Excio is doing a geoblogging service. You can look up a zip code, see who’s blogging in the same place, and contribute posts.
The catch is that it’s a standalone blogging tool. “Excio offers all great features of other blogging tools, plus the ability to Geo-Code individual posts.”
Maybe this is a demo to show makers of other blogging tools how it works? But if they wanted to get integrated into TypePad and Blogger and WordPress — and logal blog portals like Austin Bloggers they ought to have a public api. As it is, they’re starting from zero users instead of millions.

PR is listening

I was on a panel last week for the Association for Women in Communications, a group of PR professionals. The topic was blogging in business, and it drew a lively crowd.
Teresa Estrada told the story of IBM’s blogging policy — they’re for it. As IBM becomes more of a services, company, they see blogging as a way of changing the impression of IBM as a faceless behemoth (not her words). She had sensible answers to people’s anxieties about unprofessional behavior.
Sean-Paul Kelly, aka the Agonist gave a fiery talk about how blogs compensate for the failings of mainstream media, and have a symbiotic relationship with mainstream media.
The hot button conversation topics are the ethics of blogging; blogging “vs.” the mainstream media; “getting fired for blogging”.
These topics distract from what seem to me to be the major theme for communications professionals. Blogging turns PR from mostly pitching to mostly listening. You can find out what people are saying about you, and be part of the conversation.
Traditional media (think mediation) is a workaround for the inability to talk to people directly, and to hear what people are saying.

Blog rank and popularity

On the other hand, I recoil from the implication by Dina Mehta that we should turn blog rank into an explicit, Orkut-like friend rating system.

I like this measure – “i enjoy their company” – maybe someone should use that as some form of index? There are some bloggers who come up with really ‘popular’ posts which get linked to heavily – they may be ‘popular’ in a mechanized sense, but it isn’t always the case that they make for relevant reads most of the time. There’s value in what Alok says as it may lend itself to a more holistic approach – if someone loves hanging out at your blog, enjoys your company through conversations there, that’s the best measure for me. It is what builds my network and community in ways that are far more compelling than from just links I may generate.

Hmmm…. rereading Dina’s post, it is not clear whether she is talking about implicit metrics and visualizations, or explicit rankings. I like the first idea and hate the second. This goes back to the critique of “friending” during the social network service fad. Explicitly declaring the emotional valence of a link or comment — fondness, congeniality, prickliness, etc. is not socially a good thing.
Although, going back to the discussion that sparked this conversation about the differences between men’s and women’s patterns of relationship, this brings to mind a social pattern from girl society in grade school. Little girls have explicit friend ranking. A girl will say that Heather and Myra are my Best Friends. I used to be friends with Sarah but I don’t like her any more. Girls compete explicitly to be friends with popular girls. Rank is bolstered by deranking girls who are less popular with mean gossip.
I suppose we could revolt against the male-centered link count, long-blogroll, weak-tie rankism by implementing an explicit, short-list, constantly changing, competitive “best friends” feature. Let’s not.
On the other hand, it would be interesting for discovery services to reveal the strength of ties, through the pattern of interlinking and commenting among subcommunities. For example, at Socialtext, we did an analysis that showed the strong ties between the cross-disciplinary design team at Ziff Davis, and weak ties between the designers and the sales and marketing staff.
I would much rather reveal that I
enjoy and respect Mary Hodder’s facilitation of the conversation about alternative blog metrics through the visualization of links to Mary’s posts and cross-links to others in the conversation, than to rate Mary.

MSN Filters: blogging as mass media

Ross is scathing about MSN’s new “Filters” project, a commercial group blog in the business niche that Weblogs Inc occupies.
Ross argues that by creating a blog zine with paid writers, MSN Filter is competing with its customers. That implies that blogging is a mass-medium with limited channels. During the height of the portal frenzy, there were stats suggesting that the Web was consolidating to three home pages. The “Long Tail” discussion and Google Adsense have put that to bed.
To the extent that part of blogging joins the mass media, more power to them. MSN and AOL already have portal home pages with pictures of celebrities and celebrity gossip. I don’t care, and I don’t have to care. Radio is a top-40 wasteland, but satellite and internet offer diversity. As long as I can find and read the blogs I care about, they are welcome to compete with Gossipster.
I suppose it’s competing with those customers who are doing blogging for money. If MSN had social smarts, they’d be looking for the popular bloggers on their service, and promoting them onto the portal for extra traffic, and compensating them. Given their terms of service, they could just take the content and not compensate the customers, which would be legal but reprehensible.

