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June 30, 2003

Weblogs Working as Business Drivers in Minnesota

The two major newspapers in the Twin Cities areas of Minnesota have discovered that businesses are using weblogs. The St. Paul Pioneer Press ran an article on Friday called "Blogging for Business" that says that area entrepreneurs and politicians are using weblog technology to keep adding new and interesting content to their web sites. The article talks about the weblog being run by Ray Cox of Northfield Construction Company where Cox says:

It is good that the general media is picking up on blogs.... I really like the easy format that I can {use to} "talk" to folks and get information and opinions out quickly.... {The} main reason I started using a blog was because it is easy to use and allows me to update information in a timely fashion. I find regular webpages that have outdated information very frustrating.

The Pioneer Press article goes on to quote Andrew Eklund, a web marketing consultant, as saying:

Most corporate Web sites are still annoyingly dull.... Essentially, most are outdated repositories of unkempt content (without a) compelling voice. A blog can help change that.

For some reason, the Minneapolis Star Tribune published a remarkably similar article in their Sunday edition, quoting many of the same people. It's hard to fathom why they chose to do it. Whether they began working on their story and got scooped, or they felt that this was a particularly hot topic in the area is not clear.

The important aspect of using weblog technology on a corporate web site is that it increases the authenticity of the information. By attaching a name to each piece of information, potential customers see who works at the business, what they know, and the things that they think are important. You get even more bang-for-the-buck by writing in first person.

If blogging is done properly, the frequency of content updates is dramatically improved. The technology makes it easy to add things to the site, so why not update it on a daily or at least a semi-weekly basis? At CTDATA, we post things on our site almost every weekday. As a result, the site has a regular audience that communicates with our company and comments about what we post.

Whether you want to completely makeover your site using weblog technology or simply add a weblog to an existing site, CTDATA can help. Get in touch with us and we'll start making suggestions.

June 27, 2003

New Google Toolbar "BlogThis" Button Upsets Weblog Tool Developers

atNewYork.com has done a nice roundup of an emerging controversy over the Google Toolbar 2.0 Beta. At issue is the so-called BlogThis button which allows users to automatically start a posting on their weblogs about the web page they are currently viewing.

The problem with this feature, from the perspective of competing weblog tool developers and users, is that the BlogThis button only works with Blogger. Google purchased Blogger back in February. As Dave Winer noted on Scripting News yesterday, the BlogThis button could have been implemented with the Blogger API.

The Blogger API has been implemented by several competing weblog developers to facilitate the development of user-level publishing tools. If Google had chosen to build the BlogThis functionality atop the Blogger API, it would have allowed users of Radio Userland and Manila from Userland, Movable Type from Six Apart, and P-Machine to leverage this new feature as well.

There's nothing stopping Google from modifying the BlogThis button in subsequent betas of the Google Toolbar so that it works with the Blogger API. But, by releasing it without true API support, they have raised suspicion in a community that has been one of the keys to their past success.

June 26, 2003

ClickZ Founder Forms Company, Purchases MarketingFix.com and Adventure.com

Last night, PaidContent.org reported that Andy Bourland, founder of ClickZ, has formed a new company and purchased two business-oriented on-line services, MarketingFix.com and Adventive. The new company called Up2Speed will apparently focus on on-line advertising and marketing.

MarketingFix.com is a business-oriented weblog covering on-line marketing. According to PaidContent, it was launched in March of last year. For some time now, people following the business weblog / nanopublishing space have been saying that weblogs with a business focus and a measurable audience might be acquisition targets under the right circumstances. It looks like MarketingFix.com is one of the first proofs of that.

Adventive is the operator of about a dozen of mailing lists on topics as diverse as copywriting and wireless technology. PaidContent suggests that Adventive is the less valuable of the two companies, but, its mailing lists have tremendous reach. One of its smaller ones, I-Wireless, reportedly has 12,000 subscribers. A service like Adventive could be a driver of more business to Up2Speed's other on-line properties in the future.

June 24, 2003

New Format for Weblog Content Syndication and Why CTDATA Is Not Yet Interested

Dave Aiello wrote, "A number of prominent webloggers are writing about a proposed new standard for syndicating weblog content to replace the current format, called RSS. RSS began as a simple mechanism to allow one website to display headlines from another, complete with a link to the body of the article on the original website. It has evolved into the basis for a whole host of information management tools, including search engines, news aggregators, and statistics services that track weblog popularity and interlinking."

