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Blogs - Where's the Beef?

Copyright Jeffrey Geibel, All Rights Reserved

Note: Be sure to check the updates on this commentary at the end of the article.

"I don't want to see us descend into a nation of bloggers." Steve Jobs, June 7, 2010 - Wall Street Journal interview

"A lot of people have been in and out of this thing," Plummer said. "Everyone thinks they have something to say, until they're put on stage and asked to say it." - Daryl Plummer, chief Gartner fellow

With all the recent frenzy over blogs, one would think that the Internet equivalent of the Gutenberg press with movable type had just arrived. Upon closer scrutiny, it's more the case of some good old hype, with a little breathless high-tech type tabloid reporting thrown in for good measure. Here's a contrarian opinion to the over-enthusiasm on blogs, and a few caveats for both bloggers and counter-bloggers alike.

It's hard to ignore the media fascination with blogs. Those thousands of on line journals and diaries that are all interlinked are going to revolutionize communication - so the story goes. Anecdotal tales of bloggers forcing the retirement of Dan Rather and forcing a Kryptonite lock recall add to the legend. Quick - go out and create your own blog. Hire an agency to monitor the Internet for what bloggers are saying about your company - have your PR firm ‘pitch' the bloggers, too.

Un-huh. I decide to take a close look at the blog issue, in case it was a genuine sea change. What I found was that is just something old, something new - and blogs have, in fact, been around a while.

The claims of the power of blogs (by Fortune magazine, no less, in a recent article on blogs) are more than a bit of a stretch. Dan Rather's predicament was fueled by poor fact checking at CBS news (no surprises there), and aided more than a few persons in the Bush administration who were less than enthusiastic about Rather and gleefully willing to leverage any situation that would cast doubt on CBS' credibility. And, of course, internal CBS politics (and possibly economics, given the money-losing news operations and Rather's reputed $7 million salary). The situation with the Kryptonite lock (a blogger reported it could be picked with a ball-point pen forcing a $10 million recall by the manufacturer) apparently didn't pick up momentum until it as reported by the New York Times and Associated Press - as was mentioned by the Fortune article. To attribute both of these results purely to blogs, as indicative of their power - well, maybe you should believe those Nigerian emails that ask you for your bank account number so they can wire money to you.

Blogs have actually been around for awhile. One of the more famous (or infamous) is F**ked, a bog run by a guy who goes by the pseudonym of Pud. Originally designed as a parody of the magazine Fast Company (whose lawyers took a dim view of the use of the same design and color scheme, forcing a change), the site would post various layoff notices and the like, and posters would add to the thread. For the first few years, the site would be a repository of inside information on the trials and tribulations of the high tech industry (eventually expanded to other industries). However, over the last few years, the site has descended into rants that have nothing to do with the original posted topics - one of the implicit dangers of an unmoderated forum.

The Boston Globe attempted something similar online, calling it Digital Dirt. It was around for about a year or so - documenting the comings and goings in the Boston high tech scene. Unfortunately, several of the posters named names in their acerbic comments - among the management of the companies that were discussed. Apparently the lawyers for these companies contacted the Globe - and being no stranger to libel suits - the Globe closed it down.

No doubt there are other pre-blog blogs, but these are two that come to mind that demonstrate the problems with blogs - they are unstructured and unsupervised information flows, with all the attendant problems.

To be sure, some are enamored with the novelty of blogs but that will soon wear off. There will be some sites that, like cult films, attract a certain following but you'll have to be a fan to see any value in them. As with the late Hunter S. Thompson's writing style - there is only so much gonzo journalism that can be digested.

With the sheer mass of information on the Internet - the value is in finding what you are looking for as opposed to endless surfing. That's why Google has been so successful. The sites that are of value are those that are forums - dedicated to specific topics - with threads that are moderated to keep them on track and dispense with the occasional flamer. If you want to see an advanced forum - check out - it's dedicated to cellular technology, carriers and phones. It contains more information on various topics such as reception, technical problems by phone model and make, etc. Granted, you have to be into cell phones - but if you are- it is the site to reference. On one of the forums within the site - there started to be some exchanges similar to Pud's site (obscene rants) - but they were quickly shut down by the moderators.

