This is the extended version of my (intended) talk today at the Blog Business Summit. (The final verbiage is shorter and will vary in the real life giving of it). I intend to keep honing this. It's not a manifesto. Slides will come later and should be available now for conference attendees at the conference site.
(UPDATE: My slides, although they've been slightly tweaked since (all advance conference slides). Also I posted a quick-and-dirty how-to create a map of your marketplace ecosystem as I alluded to in the talk live.)
BlogBusinessSummit talk, August 18, 2004
(Slide 1 – The Blogosphere isn’t Rocket Science, and using the Metaphor of a Public Marketplace)
Hi Everyone. I thought I’d cover the diffusion of innovation and social network analysis theory as a kickoff for this “Staying on Top of the Buzz” panel. I’m only kidding. I’ve got ten minutes!
You might have heard the adage: A picture is worth a thousand words. Well, then, a metaphor is worth a thousand pictures. 
So I’m going to drill into a metaphor that does a remarkable job of summing up the blogosphere’s dynamics and even boils down those buzz and social network theory mumbo-jumbo I just mentioned. I was at Pike Place Market in Seattle when this metaphor truly crystallized for me.
The blogosphere’s bible is a book called the The Cluetrain Manifesto. And its mantra is: Markets are Conversations. More than half of you here already know that. Yup we can nod our heads in unison: Markets. Are. Conversations. But what if instead of an abstract concept a whole teeming vibrant marketplace and a vivid picture of your stall played out in your mind with all its attendant connotations, images, nuances, smells, textures whenever you thought of the blogosphere.
I was in New Mexico recently. The history book says Spain established Santa Fe as the political capital of New Spain back in 1610. What undeniably established Santa Fe as its cultural capital however was that at the crossroads of the El Camino Trail and the Santa Fe Trail emerged a bustling trading post. Today, Santa Fe hosts the second or third largest art market in the world (depending on if you ask a Santa Fean or Los Angeles native). The Santa Fe plaza stands where the trading post of old saw thousands of traders exchange calico, furs, mules and gossip. 
James Cherkoff, a marketing blogger, says: “A single blog can be akin to a ranting madman on the corner. However, when linked together into massive intertwining communities they have the vibrancy and passion of an enormous street market, with information, opinions and whispers exchanging hands at light speed.” In a recent post, James points to a TIME Europe story on blogs. In the article, TIME uses the metaphor of the Tower of Babel. James counters, “Bazaar is probably a better comparison.”
I like how Caterina Fake of Flickr puts it: “The marketplace used to be a human place, where people exchanged the goods they'd grown or made, and each exchange was an exchange between people.”
Current public marketplaces are nearly overrun with tourists. But you can imagine a time in the not-too-distant past where it was mostly locals. Visitors passing through came with their wares and news from their own towns.
Go back further still: “Just below the Acropolis rock one can wander around the streets of the ancient Agora of Athens. The Agora, or marketplace, was the heart of the thriving city of Athens and it functioned as a lively market and as an intellectual playground where concepts such as Democracy were born.”
All around the world, cities arose from the heart of a public marketplace.
I hadn’t been in Mexico long when I arrived in Oaxaca late one evening. Walking solo through its town square at night was a scary experience. In the light of day, I realized there wasn’t anything to be worried about. It was merely foreign to me.
There’s a humility when we enter a foreign culture, especially if we are to conduct business there. But there is a familiarity too. Cultures vary, but people are people the world over.
You may be surprised that I chose a public marketplace as the metaphor for the blogosphere. With everything you might have heard you’d think the blogosphere is anti-business. And it’s scary for businesses.
That’s not exactly true. But, yes, it is a response to the depersonalization - the dehumanization - of commerce.
Blogs harken back to an era before…
Megaphones. Before Super Bowl ads. Before celebrity-studded concert-format megachurches. Before Ryze, Friendster and LinkedIn.
To a time of community marketplaces, bazaars, neighborhood shops and pubs where everyone knew your name, and town squares. And going back further still to trading posts and tribal campfires.
We know this stuff. Perhaps conversing is nearly a lost art. But it’s fundamentally human too. Basic building blocks of humanity.
A sign at the Pike Place Market Heritage Center reads: “There is a difference between a public marketplace and a shopping mall – a difference in how the marketplace functions as a social setting meeting the human need to be with others.”
Metaphors connote associated images. Language imply thoughts, imply actions. For instance, “blog monitoring” connotes intelligence gathering (for instance, military intelligence). And regardless of your politics, reflect on what military intelligence has given us in terms of true understanding of the deep-seated motivations of the peoples of the Middle East. Why does the average person there get up in the morning? And what makes her tick?
Monitoring is only the right word if your metaphor is ‘business is war’.
Notice the difference in the word listening. Listening connotes half of a human conversation. A person walks up to your stall in the marketplace. You’re listening, not monitoring. A group of women are in the corner of the public marketplace gathered in the tea garden - perhaps they are knitting - and they are listening to each other, not monitoring.
