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September 27, 2005

The Decline of the Database Miners

Jennifer Rice over at Corante has a nice piece about why companies talk a lot about becoming more customer centric but rarely do anything about it.

I particularly enjoyed this excerpt from it:

"[This] is problematic because the necessary solution is not a new business practice; it’s a new people practice. We don’t need a new ad campaign or a new org chart. There are no quick fixes. The skill sets needed in today’s times are not management consultants or word-of-mouth marketing specialists. If we’re all really honest with ourselves, what we really need are psychologists and coaches and relationship experts. We’re talking about real customer connections, not a personalized direct mail piece."

I've been thinking for some time now that the Era of the Database Miners is coming to an end. In the new customer-focused business environment, where companies now have (for the first time in history) direct contact with customers, Qualitative Insight will increasingly supersede Quantitative Analysis in key areas of the marketing function. And those who can derive relevant and important meanings from direct contact with customers -- including from a smattering of blog comments from customers -- will become highly valued within business.

Whether they are psychologists or just good listeners and communicators is probably immaterial. What will count is their ability to understand not just what customers want but why they want it.

Thank You Joe Trippi and Jeff Jarvis!

Although my new book is hardly even in bookstores yet, I'm pleased that it's getting some attention (although we're still waiting to see if any of the major media will review it).

Here's what former Howard Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi had to say about blog!:

BlogRevolt is a new blog that people should check out if they are interested in how blogs are changing things.

David Kline started the blog a few weeks ago — but he has also co-authored a book with Dan Burstein. David and Dan interviewed me for the book some months ago — but I really did not know what to expect from the interview.

Their book is a must read. When I wrote “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” I really hoped that other books would be coming out that expanded and explained the true communications revolution that we are in — Kline and Burstein have done that with "Blog!"

And then Jeff Jarvis over at Buzzmachine was also kind enough to mention the book:

I got a galley of Blog! by Dan Burstein and David Kline. Among other things, it compiles interviews with a host of bloggers (me included), among them: Scoble, Shirky, Cox, Huffington, Denton, Wheaton, Curry, Ito, Trippi, Kos, Rosen, Simon, MacKinnon, Calacanis, Lee (the agent), Teachout, and more. If only it were a podcast!
Thanks also to marketing communications expert Jane Genova and Internet technology consultant and democracy activist Jon Lebkowsky for also mentioning my book.

September 23, 2005

Books I Wish I Had Written

A newly-announced book deal sounds like a winner.

According to Publishers Marketplace, editor Rick Wolff at Warner books has just signed Stanford University professor Robert Sutton to write The No Asshole Rule: Building A Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't, which is described as "a complete manifesto for the masses who feel oppressed by the jerks they work with, by the prima donna bosses they have to serve, and by the dolts that they struggle to lead in the world of business."

Should be a popular book.

Looney Tunes Revisited

He's baaaaack!

Yes, everyone's favorite Pollyanna Pundit, that lovable Paleo-Libertarian George Gilder, is back on the Wacky Predictions circuit, once again touting new technology as the answer to all of society's problems.

This time he's talking about blogs and how they will "redeem" civilization all by themselves. In remarks at an AlwaysOn conference this summer reported by Dan Farber and Francine Hardaway, Gilder also picked up on an old theme of his, once again predicting the imminent death of TV and Hollywood and all other mass-market entertainments he happens to find "stultifying" or otherwise not up to his elite taste standards.

Now you'll forgive me for not commenting sooner on Gilder's return to the spotlight after the lost years of the dot-com disaster during which he lost not only his shirt but his reputation as well. But at the time he spoke, I had not yet launched my blog. And besides, Gilder's predictions really do tend to get juicier and loonier with age.

In fact, let's go back in time and see what the Mad Hatter of techno-Utopianism said in 1994:

"Over the next decade, TV will expire and transpire into a new cornucopia of choice and empowerment ... Hollywood and Wall Street will totter and diffuse to all points of the nation and the globe.... [and] the most deprived ghetto child in the most blighted project will gain educational opportunities exceeding those of today's suburban preppie."

Well, more than a decade has now passed since Gilder made those remarks, so how do his predictions stand up against the test of time?

