Robert Parker should be ashamed of himself…

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Image via Wikipedia

So there apparently was some information floating out there about the Wine Bloggers Conference that I find very interesting.  Mostly because of the source and because while he should be ashamed of himself, I ultimately agree with him.

It was Robert Parker himself that seems to take issue with bloggers.  The thread on eRobertParker.com centers around bloggers and the fact that they are changing the industry.  Good, bad, whatever your take they at least admit that its changing the industry.

I don’t take issue with that.  What I do take issue with, and I take it directly with Mr. Parker, is his mis-representation of the conference, his lack of understanding of the community, and is unwillingness to even attempt to correct either one of those two mistakes.

First, let me say that the thread calls into question the motivation behind not only the Wine Bloggers’ Conference but the OpenWine Consortium.  The original poster says:

“I believe you and many of the top wine critics are under fire today not by chance but a systematic effort of the wine industry to change the paradigm of the relationship between consumer of wine and producers of wine….”

and then goes on further to say:

“With regard to whether this is an industry planned movement or just a shift in buying habits enabled by technology, I think could be up for debate. But when I look at things like the Open Wine Consortium or I look at www.winebloggerconference.com and examine the participants, sponsors, etc., I think there has to be a strategy for change? The technology industry has made shifts in market conditions through consortiums and conferences for years. It’s not wrong or right. It is an industry doing what is best for the producers.”

Joe (thread originator) – My name is Joel Vincent.  You can read my background here – JoelVincent.com.  I created the OpenWine Consortium and I produce the Wine Bloggers’ Conference. I am not someone deep in the California wine industry.  I am fascinated by technology and wine is a serious passion/love.  I created the OpenWine Consortium as a consortium of wine companies all over the world to learn about and drive Web2.0 technologies’ adoption because its GOOD FOR WINE.  I believe that now and always have believed it.  It started as a consortium because that is how I understood how to create a movement like that – I’ve been active in the IEEE and the WiFi Alliance as well as efforts in creating standards for Ethernet and Internet Protocols.  When I saw that the wine industry needed a way to learn about these technologies I created the OWC to try to organize the more knowledgeable companies and have them efficiently proliferate their understanding of Web2.0 to other wine industry people who don’t.  Also, its a Web2.0 community because I believe the best way to learn is by doing.  So just by using the OWC the industry is learning the power of Web2.0.  It has since grown into a much broader business networking platform for the wine industry than I ever imagined attracting people from every continent and every facet of the wine business.

The Wine Bloggers’ Conference was a decision I made to organize the community of wine writers that are blogging and give them a forum to learn from one another.  It wasn’t an original idea – the European organizers and I discussed it for a while then did independent conferences last year and combined them this year.

Since most citizen bloggers are exactly that – citizen bloggers – I figured they didn’t have the funds to attend something like the Professional Wine Writers’ Symposium ($500 admission I think?).  So I asked wine companies to sponsor to subsidize the costs and make it reasonable.  They came in droves.  I’m sure they have their agenda, but I don’t care what their agenda is as long as the goal of getting the community together to learn from each other is met and the prerequisite to that is to make it affordable.  Mission accomplished there.

I hardly think that I am the “industry” but yes, its an astute observation that I have created a platform the for the movement of Web2.0 into the wine industry.  Thanks for the props (FYI to eRob folks – “Props” is short for “propers” and is a slang term commonly used by those under 40 to recognize that one has been afforded the proper credit for their efforts).

Third, to Joe AND Mr. Parker, the Wine Bloggers Conference is held in CA and Europe with affiliated events cropping up in New York now as well.  So this movement is even more widespread than you understand, more pervasive than you’ll every know, and DEFINITELY not confined to California.

Its late and I have two young tots.  So let me get to why Mr. Parker should be ashamed of himself.  I’m personally annoyed because I (and every blogger I know) would never, EVER take anything away from Parker’s importance to this industry or his achievements.  But let me address some of the word, written directly from Mr Parker, about the Wine Bloggers Conference.