It is an important distinction.
When someone mentions your name in a blog or other online media, they’re definitely speaking to you. You aren’t interrupting a private conversation. As Robert Scoble once said, a link to his blog is equivalent of walking up and saying “hi” at a party. Any mention of your company or its products is like someone walking right up to your stall – whether or not you have your own blog. Sometimes they are simply thanking you and it’s short and sweet.
The Gourmet Station is an example of a company that found itself in the middle of controversy when they launched their blog. Their first reaction was: “It’ll blow over.” You wouldn’t think that way when you imagine a mob standing right in front of your stall. You know you have to listen attentively and respond then and there. You are not safely ensconced up on a hill. There are no gates. There are no towers, no moats.
You’re smack in the square.
I regularly mention books on my own blog. Rarely does an author or publicist notice. Rarely does an author or publicist acknowledge my thumbs up or thumbs down even when they sent me a review copy. Doesn’t make a difference if they have a blog themselves. Few are listening, it appears.
After a mixed book review I wrote, Dan Pink immediately sent me an email. I noted he’d commented throughout the blogosphere too. We’d established a weak tie, as they say in social-network-speak. It feels like I’m at the market. He’s bent over the stall signing books and he has stopped to chat with me. I still stop at his stall from time to time – pick up his book again, see him speak in person, shoot off an email. And now I check out his blog.
Microsoft is listening. And Microsoft is observing. They’re not just hosting over a thousand employee blogs to speak out. They’re paying attention and taking notice to the conversations about RSS and other burning issues throughout the public marketplace. It shows in their product announcements and product managers like Dean Machamovitch asking for feedback.
It shows in the behind-the-scenes conversations in the hallways of the other public marketplaces - places like Gnomedex. Someone quote influential unquote shares what they’ve spotted: “Microsoft is becoming more open. And Google is becoming more and more closed.”
With everything a click away, the closest concept to the prime directive “location, location, location” is “link, link, link.” Growing trade posts, just like growing cities, attract even more traffic.
In the 1800s, both Santa Fe and Taos became way stations for traders heading to and fro between the U.S. and Mexico. “Over the years the Santa Fe Trail carried so much traffic that even today you will be able to see traces of wagon ruts near Fort Union National Monument, northeast of Santa Fe.” 
It’s a simplistic metaphor for the power law and why popular blogs just get more popular. People want to be where the action is.
But that doesn’t mean that only prime real estate matters. “Link, link, link” often assumes that influence can be measured purely by Technorati’s “authority” (the number of inbound links you can claim citing your blog) or represented by the number of Bloglines subscribers. Numbers alone don’t tell you who is visiting that stall. Nor if there is a loyal steady stream bonding and weaving ties and growing in a more organic fashion. Nor if there are connectors scouting around for new gems tucked away in obscure corners from the madding crowd and the beaten path.
It’s only about 50 miles by car from the heart of Taos – its plaza - to Santa Fe’s plaza. St. Louis merchants sent good-sized trade expeditions to Taos. Resident Kit Carson, one of the earliest ‘connectors’ must have made that trek between Taos plaza and the Sante Fe trading post a lot.
There have always been connectors linking towns, squares, piazzas, agoras, markets, harvest festivals, and communities. Folk that traveled between the two. Be on the lookout for people that span and link two or more plazas and marketplaces.
(SLIDE 5 - Don't Assume a Blogger is An Island)
Starting a new blog today in the dark remote alleys of a 14-million-plus stall marketplace is daunting to say the least.
A young William Butler Yeats addressed his fellow poets one evening and said: “None of us can say who will succeed, or even who has or has not talent. The only thing certain about us is that we are too many.”
Regardless of how many zillions of blogs are out there, there is a small world paradox due to dynamics of social networks. And even blogger karma.
You really aren’t in a 14-million-plus stall marketplace. I live right here in the San Francisco Bay Area - a large geographic and densely populated area - yet it seems everyone here is either one or two degrees of separation from knowing John Doerr or Marc Canter.
Your marketplace really is a small world after all.
Remember: “The public marketplace functions as a social setting...” Gossip is an eons old social phenomena and word travels fast. It’s sheer lunacy to believe that bloggers and blog readers don’t talk amongst themselves online and offline.
If you Google the company name “Dot’s Flowers” the #1 result isn’t the company website – rather, it’s a post I wrote. Imagine you are in a public marketplace where folks have lived, laughed, and ranted for years. Someone would notice when a chunk of the populace is hawking the flower shop on the corner. And inevitably it only takes one person to blab that he was paid five bucks to mimic conversation but has never bought a single daisy from that flower stall. (And by the way, since the subject is listening, that flower stall hasn’t said one peep about my post.)
Still we may think: Why worry with just one blogger that’s unhappy. One measly blogger.
Yes, you need to listen to one measly blogger. And not just one of Jeff Jarvis’ stature.
