Furl bought by LookSmart

Furl, the website bookmarking and archiving service, has been bought by LookSmart. Mike Giles, founder & CEO of Furl, announced the acquisition today by email to Furl members. In his message, he said:

The primary reason we sold the company was that we have always believed Furl makes the most sense as part of a larger search offering. We negotiated with several large public search companies and ultimately chose LookSmart. We truly believe this acquisition is in the best interest of our members and of the long-term longevity of the service. We use Furl, too, and want it to continue to grow for many years to come.

Giles explains that the deal with LookSmart will enable Furl to offer each member 5 gig of storage space for archived pages, and that the service will remain free, supported by advertising revenues. Further development will include “a groups feature, and the ability to search across all public archives”.

Wifi the way it should be

Two diametrically opposed wifi experiences today.

The first occured at St James Park where I was meeting up with a friend for lunch. I got there 40 minutes early, spotted a Starbucks and thought that I’d go and get myself hooked up and check my email. The wifi in all Starbucks cafes is brought to you through the nose by T-Mobile – at £5 for an hour it’s not exactly cheap.

I paid up for an hour anyway, which was at least a pretty painless process, and proceeded to check my email and drop a line to my mate to say I’d arrived early. He essentially came right over to meet me, and thus I ended up spending £5 for 15 minutes of wifi and £1.40 for a bottle of water. The wifi access terminates 60 minutes after you register, not after 60 minutes of use, so there’s not even any chance of pitching up to another branch and finishing off my hour.

After lunch I hoofed it over to Holborn where Martin Roell had told me there was an odd little cafe on Museum Street which offers free wifi. The Camera Cafe, half way up on the right as you walk towards The British Museum, not only has free wifi, it also has a downstairs area with comfy seats which is pretty much empty right now. Not only is the wifi free, but the people are friendly, the bottled water cheaper and the music marginally better than Starbucks’.

Patently the free model is preferable for users, but the wifi at Starbucks probably doesn’t net them a huge amount of money and it seems that there’s not a strong business case for them charging what they do. Personally, I’d be happy to pay if costs were reasonable and fair – not too expensive and paid by the minute, not the hour.

I’m only just getting into this whole wifi thing, having only just got myself a laptop that’s both light enough carry around without breaking my back and wifi’d up, but I do resent £5 for one hour or any part thereof.

When will corporate blogging be recognised as a desirable skill?

Matthew Oliphant from BusinessLogs talks about companies who specify blogging as a core skill when hiring, in particularly The Robot Co-Op who have posted job vacancies on their blog.

I don’t think this is really that surprising a development. Blogs are a great window onto someone’s life and thought processes and it’s inevitable that they’ll increasingly be used as a tool for both people looking for jobs and companies seeking new employees. Blogs are, after all, just logical extensions of the traditional website jobs page and the online portfolio/CV.

Oliphant also points to Heather Leigh who asks, What is it going to take for (corporate) blogging to become a job skill? Heather outlines a number of key skills which she thinks contribute towards success as a blogger:

– An ability to gauge relevance
– Strong written communications skills
– An ability to filter for appropriateness
– Original opinions or an ability to contribute original thoughts to existing discussions
– Diplomacy skills

I agree with all of these points, but I think there are other barriers that need to be overcome before corporates accept blogging as a desirable skill, and they have little to do with what it takes to be a good blogger.

Getting buy-in
Good blogging, the sort of blogging that gives your company a good reputation, takes time. Anyone who is experienced in writing original posts understands this, but new bloggers may not and managers who haven’t ever blogged almost certainly will not. The blogger and manager need to be committed to the blog – the blogger in order to actually blog, the manager in order to provide the support required to blog.

The Invisible Work Problem
Much of our modern work ethic is based around the visibility of our tasks. We have open plan offices, public calendars, meetings, milestones, expectations. There is a need to be seen to be Doing Stuff. That’s why slacking off at work is easy if you’re pretending to actually work, but work that makes you look like you’re not working can create difficulties if managers and colleagues immediately assume the worst.

Blogging takes a lot of reading and thinking. These are non-visible activities, but they are essential to a good blog. If you can’t spent two hours just reading without raising suspicions, then your blog is going to suffer. Much of this is down to trust – you need your manager and your colleagues to trust that you’re getting on with stuff even if you look like you’re not. Surfing the net and reading RSS feeds are seen by many as skiving activities, but they are meat and drink to the blogger.

Clarifying the lines
What can and can’t you blog? This question needs to be answered very, very clearly in the blogger’s head. Mostly, one would hope that employees understand what they can and can’t talk about publicly, but that doesn’t stop people being fired for blogging. (Ostensibly, at least – we usually only get half the story when bloggers are fired, and that half is possibly the least rational of the two.) Clarity on this issue is essential – it’s not about trying to neuter the blog with a list of dos and don’ts, but of attempting to ensure that PR snafus never arise.

How important is the blog to the company? Where does it sit within the blogger’s other responsibilities? Should they be blogging regularly or only when they have a light work load? How much of their time should they spend blogging?

