I had an enjoyable dinner last night at the trendy NY restaurant Spice Market with
David Geller and Brian Ratzliff, respectively CEO/President and VP of Marketing & Business Development of WhatCounts, along with Bob Silver, SVP of MWWGroup PR. They wanted to pitch me on the value of an all-in-one blog hardware/software platform for corporate blogging, the BlogUnit, following my somewhat cynical post about it following its launch announcement.
Since they were nice enough to ply me with food and wine, I’ll be nice enough to take a few minutes to summarize some of what we discussed and share my reflections.
WhatCounts has been around for about three years, focused on email
marketing services for mid-sized companies (some of their ~150 clients
include Seattle Times, Chicago Sun, Advance Publishing). Hoping
to catch the blog wave, they’ve come out with the Unit, blog publishing
software bundled with a server box. Notable features include built-in
email newsletter publishing integration (a big plus in my mind
and gaping hole in most blog publishing platforms), APIs, Web Services,
LDAP support, other cool tech acronyms, built-in ticket support a la
TypePad, high-end customer support, in-bound RSS feed publishing
(another gaping hole in many blog publishing platforms; everyone is so
hot on publishing to RSS, but what about taking RSS feeds from other sites or applications and publishing them through the blog publishing tool to your own blog?), and other stuff.
That last piont is one we got stuck on for a while. Their argument
is that for corporations of a decent size, that price is no obstable,
considering that it includes the hardware the company would need to
dedicate to the system anyway, along with professional support,
built-in security, yadda-yadda. My feeling was they will have a hell of
a time competiting at that price given the legions of bloggers who will
be advocating Movable Type, WordPress, etc. at a cost of between free
and practically free.
It’s not the price itself I think they have to worry about but the
evangelists. So a company, or rather an individual employee, gets the
idea the company should have a "blog." They’re going to start their
research and immediately hear "Movable Type, Blogger, TypePad,
WordPress, Movable Type, Manilla, Drupal, TypePad, Movable Type,
WordPress," etc. Who the hell is going to evangelize a $10,000 product?
That’s what commissioned sales people are for.
Besides, the more I thought about it after I left, I don’t believe
you’re really talking about a "blog" when you’re talking $10,000
software. You’re talking about an enterprise business knowledge
management system. Or, not to put too fine a point on it, "content
management." And everyone who knows blogs knows that they are the
antidote to content management.
An anecdote may be instructive here. A "friend of mine" recently
started a job at a mid-sized company and decided an internal blog would
be a great knowlege management tool. So I…I mean, my friend, started
mumbling about it internally and he got the idea that several people
would want to consider this or that aspect of whether a blog was the
best tool or what various approvals may be needed, etc.
Instead of losing heart, he sniffed around and found a group that
had already flirted with the idea, got a referral to a friendly guy in
IT who went ahead and found server space and installed MT. My friend
tweaked the basic template a bit and filled the site with a week’s
worth of content or so before he even pointed it out to his manager:
"This is what I’m talking about." At that point, the manager could see
exactly how useful it was.
My friend started quietly sharing links to content on the blog to
others internally on a beta basis, many of whom agreed it could be a
useful way to distribute information. Eventually, he was introduced to
the group internally that is tasked with managing the intranet. They
let it be known that his style of skunkworks wasn’t the way he was
supposed to have gone about this (hey, I’m new here), but after some
quick evaluation they also agreed it was a handy tool, one that seemed
easy to support, the price was truly a non-issue, etc. It’s now on the
road to offical sanction and dedicated internal resources.
My friend was told later that had he gone about it through the
official channels it certainly would have taken much longer to ever get
the green light.
Point is, pricing the tool at $10,000 means it has to go
through the proper channels. My friend’s own department (market
research) doesn’t have $10,000 for software applications (but he could
put the $150 MT license fee on his corporate Amex no problem), and
whether IT would have seen fit to cough up that much dough vs. kludging
something themselves would have been a decision that could have ended
nowhere. That kind of gate is going to test the enthusiasm of many
internal blog evangelists. The reason blogs have spread like wildfire
is they are being promoted by evangelists, not sales people.
My $0.02. I told them I’m sure there’s a market for their sales
approach. But I think there’s a much bigger market for Six Apart’s.
There are, after all, only 2000 "Global 2000" companies, compared to
11+ million small businesses in the U.S. alone.