words, the analysts are now getting their information from company press releases. Just like you and me.

Some students at Babson are starting to swarm around this idea, and are proposing an “open source” model for financial research. They feel that motivated individuals, working in concert, can provide the same (or better) research than the sell-side analysts. They are talking a lot about “mosaic theory,” and the belief that it is possible to take non-material information from a variety of sources and create meaningful observations out of it. The larger the number of contributors, the clearer the mosaic is going to be.

This model is starting to creep into the industry analyst community as well. Why pay $25K a year for Gartner, when Techdirt is blogging on the same events, and giving analysis in real time? Now take that model, and expand it out to a collaborative blog/wiki model, where users, developers, and customers are sharing information about the good, the bad, and the ugly regarding the vendors they are working with.

Oh yeah, Encyclopedia Britannica is dead, too. They just haven’t fallen down yet. The Wikipedians swarmed, and a 250 year-old company is effectively rendered obsolete.

At most, a very few hands will be required as guides. Each of these communities will require some way to ensure reputation and quality. In some cases, it makes sense to have an editorial voice ensuring that the results being generated by innumerable participants are valid. In other cases, emergent reputation management systems (think eBay) will provide the signposts.

So. Open source software has already gone this way. Journalism is trending this way (actually here’s a great example). Financial and industry analysis seem to be headed for the offramp. What other industries are next?

Six Degrees of Cooperation has a well-balanced article on enterprise social networking.  First page is chock full of a little too much vendor rah-rah, but pp. 2-3 have some good details, esp. around some of the organizational challenges.

A couple of good quotes:

"[Enterprise social networking systems] make the most sense in industries in which deals are big and
relationships are a key differentiator. Companies that are spread out
geographically with a large number of contacts are especially good

"There are trickier considerations, though. Privacy is the biggest.
People don’t want Big Brother reading their E-mails, handing out
ex-girlfriends’ phone numbers, or revealing confidential client
information…[one firm] worries about a revolt if it mines company address books, but has heard few complaints about E-mail scanning."

(Hat tip:  Scott Allen)

Tearing Down The Walls In Spokane

(via Ed Cone, Dave Winer)

Kudos to the Spokane Spokesman-Review for grabbing the clue by the horns and adding "citizen-journalists" to their team to fill in and add depth to their news coverage.  These bloggers are covering nearly two dozen different beats that the Spokesman-Review would certainly not have the time or budget to cover themselves.

That’s awesome, and a great way for the S-R to put a toe in the water.  Now for the really cool stuff.

What’s not been pointed out anywhere else is that the editorial board of the S-R has set up a blog to interact directly with readers and defend a number of their editorial decisions.  How’s that for "transparency?"  Just one example…good stuff here:

Why do the editors present their endorsement for elections and candidates? I would expect the SR to have some obligation to remain silent and/or neutral and give the news, not influence the voters. I
would assume their picks would be to further SR’s climb up the economic ladder. I know we all vote for the candidates and issues that personally affect us and our family, but the paper has a obligation to
the public, even if it is privately owned. Their endorsements, I hope, is to benefit the City of Spokane and the surrounding areas.

Answer: Daily newspapers traditionally offer election endorsements on their editorial pages. Those pages are built around the presentation of opinion. Editorial endorsements are not connected to news coverage in any way. Reporters and editors responsible for covering the news are not involved in endorsement decisions and don’t even know which candidates will be endorsed until they read the editorials in the paper. Endorsement decisions take into account candidate stands on issues on which the board has previously taken positions, take into account how cadidates match up against our published editorial values and, significantly, take into account the candidate’s ability to address the needs to
citizens in communities we serve.

In the just-completed election, we endorsed 15 Republicans and 12 Democrats, indicating our
party allegiance may be somewhat less predictable than some would

Lexmark Printer Bonus: Alleged Spyware

Engadget is noting that Lexmark may be installing spyware along with their printers.  ZDNet UK is reporting

You can read this helpful guide to find out more about how to avoid cybersecuriy threats like this.

The program sends the information, which includes print and scanning data, to the URL According to the Internet Whois database, this domain name belongs to Lexmark International in Kentucky.

Let’s see how Lexmark deals with this.  With they repond transparently, or will they pull a Kryptonite?

I Wonder How Jill, Buzz, Ray, and Barry Feel About That

Best Buy is revamping all of their stores to be more "customer centric."  However, here’s what they mean by this:

company came up with five prototypical customers, all of whom have been
given names: "Jill," a busy suburban mom; "Buzz," a focused, active
younger male; "Ray," a family man who likes his technology practical;
"BB4B" (short for Best Buy for Business), a small employer; and
"Barry," an affluent professional male who’s likely to drop tens of
thousands of dollars on a home theater system.

They are now training all of their employees to identify which "segment" a customer falls into when that customer walks in the door, and are targeting each store to one or two of those prototypical customers.

Best Buy might want to listen to the heated conversation that is currently approaching a rolling boil.

