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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Nokia phone is off the hook

Nokia's new clog around the N90 phone is a piece of marketing genius. In reality, it has just repurposed a load of public content, packaged all its collateral surrounding the phone and stuck the whole shebang in a blog. Having sent sample handsets to a number of high-profile bloggers, it's tracking coverage on the N90 blog and linking back.

Can you see what it did there? The bloggers are doubly chuffed - not only do they get a link on a high-profile corporate site but they get a new freakin' phone! And not just any phone! This is phone is cutting edge, dude! Check it out! It's off the hook!

Positive blog reactions from bloggers not used to getting free stuff - let alone free stuff worth hundreds of pounds and freshly created in geek heaven - are a given. Even reasonably ethical clogger and housewife's favourite Loic le Meur can't help admitting that he should say something nice about the phone seeing as he got it free.

Check out the fatuous thankyou message in the post's comments from the Nokia marketing drone: "Thanks for the kind words and the great "exposure" in the magazine."

Brilliant. Just send him a cheque, eh? Am I the only one who can see this is wrong?

Nokia is a great company run by clever people. I am a huge Nokia fan and a loyal customer. Its ultra-bright marketing people (above drone excluded) have spotted a loophole in the laws of ethics and exploited it ruthlessly. Fair play I say.

As It's up to the press to act as a filter and ensure impartiality at all costs, I just hope 'blogger relations' remains a way to purely feed the traditional media with off-diary stories.

Because if the public start reading the badly skewed reviews of the phones by wide-eyed bloggers still amazed at their good fortune, we are all doomed.

Blog them, and their law

Drew B sent me a link to Tom Foremsky’s post on the first rule of social broadcasting.

I almost agree with the idea, but feel that it’s going to be hard to enforce. Particularly in a community that prides itself on a lack of regulation.

There certainly should be a set of guidelines for bloggers and cloggers to stick to in order to hold the whole thing together – much like the NUJ Code of Conduct but for untrained, gung-ho bloggers.

Let’s start one. Here goes:

1. In social situations, everything is off the record unless otherwise agreed. (Foremsky)

Oh, and when you’ve got rules, you need an enforcing body. (OK, I’ll do that bit. Perhaps brandishing razor-sharp wit and unavoidable shame as my weapons in the war against unethical blogging. OK, perhaps not.)

It amuses me that bloggers - who have started to call themselves journalists - are slowly starting to realise, on their own, that they have to stick to simple journalistic ethics. Foremsky’s thoughts clearly echo the ‘off the record’ concept that’s been crucial to us real journalists for decades.

But where does that leave the corporate bloggers? Well, they’re just PR people, so it doesn’t matter. PR people have been living without ethics for years. (Sorry, Drew).

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Keith's mom sums it up

I thought Microsoft's PR puppet Scoble was overstepping the privacy mark with his inane, continuous rambling about his wife, son and holiday activities.

But Jeremy Zawodny, chief clogger at Yahoo!, has gone and blown the doors off taste with his recent post about Keith's mom.

Let me just spell it out for you: Zawodny is using Yahoo!'s vast marketing budget and technological might to cast aspersions on the size of an elderly - if not deceased - lady's 'business'.

How old is he? Twelve?

This is corporate blogging spiralling out of control and going horribly, horribly wrong. If I was Keith's mom I'd sue.

Somebody stop these people before it gets too late.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Too much detail

Why does The Scobleizer feel like it's necessary to divulge so many details of his private life?

Scoble is, no matter what you say, a celebrity of sorts. His image and thoughts are studied and considered by many thousands of people. He has built up a brand, an audience, a persona and a product.

As public interest in blogging grows, he can only get more famous. Today, he's appearing in podcasts and interviews with fellow bloggers. Tomorrow, he'll be doing TV and starring in his own magazine features.

For a fully-fledged 'celeb', there's WAY too much info on his private life out there. I'm not even that bothered, and I can tell you his wife's name and address, and young son's hobbies and location. I can even tell you where these people are right now ("Cardiff is a delightful town. Every time I travel I'm reminded at just how much influence American culture has had abroad." Sweet Jesus, man. Go and say that out loud in a city centre pub and be thankful the Welsh don't have the right to bear arms) and where he'll be for dinner on the 10th December.

In my view, the blogging community is growing at a rate that will make popular bloggers part of the real world pretty soon. Scoble may just be exposing a little too much. And all to become the 'trustworthy' face of Microsoft.

Robert, be warned. You not going to be able to hide in the blogosphere - or even the clogosphere - for much longer. You can't trust the people that are following your writing to be nice, friendly geeks forever. I hope you're being paid enough to put your mind at ease...

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Clogged by Dilbert

Is the Guy Who Draws Dilbert's blog a blog or a clog?

Yes, it's brilliant. Yes, sometimes it makes me laugh out loud (rare). But it also makes me feel closer to the Dilbert brand. I may even purchase some Dilbert merchandise this Christmas, based on the fact that I am reminded of it daily.

Shouldn't the true blogger blog with no thought of a commercial agenda?

Have I just been clogged by Dilbert?

