Saturday, May 20, 2006

Search world less muddy (slightly)

We've learned quite a bit about the capabilities of modern search engines. I'll be attending the Enterprise Search Summit next week in New York, so I'm hoping that will clear up a lot of the nuts and bolts of it all. Sessions on constructing a taxonomy, etc.

While something like Autonomy would be great, we really don't have the resources to put it together just yet. Instead, we're probably going to go with more of the mid-range offerings. Leading contender at this point is Northern Lights. They are very low on the price scale (usually a warning sign), but I get good vibes from them every time we talk -- I have a very scientific vendor selection process, no?

They started as one of the dozen of Internet search engines in the 90s. Since then, they've gone through a few iterations to their current positioning as a Linux specialty search engine. It may be because they've always had an engineer on the phone call, but they strike me as a group that is passionate about search technology (weird as that may seem). Their engine seems to do everything that the ones charging $50k per year can do and they're genuinely interested in coming up with novel new uses for it. With the low price point, I see lots of potential to experiment with different options and gadgets on the search.

Back in the saddle

My apologies to my thousands of readers, I've been a bit slackery.

The audience driven content ideas are much more fully formed now than they were at my last post almost two months ago.

One lesson we learned is that blogs are VERY labor intensive. The AMA pub blogs are dying on the vine from lack of host activity (editors are just not bothering to post like they should, so no wonder there's no activity). As a result, we're approaching this from more of a team blog perspective -- either having multiple authors posting or using an RSS feed from an existing blogger to pull in commentary on the subject. I think that will work out a lot better.

Ran the plan by Toby Bloomberg and Dana Vanden Heuvel -- both were enthusiastic and offered helpful suggestions. In particular, they liked our idea of tying reader feedback and the site search algorithm into the quality assessment process. Also, the search alerts (either e-mail or RSS) to let users define search strings on the site and get an alert when new content meets those criteria.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

So far so good

We've been running discussion blogs on the AMA Web site ( for a few weeks now and so far so good. We still need to get better at promotion -- activity is fairly low because not many people know about these yet -- but there have been some audience postings and even some back-and-forth discussion.

Thus far, my biggest fear has not come to pass. The quality of the discussion has been very professional. None of the "Hi mom" kind of stuff I was worried about.

Here's what we have so far:

Marketing News:
Marketing Management:
Journal of Marketing: (to launch with the June issue)
Marketing Soapboxes: (still a concept, but coming soon)

Thursday, February 23, 2006

How the music industry can adapt

This is semi-unrelated to the topic on this blog, but I figure my "thousands" of readers want to hear me fix the music industry.

File sharing is bleeding the recording companies. College kids -- likely a huge source of revenue in the past -- tend to view the idea of buying music as quaint. This is a huge problem now, and more of one later because I suspect people tend to spend less on music as they get older (I did anyway).

The music industry's structure was developed in the 50s and 60s, centered around recording, marketing and distributing physical media through retail outlets. Now, all that's left in the process that's unique is all the artists creating new music. Retail stores are growing less important (possibly excepting the online retailers like iTunes). Distributors, etc. are almost useless.

Record companies primarily provide the marketing support for music. That is still needed because people don't have time or interest in screening every wannabe garage band to find music to listen to.

The need to phase out the distributors and other dinosaurs and work with online resources like bloggers and Internet radio types. Blogging is all about personal recommendations for other reading (trackback links, blogroll, etc.). Music buffs can play the same role for the music industry: they can screen and recommend new artists to a less involved public. That seems a far cheaper marketing avenue than the current route.

These music buffs will eventually realize their power and get demanding. So what? When they start acting like spoiled brats, people will abandon them in favor of others who are not "corrupted". Therefore, it's a constantly renewing resource for the record companies.

I'll solve the rest of the world's problems tomorrow. :)

Hard to find a good blog

I've been using blogs for more than a year now to get news -- politics is a hobby. I always found it very easy to find the best blogs out there, and to follow links, etc. between blogs to find new ones.

I've not found that to be the case thus far with business- and professional-oriented blogs. At least the ones I've been surveying lately tend to be islands unto themselves. You have someone -- typically someone who recently wrote a book -- writing blog entries at less frequency than the news-oriented ones. There seems to be far less back-and forth dialogue going on, and I rarely find a blog that will comment and link to postings on another blog. The best I can do if I find a useful blog is scroll through that blogroll list, choose one at random and hope for the best.

I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that the news/political blogs lend themselves to more of a team atmosphere. While the individual bloggers want themselves promoted, made famous and influential, they want to do so within the context of advancing a philosophical point of view. Because of that, these blogs tend to team up and cross-promote each other. For example, The Northern Alliance (presumably named after the anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan) is a conservative-oriented group of news/political blogs led by Hugh Hewitt.

The more effective groups are the ones that rise to the top. There doesn't seem to be a similar team-oriented approach to professional/career blogs -- at least, I haven't stumbled across it yet.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Nice idea to add to the site if we're going to be relying heavily on user feedback to drive content decisions and intra-site decisions. Posting on Church of the Customer blog about companies that post their user survey results.