Yes, thanks to cable's growth and the emergence of on-demand programming opportunities, TV now offers many new choices to viewers (although one would be very hard pressed to call The Apprentice or Showdog Moms and Dads exactly "empowering"). Nonetheless, the most popular and critically-acclaimed shows continue to emanate mostly from the networks. Hollywood and Wall Street, meanwhile, have despite their many challenges just enjoyed their most profitable decade in history. And as for our nation's ghetto children, it should be obvious to anyone with basic common sense that new technology cannot by itself rewrite existing social and economic reality -- and that it will take a lot more than Internet access to overcome the institutionalized forces of deprivation that continue to cripple the educational and work opportunities of inner-city children.

You'd think Gilder would be too embarrassed to keep spouting this nonsense. But alas, I suspect his speaker's fees rise in direct proportion to the outrageousness of his remarks.

Consider, if you will, Gilder's remark about disgraced WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers, sentenced to 25 years in the slammer for orchestrating the biggest corporate fraud in human history:

“He’s been made the scapegoat for the telecom crash …and for the appalling blunders of the [government] regulators who thwarted the [telecom] revolution.”

Oh, it's the government's fault, is it? How much did industry spin meisters pay for that one?

September 20, 2005

How Companies Can Avoid "Blog Hell"

Business Week ran an interesting story recently that spotlights once again how dramatically the business world must change now that companies, for the first time in history, have direct personal contact with their customers.

Under the headline "Dell Finds Itself in Blog Hell," the magazine reported on BuzzMachine blogger Jeff Jarvis' long struggle to get his Dell PC fixed -- a struggle that was going nowhere until he posted a series of comments on his blog (including an open letter to Dell CEO Michael Dell) about Dell's abysmal customer service.

According to Business Week, "Jarvis' rants struck a chord with other Dell customers," who apparently flocked to Jarvis' site to tell their own sordid tales of Dell's customer disservice practices. It was this blog-fueled public relations storm that finally caused Dell to cave and send Jarvis a refund.

And according to a report by Shankar Gupta in MediaPost, it also forced Dell to adopt a new policy for dealing with the blogosphere. Dell spokeswoman Jennifer Davis announced that henceforth the company's public relations department will monitor blogs and forward complaints to the customer service department "so that representatives can contact dissatisfied consumers directly."

The lesson here is simple yet profound. Throughout the history of corporate America, companies have always existed as faceless monoliths, shielded in a variety of ways deliberate and not from direct contact with their customers. The only means that customers have had, in fact, to influence the quality of the products and services they buy -- and to ensure that their manufacturer is responsive to their needs -- has been either to send a letter to the corporate complaint department (a generally useless exercise) or else to rely on litigation or the investigative diligence of the mainstream media to force the company to redress their complaints. Unfortunately, these methods have historically proven to be less than satisfactory.

In today's blog-enabled world, however, companies are finding it increasingly difficult to get away with ignoring customer complaints. That's because blogging breaks down barriers between customers and the makers of the products they buy, encourages transparency, and forces greater responsiveness from once-indifferent corporations. It puts a face on "organization man," and gives a voice to the formerly-anonymous mass we call "consumers," transforming them into flesh-and-blood human beings whose needs can be ignored only at the company's peril.

In short, blogging is the revolt of the voiceless against the heedless. And woe be to any firm that tries to ignore the roar of today's blog-enabled citizenry.

[P.S. to readers: Any other examples of blogs forcing companies to be more responsive to their customers?]

September 16, 2005

Will Blog For Book Deals

When bloggers storm the ramparts of fortress mainstream media, it's not always with sword in hand and righteous indignation in their hearts. Sometimes they're just looking for book deals.

Indeed, a quick perusal of book publishing deals reported at Publisher's Marketplace (whose founder Michael Cader I interviewed for my own book, blog!), shows that publishers have been very eager to capitalize on the blogging phenomenon. And hardly reluctant maidens, bloggers have been happy to help them do so (yours truly included).

Herewith, a small sampling of book ideas snapped up recently by blog-obsessed publishers:

*** Peter Kuhns and Adrienne Crew's BLOGOSPHERE: Best of Blogs, a book for people too busy to read blogs who want to know what's out there, to Michelle Newcomb at Que.