“looking at that Bloggers Conference, it does look like a big and free sloppy kiss and then some from the California wine industry…with much more than minimal hospitality offered…love to see some transparency from the bloggers(how many of them are paying for travel,car rental,hotels and meals?)…”

For someone who continues to make wine blogging synonymous with the Wine Spectator Award debacle, this is one of the most uninformed mischaracterizations I’ve seen in the Inter-webs’ series of tubes.  The WBC is a community organization effort.  Driven in the US by myself and Allan Wright of Zephyr Adventures (niether of us are part of the “CA wine industry”) and in Europe by Catavino Marketing and Robert McIntosh – again, no CA there.  Bloggers are paying for everything but a couple of dinners.  It even says that on the site.  Did you read the site?

Next, and this is directly from Mr. Parker:

“or should I say blobbers since they are the source of much of the misinformation,distortion,and egegious falsehoods spread with reckless abandon on the internet…”

Is “big and free sloppy wet kiss and then some from the CA wine industry” not misinformation, distortion, and egegious falsehood?  I’m just an electrical engineer from MIT but I think “egegious” is a misspelling or I’m just worse at this writing stuff than I thought.  I think those two statement are ironic though…unless I don’t get that concept either.

Moving on:

“no doubt I miss some very fine producers as do others,but their trade associations may have had it with the independent press in search of just the best….and need to garner support from somewhere…by targeting the independent and more established press..it may help bloggers’ readership…the public sucks down anything perceived as “scandal’…even if the story is totally bereft of any investigation or fact checking…”

Mr Parker you need to understand something.  Last year, Alice Feiring gave a keynote speech to bloggers and it was inspiring.  In that speech she said that wine bloggers represent something unique in the entire history of wine writing and that is a community of wine writers.  The one dude who entrapped Wine Spectator is not enough of a sample set to make conclusions on the entirety of the wine blogging.  Again, note the irony of your “blobbers” statement.

More?  Sure thing:

“and of course,and bloggers can’t continue to exist without wine-related advertising(we do and will continue to do so)…”

Now there you are showing again a fundamental lack of understanding of not only wine bloggers, but Web2.0 in general.  People participate because they want to contribute to a community.  I can tell you that no one in wine blogging that I’ve met sees blogging as something that they will do as a business.  And the speakers (who include businesses that are not wineries, Alder Yarrow of Vinography, Steve Hiemoff of Wine Enthusiast, and many others) preach to everyone that comes to the WBC that if this is their intentions then they need to get off the bus right now.

And he continues…

“but that conference sounds like a California wine trade junket to further the interests of the vast California wine industry that feels slighted by coverage from the more established press….as always there is a simple solution for wineries feeling ignored….make better wine…it will get attention faster than you ever dreamed….fascinating list of sponsors under-writing all the costs for that event…not one of them pro-consumer….all of them pro wine-selling business….”

This may be true of the sponsors, but the content of the event is driven by the community.  Topics are discussed in the US conference and expanded upon in the European conference and vice versa.  There are ad-hoc events to discuss topics that weren’t explored at the main WBC.  This movement is much much bigger than you understand, clearly.

For the reasons I stated above, you should be ashamed of yourself.  But now, let me agree with you in a HUGE HUGE way:

“Vinography comes to mind immediately…so it is not so much an anti-blogging position… just anti irresponsible bloggers…”

Yes, Alder is a clear leader.  And we are ALL “anti-irresponsible” bloggers.  Bloggers are a very very new community.  They are trying to understand themselves as much as people are trying to understand them.  The topics that people want to discuss at the conference include:

  • Blogging and the future wine writing and wine reporting
  • Beyond Words: How Video Content is Changing the Wine Biz
  • Create a panel on Unified standards for ethics and disclosure
  • Legalities of Blogging

Wine bloggers are voting to discuss these topics.  They want, collectively as a community, to understand how to be responsible wine bloggers and what that means.  Many don’t have the distinguished career that you have in wine writing.  Blogging is still very young by many standards and absolutely in its infancy in the wine industry.  There are many things yet to be determines and at least the community wants to take responsibility for what is happening.

