: This morning, Tony Perkins, the frequently controversial founder of Red Herring and now Always On, held a fancy breakfast — appropriately, at New York media hangout Michael’s — bringing together natives of the blog, social software, and media tribes. Give Perkins his props: He took crap from many (including me) for keynoting a Jupiter blog conference before he knew how to spell the word. But he clearly sees that there’s something big here. He’s clearly eager to learn more. And he’s equally eager to get close to this new magic dust and let it rub off on him. That’s why he’s trying to include social software in his online tech/investment magazine. That’s why he’s covering it there. And that’s why he bought scrambled eggs and OJ.
David Kirkpatrick of Fortune acted as Oprah. The panel included Anil Dash of Six Apart, Clay Shirky, VC Fred Wilson, blog queen Elizabeth Spiers, and the heads of two social-software companies, Tribe.net and Spoke. The audience included reporters from the NY Times, the Wall St. Journal, Reuters, Ad Age, and MediaPost; bloggers; and assorted VCs and related companies.
A few interesting moments [click on the “more” link]:
: VC Fred Wilson (who, with his partner, Brad Burnham, announced the name of their new fund, Union Square Ventures) is also paying close attention to this space — to weblogs, social networks, and syndication. He argued with the kind of binoculars-to-the-eyes focus I haven’t heard from his tribe in awhile that thanks to these technologies and their use by us, the market, advertising is forever changed. “The push model of advertising is over. It’s over,” Fred decreed. “It’s just a matter of time before people realize it. It’s toast.”
I’m not sure I agree 100 percent; the statement is made so baldly for effect. There’ll always be billboards by the highway and new brands to put on them. But Fred is still pointing to the right horizon: The more that advertising can find the right audience — thanks, again, to these media and technology developments — the more efficient and productive advertising will become for the advertiser and advertisee, and the less we’ll see of “push advertising.”
This sounds a bit like the two-two-two-mints-in-one argument we heard at the start of the Web: Is it a branding medium? Is it a direct response medium? Can it be both? It’s something else.
: The state of the online art is advancing in ways that begin to let us finally answer those questions and say something else: It’s a medium where consumers ask to be sold and sell each other when they trust each other.
Someone (sorry, I didn’t write down who) said that advertising can be targeted more reliably based on who your friends are rather than what you’re looking at (old media way) or what you’re doing (Google way). Maybe. I’d say it’s not an either or; it’s and; it’s another way to target.
This is the mantra of the new friend networks: You are whom you know.
But that starts to fall apart first because all these many friend networks require a very high investment by participants (I don’t really want to spam my friends to get them to join your network unless there’s something in it for them; nor do I want to find myself spammed just because I ended up in somebody else’s network). And it starts to fall apart when you realize that many links online are not friendly ones (maybe I’m linking to your blog to say I hate it and you; maybe I’m linked to you by a business deal but otherwise think you’re unbearable; no computer will be able to discern the differences between friendly, unfriendly, and necessary links).
Still, cut past the bubble-blowing and there is something new here that will make a difference in how this medium works as a medium.
: The bottom line is that online is a medium of relationships and thus a medium of trust.
Weblogs create and reveal relationships.
So do social-software networks.
Both also grant trust and authority at the discretion of each of us (the only challenge is reliably measuring that and acting on it without violating the trust and creating nuclear spam).
George Scriban of 24/7 said it well:
“Traditional media aren’t good at conversations. Blogs are good at conversation.”
That’s right. And in that conversation value is added to content and relationships are formed.
: Tony Perkins argued that traditional media “will have to open up to reader participation or there will be lingering mistrust.”
He argues that media companies will need to adopt social-software backends and if they do, they’ll increase loyalty and retention and the value of the relationship. He says this is new.
I argued that we’ve had social software working at my day job for years in the form of forums where people exchange news, information, and viewpoints and form relationships. What weblogs allow us to do is improve that content and what social software will allow us to do is improve the relationships. It’s not new, it’s just getting better.
: Clay Shirky argued that the big media companies should not, or cannot, add all this conversation to their products because they’re too big and the conversations will become unwieldy.
And the bigger truth is that this conversation is already occurring outside of the media property on individuals’ weblogs.
So Clay said that a reader does not necessarily want to go to the New York Times to annotate their content (or to Perkins’ Always-On to annotate his); they want to create their own content and see it linked.
Or as I put it: They want the Times and Perkins to listen.
Linking is listening.
: Fred Wilson is excited about RSS and syndication for just that reason: He wants to write something on his weblog and then syndicate it to anywhere it’s appropriate to be seen.
He recalled Reuters’ decision to put its headlines on Yahoo back when portals mattered and said that though some thought Reuters was crazy, it was the wisest move they could have made.
That’s why it’s smart for media companies to syndicate at least their headlines. [Working on it. -ed] It gets them into the conversation.
: Perkins and Kirkpatrick tried to get the discussion going around whether blogs compete with and threaten established media. Every such gathering tries to get that conversation sparked; each fails. It’s a made-up fight (as in, do Superman and Darth Vader hate each other?). But I liked Anil’s answer:
“Blogs really compete with bad journalism.”
That is, when someone is dissatisfied with reporting — because it’s incomplete or from the wrong perspective or wrong — that’s when blogs kick in.
: Another random note: Mark Pincus of Tribe.net said that “we own the marketplace; it’s the revolution of the ants.” Nice cluetrain bite. [I had this quote incorrectly attributed; now corrected.]
: VC Burnham and academic Shirky both said that this meeting was trying to artificially push together the concepts of weblogs and social software. They’re related but still separate. I agree.
: Friendster fatigue is an issue with a crowd such as this. Anil: “I would have to have a network to keep track of all my networks.”
: I’m sure others will have better notes than mine. Perkins plans to put up much of the discussion at Always On. And that’s good. So was having this event and inviting print reporters to take part.
Weblogs needs PR.
But then again, weblogs are in danger of getting too much PR.
It’s a dangerous and delicate dance, this bubble rhumba we do these days.
If we get no PR and no attention, we’ll be relegated to the geek backwaters of media forever.
If we get too much attention — and if expectations for the success and meaning of all this are raised too high — then we’ll only have farther to fall and there will be plenty of onlookers watching that fall.
If we get the wrong attention — if people think they know what weblogs are but don’t — then we’ll never get anywhere.
Draw a line.
On one end, mark the Nick Denton school of PR, which is to get none and wait until the right audience discovers you. That’s how he made Gawker hot. And it worked.
On the other end, mark the Jason Calacanis school of PR, which is to be big and bold and dare ’em to prove you wrong. That’s where Perkins has played, too, especially in the Red Herring days.
But today’s event is, I hope, a mark in the middle: We’re still figuring this out and we’re doing that figuring publicly. There’s something big here. We’re not sure exactly what it is or how big it is. But you probably don’t want to miss this.
Weblogs and social software can use that kind of attention and they got it today, along with some nice, crispy bacon.