[Note: I wrote this back in December, but hadn't posted it because I wanted to do some more work on it (and probably shorten it). In honor of Robert Scoble's well-earned vacation from blogging, I've decided to post it in its original form. Some references may be slightly dated.]
Posted from Scoble Country – December, 2004
Although definitely not by design or intention, I spent the past month or so deep in the heart of Robert Scoble country. Scoble, as you probably know, is one of the best and best-known of all bloggers.
What he is most known for is the amazing number of blogs he monitors on a daily basis. While my research at SharetheOPML.com and other places, suggests that an accurate estimate of the number of blogs monitored is in the 700 range, you will often see reports that Scoble monitors more than a thousand blogs, suggestions that the number is closer to 2,000 and some speculation that Scoble has his eyes on all 4 or 6 million blogs in existence.
I use the word “monitor” for a reason. Like many longtime bloggers, Scoble doesn’t visit each of the blogs he reads. Instead, he subscribes to the “feeds” of these blogs, using a newsreader. It’s the only way you can realistically keep pace with that many blogs. If you are unfamiliar with the concept, take a look at an article I wrote on the subject last year in which I tried to explain RSS feeds and newsreaders in plain, non-technical language.
I’ve forgotten which newsreader Scoble uses, but I use FeedDemon, which is my choice as Software Product of the Year. Nick Bradbury, the individual behind FeedDemon, is my choice for Most Valuable Player in the Blogosphere. FeedDemon is that good.
By any standard measure, I’m a “feed-dominant” Internet user. RSS feeds and newsreaders have completely changed my Internet experience and my long-established Internet habits. For a long time, I’ve gotten a chuckle when bloggers post about how they are “addicted” to RSS because they are subscribed to 50, 80, even 100 feeds.
Still, I didn’t think of myself as being in the land of Scoble.
In fairness, if you check me out in SharetheOPML, I once reached number 11 in number of feeds with 732, but I thought of that as a kind of stunt.
About a month or so ago, I lost a bit of discipline and started to subscribe to every feed that seemed interesting or that someone recommended highly – just to check them out. Let me note that I subscribed in a responsible fashion. I never subscribed to feeds using any kind of automatic updating where I hit a blog server automatically many times in a day. In fact, I generally updated all my feeds once or twice a day.
At some point, I know see, I found myself in Scoble Country, getting a glimpse of what Scoble’s daily life must be like. Let’s just say I was well north of 600 blogs/feeds that I monitored.
A few days ago, I was aggressively cleaning and organizing folders in FeedDemon and ran into some problems that helped me decide that it was time to leave Scoble Country and take a more refined approach to feeds.
However, it was a glorious experience in a strangely beautiful land. I’m not Scoble, but I feel I got a glimpse of his world. I can’t recommend the trip to everyone, but, if you are adventurous, it’s quite a place to be – at least for a while.
For those who know better than to make that expedition (thought question: is being afraid that you’ll enjoy it too much really a legitimate reason not to try it?), let me share some of my observations.
1. Scoble Really is Amazing. I know that I’ll shade the truth and underestimate the time commitment involved in reading feeds, so I suspect Scoble does as well. Let’s just say that you’ll not be spending any less than two hours a day reading feeds. And I’m a really fast reader. To sustain Scoble’s level for the period of time he has done and still produce the output that he has is mind-boggling.
2. Consuming Lots of Feeds Leads To A Strong Feeling of Being Tapped into the World, Aware of What’s Happening and Attuned to the Action. Unfortunately, the same feeling makes it extremely difficult to step away. It’s not exactly addictive, but there’s both an urge to stay current and an urge to expand the world that you monitor.
3. The Number of Excellent Bloggers Will Consistently Surprise You; So Will the Number of People You Know Who Have No Familiarity Whatsoever with Many of the Bloggers You Read on a Daily Basis. My approach, like Scoble’s is to be as expansive as possible in the types of blogs/feeds I read. I don’t understand people who monitor only blogs in their small area of interest.
4. Although Many Blogs Have Feeds, Not All Feeds are From Blogs. From newspapers to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, many traditional resources have RSS feeds, although they are not blogs. There are also some well-known blogs that do not have feeds. Those blogs ceased to exist when you become “feed-dominant.” For example, I want to read Andrew Sullivan’s blog, but since I can’t find a feed, his blog is no longer part of my daily world.
5. Most of the Talk of VCs and Others That Focuses on the Business Potential of Blogs in Isolation from Feeds Seems a Little Silly Once You Live in the RSS World. I’ve come to believe that the Weblogs, Inc. model of blogging falls apart in a newsreader world. I’ve unsubscribed to all of the feeds I’ve tried that machine gun 20 posts a day with little or no effort to identify which ones are most important. I have some ideas that I think will work over the long-term, but blog-focused business models may be recipes for creating another dot-com bubble. As someone shouted on one of the business shows on cable this weekend, E-A-R-N-I-N-G-S.