You and your voice can be a leader to a new generation of wine writers and lead the change that is happening to the wine writing industry.  This change is going to happen.  I’m not forcing it, just giving it a platform.  I’m not the CA wine industry as Joe seems to thing, I’m just a nerd from MIT that loves wine.  If you came to the conference and started to discuss with the community what you believed should be deemed as “responsible” blogging you’d have 200 very enthusiastic bloggers doing their best to live up to the standards set by thought leaders like yourself.

But rather than being the center of the inevitable change, the beacon that guides that change in a responsible direction, you seem to be disparaging what you don’t seem to understand.  Rather than attending, understanding, and helping, you are pointing at the problems with blogging and offering no solutions.

If thats going to be your stance going forward you should refrain from commenting on what you and your Web2.0 advisors don’t understand and stick to tasting wine.

Lots of “Analysis” on how to “use” social media, is it missing the point?

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Social Media Friends

Social media is creating quite a long tail of industries – lots of software companies, consultants, new modes of public relations, etc, etc.  Some of them focused on getting you into using social media, which is great, and many of them aspiring to help you “use” social media for your business.  The latter point is what I find interesting.

I’ve spoken on the topic of social media before (with assistance from the self-proclaimed “Bonafide Marketing Genius” Marta Kagan – FYI, I’m glad she has the confidence in herself to tag herself that way b/c she’s one of the few I would actually agree with) and I think the biggest point from my talk and others that I’ve seen (like Marta’s deck) is that this all is an excercise in sociology.  There are so many technologies that one could use, so many things that you could do, but in the end what is happening to the web is just another means of connecting, interacting, and getting to know people; not unlike joining a social club (like a sports team, a cultural center, or whatever).  In fact, just as you have “different circles of friends” offline (work friends, drinking buddies, sports friends), you’ll develop the same thing online and your community will drive you to the tools.

That’s where the idea “use social media” sticks in my craw a little bit.

I’ve had this blog since 2004 and I’ve interacted with many many people thanks to it.  It’s mainly an outlet for my thoughts, creativity, and passion (wine, technology, and marketing) and I’ve made a serious number of friends in the wine industry because of it.  My goal was to do exactly that, get to know people in the wine industry.  One of the major things its taught me though is that the only way to truly understand what this “social media” thing is all about is to get out and do it.  BUT – do it with a genuine desire and understand that its a means to reach out to a community (blog in particular).  Its not a sales tool and its not a PR tool for social media any more then going to a conference is a PR tool for you.  What I mean is you can go to a conference, chat with people, network, find people that you can stay connected with.  If you contribute to the conference (effectively contributing to the ‘community’ that the conference is bringing together) then you can get noticed and in that sense you get some good word-of-mouth publicity.

But here is how to think of “use social media” (Ugh!).  Its a sociological, human based filter.  Its not a broadcast engine like the “information super highway” or the “series of tubes”.  Doesn’t matter what tool/site you use, first and foremost your community has to be on that site and/or using that tool.  There is always a “critical mass” that needs to be achieved before the tool gets useful.  Kind of like a party, its not really fun until there are a bunch of people you know there.

Once your community is there, interacting, chatting, whatever then the dynamics of what happens is facinating.  Things start to get “useful” and the human filter is formed.  It becomes a situation where the community is as close as a bunch of office mates even though they are all over the world.  I literally consider the community I interact with on Twitter my “virtual office mates” and I genuinely like interacting with them.  The reason is that you can contribute (chat, answer questions, and otherwise participate) just like you would any other office.  In the case of Twitter, it becomes just like a hallway conversation in an office.  You can ignore it for a while, pop your head in with a little bit of nothing to say, put out some information or useful tool to the community, or you can put out a serious question to the group and get some solid answers.  Pretty much how you would for any office with cubilcles and hallways.

