Euan Semple

This interview is part of the study of blogger networking practices: links to other interviews and some background, links to the results.

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Euan is an independent advisor for social computing for business. He started blogging with his personal weblog The Obvious? in early 2001, while working as a head of KM in BBC. As a result of his position he was pretty well connected in KM prior to blogging.

On networking and changes in it as a result of blogging

He notes that he has never been “consciously cultivating a network, just meeting people, remembering people, staying in touch with people”, but adds “as I became more aware of the online ways of doing that it became a skill worth cultivating”.

“I have a problem of talking about knowledge management and my use of networking for knowledge management. […] I think when people use… almost consciously use those things for an outcome makes them go wrong. I think you become interested in things, you become interested in people. I became interested in knowledge management and I talked to people about what we called knowledge management in those days. So I’m resisting the idea of abstracting the activity from the purpose if you like.”

When he started blogging his network “has exploded”, bridging geographical and organisational boundaries: “I only have so much face-to-face time available on the planet and I want to make a best use of that. And previously I was subject to geographical constraints or social constraints or organisational constraints as of who I was likely to meet and suddenly with online networks I’ve been able to connect to […] the whole bunch of interesting and interested people whom I suddenly had an access to in a way in a normal life I would never ever had that chance. I could then establish relationships and (and again something I get very hot about) is that these are not pretend or unreal or virtual relationship, the real relationship, where you build up trust and affect and those powerful things that make people work together. Online.”

“First time I met Doc [Searls] there were hugs and smiles and really energetic enthusiastic conversation in a restaurant. And we said at that time that others in the restaurant had known that we’ve never met each other they would think we were mad.

So that ability to seek out, build some sort of trust relationship and then eventually (not necessarily, but potentially) then meet face to face people who are interesting, useful, helpful, and friendly towards me makes just a huge difference.”

Why weblogs work that way?

Weblogs are passionate. Also, “there is something about the size of the chunks that we write […] something about the pacing and the size of the blogging window, two or three paragraph idea that’s weighty enough […] That’s why I still blog even if I have Twitter: you can put more thoughts into a blogpost. You are expressing something hopefully slightly more profound about yourself and your ideas.

And the permalinks is another big thing – each of those little ideas could be linked to and that allows to distribute sense-making networks.”

Later in a conversation we talked about developing trust and he said: “You can pick up little subliminal or subconscious or peripheral bits and pieces about people through what they write, how they write, how their blog looks, how they react to things .” He then discussed parallels between bloggers engaging in an interaction in weblog comments and someone’s behaviour in an f2f conversation.

Blogging helps in discovering interesting content and people: “it’s a collective pointing that helps to find stuff, once you have an established group of bloggers you read and trust. And their ability to find a good stuff to point to it, increases your signal to noise ratio on the web “. “Blogs do that better than other tools because of the context – you have to say why that is important, why are you pointing to something”.

Then our discussion turned to getting things done via weblogs. Euan suggests weblogs are good for supportive activities: “in a sense of establishing, sharing […] they are great tools, probably better than face to face”, however, “in a context of making something happen there is a limit to how far you can go.”

Weblogs have a different rhythm. “If you want to set up a meeting you wouldn’t pontificate about life, universe and the such…[as you do on a weblog]” I tried suggesting that that it might be the confidential nature of work in many cases, but he didn’t pick it up suggesting that “inside and outside [of an organisation] are getting debatable anyway…”

On dealing with expanding network

“The relationships that these tools enable don’t scale”. “There are in a modest way more people who want to talk to me than I want and can talk to. So I have to manage that.”

He also commented that now it’s different from the moment when he started blogging. Then the interactions were “more intense”: “we had much more time to read each other posts because it was fewer of us”. He also talked about reading other blog via RSS reader and how this strips them of the context visible on a webpage. “It weakened the ties, which is a shame.” However, he added that now there is more “breadth and diversity”: “to be blunt it was people interested in blogging about blogging, now there are much more people talking in different ways about interesting things”. He adds that blogging “became more infrastructure less something we talk about”.

When I asked about the danger of forming “echochamber”, where likeminded bloggers connect, he told about his own interests to “be provoked to think differently”. Although he admits that it might be a personal trait, he suggests “you can still choose to be in an echochamber, but it’s easier to choose not to be” as there are so many choices.

On the influence and the image others construct of a blogger

“It’s not the number of people that read your weblog, but the leverage you have on them”.

Euan talks about the time of starting to work on his own and making his weblog a main source of information about his work. Deciding against becoming “more guarded” as “it’s better if people know what I’m thinking before starting to pay me”. “I’ve got high degree of accountability, because I’m highly visible, every time I screw up it’s going to be visible to the whole world”. He talked about blogging as building his own brand: “it’s horrible phrasing, but it’s what is happening. Which is probably more powerful and really scary at the same time.”

Euan gives an example of someone he works with who does not have a weblog: “He is using twitter and some other things… It feels like miasma – I’ve got nowhere I can point people to because he doesn’t got a blog and the other bits are too dispersed. So it’s like a core, a gravitational pull”.

He also noted how blogging made him more reflective, “it makes you more aware about the world and your interactions with it. That I find really exciting.”

On blogging in business settings

Eaun talks about the challenges of blogging in a case when individuals are exposed to an audience “only in controlled circumstances”. He talks about writing while in BBC: “You can generalize the topic that it stays interesting without compromising anything.”

“All of the tools allow connections. […] In terms networking and ability to build relationships […] blogs are the most important and most powerful. And in many cases one of the most difficult to do in a work context. […] They rely on you having an opinion and expressing it and it’s not ironically easy to do in a work context. […] It’s also personal side of it, people in business still have a problem with ‘social’. And yet being social is how you create relationships and all businesses are based on relationships.”