"Use of RSS began at the grassroots level, and this is part of the reason that there is some effort to replace it now. It is considered a fragmented standard, with numerous versions that are not logically evolved from each other. Some people say that a big reason to move away from RSS is that a few early webloggers have undue influence over its status as a de facto standard."

"I'm not in a rush to jump into the fray that is going to take place if another content syndication format is developed. Back in the Year 2000, this type of dispute took place over the creation of the so-called RSS 1.0 standard. That debate turned out to be largely a waste of bandwith. RSS 1.0 failed as a standard is that it was considered too complex by many people who were running weblogs back then."

"I am sure that the creation of a new standard will be just as ugly as revisions to RSS have been. Any new syndication format will have to be much better than what exists today, because tens of thousands of weblogs and dozens of infrastructure applications will need to be upgraded in order to support it."

"I encourage anyone who is primarily interested in running a weblog for communications or public relations purposes to stay away from the debate over new content syndication formats. Only true gearheads will be interested until after the dust settles."

June 23, 2003

Beta Test of TypePad Apparently Underway

Padawan.info reports that a beta test of TypePad is apparently underway because some weblogs have received trackbacks from a server that appears to be TypePad.

TypePad is a forthcoming service from Six Apart that incorporates the features of Movable Type in a fully-hosted environment. This service has been talked about extensively in the Blogosphere because it is expected to lower a few technical barriers that sometimes cause people to choose Blogger over Movable Type. As such, the TypePad service can be thought of as an analogue to BlogSpot.

June 22, 2003

NY Times: The Corporate Blog Is Catching On

On Sunday, The New York Times reported that weblogging is catching on in corporations among senior executives. Examples of cited in the article include Alan Meckler's weblog for Jupitermedia, Halley's Comment by Halley Suitt of Yaga, James Horton's weblog at online-pr.com, and Tim O'Reilly's weblog on oreillynet.com.

The article focuses narrowly on CEOs and other senior executives, mostly at large companies. In a brief discussion of legal considerations, it mentions Groove Network's corporate weblog policy articulated by Ray Ozzie, along with the comment that "some experts suggest allowing only trusted employees to engage in the activity".

But, the article leaves out any mention of more broad-based efforts like Macromedia's weblogs. As such, it's showing a subset of the blogging activity in Corporate America. However, it's a coherent presentation, free of any apparent bias. This article is a good introduction to weblogging as a new business process.

Update: Rick Bruner of MarketingFix.com made a couple of interesting points in his coverage of this story. Many of the blogs cited use non-standard software, some lack permalinks, and one is ugly in his opinion.

June 21, 2003

Feedster Merges with rssSearch

Thursday, Feedster announced that it merged with rssSearch and that a new company called Feedster, LLC was formed as a result. Prior to the announcement, Feedster and rssSearch were competing weblog search engines.

Both Feedster and rssSearch were developed shortly after an article appeared on CTDATA called The Internet Needs a Search Engine Driven Off RSS Feeds. As the press release announcing the merger implies, Feedster had "first mover advantage" in the market, while rssSearch had technical superiority. Most people who thought that an RSS-based search engine was a good idea will probably consider the merger announcement a win for the weblog community.

In many ways, it is truly astounding that a free-standing company has been formed to operate a search engine for weblogs. This is an indication that innovation happens quickly in this market, in spite of otherwise difficult economic conditions.

June 20, 2003

Watchblog, A New Weblog About Politics

Dave Aiello wrote, "A new political weblog called Watchblog: 2004 Election News, Opinion, and Commentary was recently launched by Cameron Barrett of Camworld. Watchblog has already attracted a lot of attention in the weblog community. I think this is appropriate in light of Cameron Barrett's status in the weblog community and the novelty of the layout of the site."

"Camworld is one of the most successful weblogs in history, and was one of my early favorites. It went silent for about six months beginning in the Fall of 2002, but it never really lost its status in the weblog community during that time. I used Camworld as the example of a weblog that was popular in spite of its lack of freshnness in my essay The Long Shadow of Past Blogging Prowess written in late March. This essay was a critique of the blogrolling policies of many A-List weblogs, but may have seeemed like a rebuke directed at Cameron Barrett himself. Camworld made a fairly strong comeback in May and has been interesting since then, although I am just catching up with it after having removed it from the CTDATA blogroll and deleted my browser bookmark for it."

"Getting back to Watchblog, the big question in my mind when I look at it is: Will it work as it is currently designed? It's got a couple of novel design elements worth thinking about:"

  1. Three sub-weblogs laid out in a three-column format. It will be interesting to see if this works because the side-by-side nature begs the reader to compare the content in each column. But, length of each post and chronological (rather than topic) orientation will make comparisons difficult.