The best part of all this is that when the community reaches critical mass of people in a certain technology/tool who genuinely like to talk about a particular topic, forming an open community, thats when the best things come out.  If you contribute something to that community that is truly useful, it will get passed on to everyone very quickly.  People will decide if what you said is interesting, show their friends and, if its applicable, their friends may pass on the information to their other “open communities”.  The network effect takes over and your information has just become “viral” (i.e. it will spread not only in the current ‘circle of friends’ but to other ‘circles of friends’).  More importantly, the human filter took over and since that useful piece of information you generated is actually VERY useful, it will get passed on for a while (or very funny, or very interesting in some other way – the latest on Twitter was a streaming video of puppies, not useful, just very Zen).

So if you find an open community or want to know where there is critical mass already for a community you want to learn about (for instance – the wine community is embracing Twitter and Social Networks) on one of these tools the best way to “use social media” (I hate the term because it makes me feel like “use your friends”, but I guess there isn’t a better way to say it) is to contribute in significant ways.  Add to the community but more importantly be YOURSELF.  If people like you, they like you.  If they don’t, guess what…they don’t.  There isn’t alot of advice that can be given there that your parents should’ve taught you before Kindergarten.  Thats the funny truth of this “social media” craze.  The fundamental sociological point is that this is making friends.  Because even if you contribute something that spreads from network to network like wildfire, when those people check you out and “follow you” on Twitter, or Facebook, or whatever, then they start to get to know you in a more personal way then anyone over 25 ever thought possible.  If you’re obviously contributing to promote your business it will come across.  If you genuinely approach this medium (regardless of technology) as “getting to know people” in the way you’ve always done then you’ll not only have that “viral hit” you won’t be an online “one hit wonder”, you’ll have friends who can help you when you’re down, connect you to others, help you build business, get emotionally invested in your brand…. i.e. you’ll be a part of a community and how you do that is something your Mom and Dad shoulda taught you.

FYI – if you’re doing it for a business/brand it doesn’t matter – if people don’t like your personality, they won’t like your brand.  These things have a way of piercing the corporate PR veil.  Want an example?  Supposedly Cisco “gets” blogging.  Read their blogs and you tell me what you think….

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Why Adwords doesn’t work for Social Media…

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Image via Wikipedia

So the topic came up today in the Twitter-sphere – Adwords, social networks (Facebook in particular), and their success (or lack thereof). I think its been talked about in the blogosphere or in conversations at various tech conferences but its worth repeating.

For all intents and purposes, it boils down to what Adwords was intended for and the way it works versus the evolution of the web today.

A few years back (eons in Internet time), the Internet was a super efficient way to find things – information, places, stuff to buy, etc. etc. etc. Google came along with a great way to search through HUGE amounts of data, create Google PageRank to make “authorities”, and basically try to get you results that most closely meet what you’re looking thus avoiding a huge number of porn links when searching on children’s bedtime stories.

The algorithm they devised was evolutionary (not revolutionary, one of the most overused terms in high tech) and it worked extremely well. As time went on, since the dominant behavior on the Internet was “searching”, using the information gathered and the search algorithm Google created they devised an ultra -efficient way to advertise. They already knew that you were searching (because Google is a search engine after all) and they knew what you were searching for and therefore Google could simply place paid ads next to your search result that would turn up sponsors who had stuff related to your search. This was brilliant in its simplicity because it was (and this is the key) ADDITIVE to your current behavior. VALUE ADD – simple, straight forward, and very very effective.

Google later expanded this to allow you or I to put ads on our site that would reflect something related to the information on the page upon which you placed the ads. Again, effective, but not as clearly value add because people on your site may not have necessarily been in “search mode”. They may just have been reading out of interest. But since the Internet was still basically viewed as a giant repository for information and “stuff” that you sifted through, “search mode” is what people generally were still in and it masked the few times people weren’t in “search mode”.

Now, with the advent (or rise) of social media, behaviors are changing. “Search mode” is still a dominant behavior but not what it once was. See, social media (blogs, networks, Twitter, etc. etc.) make the Internet more and more a place to “socialize”. Behavior changes from “searching for something” to “killing time” or “marketing” or “making connections”. Lets call this “hanging out” mode.

Now if you’re on a social network, you most certainly are not in a “search mode”. So then, what happens if Google indexes my Profile page and serves up an Ad related to the content there? The answer? Who the hell cares!

