Closing the Blog, Opening the Conversation

I recently returned from a week-long trip to Alaska to visit the parent-types; overall a fine trip. The primary purpose was to get Sagan some quality face time with her third set of GPs. While up there, of course, Sagan had to be paraded in front of friends of my parents. In the ensuing conversations that often degraded to just watching Sagan do her thing, I was often asked, “So what do you do?”

Ha. Yes, this is sometimes a hard question to answer. When I started my dayjob 6 years ago my answer to most people quickly became, “I design software.” I actually do a lot more than that. Designing software is more of an outcome of what I do, but trying to explain user-centered design (UCD), usability, developing business requirements, etc… I quickly found that the elongated explanation caused Glazed Eye Syndrome, commonly known as “You lost me at Hello.”

This trip, I explained my nightjob (you are looking at it :). I tried to explain the 9rules Network. I tried to explain Business Logs. Most of the responses I received could be easily categorized under, “Wha?”

Some of the people I talked with had heard of blogs, but they really didn’t understand what the point was. Even when I so eloquently explained about open conversations and customer feedback for business I received the “Oh” response. So what I want to know is: what is wrong with these people? Don’t they know that blogging is the next important thing on the web?

No. They don’t know it because it isn’t. A blog can be an important tool for a business, to be sure. But the vast majority of the web-wielding public doesn’t care about blogging. They may get a bit excited that they can leave feedback right on the web site, but as one person explained to me, “Why would I want other people to see what I have to say to that company?”

There was a study (which I can’t find for some reason, help please) recently that noted a certain percentage of web site visitors had no idea they were looking at a blog. And I think that is just fine. My question: do they need to know it is a blog to get what they need out of the site? No. The goals of The User are still the same: Answer a question, and buy/sell something.

We want to talk to companies about blogging (obviously), but I am more than happy to see the day come where frequently updated content together with the ability to capture visitor feedback is just another aspect of the company’s web site.

I never talk in terms of UCD to anyone outside the field of Human-Computer Interaction because they just don’t care. They want the web application to work. That’s all. The same goes for business blogs. If you decide a blog is right for your company, let’s go for it. But beyond that decision, don’t worry about “having a blog.” Focus on the ensuing conversation.

Back in 1996 you created a way for people to find out about your product or service. In 1999, you created a way for people to buy that product or service. Tomorrow, you will add a feature to your site to allow free-flowing (relatively) conversation. You are working to potentially increase the user experience value of your site by starting that conversation. It’s just another way to connect with the people that allow you to own a home and buy food.

So, no more Blog. Let’s work to make a third User goal, join a conversation, become old hat. Internally we’ll still talk about Information Design, eCommerce, and B-logging, but externally we should simply be making the best user experience on the web that your visitors can have. That’s our goal.

10 replies on “Closing the Blog, Opening the Conversation”

  1. Excellent post. Can’t tell you how often I’ve had those same responses. Blogs have been overhyped and hopefully we’ll soon settle into a good balance where the mainstream can get over the nerdiness stigma associated with blogging and enjoy some of the benefits of the conversation. Losing the “blog” moniker might just be the best thing that could happen. Just like RSS/Atom need to continue evolving into “web feeds” or something less techie, blogs could do with a little evolutionary naming help.

  2. Matthew, you so get software. It’s refreshing to hear.

    Your user has a need, and the software sure as hell better satisfy that need. And I mean the “cold beer on a hot day” type of satisfaction.

    End users don’t care if it’s a blog, if it’s Web 2.0, if it’s buzzword compliant, they just want their needs met, and if you don’t satisfy those needs they’ll leave you for someone who will.

    Perhaps next time you’re family asks, you could tell them “I help make websites that give you what you want”.

  3. You are right, a blog is simply a tool. Sometimes we get so caught up in the bells and whistles of our shiny new toys that we lose sight of the big picture. People need to be reminded of this whenever another ‘panacea’ is created.

    CRM is not customer relationship management. CRM, the technology, is a very effective tool without which ‘real time’ communication with customers would be all but impossible but, as with any tool, some are better at using it than others.

    After I read you post I went scurrying to find an article I thought was appropriate to your excellent observation. In the Harvard Business Review back in March 2001, strategic management guru Michael Porter wrote an article called “Strategy and the Internet”.

    Porter says, “The internet is transformational in some respects, but many traditional sources of competitive advantage remain intact.” His point is that you can’t forget the basics such as scale, personnel, product, and process.

    In the conclusion of the article Porter observes, “In our quest to see how the Internet is different, we have failed to see how the Internet is the same….Only by integrating the Internet (Matt, you can substitute blogging or RSS) into overall strategy will this powerful new technology become an equally powerful force for competitive advantage.”

  4. Reminds me of recent chatter about 37signals’ Writeboard product: Is it a “just a wiki”? I say “Who cares”. It is a tool that can be developed and presented in a great way to customers.

    As far as technologies to accompany your Brochure Site & eCommerce Site go, I’ve seen forums, blogs & wikis all used as great tech support tools. Who cares what it is, it’s all about what works best for how people use it.

    Your internal terms/external goals lingo is very nice & something I needed to hear in such clarity. Thanks.

  5. I understand, and I had a similar experience yesterday.

    However, if I have two minutes to make a pitch, I could easily spend most of that time explaining why my site is different from everyone else’s, or I could just say it’s a blog and get on to the more important things about my site (the content…). So that’s why I hope the terms becomes more widely understood.

  6. We all get caught up with our own jargon. We also forget that people, outside of our industry, may not understand what we do. In some cases, I even steer clear of industry definition discussion (IA, usability, user experience, interaction design, UI design etc) and stick to “user friendly”. People get “user friendly”

    Speak to our customers, test our concepts, words and reality check if it works.

  7. I suggested that perhaps a diversity of *ideas* could be as or more important than a diversity of races or cultures, that perhaps Swat might consider Affirmative Action for conservative students.

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