UPDATE:  Defining Jill, Buzz, Ray, and Barry

Transactions, Conversations, and Relationships

Great weekend at BloggerCon.  In addition to meeting some outstanding folks throughout the sessions, a huge highlight was the after-conference dinner on Saturday night.  Had great conversations with Doc Searls, Jerry Michalski, Elisa Camahort, and Richard Mendel-Black at the Fish Market in Palo Alto.

The "a-ha" moment was a story that Doc told over dinner, relating a plane flight he recently had during which he ended up sitting next to a Nigerian gentleman named Sayo Ajiboye.  Apparently after hearing about some of the writing he had done, Ajiboye turned to Doc and said something to the effect of "you get it, much more than most people."

He then proceeded to explain what he meant.

The cultural difference, he said, boiled down to the following.  In the West, a vast majority of business is concentrated on one and only one thing…the transaction

For his culture, business relies on the transaction, yes, but also two other things:  the conversation and the relationship.  These three pieces work together, almost as a stack; the transaction is the lowest level and leads to the conversation, which results in a relationship.  When two individuals are interacting, all three of those levels are in play.

It sounds simple, until the impact really becomes clear with the following:

"In this model, the conversation is used to develop not just the relationship, but also the transaction.  Everything about the transaction, including the price, must be mutually discovered."

Think about that for a second. 

"Everything about the transaction, including the price, must be mutually discovered." 

The visual that pops to mind here is an archeological dig, where the transaction itself is an artifact that needs to be carefully uncovered and collaboratively dusted by the participants before its form can be seen by either of them.

With this model, the seller and buyer may mutually discover that the price should be lower, because of the circumstances and their effect on the relationship.  With this model, the buyer and seller may mutually discover that the price should be higher, because it will make things better for both of them down the road.

Without all three parts, something is missing.


Second ‘graph above updated with Sayo Ajiboye’s name. Original version stated “a gentleman.”

Heading To Bloggercon This Weekend

I’m heading to Bloggercon this weekend.  Feel free to drop me a note or post a comment if you’ll be anywhere near Stanford this weekend and want to connect in person.

The thing that has me excited about this conference is that it is an unconference.  From the site:

BloggerCon is an unusual conference. We don’t have speakers, panels or an audience. We do have discussions and sessions, and each session has a discussion leader.

The discussion leader

Think of the discussion leader as a reporter who is creating a story with quotes from the people in the room. So, instead of having a panel with an audience we just have people. We feel this more accurately reflects what’s going on. It’s not uncommon for the audience at a conference to have more expertise than the people who are speaking.

The discussion leader is also the editor, so if he or she feels that a point has been made they must move on to the next point quickly. No droning, no filibusters, no repeating an idea over and over.

The discussion leader can also call on people, so stay awake, you might be the next person to speak!

And, on the process:

At the beginning of each session, the leader talks between five and fifteen minutes to introduce the idea and some of the people in the room. Then she’ll point to someone else. She may ask a couple of questions to get them going, then she’ll point to someone else, then someone else, then make a comment, ask a question, etc. Each person talks for two to three minutes. Long enough to make a point.

This is the third time this conference has been run, so it looks like the idea and format are going to stick.  And it looks like yet another manifestation of the emerging idea that the current model of one-way, company-to-customer monolgoue may have a challenger.

Social Networking Systems and Wikis Engage The Social Customer

Tony Perkins, creator of Red Herring magazine, has forgone the "one-way" communication of the print world and is debating with his readers online in real time. He makes a lot of typos while doing so.

Microsoft customers are spending their own time and money making unsanctioned and unsolicited videos featuring Microsoft brands and sending them to Redmond. The funny thing is, Redmond doesn’t mind.

Customers are starting to get their say. They are doing so in public forums. Their comments are unfiltered. And, more surprisingly, so are the responses of the individuals representing the companies. No PR flaks. No spin. No highly-sanitized, focus-group-approved, completely meaningless Dilbert-speak.

In other words, real people interacting with real people.

Weblogs (or blogs) were the first salvo in this new era of the "social customer." Blogs enabled a one-to-one dialog between an individual representing an organization and a constituency of readers, as well as interactions between the readers themselves.

Blogs are one of three emerging technologies that have the potential to break down the walls between companies and their customers, enabling the creation of communities and resulting in significant benefits to all involved. The other two are wikis and social networking systems.

By listening to the social customer, companies have the opportunity to create the tightest relationships between vendor and customer we have seen since the days of the corner store.

The ultimate connection?

Perkins has always been able to spot a trend. He founded the Churchill Club, a well-recognized forum for technology and business thought leadership. He founded Red Herring, one of the premier publications the presaged the rise (and fall) of the dot-com era. Now, he’s created AlwaysOn, an "open source media" property that utterly blurs the line between "publisher" and "reader," providing integrated social networking capabilities that enable readers to connect directly with each other–as well as the individuals who publish articles on the site. (Disclosure: I am a regular contributor.)

