October 17, 2011

Hey! Didn't You Use to be a Tech Blogger?

If you really care about a craft, you'll want to be consistent about it and maintain high quality. That goes for athletic pursuits, hobbies, careers, family, or whatever provides you with reward for effort well done. For me, after several thousand blog posts poured into this site for more than five years, gaps are noticed. I'd like to make up some story about how I took ten days off from blogging out of respect for Steve Jobs' passing, but that'd be nonsense. So would any belief that I'm overworked and overtired. After all, I'm keeping practically the same hours I always have, and I managed to cram an entire four seasons of Mad Men into two-plus weeks of aggressive Netflix watching this month. But the ten day gap is the longest here since starting in January of 2006, and I'm hyper aware of it. What's changed, at least in the short term, is what I consider valuable.

MG Siegler, now at CrunchFund and a part-time TechCrunch contributor, wrote a pair of posts in the last week or so on what has driven him as a tech blogger. The first, in homage to the Raiders' late owner Al Davis, was titled Just Win, Baby, and the second follow-on was simply Drive. In these posts, MG talks about how he set goals for himself that he could be satisfied with, whether it be creative headlines, analytical longer posts, scoops or whatever... all elements of a game that contribute to "winning", he writes. Having had a front row seat to MG's ascension, at least the last four years, I understand his view, and recognize his need to find value in his effort. Make no mistake - in blogging, one has to find value in what one is doing, especially as for most there is little to no money it, and those who are the exceptions, TechCrunch included, need a strong combination of skill and luck.

With that backdrop, having shifted gears in August and counting Google as my employer, I bump into the occasional person on campus who graces me with a question much like "Hey! Didn't you use to be a tech blogger?" or "I heard you were a pro blogger before joining us." It's almost with some regret that I have to admit I didn't cram my page full of Adsense to make a few bucks, and that I always participated here for the sheer fun of it as a hobby - that I wasn't really a tech blogger, but just one who played one on TV. While it's great the blog created a name, explaining the true backstory, be it through mentioning my6sense or Paladin or BlueArc or something else... you know, real work... takes a bit of time. But as 9 of 10 startups fail, so do 9 of 10 blogs, I'd bet. Many get started and abandoned. Many don't get readership that satiates someone's needs, and obviously, now, participating on social networks is simpler, faster. It's like popping chocolate espresso beans for a quick perk instead of preparing a full multi-course meal.

As someone on the outside looking in to some of the tech giants who make news and have the attention of consumers and tech reporters alike for years, be they Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Apple, Google or others, I could sometimes get weary of seeing new hires or established employees at these firms talk about how wonderful their jobs were. Just like nobody wants to read the social status update that "I have the best friends in the world" or "my boss is so nice", few want to hear silly updates about the nuances of your 9 to 5. So I have made sure not do bore you with that here. You don't need it, and I know it won't add value.

Similarly, I've always believed in having a good sense for when to speak and when to hold back. I recognize that in my new position, rightly or wrongly, how I comment on perceived competition or rumors carries extra weight. So posts that used to make sense on this blog, such as updated hires at Twitter, comments on the news feed from Facebook, positions on Android or Google TV or other products I like, are viewed in a different light. Also, working within Google and having access to future plans for our product line and sister projects throughout the company makes commenting on trends or specifics a fine line best avoided.

Make no mistake - that's certainly not due to any push from the company to have the blog quieted down. As one can see from many other active Googlers online, an open discussion is celebrated and debate is encouraged. In fact, without jumping into specifics, the greatest conflicts with employees at the company is when access to information or locations is in any way unequal. The corporate ethos is to make that information discoverable and for movement on campus fluid. So while there may be some curiosities as to how the blog will morph, nobody would ever expect it to disappear, and the gap is from me - as I'm finding less of a need to talk about what everyone else is doing, and almost no need to overpromote what we are doing. So I watch, I read, and I keep working.

As MG writes, one of the driving elements of a tech blogger is the ability to get scoops - breaking a story before the competition or before the company is ready. For a while, I was doing that, being first to introduce many properties to the tech blogosphere. I felt I had proven I could do that, and didn't push as aggressively later, even as some small startups would provide tips. Some more effort was pushed toward gadgets instead of social services, or more arching analysis. Unlike other authors, I always had the day job providing a foundation, so I didn't need to chase sensational stories and headlines, or post with great frequency to meet a quota.

In time, I knew that I didn't have to post every day, but when I did, I had to make sure it was good. Some of the best posts are more thoughtful, and don't necessarily break the news - but set the stage for more thought and creativity. Now, at the office anyway, I get to work with a service that has a lot of attention, and help prepare our own equivalent of regular scoops, doing much of what you saw me do here on the outside, on the inside. That helps satiate the need to break the story. It helps keep me connected simultaneously to our users, the news media at large, and third party developers. Hence the decreased need to scratch that itch.

Also, as more people are being introduced to me for the first time, through Google+, as a Googler, and not as a tech blogger, I know that I am representing the company when I post, even if not directly, so they may get confused if I profile one startup or another that is unrelated. No amount of disclosures can clear things up for those lacking patience. So that's weighed in as well. Sometimes it's easier just to sit down and watch an episode or four of Mad Men and put it off - that I'll blog tomorrow. It's not that the Drive is gone. It's just on a different course.