Bloggers in Control

I started a blog last week and while that might make me sound like some cutting edge guru, I am anything but. My friend Paul Greenberg, whose blog inspired me because he has let me post a few entries, informed me that there are already more than 14 million of these things, and a new one is forming about every pico-second. In the hierarchy of small, a nano-anything is a billionth, e.g. 10E-9, but there are smaller smalls, for example, pico-something is a trillionth e.g.10E-12, and femto- is the impossibly tiny quadrillionth or 10E-15. (You get to digress like this on a blog. Who cares?) The point is that blogs are forming very fast and for good reasons.

Blogs are the ultimate content carrier for the Internet. While they have much in common with a Web site, they are smaller than a Web site and require much less care — most of the drudgery is performed more or less automatically once you’ve made a few setting adjustments. About the only thing you need to do is feed the thing daily or even more frequently. Some people have to be careful of blog addiction in which writing for a blog takes over your life, crowding out other compulsions that might lead you to eat, drink and work. Then there’s blog burnout, but I won’t go there.

A New Information Superhighway

Now, maybe you’re thinking that you’ve heard about blogs and about how some people are using them for mostly political purposes. Certainly that’s one of the first uses to which blogs were put. Bloggers famously exposed Dan Rather and CBS’ coverage of some George W. Bush military records last summer that turned out to be fakes, but if you look at a cross section of blogs, you quickly understand that they more resemble something foreshadowed by Norman Mailer’s Advertisements for Myself fifty years ago.

So, I began to wonder, if blogs are the ultimate content carrier — you can post pictures and even recordings on a blog for your friends to experience — what might that say about the future of the Internet in general and CRM in particular? Oops, I spoke too quickly, there’s also this thing called a “Podcast.” Podcasts are extra-light content carriers designed to download to your iPod someone’s recorded commentary that might otherwise have been typed into a blog.

OK, back to CRM. What does all this blogging and podding mean? Well I am not sure, but a wild guess would suggest that we are finding new and more frictionless ways of conveying information — bi-directionally — and that the information sources are becoming very fine-grained. That’s all good and I expect that at some point there will be tools or Web sites that aggregate content that’s specific to our likes and interests so that … oops, spoke too soon again, my bad, there are sites like that.

Giving the Customer an Outlet

But seriously, the point, to me, is that we once thought about the customer as being part of a nearly inscrutable mass of humanity whose needs and desires could only be discerned with great difficulty, a big IT budget, and a lot of data reduction. However, today we now have a large and growing pool of semi-willing participants happy to broadcast their opinions and feelings to individuals and groups of like mind.

Is this the beginning of a schism on the Web? What happens, especially in CRM, for example, if traditional Web sites become the efferent arm of a corporation’s customer interface primarily responsible for disseminating information and capturing sales, while skimming the blogs becomes its afferent means of customer information capture? Do blogs become an important or even primary means of customer service through customer networking? Does this mean the vendors lose complete control (it started with the plain old vanilla Internet) of the customer information channel?

This is cool stuff to contemplate and I have zero answers right now, but I do note the trend of increasingly frictionless information sharing among customers and between them and vendors. Easier access to information has led major societal revolutions throughout history going back to hieroglyphs and the printing press. What becomes of a world where everyone is a publisher? Perhaps the publication aspect is the easy stuff. What will always be harder will be capturing the data, asserting order, and interpreting some meaning. As usual, I suspect there will be new riches for those who get there first.

Denis Pombriant is a well known thought leader in CRM and the founder and managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant’s latest white paper, Adding Sales to the Call Center Agenda, summarizes his recent research in the call center industry. In 2003, CRM Magazine named Pombriant one of the most influential executives in the CRM industry. Pombriant is currently working on a book to be published next year. He can be reached at [email protected]

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