SSE breaks in the clogosphere

Sometimes a corporate blog is a fantastic marketing tool. Microsoft CTO Ray Ozzie's post on Simple Sharing Extensions (SSE) is an example of a perfectly-timed execution of clog brilliance.

Following Microsoft's announcements at the beginning of the month around Windows Live, heralding the beginning of on-demand software delivery and the classically cagey software behemoth's voyage into cuddly open-source friendliness, Ozzie's news was timely indeed.

As the excitement waned, up pops His Ozzieness allegedly spilling the beans on a half-baked idea. "One of the great things about once again having an active blog is that it enables me to engage in discussion about concepts I’m excited about, and that I’m working on, before they're fully-baked and while they could benefit from others’ involvement," he says. Aw, sweet.

I don't deny that SSE is a great idea. Using RSS-style information sharing is a perfect accompaniment to web-based software delivery. I, and everyone else, can see it's a fine plan.

But since when did companies, and Microsoft in particular, suddenly start releasing ideas before they are fully rounded? A half-baked idea? I don't buy it.

Sorry, but this is corporate blogging, a-list style. People are buying into Microsoft's new open source image and there was a dip in coverage for a day. Up steps Ozzie - it could just as well have been Scoble but he got gazumped this time - to fill the hole. The fact the news was released on a blog meant the developers picked up on it quickly, thinking they were sharing a secret with one of their own. The press picked it up a day or so late by the time the momentum had gathered and all the while, the blogosphere buzzed.

I don't believe this wasn't planned by marketers. It's too perfect, too slick. The fact the SSE standard was already finalised, licenced and released suggests there is much more at play behind the scenes.

I guess you've just got to be a bit more careful who you trust.

Monday, November 21, 2005

RSS is a two-way street

Two-way RSS? It's web 2.0 made real.

This is important.

Stay frosty, people

Anyone that's tried to start a blog on no particular topic is wasting valuable space. We've all had the misfortune of stumbling over some kid blogging about nothing in particular or a nice old lady telling an audience of none (except by unfortuntate chance) about her tortoise collection or the trouble with her curtains.

The same is true of corporate blogging. Just because you work for a small company that makes rivets or cans or software doesn't make you inherently interesting. Without focus, your corporate blog, if it even gets of the ground, will sink under the humiliatingly non-existent weight of traffic.

(There is one exception - you work for a company so huge and/or controversial that whatever you say is construed as interesting just because you said it and you work for THEM.)

The moral of the story? If you're planning a corporate blog, plan a topic. If it's a week-long conference, all the better. Short-term blogs are a valuable marketing tool.

But a blog for blog's sake? Just don't bother.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Yahoo! I'm a journo!

I thoroughly enjoyed Jeremy 'Yahoo!' Zawodny's post on bloggers blacklisting PR companies. Well, I say enjoyed. More like fundamentally disagreed with and was generally horrified by.

I'm sorry, bloggers, but you're sitting at the big boys' table now. If you're in the fortunate position of having built up a large reader base through your hard work and sweat, all credit to you. You have an audience - this is a powerful thing. But with great power comes great responsibility.

Whether you like it or not, at the point your blog gets popular you need to embrace basic journalistic ethics. You must tell the truth. You must remain impartial. You must continue to promote the needs of public interest.

Hand in hand with your new role as thought-leader comes fundamental media processes. PR people will contact you to try and engage your interest in companies that pay them to engage your interest in them. This is how the world works. Journalists are trained to deal with this. A good journalist remains courteous and open to new ideas at all times.

A news release sent, albeit unsolicited, from a PR company to you is not 'spam', it's an example of said PR company *doing its job*. No more, no less. It is not an excuse for you to flame the company, start making blacklists or generally acting unprofessionally.

After all, if the PR types started giving you free stuff, like lunches or phones or huge wads of cash, I'm sure you'd change your tune and start listening. Which illustrates, above all, why blogging - and particularly corporate blogging - is so dangerous in its erosion of mass media values.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Blogosphere vs Clogosphere

I'm not the biggest fan of the term 'blogosphere', but I admit it defines something important. It's one of those useful but ugly words. Like 'alphabetize'. Or 'cabbagey'.

The blogosphere is to social software what the universe is to cars. It is many, many organisational levels above and describes a space in which infinite networks and structures play out their little roles in intricate detail.

But what the blogosphere is not, is the clogosphere. The clogosphere is very like the blogosphere in structure. It's smaller, but growing by the day. Some of the residents of the blogosphere play in the clogosphere, while some of the 'clogospherians' often venture into the blogosphere.

But the two never meet. They are mutually exclusive. Diametrically opposed.

Rules in the blogosphere are reversed in the clogosphere. Truth becomes fiction. Friends become enemies. Journalists become marketers. Transparency becomes an impenetrable smokescreen. Trust has no value.

Bear this in mind, dear traveller, as you unwittingly flit in and out of both 'spheres. Sometimes it's hard to tell which one you're in.

And if in doubt, you can always ask.

RSS too much to ask?

I've just had a meeting with the Press Association about signing up to its Mediapoint service. The service basically means users get access to PA news copy at the same time as the press gets it, as well as view first editions of daily papers as they roll of the presses.

