Ed Lee and I have been talking about the role that bloggers play in the EDA Industry since we put together the Blogging Birds of a Feather at ICCAD in November 2008. In the last week we decided to formalize some of our conversation and blog about it. We wanted to share our current assessment of a complex and evolving situation and invite both comments and further dialog.
From Ed’s perspective, bloggers are a near-unknown entity to the PR people in EDA. Compared to the traditional journalists and publishers, bloggers are perplexing as to their intentions and motives for blogging. What follows is Ed and I ruminating about bloggers and their role in EDA, in light of the gradual disappearance of the old-line journalists, market researchers, and financial analysts covering the industry.
Ed and I have known one another since our VLSI Technology days together in the mid-1980s. He went on to various public relations firms – and worked for EDA clients such as Valid, Mentor, ECAD – and at Cadence before opening his own shop in the early 1990s. Since opening Lee PR, his firm has worked primarily with EDA and IP clients such as Chronologic, Compass, Cooper & Chyan, Epic, IBM EDA, Nassda.
This conversation was originally published in two parts on Ed’s blog “What’s PR Got To Do With It?” with an introduction from his perspective:
I have added hyperlinks to provide more context. Ed and I first talked about some common questions that we have heard from other PR people:
Sean: What’s your perspective on the role blogger community plays in informing potential users about current and new EDA offerings?
Ed: This is the big question. We’re in a period of tumult and transition. The old-line journalists are disappearing and the ones who survive are blogging themselves. What bloggers bring to the EDA industry is perspective and personal opinion that’s informed by their individual focus, interests, and the span of their information gathering. But it seems to me that bloggers are more like newspaper columnists than reporters. Where will the basic reporting come from? What will provide a basis or a context for these bloggers/columnists to wax prolific?
Sean: I see bloggers as more of a blend of columnists and reporters. They often write about product announcements, report their observations and issues. Usually they have a wide set of resources both on-line and in-person. Good blogs take a lot of reading and gathering information. But you are right, good blogging is also good linking and bloggers will link to other bloggers, perhaps who have either firsthand knowledge of events or deep technical knowledge. Because of the links, bloggers are often more transparent on their sources than traditional news sources sometimes are.
Ed: Who are the bloggers? I see them as a mix of indies, those employed by EDA and IP vendors and editors who write for industry publications. As with the industry press, we need to know the specific focus of each blogger. But now, we have a second need to know: who signs their paycheck. The bloggers seem to me to be very transparent on that count. So that helps us understand how to work with a blogger’s area of interest AND consider that blogger’s perspective.
Sean: Most bloggers are industry evangelists. I was surprised at the BoF how many many bloggers had a customer facing role (e.g. marketing or customer support) in their company. Another large segment of bloggers are independent consultants who are looking for more visibility–trying to get better known and find a job. Often blogs are started to provide pointers to other helpful resources, share perspectives, and to learn from others who share a common interest. Some bloggers use their blog as a repository or chronicle of an issue: these can be useful for a community of interest that can leverage proven approaches or explore new ones to solve common problems or issues. Reading about approaches that others have tried is extremely valuable to the community and usually these types of blogs are not written by marketing folks but evangelists or other experts like independent consultants.
Ed: So the next question is: how to work with the bloggers in EDA and IP? One thing I wrestle with is when does it make sense in time and money to reach out to bloggers for coverage. And how to do it effectively. Do we separate the old-line press from the bloggers? Consider them all part of one group? So we invite them all to one meeting or hold two? For sure, we don’t want to blast press releases to bloggers.
Sean: I think it definitely makes sense to reach out to bloggers who are providing a valuable service to a community you are interested in reaching. This doesn’t necessarily mean the blogs with the highest traffic, especially when you have a niche product; it’s blogs that are read by your prospects. One effective way to reach out to bloggers is to leave well written, informative, and germane comments on their blog. You can include a one or two line signature that links back to your website if people are interested in more information. I agree with you: one of the least effective ways to reach bloggers is to send them press releases.
Ed: So how do these independent bloggers monetize their blogs? What are the incentives and potential conflicts?
Sean: I think most bloggers are building social capital and don’t really have a plan to monetize their blog directly. I do think independent bloggers are often promoting their expertise and want to build influence within their network. Employers or current clients are going to bias the blogger at least as far as self-censorship.
Ed: Clearly, the bloggers will play – if they’re not already – an increasingly influential role. But are they a separate and new community onto themselves? After all, they’ve got their own room at DAC this year. So either DAC isn’t giving them press badges or they want to be seen as a separate and distinct community.
