How to write a non-fiction best seller: chapter 1 review

This is my review of chapter 1 as mentioned in this post, I’ll be reading each chapter beginning-to-end and posting my thoughts over the next weeks.

Chapter 1 is the best essay I've seen in terms of explaining why blogs are important and why you should be paying attention to what is happening in the blog space, even if you have no interest in ever creating a blog.

I love the opening quote:

"It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory."
—W. Edwards Deming

Time will tell if blogging is really a paradigm shift on the order of horse-less carriages, telephones and the world wide web, as the authors suggest, or just a passing Internet fad. If in fact this is a technology which will separate those who adapt and thrive from those who fail to adapt and die, the blogsphere will be one of the most interesting and productive places to spend your time over the next several years.

As I read this chapter I thought back to how Microsoft paid short-shift to the Internet in the 90’s and was forced to quickly, and aggressively change course. That is in sharp contrast to how Microsoft has addressed blogging. Microsoft provides free blog hosting to any employee. We’re building RSS features into Windows Vista and aggregation features into Outlook.

One of the things that has impressed me the most about blogging is the ability of someone like myself, with no particular special skills, to have his product show up at the top of a Google search in a matter of weeks with virtually no financial investment. Chapter one postulates that blogging is not only a good idea, but necessary because it cuts through the marketing hype that we’ve all been conditioned to ignore and offers real-time communication that traditional marketing programs cannot. The ability to exploit the way people find information and products via the Internet, however, is perhaps the lynch pin of blogging’s success. I understand a paid Google link will cost about $10,000. My number one Google hit cost considerable less than ten grand. That is incredible value from a blog.

The thing that I’m still skeptical on is the statement “blogs open little windows into companies where people can see real people doing real work.” I’m not convinced that customers care about the people within companies. Four years ago, when I first heard about blogs, this was the main selling point of a blog. It went something like, “see what this interesting person does at work” or “see what this person thinks about Brittney Spears” or even worse “see what this person thinks is interesting on the web today.” That is not good reading. It is access to great information in real-time that provides value to blog readers. A baseball blog called USS Mariner was my turning point. USS Mariner provides better information than any traditional news source with none of the irritating fluff and does it faster than even most traditional internet news sites.

Perhaps blogging will put a face on and expose the human side of corporations. If they do it is for the better. It is the rest of the paragraph that I hope to leverage in my blog, “They seek the advice of their readers and use it. The readers end up in their corners supporting people in the company.” To that I hope to add, making our product better and helping customers realize its full value.

The one great eye-opener in this chapter is the challenge, “name a single ad you’ve seen for Google.” You haven’t because they don’t advertise. Perhaps this is the real paradigm shift, not from traditional marketing to blogging but to recognizing how people find information and products via the Internet and make buying decisions. Blogs appear to be a great way to exploit that. However, I suspect they’ve only exposed the tip of the iceberg. In the coming years I think we’ll see ways of exploiting that which go far beyond anything we can imaging today.

Finally, I like the analogy of blogging to a hammer. “We should remember that blogging itself is just a simple tool like a hammer or a pen. You can use a hammer to build or to bludgeon.” I’ve seen a lot of debate internally as to whether Microsoft does or not have a blogging policy. In the end it seems the company’s position is, we have policies for communications with external parties, blogs are just one mechanism for that communication and our policies are independent of the mechanism. I think this makes perfect sense and will be a model that other companies follow with regards to employee blogs.