Author : Benoit Desavoye
Price : 20 euros
Format : 15 x 21
Nb of pages : 200
ISBN : 2-9520514-3-7
The new universal media
A new media has arrived. There are already tens of million blogs on the Internet in mid-2005, covering every field from culture to business, ranging from personal interests to specialized technical topics. We are seeing the Internet being taken back again by users who are as much information producers as consumers.
Blog software allows anyone to publish any kind of content without previous technical knowledge. Underlying this apparent simplicity, a social phenomena has been created: blogs are a new form of media, covering every subject, often providing additional and sometimes alternative information to that found in traditional media. It fully explains the blogging phenomenon and its unique aspects, as well as instructing readers on how to use all the functions of these tools.
Benoît Desavoye is the creator of one of the first large blog platforms. He wrote and edited this book in conjunction with three other writers. Two are technology consultants, and the third is the founder of a web agency.
Blogs are everywhere. Their advent is as significant as the introduction of e-mail. Heads of companies, housewives, employees, photographers and many others with special interests are sharing every day how they live, what they do and what they’ve learned. Moreover, out of about 12 million blogs worldwide at the beginning of 2005, a good half were produced by teenagers. For them, it’s normal to share with friends, so that is no surprise. They don’t read daily newspapers; their medium of information is the Internet. Their favorite means of communication is no longer e-mail but instant messaging.
Watch some kids playing together at home or on the playground. What they do most naturally is share their experiences, the latest rumors and what they’ve learned. They stay close to their friends by sharing information.
Take video games, for example. Since the feverish beginning of Internet games, it became obvious that players need to share their tips and tricks if they wanted to succeed as the games became more and more complex. They know very well that information has far more value when shared than when kept to oneself.
For all those who, like me, have moved beyond their carefree adolescent years, the blog phenomenon is different. Blogs can be unsettling and give some people a strange impression of their authors: “What an egocentric person! I can’t see why he goes on about his life every day.” That is normal. Since we entered the world of work, we’ve been told that strength derives from the protection of information. More specifically, look at the way most companies function: The more information you control, the more capable you look.
A manager at the top of the ranks has a global view of the company, reflecting its overall strategy, because he has access to all the information available within every department. A lower level project manager will only have access to information about his specific project, without any idea of what "the head" of the company knows. So he in turn believes that sharing the information he has learned might compromise his ability to move up the ladder.
But what if we didn’t use that frame of reference? What if the teenagers were right and we were wrong?
We grew up in a world where the traditional media taught us to accept information from a few sources that were considered reliable. Journalists had a monopoly on information, simply because it was very difficult and expensive to establish a daily newspaper or a TV station.
The traditional media only reinforced this perception that it was advantageous to control information, since it is the basis of their business model. Gradually, we progressed from only one TV channel to hundreds, and from several large print publications to a proliferation of media, and now to the beginning of the blog phenomenon. Now everyone has gained the capacity to become a source of information in his own right.
Sharing information has been a well-known advantage among software developers since the boom in Open Source technology and the creation of the Linux operating system. Today, this product of volunteer developers who share their work is able to compete with the Microsoft behemoth.
Now the Open Source movement is spreading beyond data processing to other areas, especially biotechnology. In early 2005, we saw the formation of BioForge, a non-profit company whose objective is making advances in biotechnology at an unprecedented speed. The idea is to share and combine the knowledge of thousands of scientists throughout the world.
Now you might say, “That’s all very well and good, but it’s not for me. It’s too complex.” But you might be fooling yourself. Following the lead of Jimmy Wales, individual lay people collaborated to create an entire encyclopedia within a few years—all of it written and edited by people just like you and me. It is a body of knowledge that everyone can enrich and correct in his own way, as easily as you might mark a correction on the a page of a book when you find a typo. Today, Wikipedia has a larger Internet audience than its commercial competitors. It contains more than 450,000 articles after only four years, all written and posted with corrections by over 150 000 users. In South Korea, the Internet site OhmyNews leads all the others in audience numbers and variety of content. It is written by more than 30,000 “citizen-contributors.”
Open Source yourself
Blogging is the equivalent of the Open Source phenomenon operating on a personal scale, accessible to anyone. Try it, and you’ll prove this to yourself. In your everyday life, you learn a lot, whether it’s on a personal or a professional level.
Take Pascale Weeks, for example (http://scally.typepad.com). Every day, for several months, she has been posting a creative food recipe on her blog. Why bother? Simply to share what she has learned. OK, but why do that? To teach other people in turn. Pascale’s blog now has thousands of daily readers, plus thousands of comments that further enrich the content every day. Her readers for their part suggest alternatives to a recipe, share anecdotes, or criticize a Planter’s Punch recipe by submitting their own favorites. What happened on Pascale’s blog? Simply by sharing her passion for cooking, she attracted a highly loyal community of other enthusiasts, who show up every day to share their experiences and enrich one another. No single reader-contributor, or Pascale herself, would be able to access such a rich store of knowledge if the blog didn’t exist.
People ask me almost every day what this is all about. Why do I spend time so much time blogging every day? Many have questioned of my mental health, and most take to me for some kind of egocentric weirdo. But we are coming more and more to realize just how valuable it is to share what we learn every day in our professional lives. True, I have devoted a lot of my time (about three hours a day) to reading other people’s blogs and writing my own. What few of my acquaintances comprehend is that I’ve learned and enriched myself far more through the 5000+ messages I’ve received through my blog than by any other means.
Here is one example: I don’t speak German, and before I started my blog last year, I didn’t know anyone in Germany. However, I wanted to expand my company, Six Apart, into the German market. The traditional way wasn’t very appealing—probably I would need to make an appointment at the business development office, contact a headhunter, search for a partner, and so forth. It would be difficult, slow and expensive. Instead, I decided to see if I could launch my German subsidiary company just by using my blog.
So I wrote a small note on the English section of the blog asking who was fluent in German, and if they might agree to help me out. Within a few hours, to my great surprise, I had received ten comments and e-mails from Germans offering their assistance in launching my new enterprise. My curiosity was aroused, so I decided to continue the experiment, I suggested that they set up dinners in their respective cities, inviting anyone they knew who wanted to attend. The magic of blogs was about to go into operation. Several of the German bloggers sent out e-mails that went something like this: "There’s a French businessman whom I don’t know, but he sounds OK. He’s coming to a meeting, and you’re invited to join us.”
We ended up meeting with ten people in Frankfurt, about fifteen in Munich, and around fifty in Hamburg. At each meeting, I met people who had the same areas of interest as myself: contractors, investors, some journalists, and students who had ambitions to create their own companies. Usually, my blog is of little interest to anyone outside my field. So besides spending some enjoyable evenings in Germany, I assembled an invaluable network of 100 German friends within one week. That gave me the contacts I needed to establish a liaison with German telecom and Internet operators.
Within fifteen days, I had recruited a German manager for my venture, the person who had most impressed me during the dinners. Within one month, my company was launched in Germany. I never would have succeeded so quickly through traditional methods in a new market.
So why did these German bloggers show up at my meetings and help out so much? Simply because a blog is based on sharing information. In this book, I will encourage you to set up your own blog, and discover for yourself that information becomes more valuable when it’s shared than when it’s protected. If you have doubts about that, I think you’ll soon change your mind.
--Loïc Le Meur