*** Nadine Haobsh's untitled memoir, in which the Ladies Home Journal associate beauty editor recently fired for her blog, "Jolie in NYC," dishes about the beauty industry, to Carrie Feron at Morrow, in a two-book deal.

*** Creator of teen media and marketing trend blog Anastasia Goodstein's MEET JUDY JETSON: Decoding the 21st Century Teen, a parent's guide to better understanding the technology children are using today, to Becki Heller at St. Martin's, by Kate Lee at ICM. [Kate Lee is a very smart agent ... I interviewed her for blog!]

*** Former Houston Chronicle blogger Rachel Spencer's AU PARIS, about a young woman who gives up life in the corporate world and travels to Paris to be a nanny for a well-to-do family, to Danielle Chiotti at Citadel, in a nice deal. [A "nice deal" means an advance somewhere between $1 - $50,000.]

*** Rob the Bouncer's CLUBLIFE: Behind the Velvet Rope, based on the blog that has been featured in Gawker and Newsweek, exploring the nightclub subculture from the point of view of a New York City bouncer, to Harper.

*** Blogger Anna Broadway's SEXLESS IN THE CITY, about her exploits as a half-hearted virgin struggling to reconcile the deeply held faith of an evangelical upbringing and life as a Brooklyn denizen and chaste party girl, to Broadway.

*** blogger Ariel Meadow Stallings's AND THE BRIDE WORE A HULA HOOP, helping brides-to-be buck tradition and create a unique wedding, to Brooke Warner at Seal Press, in a nice deal.

*** Author of GAY HAIKU and blogger Joel Derfner's SWISH: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever, exploring the more flamboyant facets of modern living, to Andrew Corbin at Broadway.

*** Corporate blog coach, Fortune 500 speaker, and consultant Debbie Weil's BLOG, making a case for corporate blogging by revealing how your business can benefit -- and profit -- from this cultural and technological phenomenon, to Megan Casey at Portfolio. [Oh-oh, maybe this is a competitor to my next book.]

*** Consultant and seminar leader Andy Wibbels' EASY BAKE BLOGS, a 'business blogging cookbook' on how to leverage blogs to build and market your business, to Megan Casey at Portfolio, in a pre-empt.

*** Air America radio pundit and blogger Bill Scher's WAIT! DON'T MOVE TO CANADA, commentary and strategic advice for frustrated liberals and Democrats, to Chris Potash at Rodale.

*** Lawyer by day and blogger by night Martha Kimes' IVY BRIEFS: A Privileged and Confidential Law School Story, relating her humorous adventures as a Midwestern girl struggling to survive at Columbia Law School, to Suzanne O'Neill at Atria, in a pre-empt.

*** New York Times writer and occasional blogger known as D-Nasty Dana Vachon's MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS: A Romance, to Cindy Spiegel at Riverhead, reportedly in a major deal for $650,000, for two books.

*** Paul Davidson's BLOGOSPHERE, a collection of blogs "written" by historical figures and celebrities such as Elvis, JFK, Confucious, and John Lennon (upon meeting a young woman named Yoko Ono who seems very interested in how The Beatles deal with the publishing rights to their song library) to Warner. [Now this sounds like an interesting book!]

*** Creator of the "Bullsfreak" basketball blog and author of Hard Bop Academy: The Sidemen of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Alan Goldsher's BLEEDING BLACK 'N' BLUE: A Smashmouth History of the NFL's Toughest Division, to Jack Heffron at Emmis Books.

*** 26-year-old blogger and role-playing game freelancer Scott Lynch's four books, beginning with THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORE, to Simon Spanton at Gollancz (world). They've sold rights to Bantam, reportedly for six figures for three books.

*** Blogger and writer Jami Attenberg's INSTANT LOVE, a collection of linked short stories, pitched as a worthy of comparison to David Schickler's KISSING IN MANHATTAN and Melissa Bank's A GIRL'S GUIDE TO HUNTING AND FISHING -- exploring what it means to be in love and what it means to be lonely, and particularly what it means to be both at the same time, to Sally Kim at Shaye Areheart Books, at auction.

