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November 8, 2007

The New Media Moguls Roundtable

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Time for a roundtable. Goodie. These are always So. Fun. To blog! Today’s table of confusion brings together Richard Jalichandra (CEO Technorati), Roger L. Simon (Pajamas Media), Jeremy Wright (b5 media), and Brad Hill (Director of Weblogs Inc.). Jason Shellen will be moderating.

[We get to try and hear the keynote over the exhibition hall music. Why are they doing this to me? Don’t they know how tired I am? This is ridiculous.]

Jason starts things off posing this question to the panelists: What challenges does blogging as a medium face in the next two years?

Roger comments he can’t hear anything and asks if he’s the only one. No, Roger, you’re not. No one can. This sucks.

Getting back on topic, Roger says that his company is moving in two different directions at once. They’re going forward with their advertising networking, trying to raise CPM rates, because they believe the audience for blogging is very special. They’ve done a lot of research to determine that. They’re setting up a network of bloggers and corresponders across the world. They have bloggers in 47 countries. They’re building this into a new kind of online AP. Roger has 100 blogs on his network and 47 correspondents who aren’t bloggers but are people who report the news.

Jeremy says b5media’s biggest challenge and opportunity is that they’re not about the A-listers. It’s about the teens, the stay at home moms, the gardeners, etc.

Jason asks Richard about the makeup of Technorati.

Richard says that they’re tracking about 110 million blogs and 300 million social media objects (yikes!). That’s not every blog in the world out there, but they’re trying to put that authority rank on things and track the ones that are relevant and that people are interested in.

Jason: What do the next few years look like for Technorati?

He says they’ve had their heritage in search but what they’ve found is that business evolves. When you’re tracking 110 million blogs, you’re really tracking the conversation. People find one blog but then they want to find associated blogs on that topic. If you ask where we’re going its about search and discovery. I spent the first week of my job looking at every blog I could find and I was amazed at how much content there was. We’re looking for a better way to bottle all that content and data.

Jason comments that it seems like people are very concerned with traffic.

Richard agrees and says that the blogging world has mimicked the way mainstream, media is in that the audience has been focusing on the top 100 blogs. They forget about all the other great stuff down below that. While they’ll always help people find the top blogs, Technorati also wants to help people discover the little guy.

Jason: It seems like old media has been taking lessons from new media in the past few years. We’ve opened the sleeping giant with things like YouTube. What can a new media network do that the old media can’t these days?

Roger: We have a number of bloggers who are old media people and we have a lot of new media people. It’s interesting to see who gets the most traffic. It’s not surprising that the new media people do better at blogging more often than the older people because it’s a different type of discourse. The old media people aren’t used to interacting in this way.

Jeremy: Our two big things are how much passionate content we can get out and how much general content can we get out.

Brad: We’re a new media group in an older media company so we straddle both sides of this question. As I’ve watched mainstream media adopt certain values of blogging, such as the speed and the commentary aspect, I’ve been struck by the similarity and the dividing link between journalism and journaling. You must find the right people who are truly authentic passionate experts and then set them free. And that has really stayed true. That’s still our operating principle now – to get the right people and put them in place and let them be the experts.

Jason: We’re talking to the CEOs of these four companies, how much time do you all have to blog?

Brad wishes he had more time to blog. He has a personal blog but it is shamefully neglected.

Richard also has a number of personal blog but he won’t tell people where they are. Heh. He finds it hard to update his company blog while maintain a full-time job, you know, that whole "running the company" thing he does.

Jeremy says his blog sucks because he just reposts his Twitters every morning.

Roger says he uses his blog strategically. He uses it to point readers to interesting places. One of the things his company is doing is that they’re looking for people with political passions. They know that’s what readers connect with.

How do you maintain that authenticity in the network when you know you’re trying to promote something?

Roger: We have a PR firm. We have ways of promoting things. We think about it that way, but we also realize that the audience is smart. If something comes along, they’ll find it. When I hear Richard talk about the number of blogs that Technorati is searching, it amazes me. How does anybody begin to read all of this, let alone think about it? There’s something odd that happens when people have that talent and skill. Those blogs just rise up.

Jeremy agrees. It’s about finding passionate people and telling them to be authentic. We don’t tell people what to write, he says. We let them be. For us, that’s where the magic happens. In that midrange where it’s one guy totally passionate, totally involved.

