What a tech blog post about a startup should include, according to me

I just read a really good post about a startup that felt unfinished, because there was no mention of critiques of the company’s product or business. I’m not blogging about startups these days, I’m building one, but in the bloggers’ spirit of telling other people how to do their jobs, here are some things I believe every post about a startup should include, if possible.

  • Info about the founding team’s relevant background. This is something Michael Arrington taught me was an important part of every startup’s story. Reading Roger Ehrenberg’s thoughts years later about how a founding team’s background illustrates what skills they won’t have to spend the time to learn from scratch helped me understand why all the better.
  • Mention of the company’s business model. They say business is the ultimate sport, would you report on a game pitched full of curveballs without mentioning that?
  • Discussion of the market and competitors. Who else is in this space? It’s one thing for a blogger to make an assessment of a company’s viability, but I think it’s important to point the reader towards enough information about competitors that they can make their own informed decision, too. Many people have said over the years that tech blogs are so poorly written their only value add is in discovery of cool companies to follow the links to – in that case let’s link to more than one per article!
  • Thoughts on a company’s meaning, its place in larger trends and what it points to in the future. Richard MacManus taught me about adding that kind of value.
  • Links to previous coverage, on your blog and on other blogs. It’s a good value add for readers and it’s fair play to recognize those who wrote before you. I always use a Custom Search Engine made up of the archives of the top tech blogs to search for previous coverage of a company I’m covering, as well as to learn about competitors.
  • Critiques. Every product and company has its critics. If you’ve used the product yourself and can talk about it from personal experience, all the better. I don’t think blogging/journalism has to be objective or balanced but if there’s not some inclusion of critical perspective, I don’t think the post is finished.

That’s my list, off the top of my head, of near essentials. Some blogs do better than others at including this kind of information – and I certainly haven’t included it all in all the posts I’ve written either. Sometimes you just run out of time and have to press that publish button.

Let’s Talk Tech on Facebook

After years of resistance, I have decided to take the time to create a Facebook Page. It’s here. If you are interested in all things about the future of the Internet, and you use Facebook, I hope you’ll join me for conversation there.

I’ve had a lot of issues with Facebook over the years, I wrote a big critique of the company’s data sharing partnerships last week, but I also have a lot of admiration for Facebook. I can’t go into great detail about that now because I’ve got a lot of work to do, but I hope you’ll join me there if that’s what you’re into.

The Next Era of Tech Blogging: 3 Things That Could Make it Better

Leading tech and marketing analyst Jeremiah Owyang wrote a blog post today that has inspired some interesting conversation; he argues that with the recent departure of a number of the key big names in tech blogging from their posts, the Golden Age of Tech Blogging has passed and it’s a new era. He cites my leaving RWW among others, though I haven’t entirely left. (I’m just focused on building killer research mega-tool PlexusEngine.)

Many people believe that no such change is happening, either. There’s a continuum of constant change, but tech blogging has never really been about just TechCrunch, Mushable and ReadWriteWeb. There are many other important tech blogs, always have been and always will be. ReadWriteWeb 2.0 is going to rock, too, by the way.

Either way, things are certainly changing. There are opportunities for new blogs and bloggers to rise into leadership positions. I thought I’d take a few minutes and offer three bits of advice about things I think could help make the new era of tech blogging even better than the last one. I just think these things would be nice.

Outbound Links

It’s sad that so few tech blog posts add the kind of value that can be added by including links to high quality off-site resources. It’s ok to send readers away, they’ll appreciate the pointers and they’ll come back. Some of the biggest sites on the web just aggregate links to other sites – why not combine that form of value with original content on blogs? Not only are the links valuable for readers, the research required to assemble those links is a big value add as well. Compiling research and links to other sites is a fine art. I know everybody wants to see more of this. Who on earth would believe that a single blog post’s author knows everything a reader wants to know about a topic?

This isn’t just a matter of principle, either. Outbound links can be good for search engine traction, though that’s not 100% clear and it’s not clear how much weight they carry relative to inbound links. As Google’s Maile Ohye said several years ago, “Thoughtful outbound links also help your credibility because it shows that you’ve done your research and have expertise in the subject manner. You visitors may therefore want to come back for more analysis on future topics.”

Research, Including on Company Founders

One of the things I learned from Michael Arrington when at TechCrunch is that it’s always important to look at the backgrounds of founders of companies you’re writing about. Almost no one does that anymore though, I too often forget myself, but it’s so often a missing part of the whole story!

As VC Roger Ehrenberg once wrote, “There can be tremendous inefficiencies as founders ascend the learning curve, especially in areas that are not necessarily related to or interesting given the founders’ backgrounds.” Conversely, a founder’s background experience indicates the ways in which they are most likely to be particularly efficient.

