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June 06, 2007

Breaking Symmetry – The Newbies Meet the New

Whether you’re an old hand at the new, new thing or a relative Internet newbie just using the Internet for email, shopping, eBay and Google, this post might be interesting to you.  What’s happening is that the tools of Web 2.0 like blogs, RSS (don’t worry about what that is), and widgets (ditto) are beginning to be seriously useful to real people doing the things they’ve always done and not just cool toys for us nerds to use in talking to each other.

Fact is most people still don’t really know what a blog is.  Easy to tell by watching someone’s face when you tell them you’re a blogger. But more and more people are reading blogs; they just don’t know (or care) that that’s what they’re doing.

Blogs get included in the websites that people are already accustomed to going to.  You don’t have to know that you’re reading a blog to find that a daily update is a good reason to come back to an interesting site on a daily base.  You couldn’t care less whether the update – or even the whole website – is made with a blog tool or hand-crafted by a fifteen year old nerd (they’re the best).

Blogs and other updates to web sites also get turned into email.  We all know how to read email.  When that happens a blog becomes an e-newsletter.  The fact that the email you’re reading with interesting new stuff in it was posted to a blog platform and turned into RSS and burned by FeedBurner (which was just purchased by Google) and turned into email by FeedBlitz (which I am in investor in) is just as irrelevant as the fact that your email is delivered with a technology called SMTP.

It was a major change in UI (sorry, user interface) which FeedBlitz founder Phil Hollows made to his service that clued me in that blogs aren’t just for the blogosphere any more. 

When Phil started FeedBlitz to create a reliable way to deliver blogs by email a couple of years ago, most of the people reading blogs were bloggers; so, logically enough, Phil created an interface which you could use either to manage the blogs you published or to manage the blogs you subscribed to.  Worked fine then.  Everybody’s a publisher; everybody’s a reader.

Over time Phil added features for both bloggers (publishers) and readers (subscribers).  But a funny thing happened.  Publishers of all kinds of web content – not just bloggers - began using FeedBlitz to get their stuff delivered to people who want and ask for it (this isn’t spam).  The number of subscribers grew way beyond the original Web 2.0 crowd who were the first blog readers.  The publishers want more and more sophisticated tools to serve their readers.  The subscribers want a very simple way to do things like change their email addresses, cancel a subscription, or order up something new.

As of this week, FeedBlitz has two different user interfaces – one for publishers, one for subscribers.  Publishers get more capabilities; readers get simplicity.  Publishers know that their subscribers have an easy way to manage their own subscriptions without the publishers having to invest in email address management.  All a straw in the wind that blogs aren’t just for bloggers anymore.

Two lessons:

If you have a “web 2.0” product, it’s past time to think how it’s going to be used by real people in their real lives.  Sure, the interaction’s important; but not everyone wants to be a content creator as well as consumer all the time.

If you’re thinking about your organization’s website, the tools that were usable just for bloggers are turning into exactly what you need to serve your customers or other constituents.  You can reach them with an e-newsletter a lot more cheaply than with snail mail.  They can handle their own address changes online (and they like being able to do that).  And the e-newsletter can also be content on your website for those who’d rather browse to it themselves, to attract users of search engines, and to be an archive of back issues.

New Feature: The Subscription Center is Phil’s explanation of his new UI.

Build Your Website on a Blog Platform is me suggesting how blog tools can be cheap or even free way to build a way site.

The Newbies are Coming is more about people who already have a life using the web to enhance it.

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