Sean: Brian Bailey has an interesting perspective on what the bloggers may become. He wrote an interesting blog post at the end of March on “Unintended Consequences.
“Will the independent EDA consultants, like myself, be the only source of impartial information about what the EDA companies are up to, and if the claims they make are true? But even consultants rely on the trade press to bring things to our attention. It could also mean a lot more work now for us to keep up with the tool introductions and developments.”
By the way, our first conversation got picked up on Twitter. Take a look at what Paul Lindemann wrote on http://twitter.com/plindemann/statuses/2230457756 — “Promising Ed Lee blog on #pr/#eda – post with @skmurphy on “Bloggers in EDA”
Ed: No, I didn’t see that tweet, but thanks for pointing it out. Yeah, that’s my concern. There needs to be basic reporting being done by someone. From that basic reporting, the opinion makers can analyze, comment, criticize, vent. Who’s going to do that basic reporting now? The bloggers? Of course, this dilemma isn’t limited to us. The New York Times is the only newspaper that staffs a full bureau in Iraq. If or when it shuts down, then how do we or any commentators – say on the Huffington Post – get our basic news?
Sean: It may be a matter of function. I agree with you that the basic reporting function may not be the role of the bloggers. However, I agree with Brian Bailey that many good blogs are written by independent consultants. Many of these bloggers blog to promote their expertise. So bloggers don’t blog to provide news, so to speak. For bloggers, their blog content is a way for them to demonstrate their expertise and draw visitors to their site. Just looking at the website traffic for one client, over 30% of the visitors entered on the main blog page, and then more than 80% of blog visitors clicked deeper into the blog or the website pages.
Ed: All well and good, but the question remains: who’s going to report the news, give us context and insight? The vendors can easily distribute all manner of announcements. Will the bloggers pick up the role that Richard Goering used to play at EE Times, and fitfully, at SCDSource? I suspect not. We seem to agree that bloggers are basically columnists, opinion makers for their specific audiences. So they do demonstrate their expertise…but what’s their role in molding industry wide pubic opinion…beyond their specific target audiences?
Sean: So your question may be, are we heading into an era where bloggers will have an increasing role in molding industry opinion? I think Karen Bartleson’s “Standards Game” blog on EDA standards has changed perception of Accellera, and standards efforts in general, as a vital part of our ability to make progress. With her “Ten Commandments of Standards” series I think she has offered some excellent suggestions for how to take part effectively in standards efforts–and how to interpret, by comparison, other developments in the standards arena.
So that’s an anecdote, one data point, I am not sure what it looks like in another two to four years. In the last year we’ve transitioned from about 60 bloggers writing on EDA-related topics to what looks like perhaps 200. A year ago I thought we would get to 500 in three years (2011). Now that may be there next year if this trend continues.
Ed: But of those 200, perhaps a dozen or so are frequent.
Sean: To be honest we are still crunching the numbers. Out of approximately 100 that we have analyzed in some detail, we found at least 50 that posted on average once every two weeks between March and May of this year, and of those 27 who posted once a week on average, and of those about a dozen who posted at least twice a week on average. The final counts may perhaps double in each category. There are about a half dozen “press release aggregation blogs” that merely re-post EDA press releases as blog post, I didn’t include those in my frequency statistics.
Ed: How do we quantify the bloggers’ audience and influence?
Sean: That’s a hard question to answer, the size of audience and influence of each blogger. Most have traffic levels that are in the noise level for tools/websites designed to track mainstream consumer websites.
Ed: Exactly! Example, I was shocked when you said some bloggers got only three comments a month. I simply did not believe you! Until I looked myself. So, any blogger who got three comments a month…Would I be able to sell as an influential opinion maker to client? It’s tough enough to sell the bloggers conceptually right now.
Sean: One calculation that would be useful for your clients would be the posting frequency and amount of original material. Quality of writing is certainly important, as well as expertise. Another model you see in other industries that I don’t yet see in EDA are “link logs” where someone takes the time to find relevant material on other blogs or cites and point it out. Instapundit is certainly one popular example, where probably 75-90% of his content are links and quotes from other blogs but from a very large spectrum of blogs.
Ed: Well, re: frequency, I do see these folks as more or less 1) weekly or more (Bartleson, Goering, McLellan); twice monthly (a lot of them); monthly (Aycinena and several others) and some who haven’t blogged since January.