  2. Implied political orientation of each column. The Democratic and Republican sub-weblogs appear as the left and right columns, respectively, while the Third Party sub-weblog appears in the center. This dovetails with many people's assumptions about the polarization of American politics. The question that springs into my mind is: How big an assumption is it that third parties in this country occupy the ideological center? My initial answer is: That's a pretty big assumption.

"Other issues that will play a key role in on-going interest in Watchblog are:"

  1. Are the contributors for each sub-weblog equally matched? If there is an imbalance in rhetorical strength or posting commitment, this site could get boring quickly.

  2. Can a single weblog effectively cover the entire political spectrum? I think that most successful weblogs that have touched on politics have succeeded by having a clear point of view. Watchblog flies in the face of this notion.

"Several months ago, I decided to move CTDATA.com away from politics, and I'm staying with that policy. Watchblog is worth mentioning, however, because of its unique design and the attention it's getting in the weblog community. It will be interesting to see if Watchblog continues to enjoy the amount of interest that it has initially attracted."

June 19, 2003

Glenn Reynolds on the Difference Between Good and Bad Weblogs

Dave Aiello wrote, "On Tech Central Station, Glenn Reynolds talks about what he thinks are the key differentiators between good and bad weblogs. In short, he thinks that good weblogs have personal voice and rapid response times. By personal voice, I think he means that most articles on the site are written in first person."

"Reynolds goes on to talk about the typical differences between weblogs written with personal voice and those written with institutional voice, and why personal voice may be a better choice for weblogs. He sees a direct relationship between the use of personal voice and the speed at which new content is posted to a weblog."

"He seems to be getting at the sense of ownership that an individual has in a weblog written in personal voice. However, it's hard to say that group weblogs like Slashdot and Marketing Fix are less timely, simply because they are not written by an individual."

"Some business people think that their entire web sites must be written in institutional voice. At CTDATA, we have tried to mix institutional voice with personal voice, and we have achieved some success. Strongly opinionated articles on our website are often written in personal voice, so that it's clear that these are the opinions of one person. Other articles are written in institutional voice, generally because they are more news-oriented. In the future, we intend to deepen this distinction by creating personal weblogs for some of our employees."

"It's important to understand that either approach is fine as long as there is some consistency to the style of the site. However, the more weblog-oriented the overall site is, the more likely it is to be written predominantly in personal voice."

June 18, 2003

Useit.com Says Specialization is Key to Success in Weblogging

In the latest Alertbox, Jakob Nielsen says that the key to success in operating a small website is to focus on a very specific topic, and to dominate it. He says that this is particularly true for weblogs, and provides a number of statistics to back this up.

This article suggests that the range of information and opinion on the Internet creates many opportunities for web sites that have a unique point-of-view. And, carefully focused sites can attract an audience that becomes a committed user community.

Nielsen also points out that a lot of successful small web sites get a significant percentage of their traffic from search engines. We talked about this same idea in an article that appeared on CTDATA.com in May, when we said:

It's clear from reviewing our referer logs that upwards of 25 percent of our daily traffic comes from casual Internet users using these search tools to locate information... that interests them.

This is where the importance of focus comes into play. Read on to learn why....

How CTDATA Learned The Importance of Focus

For a long time, CTDATA's site was unfocused, meaning that we wrote about anything that interested us. We wrote a lot about 9/11 and the War on Terror, politics, and sports and exercise. Some of this content turned out to be surprisingly popular, but, virtually none of it generates any business for us.

We realized that this was hurting the site's value more than it was helping it, and announced that we were refocusing this web site on our business in an article that was published in March. Now, much more of the content on the site is focused on our company's core competencies: weblogs for business applications, web services, IT consulting, and content management. This has already resulted in more inquiries from potential customers. So, we consider this effort successful.

Search Engine Ads as a Suppliment to Focused Content on the Site

Getting back to Jakob Nielsen's article, toward the end he makes the excellent point that search engine ads such as Google AdWords can be an effective form of advertising for many web sites and can be used as a suppliment to content on a web site.

Well designed web sites with weblog-like content are search engine friendly. However, companies operating these sites may want to raise their profiles on the Internet even more. Under these circumstances, text advertisements on search engine sites can be extremely effective at a reasonable cost.

