I've had my SPOT watch for a few weeks now. I have a love/hate relationship with it. I note that the Seattle PI wrote a blog about the advertising campaign and other reactions to the watch (most of which were not positive).
First, the hate.
I hate the instant messages that people send me on it. Why? I can't reply. And, when I get back to my PC where I can reply, I can't see their IM address. This makes it VERY frustrating. Solution for next version? Put the IM address into the message on the watch. Even better? Make MSN Messenger alert me when I'm back online with a "would you like to reply to XXXX who sent you an MSN Direct Message?"
I hate the news capability. Here at 35,000 feet somewhere between Portland and Phoenix, I have only the most rudimentary of US and World news. Where's the local news? Where's the Microsoft or industry-specific news? Any way to choose to get more than 15 words on any one news story? No. Solution for next version? Give me RSS Feeds. I'd pay extra for a decent RSS Feed. Heck, just give me the top news from Technorati. I'd pay $20 a year extra. Give $15 of that to Dave Sifry. Pocket the rest. Sounds like a business model to me.
I hate the calendar. Why? For some reason many of my meetings don't show room numbers. That makes the calendar useless because I need to go back to my office, or open up my Tablet PC and use the real Outlook. Solution: Include office numbers and pertinent location detail in the messages.
I hate the strap. I have the Abacus Fossil watch. The strap is very difficult to snap closed and get the retainer ring over it. Solution: study Swiss Army watch straps. Oh, and I hate that it's not replaceable with a different kind of strap. Solution? If you're gonna give me a weird strap design, make it possible to replace the strap with something better.
OK, so what do I love?
I love that this watch does stuff I hate above. I wore my old watch for a day and found I couldn't do without my SPOT watch.
I love that people stop me when I'm looking at my watch and say "hey, is that one of those new watches?" Several people on the plane just did that.
I love that the watch backlight is bright. Ever get up in a hotel room and can't find the light switch? I have, and this thing is a lifesaver. Lights up the whole room. Will be handy in an emergency.
I love that the watch is running a lightweight version of the .NET runtimes. That means that in the future I might be able to program it.
I love that the batteries lasted five days in my tests. Yeah, you might say "my batteries last years in my watch" but then does your watch show you your stock prices?
So, would I buy one? Probably, because there's enough value for me over a traditional watch. But, it could be so much better with just a few improvements.
I'm at 35,000 feet on my way to the Demo conference. Tomorrow morning we'll be talking about blogging. Corporate blogging.
For me blogging is really just the watercooler network of the 1980s. Let's go back to that era. I was working in a camera store. 80% of our sales came from word of mouth. Only 20% came from advertising, direct mail, etc.
"Where should I buy a camera this weekend?" someone might have asked during a break back then. But, back then it was hard to get people to pass around your store's name. It was hard to figure out who were the influentials who had hundreds of people listening to them (if such a thing were even possible back then). Back then all the journalists had the power. When Sally Socolich wrote about our store and talked about it on KGO radio, our store traffic tripled (she wrote a book about bargain hunting in the Bay Area). Today the ones with the power are webloggers.
Today a weblogger can talk directly to the press covering your company. To your customers. To your competitors. To, even, your executives. They have power and they are beginning to learn it. Howard Dean, for instance, used webloggers to spread the word and raise millions of dollars.
So, for companies, what does weblogging mean? What are the rules?
First of all, if your company isn't worried about what the "watercooler networks" are saying about your products and services, then no need to worry about doing a weblog. If you think that the only marketing you should do is to buy a $100,000 billboard along the freeway, or buy a $500,000 ad in USA Today, or a million dollar ad during the Super Bowl, then weblogging is probably not for you.
Anyway, before I started working at Microsoft I wrote the Corporate Weblogger's Manifesto. I'll be talking with folks at Demo about that.
I assume the Demo audience is mostly CEO/executive types, or press types. So, what do they need to know about weblogging? The most important things for them are:
1) Watch your market. Learn to use Technorati and Feedster to watch what webloggers are saying about you.
2) Help webloggers talk about you. Want webloggers to talk about you? Then publish an RSS feed. Publish a weblog. And seek out webloggers to show your product to. Just a handful of mentions on various weblogs will probably get you noticed on Technorati or DayPop.
