BlogOn was yesterday, and I’ve let the issues percolate for a while before trying to write up what I took out of yesterday’s conference. On the whole there was some interesting discussion, there were definitely interesting people, but I think the conference as a whole was a miss. Why? Cause if you take a look at the BlogOn website, the subtitle is “the business of social media”. I don’t think there was nearly enough focus on the tranformative power of social media except as related to technology. There were some exceptions, such as the session which talked about how social media transforms corporate communications (“press releases used to be something that companies struggled to get journalists to pay attention to, now journalists are seeking out press releases already online so that they can do their research” - FANTASTIC point!) I liked the sessions in the afternoon more than those in the morning. I went to the business of blogging track, not the company presentation track. Here is were you might say “Aha! But Mike, if you wanted to hear about companies using social media why didn’t you go to hear about companies wanting to use social media?” Well, I took a look at the wiki page reserved for presenters, and noticed that no one added their link. NOT A SINGLE FUCKING ONE! That says to me that either none of those companies are really serious in their use of social media, or we’ve completely screwed up our definition of social media. Either way, I didn’t feel like hearing a bunch of companies pitch when there was at least a chance of hearing about solutions to real issues in social media.

So what was I hoping to hear at the conference? I was hoping for more of a dialogue. I was hoping to talk about the potential usages for these technologies, and not the technologies themselves. I agree with a lot of the points that Ted makes about this. What’s really needed was a deeper delving into particular topics. I was talking to Mary about the same issue as well, and she was also saying she had hoped for more depth on particular issues. My take on it is that whenever you have these free ranging overview conversations it always turns into a somewhat religious issue, with everyone throwing in what they think is the most important topic. However, if you give people a particular problem to concentrate on the comments tend to support each other. The free form general commentary tends to diverge at every single switch.

Maybe it’s just cause my background is in prototyping, but I do see this as something of a early stage development issue. Although some like to think of blogging as well established, it’s not. It is not yet “mainstream”, despite the fact that there area many from the online community who feel that blogging is already played out. What’s happened is that we’re starting to work our way through the evangelists and early adopters and we’re sitting at the edge of the chasm. I’m sure you all know which chasm I’m talking about. And because social software does reverse a lot of previously held tenants, and changes some pretty fundamental power structures, that chasm is both very deep and amazingly wide. But just because all of the cool kids have blogs, are on social networks, and have used wikis that doesn’t mean that all the work has been done. There is always a shift in getting from the early adopters to the creamy middle. There are very few attempts in progress to move to the other side. The stuff that Technorati is doing is one of very few steps in this direction. I was hoping we would talk more about other steps that could be made. What normally happens when a technology goes mainstream is that those evangelists and mavens wander off to do the next cool new thing. And I felt like the conf was following the techies off to the next big thing and not addressing what is needed to keep this current generation of technology moving off toward the rest of the market.

Instead of just bitching, here are a few questions that I think could have been posed that would have gotten everyone pitching in to answer rather than arguing about what is important:

  • How can a company evaluate the potential usage of (blogs wikis social networking software) internally to decrease communication costs?
  • How can a company evaluate the potential return from (blogs wikis social networking software) externally as a new marketing channel?
  • How can a company evaluate the security concern of letting employees blog externally?

  • How should a company respond to a highly negative post from an internal blogger

  • What can be done to ensure that advertising doesn’t pollute the value of blogs while still making the authors money?

  • What besides advertising can an author use to make money?

  • What can be done to make feed technologies (RSS or Atom) more useful as online research tools?

  • What can be done to make feed technologies (RSS or Atom) more useful as as news mediums

  • What can be done to make feed technologies (RSS or Atom) more useful as an entertainment channel

Some of the topics discussed laid long these lines, but weren’t pointed enough to bring about convergent discussion. And I was really hoping that’s what the “business” part of the conference would bring. There’s enough divergent and speculative discussion at the techie confs already. I was hoping that the conf would give me some of the tools that I need to answer a question from like “We know there are indirect returns from internal bloggers, but how much? And how can we know if it’s working or not?” Because no matter how cool the new technologies are, business is still business, and it’s still about making money. Even if the avenues to making money this way are completely new, and sometimes at odds with the previous methods of making money, they need to be mapped before others will follow us there. If the new methods are really completely and disruptively new, maybe we even need to invent a new way of mapping before we can hope to start. But we need to do something to help if the rest of the world is going to participate in and benefit from these technologies.