Sean: But without a “publishing schedule” it’s still useful to assign a frequency.
Ed: I agree re: frequency…but how do we determine eyeballs that see their blogs? I was just saying that that is how I categorize seriousness of blogging intent, since I don’t see statistics on eyeballs. Bartleson is obviously serious. The twice per month folks are also as are the once monthly folks. After that, it gets tough to justify spending client cycles on cultivating them. Having said that, I think its important, maybe imperative that we do so.
Sean: This is a good question. I think it’s complex but doable. The complexity comes from a calculation of incentives. Bloggers don’t have a “news hole” to file in the way that print publication does. Also, I think in the same way that an EDA firm uses application engineers (or technical marketing folks) to support and interact with customers it may make sense to encourage many of them to also start blogging to interact with other “independent” bloggers. That seems to be what Cadence and Mentor have done in the last six months or so, there are dozens of new bloggers at each of those firms posting in their public forums. I also wouldn’t underestimate the impact of open forums like the Verification Guild, where a number of serious technical issues get raised and addressed.
Ed: What’s your take on EDA and IP vendors’ acceptance of bloggers? I think vendors are starting to take note, but there’s still a need to justify the cultivation.
Sean: What’s to justify? Or what’s the alternative?
Ed: I have to justify the influence of each blogger to the client. A blogger with three comments in a month wouldn’t fly because the client would say, not worth my time. Shortsighted? yes. Even the good editors or reporters at second or third tier publications…we tell clients, “ya never know when he or she ends up at Business Week.” Witness Sarah Lacy.
Sean: I think some bloggers with few monthly comments may become more popular…those who have a very serious approach. Comments are not always a proxy for influence. But I do think we will see certain bloggers essentially initiate ad hoc forums with their posts. One of the things that have been holding that back I think has been that the high traffic blogs associated with publications, or what I am assuming are high traffic blogs, have poor comment entry and management systems. McClellan is posting several times a week–I counted more than 60 posts in March, April, and May which works out to daily if you let him take Saturdays and Sundays off–and he normally gets a few comments on many of his entries. But the comment system EDN has is wretched and not designed to encourage participation but to filter spam out. If they would supply his readers with the right infrastructure I think there would be a much larger community there already.
Ed: I know that. But my problem is how to prove that.
Sean: Fair enough. I think it may be something that’s hard to get good numbers on. One of the reasons that you have been able to get good numbers that were independently verified for the publications was that it was at the root of their business model: they used those same numbers to sell advertising. I don’t think we will see that model work except for a handful of bloggers.
Ed: So how do the bloggers get a higher profile among the corporate executives, the ones who authorize marketing cultivation efforts?
Sean: Presence on industry forums and portals such as DAC’s. I can’t figure out how DAC picked the bloggers they highlight on their home page. I think the publications still have huge traffic compared to independent bloggers.
Ed: So how do we get numbers, any numbers? Karen Bartleson’s possibly got the highest number of eyeballs based on her topic and longevity, don’t you think?
Sean: I don’t know what Karen Bartleson’s numbers are. My sense is that Paul McClellan, at least on the “business of EDA” side, may be getting a lot of interest just because he is posting frequently. But when I asked him at the EDP workshop in April in Monterey, he said that EDN doesn’t share any statistics with him. That would be an interesting session, comparing google analytics results.
Ed: So somehow, we need numbers of some sort to figure out influence, and then to justify blogger coverage, right?
Sean: It’s closer to columnist coverage than journalist coverage. I think it’s more important to assess the particular “micro-audience” that a blogger delivers. It could be that group or multi-author blogs will emerge for EDA in the same that they have in other industries. A brand gets established that’s larger than the individual author, in the same way that it matters more that an article appears in EDN than who in particular authors it.
Ed: Agree, more like columnists than reporters. Clients are just now acknowledging that they need to pay attention to bloggers. But they have no problem pitching to a Ron Wilson or a Richard Goering (in his reporter days). Funny thing…the output is often the same. In truth, isn’t the act of blogging just another distribution mechanism? Reporters and editors, analysts and researchers all “blog” now.
Sean: I do think there might be ways to make for more “blogger friendly” interviews/engagements. Maybe it’s somewhat intimidating to vendors because bloggers are part of the unknown right now. However, at some level it’s useful just to point to the independent opinion/evaluation that these blogger bring to the table.
