Saturday, February 12, 2005

Scoble at SJSU: How Blogging Will Change Communications

Robert Scoble, Microsoft's "Chief Humanizing Officer" according to the Economist, spoke at our mutual alma mater, SJSU, Thursday afternoon. The talk took place at the huge, beautiful new Martin Luther King Jr. Library, that is both the university's and the public's library in downtown San Jose. The Library sits right next to Hugh Gillis Hall, which houses the Theatre Arts Department, and so pretty much housed me for four years. I'm desperately trying to remember what was there before the library and can't!

I graduated from SJSU nearly 20 years ago, and I haven't been on campus in nearly a decade, so the difference...not only on campus itself, but in the blocks immediately surrounding campus, is pretty stunning. Here's a picture of the Library:

Since I didn't attend Blog Business Summit in Seattle last month, I thought I'd traipse down to SJSU and check out Scoble's talk. Plus there was a Geek Dinner that evening.

My first thought in looking around the room at the dozens of students assembled was: why are they all taking notes in a paper notebook, just like me? Seriously, isn't this generation supposed to be "always on"? (Actually, my first thought was "My God, they're so young...I was surely not that young when I was in college!")

On to Scoble's Talk

Robert started with a Brief History of Scoble, most of which I wasn't too aware of. And them moved on, in somewhat rambling fashion, to make some key points both about blogging and about personal paths. Here is what I gleaned:

1. Relationships still rule
I wholeheartedly agree with Robert that in the end it is the relationships you build and maintain, starting as early as you can, that tend to drive each step of your personal life path. The connections can be direct and strong, or they can be one or two steps removed, but very few moves in life occur in a people vacuum.

And "relationships" can also apply to your relationships to events or topics...because...

2. Passion and Authority make for successful blogs
If you follow particular topics, events, technologies etc. you can become a niche expert in them, and your blog will benefit from the strong relationship you have to the topics about which you write.

it's an interesting question really. One I should think about in relation to my Personal Blog. In that blog I write about everything that interests me...which encompasses a lot, from the arts to technology to politics to animal rights to random musings about any old thing. Does that help my blog appeal to more readers...the something for everyone philosophy? Or does it overwhelm and put off readers...who'd rather go to sites that talk about one thing and one thing well? Don't know. not sure I care, since that blog is, after all, by its very nature...personal.

3. Blogs compress news cycles, and PR cycles.
9/11 was a watershed moment, as was the Tsunami. Suddenly the man on the street's commentary wasn't being edited by a mainstream media outlet, but was right out there for anyone to read. Suddenly a bad customer experience can be spread around before a PR department has any chance to quell the disturbance. How can it be dealt with? Only by paying as much attention to the blogosphere and its buzz as you do to Wall Street and its buzz.

4. Blogs don't have to "kill" anything, but they will change the way traditional functions are performed.
From higher education to journalism to PR, blogging technology has the potential to radically change how those functions are performed. When it comes to the latter two, I think they already are...and they have great potential to do so on the first, education.

Robert did list his "5 things that distinguish blogs":

1. Easy to Publish...which democratizes the spread of information
2. Discoverability
3. Linking Behavior
4. Permalinking (again, this is about ease...ease of sharing in this case.)
5. Syndication...which makes it extremely efficientto track many, many sources.

I will note that these 5 things are sort of technical in nature, and don't address what is distinctive about blogs from a content point of view. [My opinion: the informal and immediate nature of blog content makes blog content seem more authentic to consumers who have become increasingly cynical about what emits from our media outlets, our politicians, our corproate offices.]

I will also give Robert one unsolicited piece of public speaking advice: let people finish their questions and make sure you understand what they're asking, not what you want to answer. Two examples:

1. Someone asked if blogging was a fad. Robert noted that blogging would survive because nothing was better at delivering "Google juice." I thought that was a really limited view of why blogging would survive. [I, in fact, think that blogs are a subset of web sites, and eventually most web sites will become more bloggy in blogs won't just survive, they'll evolve to be the dominant style-guide!]

I asked a question. My question was intended to be: "Since Google is perfectly able to manipulate how they assign Google juice, as evidenced recently by the no-follow tag, then isn't citing Google juice as the reason blogs will survive too limited and assigning all control over blog value to this one company and its proprietary algorithms?"

Robert heard the words "no-follow" and started explaining why no-follow is good and giving useful examples. I tried at first to interject, but he was off and running. First of all, I doubt most people in that room had any idea what he was talking abut, as he didn't first explain no-follow, but it also simply wasn't my question.

2. Steve Sloan, one of the event organizers, asked a question about searching podcasts and Vlogs. I think (and someone else can correct me if I'm wrong) that Sloan was pointing out that you can't search within an audio or video feed, like you can with text. And that that limitation would constrain the usability/popularity of such feeds until some method was determined to do so. Robert didn't let the final words come out of Sloan's mouth and interpreted it to be about whether such non-text-oriented blogs are as Googlicious as traditional blogs.

I would have loved to hear him answer what I think the question was meant to be, because I do find that to be a downside to audio/video entries...they're often minutes long, and I shy away from committing my time to that.

Bottom line: Robert is brimming with passion for what he does, and his brain is likely overflowing with ideas and opinions about a movement that he is definitely at the forefront of. I have no doubt he intrigued or inspired or encouraged many of the students in that room. I think the more he zooms out, focusing less on the technical nitty-gritty and more on what that technology enables, the better this kind of presentation of his will become.

There was also a Geek Dinner that evening...wrap up is here at my Personal Blog.

2 pictures of Scoble from the event:

Setting Up:

An impressionistic (read: blurry) shot of the man speaking:

I wish I knew about the event... :)

I like the comments about relationships.

Ricardo Sardenberg
You are right about my question about Podcasts and Videoblogs. That lack of searchability is a huge problem for them in a lot of applications. Especially in any academic applications where the availability of and retrievability information for research is important.

BTW, I have a lot more photos on my blog over at

We are hoping to have more events like this at SJSU. It would be neat to do one on PR! SJSU events related to Emerging Technology will be posted at the URL above.
Steve: many people bemoan that this blogging phenomenon will obsolete jobs for PR and journalistic writers. Au contraire...they'll simply be doing their functions via a different medium.

And because of the long tail effect, there will be many more outlets for their talents.

What is SIP?
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