Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

The selling of the Blogosphere—Technorati's big push into monetizing its treasure trove of data collected about millions of blogs

Posted by Tom Foremski - July 11, 2005

. . .helping corporations control their message
By Tom Foremski for SiliconValleyWatcher

Mouse_Trax.jpgLast Friday I was on a panel with Sam Whitmore, of the popular Media Survey, and Peter Hirshberg, a very high powered marketing guy (see his bio) representing Technorati, a well known web site that is very highly regarded by the blogging community because of its early focus on the blogging phenomena.

Technorati has done an enormous amount of work in supporting the early blogging communities, and it has been a strong evangelist for bloggers everywhere through its promotion of blogs and bloggers. And through its close watch on blogs, it has helped the blogging community understand itself, and how it is evolving.

The subject of the panel was "How the Blogosphere is changing the game in PR and marketing" organized by the PR company Horn Group and nicely moderated by Shannon Latta, a partner of the Horn Group, and the panel included Horn Group's in-house blogger Blake Barbera, who writes an increasingly popular blog: Wet Feet PR.

What surprised me was how aggressively Mr Hirshberg was pitching Technorati's expensive blog tracking services to this audience of agency and corporate communications professionals. Mr Whitmore barely mentioned his company, and I didn't pitch anything, maybe I should have :-)

But I did get an interesting peak into the world of "selling the blogosphere" and how there is a large and growing number of companies, such as Technorati, that would like to make a lot of money from the work of millions of bloggers.

Technorati is listening

Mr Hirshberg talked about the current tracking services that Technorati offers, and new products coming that will offer a deeper analysis of web blogs and will assign a value of authority, and other tags. All the better to more accurately distinguish how important a blog post is, the sphere of influence of a particular blogger, and the many number of ways to slice and dice the wealth of blog data Technorati is collecting and selling.

"It's all about getting the right algorithm" he said at one point, arguing that Technorati's sophisticated automated services would enable corporations to find out what is being said about them, their people, products, and to respond to bad news very quickly, by engaging bloggers in conversations.

Corporate fear of lost control

Mr Hirshberg's pitch very much played into the fear that most corporations and their media relations teams currently wrestle with: how do you deal with millions of bloggers acting as journalists? How do you control your corporate message?

Well, Technorati is offering services that will help companies control their corporate message by identifying those blogs and their social network, that have posted around the "wrong" message. Then, I would imagine, some sort of corporate "SWAT" team could parachute in and engage those off-message bloggers.

"You need to become involved in the conversation," Mr Hirshberg strongly advised his audience.

I was surprised by how aggressive Technorati was in its pitch because it has a very good standing within the blogging community, a community that bristles at the thought of others commercializing its work.

Exposing the relaxed intimacy of conversations

Are Technorati and others, spying on the blogosphere? I don't think so, it is a public space after all. . . but it is a bit creepy.

A lot of blogs are semi-private, their authors are mostly talking with their friends and family, and the discussions are not intended for broad publication.

Mark Jen, for example, a software engineer at Google, lost his job because he made some comments about his colleagues (he is now at Plaxo.) "Only my friends and family used to read my posts," he told me. He was shocked when tens of thousands discovered his account of life at Google a compelling read and his employer did not.

Mr Jen's experience is unusual, the typical experience of most bloggers continues to be writing for a small group of family, friends and peers.

This produces a relaxed intimacy of conversation that marketeers prize very highly. And now they can track and eavesdrop on millions of such relaxed conversations, thanks to Technorati's services, (not cheap either.)

The SVW pitch

I did not make a commercial pitch on the Horn Group panel, but I'll make it here, a more appropriate place IMHO.

The pitch is much different from that of Technorati's: when we aren't tracking down news and exclusive stories, we do some consulting work teaching companies how to become good citizens within the blogosphere, how to become a valued part of the community, and to give up the notion of control over the corporate message.

Participate in, rather than seek control of the blogosphere.

Because:

Every company, every organization, is both publisher and publication.

Every company is a collection of stories, stories about itself, stories told within the organization to itself, and stories told to customers.

Telling/publishing compelling stories is key for any company, and difficult. Those stories have to be truthful, they have to be accurate, and they have to have real passion/energy—otherwise nobody listens/buys.

Spin, marketing, selling, become strange anachronistic words within this new communications world that is emerging. And the rules of this new communications medium stress ethics, transparency and honesty, among many other features.

I would rather teach the corporate world how to publish content that is real, and of value to its communities rather than help the corporate world monitor and control the content published by others.

Am I a bit harsh on Technorati? I hope not, it has every right to make a living from its work, it shares a considerable amount of data it collects with the entire blogging community for free, and it is just one of many companies selling the blogosphere.

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