No man is an island. That’s particularly true of bloggers. Anyone that takes the time to build up a stall, perform on the town square stage, organize a protest, pen a public letter to Mr. Dell and hang it prominently, walk around the square sharing newsbits or travelling to other markets is not exactly a hermit.
There are a lot of definitions of “buzz”. There are a few that I use as guideposts:
“Buzz is a long-term learning model,” says Alex Wipperfurth in his book Brand Hijack. “It carries an authentic social message; it’s news.” In contrast, hype is about short-term awareness. Hype is a biased product message; it’s publicity.
We can carry that news focus further with a mixed metaphor. (A parade fits neatly into the marketplace metaphor; or we imagine news flitting from tongue to tongue, spreading like wildfire). Find an idea, a trend or news item that’s just a spark. A spark that’s about to catch relevant to your business. Get in front of that idea. Back that idea. Maybe you didn’t start it, but you can lead the parade by sharing the fire and tending the flames. People will talk.
Proactively listen to what’s news, what are your marketplace’s burning issues, and what ideas are just starting to catch like tinder for wildfires.
Last year I was working on an enterprise software startup’s blog. When they started, no one was talking about them, but folks were talking about their own problems. Jump into those conversations. A feature of their customer base was that they had offices distributed around the world and needed to run applications over the Web. To stay on top of the buzz, to get in front of the parade, they also needed to track distinctive keyword terms like “latency” – one of their customer problems. We realized that dealing with globally distributed workforces plus outsourcing issues were the hot themes, those were the big pushbuttons that would lead the parade – that was news they cared about. No one really cared about the product and industry-insider publicity we thought was “news.”
Proactive listening also heads off reactive listening. The Kryptonite bike lock story is probably the biggest lack-of-blog-monitoring-missed-the-boat story. Had Kryptonite been listening before the video from the cyclist who had his bike lock picked by a ten-cent Bic pen, I believe this whole nightmare would have been avoided.
(As an aside, the Kryptonite story is proof point that the public marketplace/public square metaphor works: a public lynching is a big event.)
Some companies merely have a cardboard stand-in at their stall and a few brochures laid out on the counter. But there is no human present. Whether you have a stall or not, whether you decided to park yourself up on a hill, people will still talk in the marketplace. Coming down to the square once in a while to make a public pronouncement doesn’t quite cut it.
On September 12, 2004, there was a mention on an online forum, bikeforums.net, on the Bic pen enabled hoist.
I don’t know about you but I’d think that Kryptonite would be participating in this sort of public marketplace before a fiasco - we’re talking about bike forums….bike blogs. Their own marketplace broke the news.
It’s a bit more of a stretch, but not much for a bike gadget company to read Engadget. On September 14, Engadget’s post read: “Kryptonite Evolution 2000 U- Lock hacked by a Bic pen.” That’s the post that kicked off the top down news coverage.
In contrast, you might want to check out another company’s participation in the bike marketplace. Take a good look at Bike Friday. It’s a twenty-five person company in Eugene, Oregon. They don’t have a blog, but they’re out there milling in the marketplace alright.
And in August 2002, they hired one of their customers – one of their customer evangelists, that is – into their marketing department.  Before that Gal From Down Under, a.k.a. Lynette Chiang, chronicled her bike adventures across the world on her website. Her company does not have a blog - she does.
I am absolutely certain that if a Bike Friday’s bikes had any problems, they’d hear the news from a customer first rather than when they unfolded their issue of the New York Times or turned the dial to NPR.
The blogosphere isn’t anti-business. It’s simply against the depersonalization of commerce, the dehumanization of commerce.
Inc. magazine recently lauded Craig Newmark of Craigslist as one of their favorite entrepreneurs. Says Inc.: “In this age of test-marketing and spin, here is a business that does not treat the customer as a credulous cash dispenser.”
And I agree wholeheartedly with Bike Friday’s Lynette Chiang: “At the end of the day, there is a human being who is buying your product; people lose sight of that with their policies, advertising, mass emails. The role of the evangelist is to make a connection with a human being.”
I’ll let Craig Newmark sum it up, “There's no genius behind it. It's persistence and listening to people."
 Dan Pink, A Whole New Mind.
 Journey to the High Southwest: A Traveler’s Guide to Santa Fe and the Four Corners of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, by Robert L. Casey, Fifth Ed., pp. 282-294
 same as 
 You'll have to check out the Internet Archives for blog.pivia.com. They underwent acquisition mode and closed down the blog.
 Mary Hodder's backward investigative keyword search post triggered my thinking about Kryptonite anew. To learn about the listening 'tools', check out Mary Hodder’s ongoing series: Part I, For the Vox Populi: A Comparison of How Some Blog Aggregation and RSS Search Tools Work, and Part II, For the Vox Populi, Part II: A Comparison of How Some Blog Aggregation and RSS Search Tools Work for Keyword Search
 Gal From Down Under’s site says: “In August 2002 I started officially working for Bike Friday as their Customer Evangelist and instigated the "What Do You Do On A Friday?" campaign."