Why is that?  Because if I’m on Facebook or OpenWine Consortium or any other social network, I’m probably not “Searching” but doing some sort of “socializing” (BS’ing, networking, hooking up, whatever) – I’m in “hang out” mode. Indexing my page and serving up ads related to keywords and content is NOT additive to the social media experience or the current behavior so this ad will be ignored. Even blogs, which are chock full of information, don’t see much return on Adwords because while they do typically report or inform they, more often then not, are sparking conversation or continuing conversation. Unless the blog is specifically reviewing something, in which case a few ads on where to buy that something may work, contextual ads are ineffective.  This inefficiency in the original model was masked by the fact that predominant behavior was searching.  Now with the behavior being socializing, Adwords and the searching optimization are only slightly more useful than putting up a static add.

Even Google admits that it hasn’t solved the social network advertising/monetizing behavior.

Net-net:  Save your money.  Buying keywords is NOT social media marketing.

Now, Google is looking to create a sort of “FriendRank”, in a recent patent application.  They call it “Network Node Ad Targeting” and they intend to use a person’s social map to determine the number and quality of connections they have (and therefore their influence) and pay those influencers to allow advertisers the serve ads to their friends.  Interesting, but we’ll see how it plays out.  I’m sure they’ll be takers, but I’ll be awefully pissed if a friend or other contact is the source of ads I recieve!  Still not a value-add unless the friend somehow has the ability to control the ads that get served and influence what goes to our friends (i.e. some sort recommendation and reputation system).  Reading this patent, I don’t think it cuts it at all.

Cheers!

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Social media must be accompanied by offline events…

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Image via Wikipedia

I’m a huge fan of niche social networks.  I think Facebook is nearing complete uselessness unless it is the center of you and all your friends’ social lives.  Why?  Too general.

On the other hand, Ning.com has taken the tact of making really good social networks easy to put up.  Effectively commoditizing the social network (as it should be) and forcing there to be a real purpose for the social network.  Families, Alumni groups, soccer teams, music lovers, fan pages, you name it and Ning probably has network for it.

This is actually the ideal model.  Niche social networks mimic real life more closely.  You don’t have 1 social group do you?  You have work people, college buddies, soccer team friends, neighbors, and only sometimes so these lives intersect.  So why would there be only one social network?

I created OWC as a way to redefine a trade organization.  Update it.  Rather than a stuffy, meet once a year/quarter and have a newsletter organization, I wanted the wine world to benefit from meeting each other 24x7x365.  I wanted to have an organization that could teach and evangelize and lead by example.

What I’m learning is that there is no replacement for offline meetups.  Thats not to say new connections aren’t being made and value isn’t being created.  On the contrary, that is happening in a big way!  What I’m saying is that even with an online community there is great benefit to getting together on a regular basis.  Just being out and giving a couple of presentations over the last couple of weeks helped me put faces to names and voice to faces.  Not only that, the online community benefits as well – there was a huge traffic increase since my talks and a pretty big membership serge.

So, I wouldn’t say this is a surprise but a confirmation.  Social networks are a compliment to organizations, not a replacement for interaction.

By the way, Social Networks are a feature, not a business.  Much like I said about tasting note sites…but thats for another post…

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OWC has a Wikipedia Page

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Image via Wikipedia

Here a cool thing. After haggling with the folks at Wikipedia, I finally got a page “OK’d” on Wikipedia for OpenWine Consortium. 🙂

I thought it’d be important as I setup that organization to outlast my tenure as Executive Director. I’m taking it step by step. Its established now, even attracting sponsors and producing the events (like the Wine Blogger Conference in Sonoma in the Fall). Behind the scenes I am preparing to announce the board of directors, a new strategic partner that will help attract potentially thousands of members, and eventually closing on getting official non-profit status (because there isn’t a membership fee I really need to get some revenue to pay for the non-profit paperwork preparation – a non-trivial task).

In the meantime, its pretty cool to have the Wikipedia page, in a geeky sorta way.

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