Business Week and blogging

This is big. The influence of this publication should not be underestimated. BusinessWeek have gone all bloggy – no they have actually gone completely blog mad. Their permanent blog can be found here and it all looks good. Choice quotes:

Go ahead and bellyache about blogs. But you cannot afford to close your eyes to them, because they’re simply the most explosive outbreak in the information world since the Internet itself. And they’re going to shake up just about every business — including yours. It doesn’t matter whether you’re shipping paper clips, pork bellies, or videos of Britney in a bikini, blogs are a phenomenon that you cannot ignore, postpone, or delegate. Given the changes barreling down upon us, blogs are not a business elective. They’re a prerequisite. (And yes, that goes for us, too.)

First, a few numbers. There are some 9 million blogs out there, with 40,000 new ones popping up each day. Some discuss poetry, others constitutional law. And, yes, many are plain silly. “Mommy tells me it may rain today. Oh Yucky Dee Doo,” reads one April Posting. Let’s assume that 99.9% are equally off point. So what? That leaves some 40 new ones every day that could be talking about your business, engaging your employees, or leaking those merger discussions you thought were hush-hush.

Give the paranoids their due. The overwhelming majority of the information the world spews out every day is digital — photos from camera phones, PowerPoint presentations, government filings, billions and billions of e-mails, even digital phone messages. With a couple of clicks, every one of these items can be broadcast into the blogosphere by anyone with an Internet hookup — or even a cell phone. If it’s scandalous, a poisonous e-mail from a CEO, for example, or torture pictures from a prison camp, others link to it in a flash. And here’s the killer: Blog posts linger on the Web forever.

Yet not all the news is scary. Ideas circulate as fast as scandal. Potential customers are out there, sniffing around for deals and partners. While you may be putting it off, you can bet that your competitors are exploring ways to harvest new ideas from blogs, sprinkle ads into them, and yes, find out what you and other competitors are up to.

And more: (someone has been reading Hugh Hewitt again)

How big are blogs? Try Johannes Gutenberg out for size. His printing press, unveiled in 1440, sparked a publishing boom and an information revolution. Some say it led to the Protestant Reformation and Western democracy. Along the way, societies established the rights and rules of the game for the privileged few who could afford to buy printing presses and grind forests into paper.

The printing press set the model for mass media. A lucky handful owns the publishing machinery and controls the information. Whether at newspapers or global manufacturing giants, they decide what the masses will learn. This elite still holds sway at most companies. You know them. They generally park in sheltered spaces, have longer rides on elevators, and avoid the cafeteria. They keep the secrets safe and coif the company’s message. Then they distribute it — usually on a need-to-know basis — to customers, employees, investors, and the press.

That’s the world of mass media, and the blogs are turning it on its head. Set up a free account at Blogger or other blog services, and you see right away that the cost of publishing has fallen practically to zero. Any dolt with a working computer and an Internet connection can become a blog publisher in the 10 minutes it takes to sign up.

Sure, most blogs are painfully primitive. That’s not the point. They represent power. Look at it this way: In the age of mass media, publications like ours print the news. Sources try to get quoted, but the decision is ours. Ditto with letters to the editor. Now instead of just speaking through us, they can blog. And if they master the ins and outs of this new art — like how to get other bloggers to link to them — they reach a huge audience.

This is just the beginning. Many of the same folks who developed blogs are busy adding features so that bloggers can start up music and video channels and team up on editorial projects. The divide between the publishers and the public is collapsing. This turns mass media upside down. It creates media of the masses.

How does business change when everyone is a potential publisher? A vast new stretch of the information world opens up. For now, it’s a digital hinterland. The laws and norms covering fairness, advertising, and libel? They don’t exist, not yet anyway. But one thing is clear: Companies over the past few centuries have gotten used to shaping their message. Now they’re losing control of it.

Want to get it back? You never will, not entirely. But for a look at what you’re facing, come along for a tour of the blogosphere.

Heck it’s all worth quoting:

It sounds like the joke answer on a multiple-choice exam. Name a leading company in blog communications: General Motors?

That’s right. For a company that’s slipping in the auto biz, GM is showing a surprisingly nimble touch with blogs. GM uses them on occasion to steer past its own PR department and the mainstream press.

