34,000 feet. If you're lucky you can see a long way from 34,000 feet on a clear day. If you're not all you get to see is wing and cloud with the odd glimpse of land through holes in the water vapour. Yet even when the weather's good it's hard to make out much detail from so high – you can actually see a lot more just after take off when you're only a few thousand feet up.
Seeing further doesn't mean seeing more.
BlogTalk is behind me now. Temporally. Physically. But not mentally. Mentally I'm cruising at an altitude of 10,000 ft, in clear air, circling over the various topics and conversations that are laid out below me. Question really is where to land? Which subject do I address first?
A lot was said at BlogTalk both in the conference room and outside of it. Now, a week later, these are the things that have stuck in my mind.
Blogs in business
We heard quite a bit about blogs in the knowledge management sphere – how companies are starting to use blogs and other social tools to help them gather information that's currently locked up inside their employee's heads and to bring new information to people's attention. Blogs are also being used in project management as a way of building teams and encouraging constructive risk taking and collaboration.
Many of those working in this area are having to deal with the fact that the majority of people just don't know what blogs are, so there's a large amount of persuading and evangelising to be done in order to get users to accept these tools. Ninety per cent of the work is educating people and changing their existing mindset so that they can learn how to get the most out of blogging.
Writing your own blog and earning revenue through ad clickthroughs is not the only way to make money from blogging.
As the power of blogs as a conversational communication tool becomes more widely understood, I think we'll see and increase in blogs used by companies to create and maintain a corporate identity and for marketing conversations with their customers.
I see the Corporate ID Blog as basically building a personal relationship between the customer and the company, giving updates as to products or company policy or informing the customer of developments and future directions. The Marketing Blog addresses the needs and interests of users/buyers of a specific product, building a community of people who are united by a specific set of issues. Unlike traditional marketing, which exists to name drop, marketing blogs will have to reconsider marketing in terms of community and dialogue, scrapping the broadcast model in favour of the new conversational model.
Soon there's going to be a whole new creative industry, that of the Professional Blogger. It's going to take a raft of skills, not just good copy writing, but also research, networking, conversational, educational and moderation skills. A professional blogger needs to be able to understand the client, how the blog medium can work for them and how to steer blog-based conversations to ensure that the client doesn't get frightened off and that the readers don't get bored. It's not just a matter of throwing a standard blog solution at a site in the hope that it will stick.
As I've already mentioned here, I had long and fascinating conversations about multilingual blogs at BlogTalk, although sadly there were no presentations on that topic. That is surprising in retrospect, considering that the majority of attendees were themselves bi- or multilingual.
One of the main issues with bilingual blogging is that blog tools are not set up for it. If you are using a hosted service then the chances are that you will be using either English, or your local language if you are lucky enough to have a localised version. If you use tools such as WordPress and have the skills then you can hack the code to make it behave in a more bilingual way, as Steph has. It's not a perfect solution though, and we need to consider the issues around bilingual blogging so that appropriate tools can be developed.
The basic solution is to run separate blogs for each language you write in, but that can be cumbersome and result in one blog being neglected. Easier is to put all your languages on one blog, but then you risk confusing and possibly annoying monolingual readers, or of reducing one language to minority status. Ideally one could administer a bilingual blog which would allow you to create two sets of blog furniture, depending on the language of the entry, and allow for easy categorisation and cross-referencing.
That's really just scraping the surface of it – I need to spend much more time mulling this over and to blog more about it. Meantime, Steph and I have set up a Multilingual Blogging topic on Topic Exchange so please ping it if you write about this subject, in any language.
Collaboration and the hivemind
One of the most enjoyable aspects of BlogTalk was the collaborative note taking, co-ordinated using Rendezvous and SubEthaEdit. It is a crying shame that these are Mac-only applications because that excluded quite a few people from the process. What was interesting was that taking part in the note taking changed my experience of the conference.
For starters, by communicating in a backchannel such as Rendezvous or IRC you get a much stronger feeling of community. I didn't get to use the IRC channel much, but I've seen it at work during other conferences (that I wasn't present at). That was a shame, but it was mainly due to being on an unfamiliar computer.
By collaborating simultaneously in real time note taking I found that my level of concentration really stepped up a gear. I went from being easily distracted, even though I was handwriting my own notes, to focusing so intently on what was being said that I resented anything that interrupted me. The density of my note taking by hand was pretty light – diagrams, bullet points, the usual sorts of things. The other note takers followed the same tactics in SubEthaEdit, but when I got my hands on Steph's laptop, I went into overdrive, virtually transcribing everything that was said.
I don't know if that was a good thing or not, and nor am I sure why my style so drastically changed between media. Possibly it has something to do with the fact that I am a bit dyslexic so find handwriting stuff not as easy as typing it. And I am a demon touch-typist, so I can easily match a moderately paced speaker, particularly if I don't worry about accuracy. Add to that my completist personality and maybe that gives us a clue.
Again, there is room for development of techniques in this. As I mentioned, this was a Mac-only experience, and it was a shame to exclude people from it. I am also not sure if it would scale up particularly well – if you had too many people working on one document it risks becoming messy and a bit slow. As it was, there was a smallish core of about half a dozen note takers, usually with one person taking the lead and others chipping in with lost/misheard bits or to correct typos.
What would be valuable, but which doesn't seem to be happening as much as I would have expected is the reformatting and expansion of the notes now that they're in the wiki. The SubEthaEdit documents that were wikified were just a starting point and there is no feeling amongst the perpetrators that the resulting wiki is in anyway owned by us. With so many attendees who could add their notes and knowledge into the mix, it is a shame to see that this is not happening.
I suspect the problem is that wikis are an ugly solution to a simple problem – formatting a wiki is a bit of a nightmare, particularly when they can't even cope with a single line break, as opposed to a paragraph break. Someone somewhere needs to seriously address general wiki usability.
Points to consider
Beyond these core areas of interest were a whole bunch of other things that I need to delve more deeply into when I have the time.
– Blogs are oral communications in a written format. What implications does this have for those of us working in this area professionally? How can this format be adapted to business use and how will businesses need to adapt in order to make best use of the blog format?
– Video blogs. Will video blogging be the next big thing or are people happy with the simpler, more basic moblog? Are barriers to entry, such as bandwidth requirements and complexity of format, too high?
– Geourls and geoblogging. It's easy to tie a website or blog to a geographical location with a geourl, but what practical uses does it have? And would geobloggers make themselves vulnerable by publicising their exact location? How can moblogs – particularly individual entries in a moblog – utilise geourls, maybe alongside GPS, to provide additional useful image metadata? (I haven't checked, but surely this must have been done already though? It's such a no-brainer.)
– Forming networks. Blogs are invaluable as networking tools, but they don't work well in isolation. What other tools are required to make the best of blog networking opportunities and what are the emergent behaviours amongst users?
– Categorisation. It is too easy to lump all blogs together under one, ill-fitting umbrella, and extend conclusions from one small subsection of the blogosphere to the whole thing. How can we categorise the blogosphere and where do common generalisations fall down or turn into misconceptions?
– I really need to write a book, but at the moment I feel like a magpie locked in a shop full of Swarovski crystal – so much sparkliness that I'm really not sure where to start.