Blogher and identity politics

Jay Rosen writes that one of the themes he recognized at the BlogHer conference was fear. Women bloggers were more likely to admit that they felt afraid, about job risk, stalking, and other risks of blogging. When I read through the Blogroll in prep for the show, I noticed people talking about pre-conference jitters. I suspect there are fewer posts admitting to butterflies about, say Always On.
My pre-Blogher jitters were about the potential level of identity politics. I blog about women in technology and business occasionally, but most often about other things — social software, tech policy, books. If there was a conversation about what it’s like to be a woman blogger, I don’t think that I’d get that far.
When you assemble a group focused on “identity x”, there’s the risk of rathole discussions about whether people and things are “x enough”.
Overall, Blogher avoided the perils of identity focus, and got good things done because of the focus:
* Mary Hodder started a speaker list to identify female conference speakers. There is no good excuse for conference program organizers who just can’t think of women panelists.
* Blogs and the mainstream media have even fewer excuses for stupid stories about the scarcity of women bloggers.
* Ideas about alternative blog metrics beyond the mass-market A-list were catalyzed, as a result of conversations among people who care more about their “long tail” subcommunities than overall fame.
* In the panel on investment, audience members asked basic questions (“what is the difference between angel and venture investors”), and got answers that were friendly and informative. The questioners might not have spoken up at the investment panel at a general (mostly male) event.
* Reports say the Mommy blogger panel rocked.
* Interesting insights from the globalization session about the challenges of blogging in multiple languages — what to say to whom, in what tone.

Citizen journalism is more fun to do than to talk about

At Blogher, I was at a birds-of-a feather session on citizen journalism. It was moderated by Amy Gahran. Jay Rosen was there, along with several others who are doing citizen journalism of various flavors.
The discussion focused on the tired old wordgames — what is a journalist, what is a citizen journalist. Are bloggers journalists or not? How can citizen journalists be ethical? Is citizen journalism a good term, or is it intimidating for citizens, and exclusive of people who are non-citizens.
The discussion implies a zero-sum game of prestige and reputation between “old” and “new” journalism. I say it’s boring, and I say the heck with it.
Citizen journalism is more fun to do than to discuss. In the battle to save municipal wireless projects in Texas, Chip Rosenthal and I set up a weblog and a mailing list. And we covered the ins and outs of the issue through the legislative process. Someone attended the hearing, or watched it on video. We tracked the latest version of the bills.
We were doing “advocacy journalism” — we have an opinion — we’re not neutral on the question about whether cities and towns should be able to support broadband access. But we were covering the story. We often “broke” the story, simply because we following an issue closely, and the mainstream media has a broad beat and can’t cover everything. When we had news, we sent email to the reporters who were covering the issue for the mainstream media. And we became a source for the reporters.
We assembled a community. We found the people who were doing community broadband projects, and we wrote about them. We used the mailing list as a primary means of staying in touch with the community. And the blog did a great job of helping us link with others who were participating and covering the story, through comments and Technorati-discovered cross-links.
We didn’t complain that we were a few citizens fighting the phone company. We didn’t complain that the issue was undercovered by the mainstream media. We took the resources we had, and we used them. We didn’t spend time trying to define what we were doing. We just did it.
By committing acts of citizen journalism, whatever you call it, the new definitions will emerge.