To date, most enterprise social networking systems have had limited success in bridging the gap to customers. Vendors such as LinkedIn, Spoke Software and Visible Path have created enterprise social networking systems that enable users to navigate their personal networks to find a contact within a target prospective customer. Unfortunately, these systems are very "one-way" in nature, benefiting the salesperson without necessarily providing any benefits to the individuals who are being contacted. As a result, some individuals have equated receiving inquiries from one of these networks as yet another new type of unsolicited commercial email, or spam.

In contrast, the enterprise social networking capabilities within AlwaysOn are very different. They enable customers (in this case, readers) to participate directly in the creation of the product. Because of the social networking features of AlwaysOn, Perkins says, "we can see all our readers and private-message them and ask them to join our personal network, which has brought me closer to literally hundreds of readers I would have never known otherwise." Readers can and do send messages directly to the authors of postings as well as each other, adding their affirmation or challenges to the site’s content in real time.

This linkage with customers increases the value of Perkins’ product, as customers add their opinions, insights, and contributions. Each time a reader comments on a story, all the other readers, as well as the site’s editors, can immediately view the feedback.

Additionally, because readers can "rate" a particular posting, the site’s editors have real-time insight into the current topics, preferences and trends that are of interest to their readers. As a result, readers and authors alike are able to find others in the community whose opinions they share, as well as those whose opinions they may regularly challenge.

"I think it’s cool that people can dialog about the content they read and see who the other viewers are," Perkins said. "This is the whole mission of AO, to push the ‘open source media’ model, which I think even mainstream media will have to incorporate some day, or no longer be viewed as credible."

Higher education is another industry that is beginning to embrace social networking as a mechanism to better connect with and among its customers. Alumni associations at such institutions as Stanford University, the University of Michigan and the University of Southern California have all implemented social networking systems to connect members.

The Stanford Alumni web site, for example, states that the system gives "Stanford alumni the ability to connect with friends and friends-of-friends based on shared interests, common acquaintances, professions, location, etc." The belief is that by creating networks of connected alumni, not only will the participants in the networks benefit, but also the universities will, by way of increased alumni donations to their alma mater.

Funny name; serious business

If you’ve ever wanted to tell Bill Gates, his minions and the rest of the world what you really think of Microsoft, your chance is on the Channel9 developer site, set up by five Microsoft employees "who want a new level of communication between Microsoft and developers." According to the site, the five employees created it because "we believe that we will all benefit from a little dialog these days." They said that they wanted to "move beyond the newsgroup, the blog and the press release to talk with each other, human to human."

The wiki portion of Channel9 is fertile, dynamic ground. Unlike traditional web pages that are read-only, pages in a wiki are editable by anyone who visits them. Think of a wiki as a web-based whiteboard, where every visitor to the site has been given a marker…and an eraser.

The wiki derives its moniker from the Hawaiian word for "quick."

In October 2004, Microsoft’s Channel9 site was parodied by Chris Pirillo, a member of the community, who created an "unsolicited autobiography" video of the Channel9 mascot (a foam creation with an inexplicable hands-free headset). The video showed an uncensored day in the life of "the Nine Guy," complete with a chipmunk-like voiceover. When Pirillo posted the video, he received, not the cease-and-desist order he was expecting, but a note from a Microsoft executive, praising him for his creativity and participation in the community.

The Channel9 wiki contained only eight pages when it was launched in March 2004, with placeholders for discussions on three upcoming products ("Longhorn," "Whidbey" and "Yukon"). However, in its first six months of existence, collaboration between developers who visited the site and the employees who moderate it has generated more than 300 pages of content. These pages are wide-ranging, with everything from product feedback on existing Microsoft products to a page for customers who are dissatisfied with the Microsoft browser. Other than restricting content from users that contains hate speech, the site is allowed to grow on its own–even when it is critical of its host.

Ross Mayfield, CEO of SocialText, thinks wikis are important. He should. His company provides wiki-based collaboration software for customers such as Disney and Kodak. So far, most of SocialText’s customers are using wikis for various types of internal collaboration, some of which is in areas that directly affect the customer experience.

One SocialText customer, Stata Labs, is using wikis as collaboration mechanism to span its geographically-dispersed customer service organizations in the United States and India. According to Mayfield, Stata Labs reduced its call center costs 10 percent by using wikis to connect the first-level support team in India with the second-line support team located in the United States. A sizeable portion of the savings comes from using the wiki as a key piece of institutional memory, greatly reducing the incidents of support technicians re-asking the same question multiple times.

A law firm that is a customer of Mayfield’s "has 400 workspaces, one for each of their clients, where they securely share billable hour info, files and work transparently," Mayfield said. This reduces the time and effort the law firm needs to communicate with its customers, shortening the time it takes to resolve issues.

Put another way, the wiki may be starting to live up to its strange name.

( Social Networking Systems and Wikis Engage The Social Customer originally appeared in CRMGuru.)