The time and pageview pressure these days leads to short blog posts based on little more than the first impression of the blogger was left with after looking at a website themselves. It’s like the what, the why and the when of a news story gets adressed but the who gets too little attention.

Platform Implications

One of the things I have learned from Richard MacManus at ReadWriteWeb is that news is always more interesting when you adress the long-term platform implications of anything. When might a certain app, trend or news development make possible in the future? That’s one of the most exciting parts of the story.

A contrary perspective is that, as investor Rob Go has written, the word Platform could be “the most meaningless and overused phrase that entrepreneurs and investors try to use to make companies seem more important than they are.” Maybe, but from a journalistic and analytical perspective, thinking about companies as parts of trends, which will hopefully lead to future opportunities, seems like something that can never be a bad idea.

Maybe all of this is just a way to say “I think tech blogging should be more like the way I like to do tech blogging. But these three ideas sure would help make the next era of tech blogging even better, I think. Maybe no more listicles, too. (Blog posts with numbered lists! Ha!)

Related: How to Quit Your Day Job and Become a Professional Tech Blogger

For what it’s worth, I should mention that all the outbound links in this post were added lickety-split with the help of Plexus Engine. Sign up now for beta notification – it’s coming along really well!

Sharing Secrets With Strangers in Startups

From the conclusion to an email I just sent an entrepreneur and incubator seeking coverage. Seems like a really cool startup and I’m not going to be mean about it this time – but I don’t think I’m being unfair to say this isn’t really how it works.

Startup emails me all the details about what they are doing and then says “oh by the way, this is embargoed until Monday.” Nice to meet you, too! đŸ˜‰

Fwiw, this is the 2nd [unnamed incubator] startup in the past few weeks who has written to us and just asserted an embargo we haven’t agreed to. It would be great if this post and the post it links to was read by your people: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/we_will_respect_your_embargoes.php

In short: if I don’t agree to an embargo before you give me info, then I presume you’ve reached out to others who haven’t either. That means I have a. no verbal contract to wait until the asserted embargo time and b. no reason to believe that other media outlets will wait. That means it is in my interest to write now and be first.
That’s how I understand it and I know I’m not alone.
best wishes,
Marshall Kirkpatrick

A First For Me: I Found News on Google Plus Today

I found my first news tip on Google Plus today, that Google had acquired Fridge. Dain Binder of Computer Sciences Corporation shared a link to the Fridge blog and that’s how I found out it happened. I went into my Custom Search Engine of competitors and found that +Liz Gannes had written it up on All Things D an hour prior, and Mashable 15 minutes prior. (Later, I think I noticed that Biz Insider posted 2 hours prior). And then I wrote it up. Paused before publishing, gave it what I think is a much better title than originally planned (Google Plus is Eating Startups, instead of Google is Buying Up Startups to Bolster Plus Social Network) and there you have it.

I think I remember the first story I got thanks to Twitter; I believe it was a +James Governor tweet that Google had acquired +Jyri Engeström ‘s Jaiku. Twitter quickly became key in my work. And it still is today.

I also remember the first story I ever got to first thanks to Quora. Eighteen months ago I was organizing an event for RWW and decided to ask on that hot new social network, “when is Twitter’s rumored first developer conference next Spring? I don’t want to schedule a conflicting event.” +Ashton Kutcher answered the question! With the correct date! It was awesome, so I didn’t schedule the event that day and in fact I wrote up the news: Twitter’s first dev conference is, according to the site’s then #1 most popular user, going to be on April 14th. And indeed it was.

I used to break a lot of news stories first using RSS to IM/SMS alert tools, and I still do sometimes – that’s how I got my job as TechCrunch’s first news writer. Strategic use of tools helped me get to news stories faster than Michael Arrington – so he called me and hired me. Now everybody uses those sorts of tools so you have to be extra crafty to figure out how to win with RSS.

I wasn’t the first on this story on Plus and I bet some other people have broken stories on here already. (I roughly broke the story of the Circles feature at SXSW, but that was all shoe leather and beer, no web tool hacks on that one.)

I just thought I’d post a little note, marking today as a little milestone for me and thinking out loud about how I want to try to use this platform for work in the future. Thanks for being my Plusbuddies, everybody, hopefully we can figure it out together. If you’d like to connect on Google Plus, I am here.