Campaign blogging as jazz and blues

Brilliant piece by Scott Henson comparing the the prose form of campaign blogging to the musical forms of jazz and blues.
Mass media campaigns are fixed compositions, where the same notes are played over and over again. (Scott uses the analogy of classical music, but I’d say Top 40, Clearchannel, focus-group-tested, endlessly-repeated pop.)
Campaigns using bottom-up media are more like blues, where the theme is repeated with enough variation to keep things interesting, enough repetition to be satisfying, and a folk culture transmission in the music community.
Thinking out loud, the cultural parallels may extend to social organization. Group blogs like Daily Kos and RedState are like bands with leading soloists, and background players who occasionally take front stage. The group structure is in flux, with soloists heading off to start their own band, like Billmon from Kos, and the creation of supergroups like Tagsonomy, which can be more or less than the sum of the parts. There are informal but distinct “schools” connected by interlinks — Texas bloggers, liberal bloggers, conservative bloggers, environmental bloggers.
Like musical traditions, blog communities are about affiliation. Blogs are language, not music, and one of the primary roles of language is persuasion.
Scott’s argument is targeted at traditional campaign managers who are antsy at giving up control to the free-wheeling blogosophere. Just as ClearChannel is losing market share to services with greater diversity, like iTunes and satellite radio, Scott argues that campaigns based on fixed repetition will lose out:

Message-makers who resist the change, especially those who stick to the repeat-it-ad-nauseum approach, will increasingly cause their campaigns to lose the message wars. Those who’ve learned to vary their message and rhythms to accomodate the changing environment along the line of the 12-bar blues model possess greater flexibility to operate in the new era.

Coming from the opposite “emergent democracy” side of the conversation, which celebrates the “bottom-up”, improvisatory spirit and scorns the rigorous practices of organization, Scott’s focus on campaigns is rather refreshing. Campaigns are unabashedly, er, purposive. Evangelism and persuasion are part of the blogging genre, whether the domain is politics, technology, or something else. Ants get other ants to swarm with pheremones; humans get other humans to swarm with ideas.

The death of the scoop

One of the hallmarks of traditional journalistic culture is the race for the “scoop” — beating competitors in a race to cover a “big” story.
This meta-story makes several assumptions. Fellow journalists are competitors. One’s job is to win against them. Sharing information is against the rules of the game.
When blogs cover news, the assumptions are different. Early reporting on the big Texas House telecom bill involves bloggers sharing information, puzzling out the intricacies of a debate with nearly 40 amendments, and the meaning of the bill that came out of the sausage machine.
The enemy isn’t other bloggers — it’s the indifference of the mainstream media to stories that are less dramatic than an oil refinery explosion. The Statesman covered the telecom story. The Dallas Morning News and Houston Chronicle apparently didn’t [correction: the Houston Chronicle picked up the AP story, and the Dallas News had a story on the bill’s passage by Vikas Bajaj].
In a world of online peer production, facts aren’t the scarce resource. Attention is the scarce resource. We’re not limited by the front page, news-hour spatial constraint where an oil refinery explosion crowds out other news. We’re limited by social dynamics that focus attention on the day’s cause celebre.
The scarce resource is attention. Collaboration multiplies links and attracts attention. Thus bloggers swarm to assemble the facts.

The genre of blog investigative reporting

When blogs do real investigative journalism, there’s a distinct benefit to the form.
Newspaper and magazine investigative pieces tend to be really long. Journalists are assigned to cover an issue in-depth for months, and then fill pages with detailed name, date, and fact-filled paragraphs At the risk of seeming shallow, I have a hard time getting throught them.
Ordinary stories tend to be short, written by journalists who have cursory familarity with the issue and tight deadlines, drawing on press releases, standard stories, and conventional wisdom. There are a some strong “beat” reporters who are an exception to this rule. Unless you’re strongly interested in the topic to begin with, they are harder to find, since their stories “look” like every other story.
The blog form is different. When blogs are doing real investigative reporting and analysis, they’ll cover a topic in small bites, day after day. A reader can learn the players and the vocabulary, gradually, and gain an understanding of the topic over time.
Contra the “A-list” stereotype, it’s easy to find these people. A quick Google or Technorati search will find bloggers who write about a topic. It’s easy to zoom in on people who sound cogent. Then follow their blogroll and the people they link to. Put a couple in an RSS reader. And soak up domain knowledge.