Again, this comes back to issues of management buy-in, trust and time. Tacking a blog on to someone’s existing responsibilities without considering the impact of the additional work is only going to make life difficult for the blogger and will result in a poor blog. Expectations need to be set and managed. Again, clarity is important.

There are other issues to the acceptance of blogging as a core skill in business, but management and blogger alike must take into account these sorts of practical considerations in order for the bloggers to have the opportunity to blog well. It goes without saying that there is still a lot of suspicion about blogging in the business world, so attending to the practical and proving that you’ve thought these things through can go a long way towards helping overcome those barriers of unfamiliarity.

Talkativeness is not a substitute for thought


At Corante, to the degree that we can be said to direct our various contributors at all, we certainly aren’t going to exhort them to produce more entries in the name of more entries alone — even if that technique naturally dupes the gullible. We are searching for a different path to influence the communities and markets we are involved in: true expertise and deep insight. And we may get talky at times too, but it won’t be for its own sake, or to pull the wool over people’s eyes.

To ping or not to ping

Horst Prillinger explains trackbacks, and discusses when you should and should not trackback. This is something I’ve been thinking about lately too.

Horst’s first point is that you should not ping if your post does not have anything to do with the post you’re pinging, which is good common sense. He also advocates that you don’t trackback if you do nothing more than link to a post without adding to the conversation somehow.

My response to that second point is that some software automatically pings – i.e. if I link to you in a linklog style post, the software will ping you anyway. The software doesn’t differentiate between post styles, it just sees a link, derives a trackback uri and pings. I may be able to tell it not to, but I’ll probably forget.

I can see why Horst feels that a trackback from that sort of post is not worthwhile, as linklogs aren’t really adding to the conversation per se. But you do get some useful information from that sort of ping – it brings to your attention bloggers who are reading you and with whom you may have something in common.

That may seem like a very author-centric reason for accepting this sort of ping, but readers may also derive value from being able to follow the link trail to other blogs which, even though they don’t pass comment may also point to related posts that do.

There’s another circumstance where the value of trackbacks are debatable, and that’s when someone pings even though they are not quoting a post directly, but just talking about the same subject.

I had a trackback like that a while ago and initially I was rather miffed. I’d followed the link back to the referring blog, but there was no link to my blog there at all. In retrospect, I think my annoyance was down to my ego – here was someone implying they had mentioned me and they hadn’t.

On balance, this sort of trackback is no less useful than any other sort. It is, after all, extending the conversation and that is what trackbacks and comments are all about.

How many are not enough?

Mark over at Weblog Tools Collection asks How many posts are too many posts? and compares a selection of blogs with different posting frequencies. He doesn’t really come to a conclusion, other than that it depends quite a bit on post length and type.

For me, it also depends on how much time I have to catch up with updated blogs and how much I enjoy reading that particular writer. When time is short, I prefer blogs that don’t update too often and avoid those that do, simply because seeing too many unread posts in my aggregator can be a bit overwhelming. Instead of thinking “Cool! Lots to read!” I think “I’m never going to get through that lot in time” and so I never start on the backlog.

But let’s turn the question on its head and ask not “How many are posts are too many”, but “How many are not enough?” Given enough time, I would be posting on Strange Attractor at least once a day, preferably more, but as you may have noticed if you are a regular visitor either here or to Chocolate and Vodka, lately I haven’t had enough time.

I have a tendency towards writing longer, more considered posts with the occasional short linklog style post, and wherever possible I like to add to the conversation rather than just repeat what others are saying. Sometimes, of course, someone else has said it all so succinctly that all I can do is point to their post and say “Look at this!”.

However, although it seems like a bit of a cop out to convert to linklog style, to be a really good linklog you have to do a lot of reading and, as we have already established, time is short. So it seems that I’m stuck either way. Essayist or linklog, blogging takes time and lack of time means that I am posting a lot less here than I had originally hoped.

Mark also asks another question: “Is there such a thing as too much bloggage in a day?”

A couple of months ago, I would have said “No, there can never be too much bloggage” but now I have four blogs on the go and another in the pipeline I am understanding the nature of the overblogged. Don’t get me wrong, I love my blogs, but they’re like little kittens – fun to play with but very demanding. Where other people struggle with their work/life balance, I’m struggling with my work/blog balance, (having given up on the whole having a life thing a long time ago).

I was thinking this morning that I need to rearrange my life a bit to enable more quality blogging time, but then I realised that I’ve already cut out TV, I am barely on IRC anymore and I have pretty much stopped reading magazines (I have a huge stack of unread issues of New Scientist and Scientific American staring balefully at me from a shelf at this very moment). Other than cutting out sleeping and eating, I really can’t see that I have any ‘spare time’ to turn over to more blogging.

Two conclusions can be drawn from this. Firstly, I need to hope that you, my readers, prefer infrequent posts to hourly updates. Secondly, this issue of balance is a far bigger problem for business bloggers who are blogging at and for work – starting a business blog is a potentially time-consuming commitment, and that needs to be worked into the plan right from the start.