I was relieved to see that the room for my Newbies session at Bloggercon had most of the seats filled, despite the fact that superstars Adam Curry and Jay Rosen were leading sessions at the same time.
A newbies session at Bloggercon was not easy to plan for - or to lead. The discussion could go in a number of possible directions, depending on who was in the room. As it turned out, of the 50 or so people in the room, we had a fairly even balance of total newbies, people who have been blogging for less than a year, people who have been blogging for more than 2 years, and developers who were there to hear more about what users want.
While some people, I think, would have liked the session to be more of a blogging tutorial, that was not our mission. So I pointed people to resources I've been collecting as a linkroll on this blog, including a Wiki of blogging resources (which I hope everybody out there will help build as a resource for newbies and not-so-newbies alike).
We did need to deal with a few basic questions like: what the heck is trackback? Not everybody in the room knew what RSS is, so we spent a little time on that, too.
One person asked a good question: why spend one's precious time blogging rather than doing something else? Bloggers in the room concurred that a good blog requires time. It requires the desire to communicate SOMETHING, with some sense of who you want to communicate that something TO and WHY (even if the "who" is only one other person).
In my observation, as blogging moves from techies and early-adopters to a broader range of people, the current group of blog-newbies is less interested in blogging for blogging's sake than in blogging for a specific purpose. They want to get an activist or political message out, communicate better with their boyfriend, collaborate more effectively with colleagues, or whatever.
This may mean that toolmakers might want to think about targeting different kinds of toolsets for different kinds of purposes.
People in the room said they started blogs (text as well as photo) for a number of purposes:
- to enhance their long-distance romantic relationship
- to facilitate communication and cross-departmental collaboration within their company or organization
- to do customer support
- to organize and promote a local soccer program
- to build an information community around a news service (see the BBC's islands project)
What do users want?
- Simpler tools - all blog tools have their pros and cons. Nobody seemed to feel that any tool enabled them to do everything they wanted to be able to do - or at least, not nearly as easily as they would like, if they can figure it out, which ofen the non-techie can't.
- Better support. Much frustration about support. "One place to go for HELP!'
- No more gap in user-friendliness between hosted tools and tools you have to install on your own server. (Developers pointed out this will be really hard to do.)
What did I take away from the session?
- Blogs are a communication tool. You must first have something you want to communicate, and a know who you want to communicate it to.
- Blogging takes work. It won't change your life or your organization or your colleagues magically with no work.
- That said, many organizations could benefit tremendously from using blogs (and RSS) to enhance what they do. It remains difficult to convince many blog-skeptics or overworked people. Confusion and frustration about tools is sometimes a reason. That said, blogging is now starting to gain enough public attention that more people are curious about it and more receptive than ever. This is a great time to bring blogging to newbies.
I wish we had more time to delve into the nuts-and-bolts of how one brings blogs to existing organizations, how you fit blogging into existing work patterns, and how you make blogging work in a company, campaign office, non-profit, or whatever. That could be a whole session in itself.