Six Apart at the BBC
Today at BBC Television Centre we had a visit from a coterie of people from, or connected to, Six Apart, the company behind Movable Type & Typepad. They gave an overview of their products and future strategy to an audience of people who were mostly active bloggers who happened to be BBC staff - most of whom were later on going to the London Bloggers meet-up doo-dah. The presentation was led by Loic Le Meur with Heiko Hebig and consultant Andrew Anker - and all arranged by Euan.
Actually, it was a mix of a product overview, a presentation on the "impact" of blogging, and a cheeky inquisitive prod at a big corporation.
They talked about the fact that currently there is an uncertain relationship between journalism and bloggers. That journalists can now be fact-checked in a post-google world in a way that never happened before, and that journalists can, should and probably ought to gauge an instant reaction to their stories. And my take on it is that even if that reaction is only generated by a small self-electing bunch of online middle class white blokes in the so-called democratic west it doesn't matter, because, in the majority of cases this is exactly the kind of demographic that these media organisations are trying to sell advertising at.
Six Apart were also boasting about the take-up rates they were getting, via not just Typepad but with their deals in Japan and via U-Blog* in France. The suggestion was that there were now 5 million blog publishers to date on all platforms in the global online world, with more and more joining every day. That is a lot of pet traumas to read about.
However, Six Apart see blogs / feeds / "spools" as a fantastic medium for tapping into niche markets, whether it was the example used today - Across The Seams - or an example I'd use - a bunch of technobods bitching about other technobods in a way that makes other other technobods laugh (see 2lmc / the spool / scribot). It isn't of interest to the bulk of people in the real world - frankly it isn't of interest to the bulk of people I know online - but it is possible to capture a small market (i.e. me and my mates) that would never be addressed in this way in the mainstream media.
The presentation also touched on an increasing corporate use of RSS (or Atom - I'm agnostic on this issue, MT can crank out templates for both, so why fret?). The example given of good use of RSS was the Nokia Content Syndication Program - a huge amount of corporate information and documentation from them is now delivered via RSS.
Delivering content in an RSS format is something that has been quite vexing at the BBC. BBC News have done it - and have really done it at a micro level. You can get any of the 'indices' in an RSS format, whether it is a massive feed like World News, or a specialist one like Leyton Orient. Elsewhere we are not always so forthright.
BBC Scotland's "Island Blogging" doesn't seem to deliver any summary feed content. Elsewhere on bbc.co.uk the Comedy Blog manages to fulfill a role that goes somewhere between 'news' about comedy and 'commentary' about comedy. The people who make the site (like Kim) get to give a flavour of themselves online, whilst keeping the site reflecting current events & trends on radio, stage and screen. It does do a Comedy Blog RSS version, though you either have to second guess the URL or dig in the source code for the <link rel="alternate"> statement. (But then you don't want to get me started on the "undocumented features" of bbc.co.uk).
Loic also pointed out the way Macromedia have dealt with their staff blogging - by promoting it on their corporate site. This is also a format that the BBC have dabbled in - BBC News journalists "Reporters' Log" has them sending in very short bursts of copy during big but predictable breaking news events - for example Hutton or Bush's visit to Britain. The BBC London site also seem to be experimenting with the format in a user-generated way for this year's elections. They have several election diaries running in the build-up which are in a blog-ish format, with comments encouraged from the audience.
Mind you, even with all this thought stimulated, I'm still not sure the Six Apart guys did enough to convince me to go through the installation pain required to upgrade currybetdotnet to version 3.0 when it arrives.
*Which has the beneficial offshoot of allowing me to improve my understanding of colloquial French
<ADDED 17th March 2004>: Loic Le Meur has written up some of what he presented to us far more eloquently than I managed to summarise it - Journalism's New World and how Media companies should adapt