Friday, June 26, 2009

New-Wave News

I'm having one of those moments where I need to blog as a way to organize my thoughts. Longtime readers know that much of what I write here is less than perfectly organized. In a sense, blogging has become part of the act of thinking. This blog is less a place to share my opinions than it is a place to explore them.
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?
I hesitate to try to explain exactly what Google Wave is. That's partly because it seems that Google Wave -- like Twitter -- will be different things to different people.
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.


  1. Twitter is not like Second Life. Twitter is more like email or IM or air -- it's "plumbing" and not what people see on the website

    Ironically, I think is a really bad example of what you can do with Twitter.

    To get a glimpse of how Twitter can power a B2B 'marketplace' or real-time business-oriented knowledge-sharing platform, see - that's a first generation Twitter hack. Want another example of a Twitter-powered B2B platform: - A branded version of a Twitter dashboard that comes pre-populated with all the media company's Twitter feeds.

  2. Hi Rex,
    I thought I read on your blog that you had given up trying to explain what Twitter is :>
    I agree with you. Twitter is like plumbing.
    Like I said in the post, my sense of Google Wave is that it will include "Twitter or something like Twitter." I think it has to have Twitter-like plumbing if it is to become something great.
    There is no going back. Twitter has changed how we consume, share, find and distribute information. But I suspect that the next level of electronic communication will be something that exists because Twitter once did. It won't be a Twitter-based platform. It will be something that is clearly post-Twitter.
    Twitter, in other words, is starting to feel ancient. It feels like it's time to leave it and move on. Just like I have no doubt that we'll continue to move forward with virtual worlds. But World of Warcraft has already become more interesting than Second Life (although not to journalism.)
    I'm familiar with both the platforms you mention. And I agree -- they are interesting.
    Tweetdeck in particular is a remarkable product.
    But neither those products, nor any of the others that I've seen, nor even Yammer (the enterprise-level clone of Twitter that I really love) alleviate the sense I have that Twitter was more valuable and more interesting just a few months ago.
    Perhaps I'm just becoming too jaded and cynical.
    I'm anxious for something new, something more.

  3. Paul, thanks for taking the time to put together another thought-provoking post. I think you're spot on with your thoughts in the first paragraph. In response to the later points you make:

    What will it take to reach the point where a non-tech industry actually reports on itself? ...
    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.

    Now my question: if that happens, whether through Google Wave or another tool, where does that leave the role of the B2B journalist?

    My thoughts: I think there will still be a place for B2B journalists because they have the luxury of objectivity and time, which allows them to produce content of a high-enough quality that people will pay for. Unlike an industry participant, say a paper bag manufacturing specialist, journalists have 40 hours a week to devote to the sole purpose of producing content. Some flacks or content marketers (a few) may have 40 hours a week to devote to that same purpose, but they still don't have the luxury of objectivity. (They may not have the luxury of subject-matter passion either, but that could be a discussion for another post.)

    This is not to say that industry participants and marketing folks aren't adding to the conversation--they are, and they are putting good stuff out there. But if this plays out, will objectivity and information aggregation (and perhaps subject-matter passion) be strong enough pegs for B2B journalists to hang a career on? Or will audiences be able to aggregate information efficiently enough and make their own opinions without a journalist guide?

    I'd be interested to hear your thoughts, here or in some future post.

  4. I am truly excited about google wave because during my masters work at the University of Idaho, I was so frustrated at how difficult it was to go back in time in my design process among diverse interdisciplinary teams and see what was done and why a decision was made. I actually wrote my final thesis entitled: Developing a sustainable framework for design process in interdisciplinary environments and a lot of what I was writing about is exactly where google is going which I am so excited about and at the same time kicking myself! If anyone is interested, it is published at the University of Idaho Libaries.

  5. thank you for sharing the google wave video, very cool!