In January, Vice-Chairman Bob Lutz launched his own FastLane Blog. Bloggers applauded, and car buffs flooded Lutz with suggestions and complaints. Lutz posted lots of barbs from outsiders and won points for balanced responses. Like his answer to criticisms of new Pontiacs: “Did you take a look at seat tailoring? Carpet fits?…hood gaps, hem flanges? We used to be bad at those, too.”

But Lutz is only part of GM’s blog strategy. In April the company yanked $10 million in advertising from the Los Angeles Times and demanded that the Times make retractions. Journalists asked GM for specific complaints, and the car company held off. It said it wanted to work quietly with the Times and not battle it out in the press.

How to get the word out through a back channel? GM directed journalists to a blog, AutomoBear.com, that detailed GM’s beef. (It had to do with a comparison between two cars, which GM thought was unfair.) Both GM and Miro Pacic, the blogger at AutomoBear, say that GM provided Pacic with information but that no money passed hands.

Fair enough. But even if GM doesn’t pay for positive coverage in blogs, just consider the possibilities in this new footloose media world. There’s little to stop companies from quietly buying bloggers’ support, or even starting unbranded blogs of their own to promote their products — or to tar the competition. This raises all kinds of questions about the ever-shrinking wall between advertising and editorial. We’ll cover that later, when we get to the blogs’ impact on our own business — the media.

And on:

The question came up at a panel discussion last week: Any chance that a blog bubble could pop? The answer is really easy: no.

At least not an investment bubble. Venture firms financed only $60 million in blog startups last year, according to industry tracker VentureOne. Chump change compared to the $19.9 billion that poured into dot-coms in 1999. The difference is that while dot-coms promised to make loads of money, blogs flex their power mostly by disrupting the status quo.

The bigger point, which is blindingly obvious when you think about it, is that the dot-com era was powered by companies — complete with programmers, marketing budgets, Aeron chairs, and burn rates. The masses of bloggers, by contrast, are normal folks with computers: no budget, no business plan, no burn rate, and — that’s right — no bubble.

The role of the blog startups is to build tools for this grassroots uprising. Six Apart, a four-year-old San Francisco company, leads in blog software. Technorati and PubSub Concepts are battling it out in blog search. The founders all insist that they plan to remain independent. But if recent history is any guide, most of them will wind up in the bellies of the blog-minded Internet giants — led by Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft. The latest to disappear was Flickr. A photo-sharing service that spread madly across the blog world, 13-month-old Flickr was still running its software in its beta, or testing, phase when it was acquired by Yahoo in March for an undisclosed sum. Caterina Fake, Flickr’s co-founder, wrote about the deal in her blog the day it happened: “Don’t forget to breathe. It’s not the end, it’s the beginning.”

On Technorati:

David Sifry looks at it a bit differently. He’s a serial entrepreneur and founder of Technorati , the blog search engine.

For Sifry, it’s not the growth of the same Web, but an entirely new one. It’s wrapped up far more in people’s day-to-day lives. It’s connected to time. The way he describes it, the Web we’ve come to know is mostly a collection of documents. A library. These documents don’t change much. Try Googling Donald Trump, and you’re more likely to find his Web page than a discussion of his appearance last night on The Apprentice.

Blogs are different. They evolve with every posting, each one tied to a moment. So if a company can track millions of blogs simultaneously, it gets a heat map of what a growing part of the world is thinking about, minute by minute. E-mail has carried on billions of conversations over the past decade. But those exchanges were private. Most blogs are open to the world. As the bloggers read each other, comment, and link from one page to the next, they create a global conversation.

Picture the blog world as the biggest coffeehouse on Earth. Hunched over their laptops at one table sit six or seven experts in nanotechnology. Right across from them are teenage goths dressed in black and thoroughly pierced. Not too many links between those two tables. But the café goes on and on. Saudi women here, Labradoodle lovers there, a huge table of people fooling around with cell phones. Those are the mobile-photo crowd, busily sending camera-phone pictures up to their blogs.

The racket is deafening. But there’s loads of valuable information floating around this cafe. Technorati, PubSub, and others provide the tools to listen. While the traditional Web catalogs what we have learned, the blogs track what’s on our minds.

Why does this matter? Think of the implications for businesses of getting an up-to-the-minute read on what the world is thinking. Already, studios are using blogs to see which movies are generating buzz. Advertisers are tracking responses to their campaigns. “I’m amazed people don’t get it yet,” says Jeff Weiner, Yahoo’s senior vice-president who heads up search. “Never in the history of market research has there been a tool like this.”

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