Now, there is a LOT of information held in the system, and it's all searchable in hundreds of ways, from tag searches to free text to topic to writer.

It's possible to get search alerts emailed to you, based on the results of the search criteria you set up. I could have any number of new searches arranged, which might spit out every blogging story that day, or every headline that mentioned penguins.

So I asked the obvious question - 'Where are the RSS feeds?'

'Er, what?' said the salesperson, perturbed.

'Well, you know, I don't really use email for alerts any more,' I said. 'I use RSS. This would be ideal to scan my searches.'

The salesperson leaned across the desk. She laughed.

'Look, everyone's got their preferences. It's taken us two years to get the email alerts incorporated,' she said. 'It'll take another two to get anything else added.'

I tried to argue, but it came out a bit like a horrified splutter.

The salesperson moved in for her big finale: 'Look, you've got a Blackberry,' she said, noticing my handset on the desk. 'With email alerts, you'll be able to read the news on the bus.'

How can I argue with that?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Loose lips sink ships

I was at a conference where Six Apart's Loic Le Meur was talking about corporate blogging. He made a great speech (watch it here, along with the others from the day). The female (and some of the male) members of the audience swooned at his mix of Gallic speech delivery and barely-contained musculature.

But there were a statement that almost made me spit out my popcorn, jump out of my seat and shout 'Are you INSANE?' (Which, of course, I didn't. But I thought about it.)

Talking about posting to a corporate blog, he said: 'If you say something wrong, correct it. It's fine.'

It's just this kind of cowboy attitude that's going to rip the blogosphere - and potentially the real-bloody-worldosphere - apart. What happens when said employee unwittingly breaks the law? What if a seemingly innocent comment is construed as libel? What if some financials are disclosed during a pre-announcement quiet period?

What could be done to save the company then? It would be too late. The damage to reputation has been done. Sales lost. Heads roll. If you say something wrong, it's not fine. It's far from fine.

Corporate blogging must be a balance of responsible journalism and responsible marketing. In your frenzy to get people blogging, Loic, it's important not to be shortsighted. The blog is a powerful tool. Try not to get carried away and start promoting recklessness.

The long tail is a slippery slope

Something terrible is happening. Something huge. Well, actually it's lots of really tiny happenings that are adding up to a huge happening. Whatever's happening, its tiny-huge. And terrible.

Blogging is happening, but I'm not talking about that. It may be changing the media landscape forever, forcing crucial decision-forming comment out of the grip of the established, impartial press into the sweaty paws of crazed geeks, but I don't think blogging itself is terrible. It's tiny-huge, yes. And dangerous. But I don't think it's terrible.

I'm not really talking about corporate blogging either. On the face of it, the odd corporate blog is a fine idea. Why not find a cuddly employee, preferably near the top of the food chain, and stick his or her opinions up on the web for us mere consumers to read? After all, it fosters a spirit of openness, trust and transparency in a world were corporate social responsibility and governance are key themes in good business practice. The readers might even get the odd laugh out of it or learn something new. No, corporate blogging may be tiny-huge, but it's not terrible at all.

The point that things turn terrible, is where the two worlds collide

The risks associated with blogging and the removal of mass media opinion - in favour of just 'opinion' - are magnified with those responsible for creating that opinion have a corporate agenda. Take Robert Scoble, for example, Microsoft's celebrity blogger and, quite probably, King Blogger. Whatever he may say, and whatever you may think, he follows Microsoft's agenda. That agenda might be to make Microsoft look more cuddly through not sacking him for some of the stuff he says, or it might be that he's paid to sound like he's in danger of being sacked when actually he's being fed directly from the spooks in Microsoft's global marketing bunker. But whatever it is, it's there.

It can't be ignored, however, that Scoble himself is now a key figure in changing public opinion. Which means a proponent of Microsoft's agenda is now a key figure in changing public opinion. Scoble is not a trained journalist. He does not subscribe to the NUJ Code of Practice. He is not beholden to the public to seek out the truth and defend his sources when faced with criminal charges. He will not die for you. His opinion is just his opinion, and is based on the agenda of his employer.

If the trend continues, and all the other corporate bloggers (sorry for singling you out again, Robert) start gaining audience mindshare, climb the long tail and become part of the great global decision-making process, opinion will start to be swayed more and more towards those with corporate agendas and away from those with public interest at heart.

The mass media is in trouble already. The free press is what holds civilised society together. We're witnessing the end of it.

Now THAT is terrible.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Scoble makes a rare mistake

Microsoft's full-time blogger, Robert Scoble, made an uncharacteristically poor error of judgement on November 1 with his post on the 12 reasons why small businesses think Microsoft sucks.

All his points were valid, and - us usual - created waves that reached far and wide across the blogosphere and, eventually, the mass media.

But what people failed (refused?) to recognise was that The Scobleizer's comments pre-empted Microsoft's announcement of Live - including free, ad-supported versions of Microsoft software that is aimed squarely at small businesses - by less than 24 hours.

Am I the only person to spot the convenient timing? Has Scoble finally revealed himself to be no more than an extension - albeit a discreet one - of the global Microsoft marketing team?