*** Blogger and photographer Stephanie Klein's STRAIGHT UP AND DIRTY: The Life of a Young New York Divorcee, a humorous tell-all tracing the author's return to single life as a "firm, fashionable, and let's face it - fetching" twenty-something, plus a memoir based on the author's childhood experience at Fat Camp, to Judith Regan at Regan Books, in a major deal (including film rights). [A "major deal" means more than $500,000 -- how's that for "fetching?"]

*** Blogger and third-year Harvard Law student Jeremy Blachman's ANONYMOUS LAWYER, a novel based on the now infamous blog of the same name (his fan's thought he was a middle-aged partner in an LA firm until a recent NYT article), about a partner in a big LA firm who commits a seemingly minor ethical infraction he could probably get away with until he is found out by his nemesis at the firm, a fellow hiring partner known simply as The Jerk, to John Sterling at Holt, in a pre-empt.

*** Twenty-eight-year-old Army soldier and blogger Colby Buzzell's MY WAR, depicting his experiences as a soldier in the line of fire and presenting uncensored stories that bring home the realities of war, expanding on material first filed on his blog of the same name, to David Highfill at Putnam. [We also interviewed Colby Buzzel in blog!]

*** Blogger Jen Lancaster's ( memoir, BITTER IS THE NEW BLACK: Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, Or Why You Should Never Carry a Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office, in which the author, a former sorority girl and self-described pain-in-the-ass who defined herself by the trappings of success in the heady days of the dot-com era, explores what it's like to go from having a household income of almost a quarter million dollars to being evicted from a slum apartment in less than two years and ultimately discovering that money has nothing to do with happiness, to Kara Cesare at NAL, at auction.

*** Lit blogger "Moorishgirl" Laila Lalami's THE THINGS THAT DEATH WILL BUY, a collection of linked stories, about four Moroccans who illegally cross the Straights of Gibraltar on a lifeboat destined for Spain and how their lives are irrevocably changed, and A PLACE TO CALL HOME, a novel about a man and a woman from Casablanca, who, unbeknownst to each other, are siblings and whose lives unexpectedly come together under extraordinary circumstances, to Antonia Fusco at Algonquin.

*** Microsoft employee Rebecca Agiewich's BREAK UP BABE, a memoir based on her blog, about the quirky phenomenon of computers and relationships, showing how the Internet is changing the way we meet, communicate, and fall in love, to Allison Dickens at Ballantine.

*** Blogger and Spin magazine writer John Sellers's GOLD SOUNDZ: One Man's Journey Into Indie-Rock Idiocy, a humorous first person account of the Guided By Voices farewell tour, and a look back at the influence that the band and other stalwarts of the indie genre have had on the author's life, to Geoff Kloske at Simon & Schuster.

*** Essayist and blogger Marrit Ingman's INCONSOLABLE: DISPATCHES FROM A POSTPARTUM LIFE, a stylish memoir about the forbidden truths of postpartum depression, from the fallacies of Dr. Sears and the "designer parenting" movement to the difficulty of arranging childcare for one's suicide, to Leslie Miller at Seal Press.

*** Andy Greenwald's MISS MISERY, the story of a young aspiring writer and his virtual, alter-ego self, unfolding his struggle with identity and his attempts to connect with the world around him through the world of blogging, featuring first-person narrative and a variety of secondary media sources, such as diary excerpts, records of voice mails, e-mails, and IM conversation, to Simon Spotlight Entertainment Entertainment.

*** The former Senate aide, who serviced inside-the-Beltway players and blogged about it Jessica Cutler's THE WASHINGTONIENNE, to Kelly Notaras at Hyperion, in a significant deal, for publication in summer 2005. [A "significant deal" is between $251,000-$500,000.]

*** BELLE DE JOUR, the diary of a Ph.D.-turned-high priced call girl made famous on the blog of the same name, building up to her decision to leave her night job behind and return to academia this fall, to Amy Einhorn at Warner, in a good deal. [A "good deal" is between $101,000-$200,000.]

*** Mu Zimei's ASHES OF LOVE: THE DIARY OF LI LI, the sexual-revolutionary "blog" diary of 25-year-old columnist from Canton, who received millions of hits a day and but when the book was published in China, the book was banned, her website shut down, and she was fired from her magazine job, to Prometheus Publishers in Holland in a pre-empt, in a nice deal.