The point is that it gives the companies more credibility by displaying both the good and the bad in terms of survey results. They're not just running a survey to feel good, or to solicit testimonials, they really care or they wouldn't dare post the results online -- too easy for someone to come along and see no progress on dealing with the issues revealed in the survey.

For my purposes on this blog -- trying to work through the issues of changing the AMA's Web site to go from an editor/journalism driven site to a more customer driven site. Telling people what we're doing and why will be a good way to build credibility. That is, ultimately, the only thing we're "selling" anyway.

New blog for me, they are now bookmarked. :)

Change Agents

Here's one I've stepped in a few times. Post on Tom Peters (!) blog on the trouble Larry Summers is having at Harvard. He's reportedly about to face another "No confidence" vote.

I think the substance of the Harvard debate is beyond silly, but it brings up a good point about how you go about introducing change -- particularly when you don't have the power to decree things as you'd like.

I've always found a soft approach much more productive. Before introducing a new idea as a take it or leave it proposition, take the time to sit down with the key decision-makers and talk through a "wacky idea." It gives them a chance to take some ownership of the idea -- most likley they'll be adding to it and making it better anyway. That severely reduces the resistance when you finally do introduce.

Yes, it requires swallowing some pride and sharing credit, but it's certainly better than the alternative.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Journalism blinders

How can it be any good if no one reviews it?

I come from a journalism background (although I'm recovering nicely) and that kept me from understanding blogging for a long time. I had a process drilled into my head where content does not have any value unless it's been vetted by at least two or three people. Blogging just seemed so ... unprofessional.

However, what this does is expand the pool of reviewing editors a thousandfold. Maybe not for my particular blog (yet), but if you look at all the content produced every day by thousands of bloggers, there is a powerful, unseen corrective action going on. It's similar to the "unseen hand" Adam Smith talked about in Wealth of Nations. In a free market economy, there is no overall plan. Thousands of individuals freely choose to interact with someone else for mutual advantage (I want his chicken more than I want the bushel of corn I trade for it, and vice versa). The net effect of all those uncontrolled transactions is a postive good for the group. Everyone ultimately gets the goods they want and need. It would be impossible for a panel of smart guys to distribute resources as effectively.

The same is true of ideas. A reporter is generally not an expert on any subject he covers. He talks to a few sources (at least three, generally) and makes a decision about what facts to include, and what to exclude. That is an incredibly tiny window from which to make decisions.

People talk about liberal bias in the media. It is there, but its not a conspiracy. It's nothing more than the inevitable result of limited perspective. People who work in newsrooms are almost always on the liberal side - they seem drawn to modern journalism's "crusading activist" approach (we give voice to the powerless, etc.). Because the perspective is so limited, they have a hard time processing new information.

For example, when you cut taxes governments lose money, right? Well, not exactly. If you own a business you make a little bit of money off each sale. If you need more money, you can either try to raise your prices and make more on each transaction, or you can lower your prices and make less on each individual transaction, but make more overall because more people come to your store. So what do you do? Advertise a sale and bring in more traffic.

Government works the same way. It takes a percentage off the top of economic activity. If the percentage off the top is smaller, you get more economic activity. When you cut taxes, revenues go up because the money that used to go to the government is free for more productive use.

Journalists often don't see this because they tend to lack any business or economics training. If I cut my salary by 20%, I make less money ... therefore if the government cuts taxes by 20% it will make less money and calamity follows.

It's a perspective problem. Blogs are the cure. For every reporter who puts out a boilerplate "tax cuts will ruin us all" article, there are dozens of economists on blogs correcting the record by expanding the perspective.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Must be a control issue

I've been working on a project here to get our publishing staff into the blogging world. It's tough going.

I've been trying to figure out why, and I think it boils down to a control issue. Traditional journalists are taught a system where nothing goes out without being reviewed by at least two other people -- fact checking, grammar, etc.

Putting them in a blog world is a different experience because the outside world is your editorial review panel. You put out the ideas and see what comes back -- if anything comes back. You have even less control over what your audience says than over your own ideas.

I can understand the fear, but that doesn't mean the solution is to avoid it. Our publications tend to be fairly bland because they're not written by marketing experts. They're written by reporters. Furthermore, they tend not to have much outside contact with marketers besides the interviewing process when they're working on a story. As this moves along, I'm hoping they'll start to see the blog experience as a better way to find sources and story ideas. It's just proving harder than I thought to get them there.

We're also planning to start working out outside people on mini-blogs -- these will be marketers. Interesting to see if they take to blogging easier.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Naked Conversations

I've been roaming randomly through business oriented blogs for the past few days -- mostly marketing oriented. I keep coming across mentions of a new book called Naked Conversations, which I think is a new book on corporate blogging that was written in public over a blog -- VERY interesting concept.

Seems like a freaky way to write a book though -- often when I'm writing the first and second versions are not particularly good. These guys, Shel Israel & Robert Scoble, deserve a lot of credit for having the guts to give it a shot.