3) Use webloggers to improve your products. Gather feedback, ask them for help. Also, create buzz by showing them early product plans and getting their feedback.
4) Treat other webloggers with respect. Link to them. Answer their concerns. Have a conversation. Many bloggers can't resist watching their referer logs. You link to them. They'll at least check out what you are saying. Many, I've found, will link back and continue the conversation. This is why many people call weblog communities "echo chambers."
5) See if you can find a way to help bloggers identify with your product. During the PDC, for instance, we made little graphic flairs that bloggers could add to their weblogs. That helped us get a lot of links very quickly. That increases your Google Page Rank and increases your visibility on Technorati and DayPop, two services that webloggers watch often.
So, what are the rules? I hear that's what John Patrick will ask me in the morning.
My rule is "be smart." I've found there aren't any real hard and fast rules. Especially at a big company like Microsoft. Why? Because, what might make your boss mad might be just what my boss wants me to write. Think about it. Steve Ballmer can do things in public that I can't (and vice versa).
My famous line is I worry about what these groups will think of what I wrote: my readers, my wife/family, my boss, Steve Ballmer (or any executive), and my co-workers. Not necessarily in that order.
What am I on the lookout for? Conflict. The press loves writing about conflict. So, whenever I write something I imagine seeing what I write on the front cover of USA Today. If you know that something you are thinking of writing could cause fist-fights in the hallways where you work, stay away from it unless you have explicit corporate permission from executives and PR professionals.
I also stay away from things that are seen internally as potentially harmful toward the company. Legal issues, for instance, I try to stay away from. PR "hot wires" I stay away from unless I've really done a lot of homework or I see a strategic reason to get involved now. You can take risks here and help your company out quite a bit, but if you make a mistake you can cost your company billions. I don't link to leaked software, for instance, although I will probably acknowledge that it's out there.
If talking about competitors, I'm always nice. If I can't say something nice, I won't comment. Why link to something a competitor did? To build authority in the marketplace. And, to assure your readers that you don't think they are idiots. Really, do you think any of them don't know how to use Google to find your competitors anyway? Also, I want to position my products and services in the marketplace. Often a nice link to someone else is very useful there. Oh, and Slashdot might even see you're playing nice and link to that.
Be aware if your execs haven't talked about something before you do. I'm not allowed to break news on my weblog unless an executive gives me permission. So, you won't learn some top secret stuff about Longhorn here unless one of the execs gives me something they want the blogs to talk about. That said, I will often follow up an anouncement with my opinions about it. They often will be quite informed and will help you triangulate in on the truth.
Speaking of truth, never lie. Why? It'll be found out and then what will you do to get your credibility back? That said, there are often two sides to a story and you can present one of them, just be aware that you'll get called on it.
Admit biases and conflicts of interest. I tell people when I am getting paid to do something. Or, if there's other conflicts. Joe Trippi, campaign manager of the Howard Dean campaign, made a mistep, in my opinion, by not disclosing that his company was getting commissions on TV ads sold. When I learned that, my opinion of the openess of the campaign went down.
Have fun! If weblogging isn't fun and you aren't passionate about it, you'll quickly get found out. If you're only doing it cause your boss told you to, then your writing will not sound human, but will sound forced. Plus, you'll post less often than someone who really has a lot of fun at it. Finally, your grumpiness can even translate into negativity on the page. If you're going through a tough life change like a divorce, be careful. You can get snippy and not nice, which will lose you points in the communications networks.
Take breaks and focus on other things occassionally. The best weblogging is by people who have interesting stories to tell. Stories come from doing interesting things. Look at OneNote's Chris Pratley, for instance, where he discusses the process of getting OneNote built.
Finally, talk to lots of people in your company and industry. Know the issues backward and foward. Know how people will react to various issues before you write about them (I have hundreds of people in my instant messaging client, for instance, so that I can chat with people about things before I write about them).
Read lots of blogs. The more blogs you read, the more in tune with your industry you'll be. Also, you'll start seeing what types of writing interest you. With an RSS News Aggregator you should be able to read 200 blogs in less than an hour a day. I'm following 1300 and spending two hours a day. The more blogs you read, the more efficient you get at finding great things to link to and talk about. At the end of the day, that's what will make your blog interesting too.