Brad: Just holding to that core value of letting the bloggers free is what does it. We have about 400 bloggers now under contract and we screen them fairly intensively when we recruit for new bloggers. They have to be believable and really have to have something to say. We get a tremendous torrent for people who want to write on our blogs, which is gratifying, but it’s very easy to winnow down to the talent. In this business, talent is partly about mechanical writing skill, partly about the experience and what you have to say and partly about packaging. The basic answer is we get the right people and then we have highly targeted blogs that address specific audiences. When we become inauthentic, we don’t need me or any of my colleagues to tell us to step back. Our readers let us have it fast and hard

Is there something that right now would be a perfect type of blog for your networks?

Richard: It changes on a daily basis. If you look at the top tags in searches it changes every time. Whatever people are talking about that day, we’ll hear about it. If there’s a big event, we’ll get a traffic spike. We’re just listening.

Roger: He would never, ever prescribe to someone what they should write about. You don’t tell writers what to write about, you just give them a platform. Once you anchor that well, they can expand into other things. We very deliberately keep ourselves wide open.

Jeremy: Focus-wise we cover 14 verticals. In terms of what’s popular, they do well when bad things happen – Lindsey Lohan has a wardrobe malfunction, Meredith Grey drowns on Grey Anatomy, etc. Awesome!

Brad: We have 6 verticals that are fairly fat. The vertical that’s front and center on their radar is the Lifestyle vertical. In terms of what he sees in the future, he sees richer media for certain.

Most people are more likely to Twitter than blog on a daily basis. How does that factor into new media? What can new media learn from old media?

Richard: It’s interesting you talk about that. He was just doing a BlogTalk radio interview related to that idea. He realizes that Technorati can’t spider everything. They have to focus on what’s more important to the audience.

Brad: Twitter is fine. I’m a Twitter-er. It doesn’t play that big of a part in our business, except that our team Twitters excessively. What comes to mind is the idea of syndication. The truth is most of your devoted readers find you through RSS and never, ever interact with your actual site. It’s sad, but this is the reality of the new world. You have to push your stuff off your site and put it where people are. It’s an old media concept that your audience should come to you. Blogging has always been about giving. We’re all connected to each other and everything is so communal. It’s about sharing traffic, not hoarding it.

Jeremy: We love rising tide stuff. We try and do everything we can to promote the industry of blogging because it’s not so crowded that we’re competing for ad dollars or syndication deals.

How do you define blogging at the network level?

Roger: I ask myself that question a lot. I think that these are things that we can let evolve by themselves. The word "blog" itself probably wasn’t the first pick in the English language. He looks at the Internet like an electronic equivalent of the Pacific Ocean, meaning that it’s endless. Some of the models that we’re using now won’t be around 10 years from now. To worry about whether this is a "blog" or a "media company", who cares? Do your thing, move on, let’s do it.

Jeremy: I don’t really care of it’s a blog or not. If it has great content and the person is passionate about it, that’s all we’re interested in. Whether we’re doing things that look like magazine or something random, we don’t really care too much as long as people are having fun and posting things they’re passionate about.

Brad: I agree. What is a blog? If it doesn’t have comments, does that mean its not a blog? The most liberating definition has to be the platform. That it’s a rapid publishing that organizes its content chronologically.

What have you learned at each of your companies about operating a platform that users can use?

Jeremy: If you write well, you write often, and you engage your audience and community, to me that’s the perfect blog.

Richard: Having been on the job for 39 days he’s still amazed at the sheer volume and quality of the global conversation.

Brad: It is staggering. There’s a lot of noise out there. One of the biggest challenges of a blogger is to cut through at least some of the time. But I don’t think that should be your goal. I think your goal should just be to get published.

Question & Answer

[We’ve totally gone over. There isn’t even time for question and answer!]

How do Digg and Reddit affect the social news space?

Roger: We’re all living with them now. People have criticized these groups because some members just sit on there all day and do things to screw with the rankings. When I read a newspaper, I don’t read it the same way I used to because I’m reading news online. Today everybody is throwing you in a different direction. The answer to your question is that I’ve been BSing you for two days. I don’t know.

Brad: Digf and the others are fabulous. Anything that’s good for the user is good for us. Digg and the social news site help because it links the publisher and the user. Digg is one of our biggest referrers.

Jeremy: What’s fascinating is the personality with the specific sites.

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