June 17, 2003

Hiawatha Bray: Corporate America Has Discovered the Blog

Dave Winer pointed out an article by Hiawatha Bray in The Boston Globe called Companies Get into the Weblog Act. This is an excellent article focusing on the evolution of the weblog concept from a hobby into a methodology that can be leveraged by serious businesses. Bray says:

An idea this useful can't be left to mere hobbyists. Companies have begun to recognize the potential power of what buffs like to call ''the blog-

osphere.'' Consider: Every business needs to know what its employees know. Companies are crammed with experts on various topics whose knowledge goes to waste -- because nobody knows what they know. Now give these workers an internal corporate blog, and encourage them to use it. Let them natter away on every topic that intrigues them. Harvest and index the results. You've mapped your workers' brains. With a few keystrokes, a manager can find out who's been blogging about skiing or bowling or restoring classic cars -- just the thing when you're trying to sell something to an avid collector of '64 Mustangs. The company's hidden experts will cheerfully reveal themselves, and the firm's institutional memory gets an upgrade.

The key to successfully harnessing this movement on an Intranet is to allow it to evolve from the ground up. Trying to implement it from the top down, a process known as knowledge management, has been a hot idea in some large companies for years. The problem with knowledge management is that it has never achieved the potential that its evangelists expected.

The weblog movement, on the other hand, began modestly and is growing by leaps and bounds. Blogs can be great sources of information within a company, or a great channel of communication to a company's customers. The key success factor, more often than not, appears to be focus.

Bray cites Rock Regan, CIO of the State of Connecticut, as someone who knows how to get value out of blogging in his organization, and quotes him in the article.

June 16, 2003

Sydney Morning Herald Publishes Comparison of Blogging Tools

On Saturday, The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia published an article comparing several of the leading weblog authoring tools including Blogger, Radio Userland, Live Journal, Movable Type, and Greymatter. The author, Nicole Manktelow, carefully categorizes the tools discussed in the article as hosted services, do-it-yourself server-based tools, and desktop weblog authoring products.

Mankelow chooses one of the tools she mentions, Radio Userland, as her favorite. It might have been better to have chosen a tool in each category, and then designate a "best of the best" solution. Nevertheless, this article is quite valuable to people trying to understand the weblog market space, or people who have decided that they want to start a weblog, but haven't chosen an authoring tool yet.

June 13, 2003

"Introduction to Business Blogs" Presentation was Worth Attending

Dave Aiello wrote, "Last night I attended the Intro to Business Blogs panel discussion put on by the E-commerce Special Interest Group in Manhattan. I had mentioned this panel discussion on CTDATA yesterday."

"This was a good presentation, with material relevant to the stated subject, and panelists in substantial agreement about the fundimentals of blogging. If you know a thing or two about blogging already, you know that basic agreement on the later is sometimes difficult to achieve, particularly among veterans of the field."

"I think Rick Bruner of Executive Summary Consulting did a great job putting the panel together. Andrew Calimano of Integrated Direct Marketing deserves a lot of credit for asking Rick to recruit the panelists and moderate the session. Read on for further comments...."

Dave Aiello continued:

Rick Bruner produced a good five page crib sheet for attendees. It includes definitions of critical weblogging terms, descriptions of the weblogs run by the panelists, lists of "A-List" blogs, business blogs, and leading web publishing platforms.

Rick also did a good job choosing discussion topics that fit into the theme of the discussion, keeping the panelists on topic, and keeping track of the time left before the panel ended.

Anil Dash did a good job speaking at a level that was appropriate to people new to blogging. This is not a criticism of Anil-- it's a complement. He mentioned two future products of Six Apart, producers of Movable Type and the company he now works for. The forthcoming products are Movable Type Pro and TypePad. I'm very interested to hear more about them, so I'll be looking around the blogspace for more info.

I was surprised that John Lawlor was on the panel, particularly when I found out that he is based in Boca Raton, Florida. John has positioned himself as a Business Blogging Evangelist and has a large web presence (and a button that he wears on his shirt that says "Blogging Evangelist") to prove it. He has a long history of on-line marketing success and is definitely a player in the business weblogging know-how space.

John made available extra copies of notes from his Clickz Weblog Business Strategies session, "Strategies and Tips for Business Blogging Success". These were an extra special treat for people like me.

Aaron Bailey made a good impression on me, although my sense was that he actually spoke less than the other panelists. Aaron was particularly approachable after the session, offering to help me with a restructuring issue on an existing blog that I manage. I am impressed with his site 601am.com, and I'm going to put it into my reading rotation.

Elizabeth Spiers was a great person to have on the panel. She edits the site Gawker.com, which is more about media buzz than about business. However, she said that she had been a technology analyst for a financial services company in a previous life (a story consistant with her bio) and I believe it. She has a sharpness to her that is hard to miss if you have worked in the financial industry.

