One of the more amusing stories in the blogosphere and Twittersphere’s is the call by Michael Arrington for an intervention on Robert Scoble’s behalf. The concern, which Scoble himself recognizes (btw, Robert, I still take exception to your lack of trackbacks!), is that he has so monopolized his time interacting with Friendfeed and Twitter, that he has no time left to create real value, perhaps in the form of blog posts.
I think Scoble’s post does a pretty good job of explaining some of the subtle differences between blogging, Twitter, and Friendfeed. Let me paraphrase what he has said:
Losses: Thought Leadership, Ad Revenue, Losing Blog Audience Slowly
Scoble is less a thought leader because he isn’t blogging his thoughts in long blog posts. So blog posts are more effective at establishing thought leadership because you can express your thoughts more fully. Seth Godin alludes to this in a great post You Will Be Misunderstood where he says:
If you’ve got 140 characters to make your point, the odds are you are going to be misunderstood (a lot).
Scoble says Seth Godin is missing out on the value of Twitter, but I think that last post shows clearly that Godin understands the value clearly and isn’t interested in what it offers him versus the cost. Godin is, if nothing else, very focused on not being misunderstood while remaining as pithy as possible. It’s one of the things I love about him. He is also very clearly a Thought Leader and not someone trying to dig up more conversations to join.
FWIW, I never really have thought of Scoble so much as a Thought Leader originating a lot of ideas (although he has certainly had a lot of great ideas), but more as the guy who knows everyone, sees everything, and acts as everyone’s lens to view what’s interesting in that incredible idea stream. He doesn’t originate the stream, he focuses and culls it as a way of adding value. I think he probably agrees from what I read, and so may not care so much about a loss of thought leadership. These other tools let him do what he sees as his mission and he ignores what others may see as his mission.
It would be a good question for people like Michael Arrington to ask themselves what they think their mission ought to be. Are they Thought Leaders? Or are they also acting as lenses? Which is better? Which plays to their strengths?
In fact, it’s interesting in this context of, “What is your mission?” to look at Scoble’s remarks about Seth Godin:
Seth Godin, for instance, only blogs and he rarely gets discussed on Twitter or friendfeed. If he were active he’d be discussed 25x more.
Compare that to the 140 character quote from Seth. Scoble wants to be discussed. Seth wants to be understood. Those are much different missions. It’s no accident that a savvy market like Seth Godin understands the difference. I think Scoble is also extremely clever as a marketer, and would understand the difference too, I think he assumes Godin’s mission is the same as his own, which it looks to me is not at all true. Ask yourself about these missions. Do you want to be talked about or understood? I’m more in the want to be understood camp. It’s creepy to me to be talked about.
I think Scoble is dead on with these things and they are fascinating as well as very valuable. Given my chosen mission, I am not sure I would emulate his strategy, but I want to understand how to break it down into these component parts so that the tools can be employed against other missions I may need to execute on. Let’s look at each in a little more depth.
Reach (More people, more news)
It has always been important to Scoble to be plugged into more sources than anyone. This guy has written about reading vast numbers of RSS feeds, for example. I seem to recall him following something like 1000 feeds. I strain if I get close to 200 and am sitting at 186 as I write this. With 1000 feeds Scoble had 5x the breadth of information capture. Now Friendfeed and Twitter have allowed him to multiply that still further. He’s a guy who has blown up the limit on number of Friends some services will let him have. Now he says he has 5400 people who feed him news, so that means he has 5x the bandwidth he had when he just focused on blogs. That’s pretty cool!
He also has a huge number of followers: almost 68,000 combined on these two services. That’s huge! Scoble is reaching a lot of people. He compares this to Arrington, who is much less, but who has more on his blogs and wonders what the exchange rate is between the two. One thing he mentions peripherally got me thinking. He says advertisers are starting to want to reach people other than geeks. I suspect the audience on Twitter/Friendfeed is qualitatively different than the audience for blogs. Yes, there is huge overlap, but you just have to be a different sort of person to get into Twitter/Friendfeed. If nothing else, you are an earlier adopter. I’m not sure how this qualitative difference plays to Scoble’s mission, but I would note it for others who want to use these tools.
Lastly, Robert makes a case (I think), that these tools are more viral and that you can grow an audience faster with them than you could blogging. I think that’s also very interesting. In some sense, I think you could use these tools to build an audience that you might later vector on to your blogs and other media channels. Think of Twitter/Friendfeed as the really early part of the funnel, in other words.
It’s clear from the article that Scoble values the immediacy of Twitter/Friendfeed versus blogs, which are very delayed.
Scoble calls out the conversation and the participation in the conversation as being very important to him. I think Twitter and Friendfeed are more conversationally oriented than blogs, but there are some spotty aspects. For example, I believe that Trackbacks are an important form of conversation. Scoble, BTW, doesn’t do Trackbacks on his blog, he prefers comments. I think that approach monopolizes the conversation. The blogger says, in effect, that the conversation happens at his house and not at your house or it doesn’t happen at all. Seth Godin, interestingly, is the opposite. He does Trackbacks but not comments. I think Seth is not interested in the conversation, but he is interested in virally spreading memes that he creates. The Trackback does this far more effectively than comments because it incents bloggers to write about his posts. I know I do every chance I get and Seth repays me handsomely with traffic that comes via the Trackbacks. Arrington, BTW, has Trackback, but it is minimized so you have to look hard for it.
Wouldn’t it be fascinating to have Scoble, Seth Godin, and Michael Arrington talk about building web mindshare at a conference some time? Each one is different and fascinating. Let’s throw in Loic too if he’ll sit at the same table.
The other odd thing about the Scoble Omnimedia empire is it doesn’t look like he Tweets his blog posts. His different channels are not really connected very well. This blog is my primary mouthpiece, so I Tweet any posts, and I also send them through Friendfeed (thanks to a request by Scoble). I noticed this because I wanted to talk to Scoble about one of his blog posts, but there was no way to Tweet him about that post as easily as replying to a Tweet he would have done about the post.
The last win Scoble mentions is also fascinating. Scoble wants to actively use his audience to crowdsource value that he can then amplify and feed back to the same audience. In his case, he has a network of 5400 gathering news for him. But I can imagine other ways to use a big network like this for crowdsourcing value.
It’s a fascinating debate, but in the end, I would say Scoble may not need an intervention. I have always seen him as “Crazy like a fox” in his antics. He knows how to build readership. I think he has very effectively used Twitter and Friendfeed towards that end. What happens next will be talked about in colorful terms. That’s part of Scoble being “Crazy like a fox.” He may decide to accept the intervention when all it really means is he spent a year building a much bigger base that he now will feed content using other channels while reducing his investment in Twitter and Friendfeed to the crowdsourcing mode I mention above. Time will tell, but I learned a lot about how to use these tools watching this debate!