Why I’ll Never Redirect my Personal Blog to Google Plus

A number of prominent web personalities have announced that they are going to redirect their personal blogs to their Google Plus pages – because they get so much more interaction with readers when they post there. I can understand that, but I’ll never do that with my blog. I have 3 times as many connections on Circles as I have RSS and email subscribers here (in 2 weeks, vs 5 or 6 years!) – but I’m not tempted in the slightest to give up what I have here. Perhaps it’s just about trade-offs and I’m not willing to give up the control I have over the way my personal site communicates with visitors.

I’ve got important things in the sidebar of my blog, for example. I like having my contact info, bio, links to information about my consulting practice and my media citations sitting right next to every article, no matter what readers came here to read. I don’t want to lose control over my own Information Architecture, no matter how under-developed it is, to Google’s vision of “posts in one tab and about page in another.” I want to put those things where I want, in the order I want and make them look however I want.

I’ve got some of my most useful posts on this blog pinned in the sidebar as well. Several of them are 3 or 4 years old. In the Plus world, those would be washed so far down the stream!

I like being able to choose what commenting system I use on my blog. I really like using Disqus because I can click on any commenter’s avatar and see what other Disqus-using blogs they comment on and how often. That’s a great way to get a quick picture of someone’s community of participation.

I like offering a search box, I use Lijit that searches my own personal blog archives and an extended network of sites I’ve identified (my tweets, my bookmarks, some of my favorite RSS subscriptions). I really doubt Google Plus will ever enable something like that.

Google Plus doesn’t have RSS feeds, or email subscription options. Both are important to me; I want to speak to my readers however they want to be spoken to. Some day, we’ll be able to write to and read from any platform in any other platform, just like we can call one phone network from inside another phone network now.

Rather than chasing people around from one platform to another, where they prefer to spend their time, I’m going to sit right here on a site I own and wait for the future to become interoperable with me!

WordPress plug-ins, the iPhone publishing app, the open source community, but more than anything my own control over how I present my self to the world – all those things are very important to me.

I do love Google Plus, though, and if you do too – here’s my profile there that you can add to a Circle so we can be Plusbuddies.

How to find good blogs on almost any topic (Updated)

People come to my site every day to find out how to find good blogs on a topic of interest – and I just noticed that this article about it was written more than 5 years ago! It’s time I update it.

Five years later – only a handful of these methods below still work! It’s something I’ve needed to do a lot since then, though, so I’ve actually built a technology myself that I offer to my consulting clients and others. Update: Check out my startup Little Bird if you have a business need to find the top blogs in a field.

Presuming you’ve just got a casual need, though. Here’s what I suggested 5 years ago, now updated with some notes.

It’s true, almost every field of interest has bloggers now! So how can you find blogs about whatever you are interested in? Here are a number of ways I recommend:

  • Go to Technorati’s Blog Finder and search by author-submitted tag regarding entire blogs as opposed to individual posts. You can view these in order of “most authority” (inbound links) or “most recently updated.” This looks like it could still work, but I wouldn’t depend on it. Technorati, unfortunately, has become primarily an advertising network in recent years. Give it a shot though and let me know how the results are!
  • Here’s another cool service that didn’t make it, this site isn’t even online anymore: The other end of the spectrum, methodologically, might be Top Ten Sources. A fairly broad number of topics are covered here, with an expert human editor maintaining what they believe are the top ten blogs in their area of expertise. From Second Life to the Opera. For good times check out photoblogs and MP3 blogs. Since both of these are multimedia, the Top 10 pages themselves are less impressive than the individual blogs and feeds. I just subscribed to the OPML file of the Top Ten Photoblogs and yay am I excited.
  • This remains one of my favorite free methods and still works quite well: Look at what other people have tagged with the terms blog and your topic of interest in del.icio.us. See, for example: http://del.icio.us/tag/library2.0+blog.
  • Still smart: When you find blogs you like, check if they have blog rolls – a list of their favorite blogs – in the sidebar. Or, check to see who is linking to the blog you found already by searching for their URL in Technorati, Icerocket or another blog search engine.
  • Haven’t done this in years: If you are looking through a large number of blogs and want to evaluate the quality of them, I like to open the Technorati Mini on my desktop and drop in blog URLs as I find them to see if other people are linking there. This only works when Technorati works, of course, and that’s only part of the time.

Well, there’s a few tips. Hope they are useful.

Another method I like: Take blogs you have found that you like, copy their URLs and paste them into a Google search. One of the links on the results page should be Similar. Like this. Give that a try.

If you’re doing this for work though (and you should, reading top blogs and finding industry leaders on Twitter can lend you a huge information advantage) then send me an email. I’ve been finding the best blogs for people for years on a variety of topics and can do a better job, faster and cheaper than just about any other method you’re likely to find.