Jason Shellen sat at the far end of the table from the moderator. So, he got a little bit less talk time than most of the others. He works for Blogger, which most CTDATA readers know was purchased by Google a few months back.

It's interesting to hear someone who is on the Blogger team have to explain his company's services from the bottom up. It shows how much people who live in the Blogosphere take for granted.

Jason's comments were also interesting because he really softpedaled the Blogger marketing spiel. I was sitting there asking myself "Why?", but I realized, they're the biggest with the mostest. The impression he makes is probably due more to his personality than his sense of security in the market for publishing tools, but, I liked his attitude.

I feel like I saved $1000 by attending this panel discussion in New York, rather than attending the Clickz Weblog Business Strategies Conference earlier this week in Boston. I realize that there is a certain cache that will accrue to the Boston attendees for being at the first real blogging conference. However, several of last night's panelists commented that a number of the sessions up there were beset by disputes over philosophical issues and definitions that only seem to matter to the A-List. To be honest, I'm glad I wasn't there for those things.

June 12, 2003

E-commerce SIG to Present Introduction to Business Blogs Tonight in New York City

Dave Aiello wrote, "I should have posted something about this event when I first heard about it, but.... I'll be attending the Intro to Business Blogs panel discussion being put on by the E-commerce Special Interest Group tonight, June 12, in New York City. A number of A-list bloggers are on the panel, including Rick Bruner, Anil Dash, Elizabeth Spiers, Aaron Bailey, and John Lawlor."

"I've been thinking to myself that there is something wrong if I am not attending events of this nature in New York City, given my relatively close proximity to the city. I was unable to attend the dinner in New York that Doc Searls organized at the beginning of May, and this is the first thing I've seen far enough in advance that I still had time to RSVP and attend. So, I'm going."

"Sorry I didn't post this sooner, for all of you CTDATA readers. It would have been fun to have several friends there. Instead, I'll have to mingle...."

June 10, 2003

OnJava Reports on Java-based PostNuke-like Content Management System

Dave Aiello wrote, "Last week, Marc Fleury and Julien Viet reported on Nukes for OnJava.com. Nukes is an Open Source Java-based content management system similar to PostNuke."

"This is a really interesting project, because it gives people with some experience running Slash-like content management systems some exposure to Java and JBoss. I'd love to try to build a server with Nukes on it, to increase my knowledge of Java."

"If I do this, I'd be following the path that I used to implement Slash for the first time. I began the effort with minimal Perl knowledge, and ended up with a working content management system and very good knowledge of Perl. The process took more than a month, but it was definitely worth it."

New Jersey Devils Beat Anaheim Mighty Ducks for the Stanley Cup

Dave Aiello wrote, "On RCNJ.org, I've been writing about the Stanley Cup Finals. Last night, the New Jersey Devils beat Anaheim 3-0 to win the Cup. I was really disappointed for Adam Oates, a Rensselaer alumnus nearing the end of a great hockey career, and Jean-Sebastien Giguere, the goaltender who came out of nowhere to have a brilliant playoff. I won't forget the pictures of Giguere crying moments before receiving The Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs for a while."

"The Devils are a great team and worthy champions. I know a lot of people who work for the Devils through hockey officiating, and I'm sure they are happy this morning."

June 5, 2003

Heads Roll at the New York Times

Dave Aiello wrote, "In one of the more momentus events in establishment jounalism, the executive editor and managing editor of the New York Times have resigned. Apparently, this was in response to continued internal division over the Jayson Blair case. This scandal and related events have sent shockwaves through the mainstream media in America."

"We can only hope that the editorial biases that reached absurd levels during Raines' tenure are reduced in the course of this leadership change. Many conservatives have commented on the obvious liberal bias that seeped from the Times' editorial page into feature stories. But, similar biases have crept into many aspects of Times reporting, including technology stories."

"CTDATA was chided by some webloggers for suggesting that an article that appeared in the New York Times in February about the acquisition of Pyra Labs by Google was subtly biased. It was said that David Gallagher, the author of the piece, was a card-carrying member of the weblog community-- therefore his article could not be as biased as we suggested."

"But, we were right about the Times' deep-rooted need to push its agendas. It should not be considered The Paper of Record, as it has been in the past, until it cleans up its act. The Times must demonstrate over a period of time that it can be trusted to give us the story straight, without spin, and without selective exclusion of issues that don't fit its world view."

"Until it does, we will do our best to find other news sources to reference in our articles."