Hats off to Condé Nast (for letting the mighty ducks into the wolfhouse). While yesterday morning's two hour Q & A pushed buttons and questioned the viability of the Condé Nast blogs, the exchange of real, raw information was excellent.
The Setting: Condé Nast invited five bloggers: Jake Dobkin (Gothamist), Mia Kim (PopGadget), Ami Kealoha (Coolhunting), Matthew Mullenweg (PhotoMatt) and ourselves to discuss what we do, share our secrets and otherwise help them get a bead on how they can make their blogs work.
We sat in a small auditorium in front of about 50 Condé Nast employees, many of whom were currently working on developing blogs within their existing magazine titles. The crowd was young, smart and well dressed.
The Result: Everything went swimmingly until Jake decided to take his gloves off and charmingly trash talk the Condé Nast sites. The auditorium got squirmy, and you could tell that some of the Condé Nast bloggers were frustrated by the restrictions placed upon them while the higher ups didn't want this to get out of hand.
Jake's points were good ones. The voice of their blogs didn't have a great deal of personal zip (they are all edited), but more importantly they relied totally on original content and didn't voraciously link outward to the blogoshpere as we all do. They also don't allow comments.
Calls went up from the audience: But we don't have the freedom to do all that! Comments can be damaging. How do you control them? How do you blog others, when as Condé Nast we have to propel our brand and our content?
Suddenly we were all facing the same huge disconnect in the room.
On one side you had an extremely successfull and awesome publishing house that totally understood the art of making magazines and selling their brand and content. On the other side you had five successful and awesome (relatively) little blogs that totally understood developing online community around specific subjects and selling advertising to support themselves. One was about developing and controlling content, and the other was about finding and sharing content freely. One was proprietary and one was open source. One was Microsoft, and one was Linux.
Was there a resolution?
While someone in the crowd asked if their blogs were "doomed" and there was some agreement on our panel, we were more optimistic.
While we don't expect Condé Nast to "get it" too soon, there is no doubt that they have the brains, the finances and the interest in figuring this thing out over time. The very fact that they invited us in made us think they were on their way.
That said, the bigger issue for them has to do with freeing up their content, becoming part of a larger community instead of an island unto themselves and rethinking their original mission. Is it to make money or to inspire and connect readers to their subject matter? If it is the former, then they should skip blogs altogether as the readers will never go for it.
If it is the latter, then solving the problem is much more interesting and closely tuning into their readers is required.
To do this, perhaps they should cut a small team loose and put them up in a room in SoHo with a coffee machine and AC unit, giving them enough money to blog full time for a year: scouring the city (or world), collecting up all the good bits of other blogs and using all the tid bits that get left on the cutting room floor up at the magazines. There's got to be a ton of stuff that goes across desks at Domino that never makes it into the magazine.
Oh, and give them a little extra $$ to buy beer and wine once a month and invite all the other bloggers over to their offices. We'd come.
Blogging is really very simple; it's all about taking down the walls and connecting.