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www.zidao.com Apprentice harmonizer, for sheer fun. Journeywoman writer, for work and pleasure. Starting point was Iowa, current stopping point on this journey is Switzerland, with frequent pauses around the world to watch and listen to the crowd, and occasionally make comments.

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Friday, February 03, 2006

Lift06 Blog blather 3, Geneva

Blog rags to riches

Very much enjoyed Robert Scoble's talk, especially the heartening tale of how blogging basically grew out of unemployment in Silicon Valley. Tired of corporate BS and tired of all those boring corporate names for sites, a handful of people got blogging going. The founders of what became Blogger and of Six Apart were out of work when they set up shop.

Your information isn't what you think it is

I especially liked his remark about how companies often "just don't get it": they think the Internet is about sharing information, when it's really about building relationships. His example was the plumber you need. You go to the Internet to find him. If he isn't there, you don't know about him. If there's more than one, the plumber who tells you how to fix your broken toilet is probably the one you're going to call. You're too busy and you don't have the confidence to fix your toilet yourself, but this guy has shown you that he seems to know his business. He's become something of an authority figure on toilets, as far as you're concerned. Did he lose anything by sharing his expertise?

From riches to a few more

Most companies (in fact, that is generous because I can't think of an exception) that I've worked with, consulting about their web sites, balk at sharing information. The fear of giving away the shop is very real, and very deep-seated. What a shame, because the number is growing of examples where sharing = sales. Cory Doctorow talked yesterday about how his book - I forgot to ask which one - is in its sixth printing, he's sold more than 600,000 copies - and the whole thing has been out there on the Internet all along. Robert Scoble's new book, Naked Conversations, book came together gradually on the Internet, with invitations to the world to comment and correct, which greatly improved the book, says the author.

Bit of a rant here . . .

If you were 17 and looking for exam study guidelines, would you read this?

There are plenty of cases where companies say "We own the information, we're going to sell it and not give it away". Does this work? No and no and no! This is the future fossil approach.

A particular case: I was invited to set up a communications program and then worked at the IBO (International Baccalaureate Organization) for three years, quitting because of its unhealthy internal political life. I set up a communications agency with the IBO as my client, to get it on the right track in the communications area. At the end of two years I gave them notice that I was not interested in renewing the contract. Why? Very simple: the strategic plan, which the IBO holds dear, was centered around a suck-in-the-tummy policy of not publishing much of anything for free. At some point you have to walk, and to do that you have to breathe. What little the IBO publishes is so limited as to be useless. Band-aid PR.

It's Wednesday night, you're 17, your girlfriend and 10 buddies are online and messages are flying. You've got two tests and a paper due and you want to remind yourself what exactly you're supposed to be learning for the BIG economics exam in May, on which your future and your life depend. You go online and get a message from the IBO, directed at students, about why you want to do the IB. It sounds like a bad joke, and you send a message to your friends to that effect.

The IBO works with schools to create a high school curriculum, highly respected. High school students around the world follow a syllabus for each of their six courses. The syllabus is not online, which students complain about loudly and at length.

The IBO says it has to protect its intellectual property. The syllabus is, of course, for sale, and in fairness to the IBO the price has just dropped, but you still have to pay for it, one for each of six courses, and as far as you're concerned you've already paid a lot for the privilege of signing up for this thing.

Good public relations? Definitely no. Good sales? No again. Good Internet business, following Cory Doctorw's principles which lean heavily in favor of the customer? No and no and no.

Here's the followup scenario, written by students: X's dad, obsessed with getting him into one of the "good" universities, buys everything he can find to forcefeed his son the IBO program. School's getting out at 5pm on Wednesday. Y turns to X, "Hey, can I borrow that for a night?" X is okay. Sure, he says. Y gets it up on the Internet in about 1-2 minutes, at 5.30 when he gets home, shares it with everybody, and four hours later half (a guess) of the IB students around the world have it. Their parents never knew they needed it or that the IBO was selling it.

What's happened? The students - and I've now heard a number of them say this - think the IBO is stupid. They find the document online because they're good at searching. The IBO continues to think it has a good policy because it sells some of these documents and it harasses anyone who reproduces them. It doesn't talk to students: the risk is too high that they might say what they think. And then what does a company do?

Well, I say, it thinks about the future. It starts to build tomorrow's clients today, by talking to them.

The IBO had its director general write a blog. It invited comments, and there were a few, but they were predictable in content, from the same people who speak at meetings and participate in committees. These are not the clients: students and their families.

I would rephrase what Robert Scoble said: the Internet isn't about sharing information, it's about relationships, which means dialogues, and that means listening.

Nearly 100 years ago (seriously!) my grandfather opened a pharmacy and his approach to business remained, to his dying day: the customer is king. He lived well into his 90's and the pharmacy thrived. Grandpa Lonergan sold drugs, the legal kind, and he sold Prince Edward tobacco in thin tins, warm nuts of five sorts that turned slowly in a hot nut machine (mmmmm), penny candy, coke made with syrup from one machine and the fizzy stuff from another. Everyone came in and talked business, neighborly gossip, health and whatever else people talk about.

They returned.


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