*** Blogger, geek, and the actor who portrayed Wesley Crusher on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" Wil Wheaton's three books, two of them originally self-published, DANCING BAREFOOT and JUST A GEEK, almost unbearably honest tales of life, love, and the rigors of being an ensign on the Starship Enterprise, and WIL WHEATON'S WEBSITE DESIGN, to O'Reilly & Associates. [See my interview with the terrific Wil here .]

And then there's the blogger who may have started the whole blog-to-book trend:

*** Julie Powell's THE JULIE/JULIA PROJECT, a year in the life of Julie Powell, a 30-year old secretary living in Queens, who decided to cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child's1961 classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which drew a following (and press) through her blog, to Judy Clain at Little, Brown, for six figures, at auction.

Finally, I suppose I should include the notice of my own next book deal:

*** Former war correspondent David Kline's THE HUMAN ELEMENT: Blogs and the Transformation of Business, blending a "big picture" view of the transformative impact of blogging on corporate America with a practical guide for using blogs to competitive advantage in every functional unit of the enterprise, to John Mahaney at Crown Business, at auction.

So there you have it -- proof that blogging and traditional media can co-exist peacefully, if not even profitably.

Who says bloggers don't like "dead tree" media?

September 14, 2005

Yahoo vs. The New York Times?

By hiring independent TV journalist Kevin Sites to cover wars and other "hot spots," Yahoo is clealy positioning itself to compete against mainstream media outlets in providing coverage of international events. The question is, how competitive can Yahoo truly be against the likes of the New York Times or Washington Post for this sort of news?

In other words, will readers find it as credible and trustworthy as mainstream media coverage in this arena?

I could be wrong about this -- God knows it won't be the first time -- but I suspect that for at least the near future, first-hand reportage of wars and other critical issues by Web media organizations such as Yahoo will be more of a complement to, not a substitute for, the coverage of the established press. With all the loss of respect the MSM has suffered in recent years, it still commands more reader trust, overall, then does new upstart media (including blogs). It also has the power of incumbency and far greater resources than upstart media like Yahoo.

Still, I have to say how pleased I am that an intrepid reporter such as Sites was able to secure Yahoo's backing and support. And truth be told, I have to admit that I'm rather envious. When I was humping mountains covering wars and revolutions, we didn't have digital video and satellite uplinks or satellite phones. The first time I crossed the mountains into Afghanistan, in fact, I had a notebook, a still camera, a Super8 camera with extra batteries provided by NBC -- and of course, the numbing realization that if anything happened to me, there was no way to call for help except to send a runner 3 days over the mountains and hope he got through.

Good luck to you, Kevin Sites. You've just become a bigger target, so keep your head down.

September 12, 2005

Clueless in the "Progressive Blogosphere"

If you haven't seen the new study from the liberal New Politics Institute on "The Emergence of the Progressive Blogosphere: A New Force in American Politics," check it out. Its well-intentioned yet infuriatingly self-satisfied "analysis" of the supposed differences between the conservative versus progressive blogosphere reveals (once again) how the still waters of myopia and denial continue to run very deep indeed within Democratic circles.

According to authors Chris Bowers and Matt Stoller, both veteran activist bloggers, the conservative blogosphere merely recreates "the top-down, coherent messaging structure that characterizes the conservative movement" offline. The progressive blogosphere, on the other hand, has "forged a new constituency, a new set of leaders, and a new forest of social relationships."

Bad, dictatorial conservatives. Good, empowering progressives.

What's more, claim the authors, "conservatives use the same tactics on blogs that they do (sic) in mainstream politics -- attack the media and attack progressives." Progressive blogs, on the other hand, "offer forums where people can actively engage ... in political dialogue."

Mean old nasty conservatives. Nice, friendly, issues-oriented progressives.

(And no, progressive bloggers would never "attack the media" for it's uncritical toadying to the White House, right? Nor would they ever "attack" our conservative president for his idiotic, counter-productive and horrifically destructive policies in Iraq. No, progressives are just too ... well, they're just too nice to do anything like that.)