Other examples of forums used successfully by companies are those by the motherboard manufacturer Abit (a well-known and respected overclocking-gamer Taiwanese board manufacturer, now out of business. ASUS appears to have taken their mantle.) - which have threads for each model of motherboard - allowing users to search and pinpoint technical problems and suggested solution by forum posters. I would go so far as to recommend that any company with technical product have forums - for serious users, it greatly enhances the value of the product to be able to find solutions 7x24.

But what about blogs - in terms of their marketing or anti-marketing value? Philosophically, blogs are akin to word of mouth marketing - the ‘mouth' being the Internet. The being said, they have all the strengths and shortcomings of word of mouth marketing - the commentaries are just as likely to be uniformed and biased as they are informative and accurate.

Savvy reviewers will be able to parse out misinformed commentary - but what of false and damaging information on a company is posted in blogs?

Companies are not without recourse - the first being to address the false information on its own website. Caution has to be exercised so as not to over react, or respond in such a way as to give credibility to the claims - but rather to structurally discredit them, preferably with third-party information.

Another is to have a 'blog SWAT Team' which would monitor blogs, and will quickly counter any inaccurate or negative blog postings with blog counter-postings of their own. That's they way it is done in politics - one partisan attack is canceled by the opponent's counter attack. If you don't reply - you then run the risk of the shrill partisan comments becoming accepted as "fact" - or worse yet, never-ending urban legend.

Another factor to remember is the with so much information being posted to the web - within a very short amount of time, any posting becomes ‘stale'. So the strategy of ignoring irrelevant blogs is always an option.

If postings become damaging to on-going marketing efforts and need to be forcefully addressed - legal action is always an option. (Apple is a big fan of that course of action.) In fact - you can expect to see some of this against blogs, just as there has been legal action against file sharing of copyrighted material (e.g., posting songs on the Internet.) A blogger has to remember that a hosting ISP is needed, and usually, they are not willing to stand behind a blogger's postings.

So will blogs revolutionize journalism and marketing? Hardly. Once their novelty wears off, they will become just another aspect of the Internet. Some good, many worthless. That's what Microsoft is betting on. In the Fortune article, it is mentioned that a junior Microsoft employee is running a quasi-official blog that - shock - isn't 100% Microsoft cheerleading. The Fortune article would have you to believe that this represents an acknowledgment by Microsoft of the ‘power' of blogs. Not hardly. Microsoft is a company that is built on control - if they were serious about the power of a blog - it would be run by Bill G himself. But in a somewhat telling comment - he remarked that he just doesn't have the time. One wonders if he even reads it.

Update: 04/24/2012 Real Story Behind Corporate Blogging Survey Numbers

According to a University of Massachusetts Dartmouth report, corporate blogging appears to be on the decline. Of the companies they surveyed, only 37 percent were blogging in 2011. That’s down from 50 percent in 2010. If you look only at Fortune 500 companies, the percentage drops to 23 percent (via

Update: May 18, 2011 -By Tom Foremski ZDNet - Survey finds most journalists shun social media and blogs A survey of nearly 500 journalists across 15 countries has found that some journalists use social media and blogs to source and verify stories. But the majority don’t.

- 53% of journalists do not use Twitter for story sources.

- Two-thirds don’t use Facebook.

- 70% do not use blogs.

- 58% do not use unfamiliar blogs.

That’s a striking set of numbers and it goes to show how far behind the majority of journalists are in using the many research and sourcing tools at their disposal.

Update: June 5 2009 -Blogs Falling in an Empty Forest NY Times; According to a 2008 survey by Technorati, which runs a search engine for blogs, only 7.4 million out of the 133 million blogs the company tracks had been updated in the past 120 days. That translates to 95 percent of blogs being essentially abandoned, left to lie fallow on the Web, where they become public remnants of a dream — or at least an ambition — unfulfilled. Judging from conversations with retired bloggers, many of the orphans were cast aside by people who had assumed that once they started blogging, the world would beat a path to their digital door. Richard Jalichandra, chief executive of Technorati, said that at any given time there are 7 million to 10 million active blogs on the Internet, but “it’s probably between 50,000 and 100,000 blogs that are generating most of the page views.” He added, “There’s a joke within the blogging community that most blogs have an audience of one.”

