Thursday, March 17, 2005

Musing on New Technology

Well, here I am, actually setting up and writing a "blog". I'm not sure how long I've been aware of blogs, but it hasn't been more than a couple of years, and it's been a much shorter time that I've actually known for sure what one was, much less read any. I now check in regularly with several and, lo-and-behold, am authoring one myself.

It's no secret that this blog-activity was instigated, and actually strongly encouraged, by my company management, Thomas Nelson Publishers. The idea is that we are embracing this growing technology as a new means by which to communicate ideas - to each other, to our customers, to interested third parties (whether partner or competitor). It's an interesting idea, and I have both cynicism and optimism regarding this undertaking.

First of all, the company that is held-forth as the standard-bearer for the "Corporate Blog" is Microsoft, who has a lively, dynamic community of employee bloggers aggregated into a company site that serves as a repository of often-useful information about Microsoft products, posted by those best-positioned to be up on the latest glitches, fixes and patches.

But where we differ from Microsoft is that we have neither frequent & vital product updates to share, nor a proven computer-savvy customer base who seek us out on the web.

On the other hand, we do have information to share, a certain level of brand-identity, and a customer base who are increasingly web-knowledgeable. I mean, it's not like we're some nameless, faceless corporation blogging about cardboard. We do have personality, right?

Hence is where my optimism comes. Because it's interesting that my company wants us to put down our company masks and wear our real faces, in public, in writing. It's a very progressive idea, and I'm proud to be a part of a company who places emphasis and value in being on the "cutting edge".

And that, too, is where my skepticism arises.

This whole thing reminds me of a time at my previous publisher, Rutledge Hill Press (now a division of Thomas Nelson, and now you know how I got here). Before we had the backing of a huge, powerful company, we had to navigate new technological fields on our own, with our minimal staff and knowledge. I am thinking of a time, years ago, when it was decreed that we should have a WEBSITE! Which were new enough then that a company could "decide" if it needed a website or not. Ludicrous now, in today's world, that a company of any size shouldn't at least own the rights to their URL. But indeed, in those days, it was actually discussed: "Shouldn't we have a website?" I recall my friends at RHP working long and hard on the project: having a website designed, complete with shopping cart. Which generated, on average, something like $100 in sales per month. And these were not very profitable sales, as it involved man-hours at the warehouse to ship one-book orders. But we had a Website!

Now, of course, the RHP website, looped into the TNI site, generates considerably more revenue and traffic than it did in those days. And our overall website business is a part of our operations that we would never dream of abandoning, because it is vital and important and we only plan to grow and expand it, as we should. Because that is how business is run, these days.

But in those days, when the RHP site garnered little or no traffic, and it had taken up so many people's time for so many days and weeks, to develop and then to maintain it... Well, sometimes I fear that being on the cutting edge can really dull your blade. I think that there is a right and a wrong time to jump on a new technology bandwagon, and being way too early can be just as calamitous as being way too late.

Time will tell. Meanwhile, I shall enjoy and participate in the experiment! Hope you will, too.