Ed: Still, there’s some legitimacy to figuring out the dynamics of the old-line journalists and the, for lack of a better term, the new line bloggers. It’s like the VHF TV channels..they’ve lost huge numbers. They’re still bigger but the UHF channels have just eaten away at those numbers by the sheer number of new channels out there.
Sean: VHF vs. UHF is a very good analogy.
Ed: So in a way, we have more new choices on UHF but we still watch VHF channels.
- Ed and I plan to continue this dialog after DAC and include some assessments of what we saw and what we think learned.
- It was energizing to compose a blog as a conversation and I am interested in doing this with other folks, please let me know if you would like to take part in a conversational blog post.
- After we did this I ran across the “Absolute Power” blog that Cary Chin and Darin Hauer also write as a conversation.
- Richard Fernandez wrote in “Left Brain, Right Brain”
“The major drivers of the democratization of the Internet have not been content providing sites like the Huffington Post, nor extensions of traditional PR activities like “accrediting” bloggers, but architecture; architecture which enables content provision. In this year of the Iranian demonstrations the Nobel Peace prize should be awarded to Twitter, Facebook and Blogger. Time magazine should consider them candidates for the Virtual Men of the Year, and put Time Magazine itself on its obituary pages.”
- In a July 10 post entitled “Blogging” Paul McLellan wrote:
“The biggest frustration with blogging like this is that I don’t get much feedback. All sorts of people tell me that they read EDA Graffiti when they meet me. Very few people think to email me or to leave a comment on the blog. Reed has the policy of not letting page-view data outside of the company, and since I’m not an employee I don’t get to see (maybe it’s the same for the internal people outside management, I don’t know). So I don’t know how many people read EDA Graffiti, and I don’t know what type of people read EDA Graffiti. I don’t know which entries get read the most and which get nearly ignored.”
Update July 22: There have been several blog posts about the changing media landscape.
- Paul McClellan’s July 22 “Who are the EDA Press” reinforces the value of press/journalists as a sense making mechanism (e.g. what’s really happening, what are the trends and the deeper significance of an event) for an industry in addition to helping its members maintain a shared situational awareness (i.e. “what’s new”)
- “I’ve been approached by several PR agencies and marketing folk about product announcements, interviews and so on. Individual product announcements are not interesting to me, and I’m assuming you readers wouldn’t want to wade through them all anyway. There are other places for that. But product announcements in aggregate are interesting: What are the new trends? Which new areas are hot? Which new startups are interesting in those areas? What hard problems are getting cracked?“
- “Remember Bill Joy’s law: no matter where you are, the smartest people are somewhere else. You just don’t know what is going to turn out to be important, so you need to look at it all. But it is increasingly difficult to immerse yourself in the stream of raw information that might allow you to spot something. In it’s heyday, when both Richard Goering and Mike Santarini and more were there, not much happened in EDA that you’d miss if you read EEtimes each week. Now, not so much. That’s one reason that, for the time being, I think DAC remains strong. It’s the only place for that kind of serendipity.”
- Paul’s post also pointed to a September 2007 article by Peggy Aycinena “The Future of EDA Media“
- John Blyler put out two back to back posts
I think Clay Shirky’s July 13 “It’s not An Upgrade It’s an Upheaval” offers a useful context. He opens with
“The hard truth about the future of journalism is that nobody knows for sure what will happen; the current system is so brittle, and the alternatives are so speculative, that there’s no hope for a simple and orderly transition from State A to State B. Chaos is our lot; the best we can do is identify the various forces at work shaping various possible futures.”
The reason why I am engaged by this topic is that I believe that the fundamental challenge is an entrepreneurial one: we need new business models to support our shared awareness and sense making at both an industry and societal level. I think until you frame the problem in that context, a nostalgic discussion of what’s been lost is really just reminiscing. Shirky’s conclusions are equally pointed:
“Journalism is not a profession — no degree or certification is required to practice it, and training often comes after hiring — and it is increasingly being transformed into an activity, open to all, sometimes done well, sometimes badly, but at a volume that simply cannot be supported by a small group of full-time workers. The journalistic models that will excel in the next few years will rely on new forms of creation, some of which will be done by professionals, some by amateurs, some by crowds, and some by machines.
This will not replace the older forms journalism, but then nothing else will either; both preservation and simple replacement are off the table. The change we’re living through isn’t an upgrade, it’s a upheaval, and it will be decades before anyone can really sort out the value of what’s been lost versus what’s been gained. In the meantime, the changes in self-assembling publics and new models of subsidy will drive journalistic experimentation in ways that surprise us all.”