Update: Jan 31 2007 CALGARY - Professor Says Bloggers Are Losers - Bloggers are living in a world where emotions may be real but everything else is make-believe, says a University of Calgary professor in a new book. Blogs are everywhere on the Internet these days and often reveal the innermost feelings of individuals who hate their jobs, activists with a political cause or even angst-ridden teenagers in the throes of first love. The popularity of sites such as, which contains virtually thousands of blogs, is a testament to the world of self-expression. But Michael Keren, who has written "Blogosphere: The New Political Arena," suggests individuals who bare their souls in blogs are isolated and lonely, living in a virtual reality instead of forming real relationships or helping to change the world.

Update: Dec 13 2006 BOSTON (AP) - Could blogging be near the peak of its popularity? The technology gurus at Gartner Inc. (IT) believe so. One of the research company's top 10 predictions for 2007 is that the number of bloggers will level off in the first half of next year at roughly 100 million worldwide. The reason: Most people who would ever dabble with Web journals already have. Those who love it are committed to keeping it up, while others have gotten bored and moved on, said Daryl Plummer, chief Gartner fellow. "A lot of people have been in and out of this thing," Plummer said. "Everyone thinks they have something to say, until they're put on stage and asked to say it." That's no knock on blogging. Plummer noted that this leveling-off dynamic plays out all the time, though it often comes as a bit of a surprise when it hits things that had achieved quick popularity.

Update: Nov 22, 2006 NEW YORK (AP) - A growing number of Americans are listening to podcasts, but very few do so every day. The Pew Internet and American Life Project said Wednesday that 12 percent of Internet users have downloaded a podcast, an increase from 7 percent earlier in the year. However, only about 1 percent said they download a podcast on a typical day - unchanged from the survey earlier this year. The rest do so less frequently, perhaps only once.

Update: July 19, 2006 NEW YORK (AP) -- The most high-profile blogs may be about news, politics or technology, but the vast majority of Web journals are more personal in nature, a survey found. "My life and experiences" was cited as the primary focus by 37 percent of U.S. bloggers, with politics and government a distant second at 11 percent, according to the study issued Wednesday by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. The study also found that most bloggers - 84 percent - consider their blog mostly a hobby, not something they spend a lot of time on. Nearly 60 percent spend only one or two hours a week on it, and half the bloggers say they do it mostly for themselves, not for an audience.

Update: Apr 6, 2006 WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- Everybody seems to talk about podcasts, but nobody seems to listen to them. A report from Forrester Research Thursday said that podcasts have hit the mainstream consciousness, but only 1% of U.S. online consumers say they use them regularly. Charlene Lee, principal analyst for "Podcasting Hits the Charts," is typical. "It's been months since I synced my iPod, because I'm not commuting anymore and I just don't have time to listen," she admitted in an interview. Podcasts have other challenges. "Using podcasts remains complicated and content remains sparse," the Forrester report said.

Update: Feb 22, 2006 Bloggy, we hardly knew ye Chicago Tribune; A new report from Gallup pollsters, "Blog Readership Bogged Down," cautions that "the growth in the number of U.S. blog readers was somewhere between nil and negative in the past year."

Gallup finds only 9 percent of Internet users saying they frequently read blogs, with 11 percent reading them occasionally. Thirteen percent of Internet users rarely bother, and 66 percent never read blogs. Those numbers, essentially unchanged from a year earlier, put blog-reading dead last among Gallup's measures of 13 common Internet activities. E-mailing ranks first (with 87 percent of users doing so frequently or occasionally), followed by checking news and weather (72), shopping (52) and making travel plans (also 52). Gallup concludes that while the amount of time people spend online has risen, "it appears the online public is simply doing more of the same activities, rather than branching out and trying different Internet offerings."

Update: An article in the June 26, 2005 edition of The Boston Globe titled For a fee, some blogs boost firms, described how some bloggers are taking undisclosed payments for what would appear to be unsolicited endorsements of products and services.

Here's the motivation:

The more companies can get bloggers to link to their websites, the higher their sites will appear on Google's search list. Google ranks its listings, in part, on how many Web pages link to a website. So paying $5 to a few thousand bloggers is a small price for companies such as Dot Flowers to move up closer to the first page of results in a Google search. For that reason, some advertisers joke that blog actually is an acronym for ''better listing on Google."

© 2005, 2006 Jeffrey Geibel, All Rights Reserved - Wireservice reports and other attributed sources are cited for the purpose of professional commentary.

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