6. Increasing Feed Input Necessarily Reduces Blogging Output. I understand why Scoble uses a link blog. I got a lot of great ideas to post about, but I generally ended up with a “To Blog About” folder that had hundreds of items in it. Go to Scoble Country when you are in a cycle where you want to listen more than you want to talk.
7. In Scoble Country, You Can See Many Patterns in Blogging. It’s fascinating to see stories work their way across many different areas of the blog world. It’s fascinating to see new areas of blogging appear and become dynamic. It’s fascinating to see new bloggers burst on the scene. It’s fascinating to see bloggers who spent months criticizing Bush on a daily basis announce that, after much deliberation and even though it might come as a surprise, they are endorsing John Kerry.
8. There is a Relentless Movement Toward the New in the Blog World. I straddle the fence on this issue, but I tend to be a critic of the emphasis on the new. It’s pretty common to see ten or twenty mentions of a new blog or new blogger (or, in the case of Judge Posner, one or two hundred mentions). If you stay with these blogs for a month or two, you’ll see that many of them dry up and disappear. On the other hand, Sabrina Pacifici at BeSpacific.com can do a consistently excellent job, be widely respected, and rarely receive a mention.
9. One of Most Common Blog World Patterns is the Brushfire. If you monitor a lot of feeds, you’ll see stories that simply take off and blaze across a large number of blogs over the course of a few days. Because of the emphasis on the “new,” most of the hottest stories burn themselves out in pretty short order. Many “hot” stories fade away, often without any resolution. That’s one reason you see some discussion about the need to search for “conversations.”
10. The Blog World Has Many Pockets, Each with Its Own Culture. Not surprisingly, I’m most familiar with the world of legal blogs, commonly known as blawgs. The blawg world has its own culture. It’s quite different than other pockets of blogging. Here’s one example. In large part because most of the long-time legal bloggers know each other very well, we have developed a model where if one legal blogger posts a story, the rest of us will usually not repeat the same story (i.e., we step away because Denise or Ernie or another blogger already “covered” it). We blog with the sense that readers of our blogs read all of the same blogs. There’s an unstated group dynamic at work. If a legal blogger writes about the same story or topic another legal blogger writes about, it almost always involves giving credit (and usually a compliment) to the original blogger, and then an expansion on the story rather than a simple reposting. In contrast, in the world of marketing and PR blogs, bloggers commonly post on the same topics or stories. As a result, it is easy for an outsider to see what stories are most important simply by counting the number of mentions. In blawgs, it can be more subtle – a big story might have only a few mentions.
11. The Blog World Can Be Surprisingly Insular and References to “The Bloggers” Really Do Not Make Much Sense. Again, let me use legal blogs as an example. It is quite rare for posts from lawyer bloggers to be picked up outside the group of legal blogs. In fact, the legal blogs are subdivided into law professors, practicing lawyers, law students, law librarians and, to a limited extent, consultants to the legal industry. There is not as much crossover among these subsets as you might expect. Of these subsets, I’ll tell you that the law librarian blogs are the most valuable. The law professor blogs probably get the most play outside the legal space. In the case of practicing lawyer blogs, you can almost always trace movement into the blog world at large through Ernie, Denise and, more recently, Matt Homann. In the rest of the blog world, you will also see a number of “nodes” that connect various groups of bloggers. Dave Winer, Robert Scoble, Doc Searls and the group commonly referred to as the “A-List Bloggers” are important nodes and gateways that help move content out of specific blog realms and into the blog world at large. Very few other bloggers have the same impact, but there are other significant nodes. Steve Rubel is just one recent example.
12. Reading Blogs (Not Unlike Reading Newspapers) Places a Premium on Being Able to Read Critically and Assess the Reliability of Information. Being able to read critically and assess what information you can rely upon has become, if it wasn’t already, the most important skill an Internet user can have. Children in school can be taught to improve these skills. What happens to those who have long left the education system? I see the increasingly important rule of librarians, but I’m not sure where we are headed. In Scoble Country, the sheer number of points of view can help you evaluate information or it can leave you confused. However, relying on one source will only become more problematic.
13. The Feed-reading Experience is Vastly Different from the Blog-reading Experience and Many People Do Not Appreciate the Difference. This point is one to think carefully about. When in Scoble Country, you rarely visit a blog in the traditional sense. RSS has been described by J.D. Lasica as “News that comes to you.” Those five words contain the revolution. I’m a regular reader of many blogs that I rarely, if ever, visit. I couldn’t tell you what they look like, what ads or blogrolls are there, or any other details. I make no value judgment about that; it’s just the way it is. If you accept that bloggers like me are important opinion influencers, this fact is something that you’ll need to understand and adjust for.
