January 03, 2009

Armchair Quarterbacking and Why I Talk to Companies Using the Blog

Whether it's due to the fact it's another 'slow news' weekend, or due to the fact I was more bare in my recommendations for how FriendFeed, a service I am constantly using and like a lot, could improve in yesterday's post than I usually am, there was quite a bit of feedback from around the Web, which both echoed the comments I had made, and questioned the reason for my making them in the first place. Interestingly enough to me, despite a full year or so of being called a FriendFeed addict, apologist, or what have you for my consistent favoring of the service, several people tried to construe my direct suggestions as somehow interpreting the site would fail - which I don't believe I ever came close to saying. But what they missed was I have a history of offering suggestions to companies, both new and established. Sometimes, I can do this 1-1 with the developers, but often I use the blog.

A person's blog can be whatever they want it to be. It can be your brand. It can be a megaphone that allows you to speak to many at once. It can be a personal diary. I've chosen to make mine about services I find interesting, and to a lesser extent, about me. The posts I make are about services I encounter and usually care about. I tell you how I feel or what I saw, and make it personal. And when I give feedback about companies, it comes from my thoughts and usually is spat out top to bottom as I was thinking about it, with little organization - just raw.

And given the blog's relative obscurity in 2007 and 2006, it's likely few saw my original set of feedback I offered FriendFeed more than a year ago - and how it mirrored other occasions where I've done similar posts for other services.

For example:And I haven't always been nice. See: Fav.or.it Beta Effort is Not My Favorite. Not Even Close. and After Monkeying Around, I'm Not Going Bananas for Chi.mp, for example.

On August 29th of 2007, I wrote that you should Use Your Blog To Talk To Companies, and I've been doing that. I do it because as consumers we are often the silent party in the buyer and seller relationship. The company controls the product, the message, the delivery method, and tells you how you should use it. As a consumer, you can buy it, and you can be satisfied, or not. I tend to believe that as a consumer, I may have some ideas that the company either didn't think about, or didn't think were as important as other items. By using the blog, I can make my opinion clear, and also act as a sounding board for other people who might have shared the same opinions, but didn't know where to start, or thought they were alone.

Just look at some of the comments I saw on Twitter following yesterday's post:
@elizabethsosnow: "I am one of the stale accounts."
@spinko: "Louis Gray talks about friendfeed and how it's not intuitive for new users like myself. Amen, I still don't get FF."
@maryhodder: "just read the Louis Gray article myself.. agree. FF is overwrought and makes me feel like i'm drowning."
@jayrosen_nyu: '"Simply put, people aren't getting it." Louis Gray on FriendFeed's barriers to intuitive use. I'm one of those people.'
Sarah Lacy said she is one of those people I described in yesterday's post who pipes their data in and gets a lot of followers, but doesn't participate. For whatever reason, FriendFeed hasn't won her over, and she says the company didn't try to engage her inactive account (one of the suggestions I had yesterday).

I mention these not to pile on, but to show the post started a discussion of people who weren't thinking about the issue, and might possibly have extended the visibility of the issue to others who thought everything was "just fine". As Duncan Riley of the Inquisitr said, FriendFeed Isn’t Dying, and I never said it was.

What I chose to do with yesterday's post, and the many before it was to speak up where the above examples had chosen to be silent. Mark Trapp called it 'Armchair Entrepreneuring' and said I could collect more flies with honey than vinegar, adding, "Offering feedback is one thing: but the sheer hubris of tech bloggers that they know how to run a company better than the ones actually running it is entirely different." But I wasn't aiming for hubris, nor was I aiming for linkbait, as my cranky Canadian friend, Steven Hodson, suggested I might be. What I was doing was sharing my candid thoughts about a service I really like and one I want to get better and better.

I use the blog because it is public. It is searchable and others with similar issues can find it. I use the blog to talk to companies because very often, they listen. Many of the suggestions I've given to LinkedIn, to Google Reader, to FriendFeed and others have happened. I'm not naive enough to think it was because I recommended they would, but it tells me I occasionally am on the right track.

I will armchair quarterback and keep talking to companies, as Dave Winer says, to help them, not to hurt them, and to help others. And sometimes, companies really do value the feedback. That's part of why I'm working with ReadBurner, SocialToo and engaging with others informally. It's about pushing people who make products to make them even better than they are now, and potentially, being part of that process.