Mediabistro Circus’s session about blogging featured Eric Hellweg, Editorial director for harvardbusiness.org; Noah Shachtman, Contributing editor for the Danger Room Blog (on Wired.com); Anil Dash, Vice President of Six Apart; and Elisa Camahort, cofounder of Blogher.
Hellweg kicked things off, talking about how blogging (and the web overall) has changed the way publications interact with customers. While historically, publishing has been “transactional,” it’s now a more relational process, and, in order to keep up, publications need to invert the traditional editorial roles. If you’re used to “being the voice of God,” now it’s time to “listen to the congregation.”
He went on to elaborate upon how while traditional publishing was one to man and the traditional editorial was a gatekeeper approach, things are clearly moving to an aggregation; editors need to take on more of a curatorial role. Nothing we hadn’t heard before really and all pretty standard stuff (we’re firmly on that bandwagon here at Fast Company!)
More interesting was the idea Hellweg threw out about how potential authors (or those in the process of writing or reworking a book) can test their ideas and theories, as well as build up a strong audience, by leveraging the blogosphere. “Blogs are terrific for idea generation… this can become a pretty compelling argument for an author… You can use the blogosphere to your competitive advantage.” One fundamental question that comes to mind, which I would have put to Hellweg had there been more time – what happens with intellectual property rights on such content?
Next came Elisa Camahort. Appropriately clad in fiery red, the vivacious BlogHer COO gave an impassioned speech about the transformational power of blogging: “blogs are mainstream, addictive and trusted.” She cited statistics from the BlogHer/Compass Partners 2008 Social Media Benchmark study to support these claims and talked about how blogs have changed the way people live their lives, affecting not only the first things they do when they wake up every morning, but also the type of information they have access to, and the communities they create or join.
A particularly compelling instance of this was her account of a call to action after Hurricane Katrina — a woman (called Grace) set up a blog from within her kitchen after being contacted by (or perhaps contacted) a person in Mississippi who had a car and a cell phone. The woman with the car drove around to different regions and shelters, communicating to Grace which shipping company serviced where, what shelters really needed supplies, and what supplies were needed. Through Grace documenting all this on her blog, people could ship supplies that were needed directly to those in need, bypassing all the red tape and missing funds that inevitably come with going through a middleman.
Then Noah Shachtman talked for a bit about how he got to be a big timer at Wired from having started blogging in the spare room of his grandmas house. An interesting journey, the takeaway from which being that it really helps to have a niche (Noah’s blog Danger Room is about national security and defense.)
Finally, Anil Dash came on stage to talk about the “useful construct” of “rip, mix, burn.” With the Web, there are no definitive stories like the Iliad that are passed down because there are no definitive versions – things constantly get transformed and then passed down. “The default behavior with what we do with media is to rip, mix, burn” he explained, the prevailing attitude to music being a primary example.
Dash went on to say that the centralization of content cannot exist for much longer. Having to brand your content on platforms provided by a select host of big names like Google, Facebook, AOL, Yahoo, MySpace etc., “to give up your brand and be subservient,” will not continue in the future.
“These companies want to hold you hostage and you don’t have to put up with that,” said Dash. This centralization doesn’t work in media. It already fell apart in television,’ he explained where there aren’t just a few channels. He compared such big companies to ice cubes that must melt and go back into the water they were made of. “Platforms are made of the Web.”
His answer to controlling your own content and data – blogs. Blogs are the platform that let people mix all this content together; blogs give artists and individuals the opportunity to own their own content, on their terms.
Friending people, having profiles and sharing information are all features that are, or can be, built into blogging today. “Every blog has a network… it’s the long tail of social networks. This,” he says is the future of your media brand.”