14. There are Two or Three (or More) Very Different Newsreader Experiences. I started out reading RSS feeds in a newsreader called Amphetadesk. The experience was very much like visiting a huge, long web page that collected all the posts in the feeds you subscribed to. You scrolled through the page to get your information. In that world, full-text feeds and graphics were bothersome, especially if you weren’t interested in the post. I enjoyed writing clever (at least to me) excerpt feeds, which were perfect for Amphetadesk. Later, the Outlook-style three-pane newsreaders like FeedDemon became more dominant. Some people criticized me for offering only excerpt feeds because I was “forcing them to visit my blog to read my posts” unlike the consumer-friendly full-text feeds. I looked at a three-pane reader and immediately saw the problem. A bit wistfully, I moved to full-text feeds. So many people use Bloglines as a newsreader service that it makes sense to be aware of their user experiences. RSS feeds may now be handled in Firefox or on MyYahoo.com. Three-pane newsreader users tend to use folders and subfolders to organize feeds. Dave Winer prefers an undifferentiated mix of feeds in reverse chronological order. Your visit to Scoble Country might be vastly different than mine and I generally try not to make a lot of assumptions about the universality of my experience with feeds.
15. If You Don’t Understand the Difference Among Headline Feeds, Excerpt Feeds and Full-text Feeds, Your Blog May Fail Without You Ever Understanding Why. The rules on the selection of types of feeds have solidified. If you generate headline feeds, you lose. No one likes them. When I decide to streamline my feed subscriptions, I use the common rule of unsubscribing from headline feeds. Poof, you’re gone. There is a general preference for full-text feeds these days. If you use excerpt feeds, you must have compelling content or give a good description. If you don’t, your audience will tend to move on rather than click-through to your blog to read the full post. In Scoble Country, I got very close to using a “delete all excerpt feeds” approach when pruning my number of subscriptions. Unfortunately for many the new blog-focused approaches initiated by established media companies, generating a headline feed to “protect your content” or “drive traffic” to your ads probably guarantees that the bloggers with the most influence will not become part of your site’s audience. In general, you want to go with a full-text feed or give a choice of full-text and excerpt. For me, I favor full-text all the time.
16. Feed-Readers Turn Some Traditional Blog Expectations On Their Heads. Remember that in Scoble Country I’m rarely visiting your blog’s site. Lots of the features of many blogs no longer are in play. I’ve gotten a fair amount of criticism for my policy of not enabling comments (and I’ve recently turned off trackbacks as well). I have my reasons – they may or may not be compelling to you – for not allowing comments. They apply to my current blog and what I want to do with it. Comments might well make great sense in other blogs I might do and they definitely make sense for other people. However, in Scoble Country, comments don’t really exist. I’m not going to visit your page to check the comments. Again, I make no value judgment; it’s simply a fact of life when you are monitoring hundreds of feeds. Some people do feeds of their comments – I find them the most confusing things in the world. If you live in the world of comments and trackbacks, Scoble Country might not be for you.
17. Plenty Of People Seem to Have Found The One True Path Of Blogging – None Of Them Agree – But Most of Them Are Happy to Lecture Others. Follow a lot of blogs for even a short period of time and you’ll see plenty of examples of people telling other people how they are violating the fundamental principles of blogging. For example, some will tell you that I don’t even have a blog because I don’t enable comments. Others say that having an RSS feed is the key element. Lots of people are trying lots of different tools at lots of different levels of skill and experience. I say, let a thousand flowers bloom. You will see a lot of this “inside baseball” talk – the amount of it will surprise you. I remember several times over more than nine years I’ve had a website when someone would send me an email blasting me for using the “wrong” font or the “wrong” size of font on my pages and generally trashing me. I would usually wait a day or two and patiently explain to them how their browser settings, not my barebones HTML skills, were the cause of the problem. None ever apologized or said thank you. I highlight this point just as small effort to get people to calm down a bit and be a little more polite this time. Bloggers are doing the best they can. We’re happy for any help or advice, but accusing people of heresy in your first contact generally does not work well.
18. Newsreader Collection Tools Are OK, But What the Heck Do You Do with All That You Collect? FeedDemon has several good tools to tag and collect posts that you want to keep. I really like its News Bins, for example. I’m intrigued by the Omea Reader’s approach to organizing, managing and linking info that you collect. Onfolio is another program I hear a lot about. The simple fact is that you can easily get overrun by the sheer volume of collected materials. It’s difficult to take action on them. A folder you call “To Blog About” could easily have hundreds or thousands of items in it, which makes it something you can laugh about, but not something that helps you post to your blog. This area is a prime laboratory for personal knowledge management tools.
19. I Started to Understand the Notion of Memes. In Scoble Country, you start to see trends before they become trends and ideas before they become ideas. You also see how they travel, coalesce, take shape and change. That’s memes.