Anyway, the authors conclude by noting that, "The right wing tends not to build independent online communities, using their existing offline communities [instead] to generate web sites that reinforce their politics and their ideology." In contrast, progressive blogs supposedly "build communities of activists and generate new [and independent] political activity online." Unlike conservatives, they claim, the "progressive blogosphere is introducing new actors into the political scene."

First of all, the above is just horse-pucky. As the authors themselves note elsewhere in their study, conservatives have built potent online communities throughout the blogosphere, especially at the state and local level. And as some Democrats have learned to their dismay, these bloggers have introduced many thousands of new readers to online political activism.

But even if it's true that conservatives tie their blogging activities to offline political organizations more closely than progressive bloggers do, what's wrong with that? I mean, the point is to actually organize people to WIN elections, right? Which, in case Bowers and Stoller hadn't noticed, still take place offline, in the real world, where flesh-and-blood people actually live.

The main problem with Bowers and Stoller's so-called "strategic overview of the comparative advantages of the progressive and conservative [blogosphere]" is its head-in-the-sand avoidance of the real reason why conservatives -- online and off -- have been kicking progressive butt in recent years.

I'm referring, of course, to the maddening inability of progressives in general -- and Democratic candidates like Kerry in particular -- to connect with the majority of heartland voters on the issues that they most deeply care about.

As the Harvard University political theorist Michael J. Sandel put it: "The Democrats have ceded to Republicans a monopoly on the moral and spiritual sources of American politics. They will not recover as a party until they again have candidates who can speak to those moral and spiritual yearnings" and put forward viable alternative solutions to these concerns.

That's the elephant in the room that Bowers and Stoller won't talk about.

Should Corporate Bloggers Listen More and Talk Less?

Corporate America's interest in blogging has focused primarily on its use as a marketing tool. But I wonder if, in the future, we'll look back and see that marketing turned out to be among the least of blogging's benefits to business.

Consider, for example, how firms might benefit if instead of only using blogs to tell their customers what to buy, they also used blogs to ask their customers what the company should build?

It's not like corporate America couldn't use the advice, after all. Over 40 percent of all newly-launched products fail in the marketplace -- in some high-tech industries, the failure rate is close to 90 percent! And whenever executives are polled as to the reasons for this extraordinarily-high failure rate -- as the consulting firm Booz Allen did in a 2004 survey of CEOs, chief technology officers, and vice presidents of engineering and product development -- they consistently pin the blame on one thing: an inadequate understanding of consumer wants and needs.

As an article in the journal Strategy+Business recently conceded: "Few companies are good at ... capturing and integrating customer insights into product design."

Many people would be shocked, in fact, to learn just often firms undertake multi-million dollar product development efforts without ever speaking to a single current, former or prospective customer. Truth be told, this failure to integrate the "voice of the customer" into new product development is the dirty little secret of corporate R&D.;

To be fair, new technology and improvements in supply chain dynamics have radically shortened product development cycles, and market research budgets are under assault everywhere. But even under the best of circumstances, the tools and techniques traditionally used by market researchers are rather blunt instruments for understanding customer wants and needs.

For example, even when traditional market research manages to pinpoint what customers want, it usually doesn't tell you why they want it. And it is here, in trying to understand the deeper motivations and emotional drivers behind people's buying decisions, that the greatest opportunities for building winning products and successful brands are generally found.

That's why I think some businesses will systematically use blogs -- Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li calls them "the exhaust streams of consumer attention" -- to pierce the sometimes hermetically-sealed labs of new product R&D; with fresh new insights into customer wants and needs.

Instead of asking 20 people in a focus group, for example, to pick between various "baskets" of product attributes -- a clumsy research technique hardly improved by the scientific-sounding name "conjoint analysis" -- why not ask them to tell you directly, in their own often-rambling but always revealing words, exactly what they would like your new product to look like and why?

So here's a question for readers: Which companies are already experimenting with "product definition" blogging? What are the results so far, and how are these firms dealing with the potential confidentiality and competitiveness issues that R&D; blogging entails?

Please send me any leads you have in this regard, which will help me enormously in a new book on blogging and business that I'm doing for Random House's Crown Business imprint (more on this later).