So with that said -- bear with me.
I have no idea where this blog post is heading.
Earlier this week I found myself obsessing over a single line in a lengthy post by fellow B2B blogger Dan Blank. Dan was writing about how his company, Reed Business, was using Twitter. It's a good post. Take a look. There's valuable information in it.
But the part of the post that jumped out at me was a sub-headline that said "We are Coming Closer to a Day Where an Industry Will Report on Itself."
He's right, of course.
In a very real sense, we're already there.
Any journalist with the sense to track the online conversations about the industry he covers knows that Twitter, blogging, content marketing, etc. have already created a world where publishers' monopolies have disappeared. In a world where anyone can be a publisher, thousands of people and hundreds of companies have done so.
It was more than three years ago that I first wrote of my concern that B2B journalists were adopting the techniques of conversational editorial more slowly than were the public relations and marketing executives of the industries we cover.
Fast forward to 2009 and we find that the marketplaces for our content seem to have transformed into marketplaces of ideas. Everyone, it seems, is writing, sharing, tweeting, commenting.
But for every B2B publication that is participating in -- even leading -- the conversations, there are still plenty that lag years behind. (The charts in Dan's post illustrate the gap. Some Reed brands have thousands of Twitter followers and update often. Others have only ventured on to Twitter in the past few days.)
But the more time I spend watching the social-media world, the more I realize that it only seems that we're experiencing a true marketplace of ideas.
What's really happening is that the world of B2B content has transformed into a limited marketplace of ideas. The new world may be broader than the old. More people are participating, more people are creating. But this new world is really just a larger version of the old world.
Look around the Web in the vertical you cover. In most cases you'll find that the conversation is no longer dominated by your publication. That's a good thing. But you'll also find that the conversation is dominated by folks very much like the ones who work at your publication.
Twitter -- at least in most B2B verticals -- is a media phenomenon. Most tweets come from journalists, marketing execs and public-relations pros. If you're a reporter for Paper Bag Weekly walking the floor of the Paper Bag Expo trade show, you're likely find dozens of folks tweeting. But they will nearly all be someone from the media side of the paper bag industry. You can read tweets from flacks and tweets from hacks, but you won't find a tweet from anyone who actually makes a paper sack.
The obvious exception to this is in tech. Walk the floor of a tech trade show and you'll find that everyone really is tweeting. Tech really does cover itself.
So this poses a question: What will it take to reach the point where a non-tech industry actually reports on itself?
The Next Wave
I suspect the thing that may push the entire business world into a more collaborative, more conversational mode -- creating the situation where all industries can report on themselves -- is right around the corner.
And it's coming from Google.
Late last month, Google offered the developer community a preview of something called Google Wave. It's the brainchild of the same team that gave us Google Maps, and it was born of three tough questions, according to the announcement by Google:
- Why do we have to live with divides between different types of communication — email versus chat, or conversations versus documents?
- Could a single communications model span all or most of the systems in use on the web today, in one smooth continuum? How simple could we make it?
- What if we tried designing a communications system that took advantage of computers' current abilities, rather than imitating non-electronic forms?
Rather, I'd suggest you visit the Google Wave site and watch the video explaining the concept.
What you'll find is that Google Wave seems to be both a project-management tool (sharing documents, collaborating on changes, talking about plans, etc.) and a communications tool (email, instant messaging, Twitter or something like Twitter, etc.)
Or, as Google puts it: "A "wave" is equal parts conversation and document, where people can communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more."
After you've seen the video, you'll likely find yourself wondering: What does this mean for journalists?
Can a news story be a wave? Can trade show coverage be a wave? Can a recurring feature or major issue in the industries we write about be a wave?
What does that look like? Who participates?
The lament of the early adopter
Part of my interest in Google Wave is born of my growing concern that Twitter has jumped the shark. (The folks at InfoCommerce seem to have a similar concern.)
Part of my interest is also that, as has been the case before with technologies I love, something crucial and valuable is lost when a movement grows.
Look: I'm not saying Twitter is dead.
Nor am I saying that it has no value.
Heck, much of my life these days involves talking to journalists about how valuable Twitter can be as a reporting tool. But the fact that so many journalists, public-relations executives and marketing folks are interested in Twitter is exactly the sort of thing that makes me worry about Twitter.
The whole thing reminds me of Second Life. Back in January 2007 I lamented that something was being lost there, as well. And some two and half years later, I don't know of anyone who still finds Second Life to be place of promise for journalism.
This time next year
I don't know what all this means.
I don't know if we'll look back at the summer of 2009 as the time that Twitter lost its luster. Nor do I know if Google Wave will have the same impact that Twitter has had on how we collect and distribute information.
But I'll tell you this: I'm pretty sure that in the summer of 2010 I'll be spending a fair amount of my time thinking, talking and consulting about what a news wave might look like.