20. There Are Some Big Names Who Blog. When I think about it, I move slightly away from the “News that comes to you” approach. I don’t disagree with it, but I change the notion of “news” a bit. I’m now getting the writings of people whose books I’ve read, who’ve influenced my thinking and who are the kinds of people you simply enjoy reading their thoughts and ideas. In many, many fields and areas of interest, you will find significant thought leaders appearing regularly in your newsreader. Business guru, Tom Peters, and science fiction legend, William Gibson, are just two of my examples. In narrow areas, you may well find the leading authority in the field showing up in your newsreader. That’s cool.
21. The Monetization Debate Looks Different From Where You Stand. There’s a lot of discussion these days about ways bloggers may appropriately derive financial benefit from their blogs. In my opinion, almost anything has to better than the current wave of prominent bloggers begging readers to leave a few bucks in the tip jar so they can get a new laptop computer or pay for hosting. I’m very careful on these issues because of the role of lawyers in Internet history, starting with the lawyers who invented spam. The hottest issue today is “ads in feeds.” Dave Winer, for example, is a big opponent of ads in feeds. Once I realized how he consumes feeds, his point of view was much easier for me to understand. In comparison, if you use a newsreader like FeedDemon, adding a sponsor logo or small add at the bottom of each post in your feed seems quite reasonable, especially if you give a subscriber a choice of an excerpt feed with no ad or a full-text feed with an ad. Keep the ad non-intrusive and I have no problem at all – I’m happy to see you make some money to support your blogging habit. Put an ad in an excerpt feed and I’m gone. In a newsreader that does not separate feeds into separate folders, it would not take many ads before your experience would be degraded. I’m now more understanding of Winer’s approach, but my thinking is more affected by the interest I’ve already had for putting ads (or, really, small and tasteful logo graphics with a tagline) into my feed.
22. Scoble Country Reminds Me of the Pre-Yahoo World. In the early days of the World Wide Web, before the heyday of search engines, you built your own paths into the web, collecting links to useful sites and resources and trying to find knowledgeable guides. It’s very similar in Scoble Country. Scoble is certainly an excellent guide. I trust his pointers, and those of others I’ve found, far more than any of the search tools. Again, keep your eyes open for those librarian blogs and feeds.
23. Amazingly High Quality Information is Readily Available. I’m tinkering with my business plan for next year. I have a folder with an absolutely amazing collection of advice, tips, discussions and other resources that will help me. How about tips on using Microsoft Office from members of the Microsoft Office design team? There are rich resources out there. The more people think that the blog world is the realm of teenage diaries, the more competitive advantage I have and the more cool stuff I can learn that others won’t bother to learn. You do it your way and I’ll do it my way.
24. When You Leave Scoble Country, You Can’t Assume People Are Familiar with the Same Information You Are. When I was in law school at Georgetown, I often found that I would get swept up in the Washington controversy of the day that was gripping everyone. I’d talk to a friend in another part of the country and find that they hadn’t even heard of the issue. Watch for that phenomenon when you are in Scoble Country. Not too many people know the same players and it’s a relatively small number of people who are conversant with issues that may be front and center in the blog world. Go to a party and start telling people that Robert Scoble says such and such and count the number of people with blank looks. Or use Adam Curry and podcasting in the same sentence at your office holiday party and see the reaction you get. It might be a different story next year, but you have to keep this blog thing in perspective.
25. About Those Clever Blog Names. The cute blog names make sense when people visit your blog and see the context, but they lose a lot of impact when you are in Scoble Country. For many feeds I get, I cannot see what the name of the author is. The tendency of bloggers to refer to each other in their blogs by their first names compounds the problem. Believe it or not, I put a lot of thought into picking the name, DennisKennedy.Blog, because I wanted the blog to be big enough to let me do anything I felt like doing. Picking a name like Legal Technology Blog or Technology Law Blog would have been too limiting for me. There are only a handful of blogs that prominently use the blogger’s name in the title. Check out how your blog title appears in a newsreader. OK, I admit I like my approach, but Jeff Beard has a good approach because his feed is labeled “Law Tech Guru by Jeff Beard.” I may start another blog one of these days and I lean toward calling it something like “Dennis Kennedy’s CleverBlogNameGoesHere Blog” just because of how I want it to appear in news readers.
Concluding Thoughts on My Trip to Scoble Country.
I tip my hat to Scoble. I had a great time in Scoble Country, but I’m glad to be back. I’m not sure when or if I’ll return. To no one’s surprise, I learned that I’d rather be Dennis Kennedy than Robert Scoble, or anyone else for that matter. Now we all know that, but it’s good to learn the lesson again from time to time. Keep on Scobleizing, Robert, but be sure to think about taking a little break one of these days. We’ll keep it going while you’re away, but you have to promise to come back from that break.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]