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Shawn Callahan

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


Shawn is the founder of Anecdote, a consulting company of three that focuses on change management, learning and storytelling. He lives in Australia and used to work in IBM prior to his current work. When he started blogging, his professional network was primarily in KM and primarily Australian (with many people local to his city).

He first started blogging on KM topic about in 2002, while working at IBM. However, it did not work that time. Later he created another blog and wrote for about a year, gaining experiences of regular blogging and learning about the medium. When Anecdote was founded in 2004, a weblog became a centre of the company’s web-site; Today Shawn blogs there together with two other colleagues. Their blog is often in the top 100 most visited weblogs in Australia.

Changes in a network after starting blogging

Shawn gives an example of getting into an interaction with David, who is consulting on how to run consulting companies and “one of the big players in this field”. When David started blogging, Shawn commented on his blog and they’ve “got a bit of interaction going”. In a half a year Shawn and his colleagues decide to contact David for advice. In the conversation that follows Shawn finds out that “his daily rate was far greater than [they] could afford”. When he admits that David says “we are friends now, so I’m happy to do it for nothing”.

“And it was at that point I realised that this whole blogging thing is extremely powerful way of building relationships. People you’ve never met face-to-face and they are willing to do important things for you.”

On difference in types of relations developed as a result of blogging

Shawn says that the main difference with the relationships developed after starting blogging is geographic spread. He also talks about an asymmetry in those relations: “There is also this weaving thing that I’m sure you’ve experienced too when going to a conference when people come up to you and they know you through your blog, but you have never met them before. It’s a kind of a disarming experience… You feel it’s quite an asymmetrical relationship; they have a really good sense of who you are, what you do, what interests you, and you don’t even know their name. I think that’s kind of peculiar to people who blog and have some sort of readership I suppose.”

What do you think creates this friendship and knowing, how does it happen?

He says that interaction in the comments is important, but admits that he is not good in that.
“But I’m not good in comments on blogs, I use my weblog primarily to get my thoughts out and to get ideas clear in my own head and for a sort of a source material for future things I might want to do. I use it more for that than as a network building or communication device if you like.” At a later moment he tells that he is “not much of the typer” and leaves comments only if he “can add to a conversation in a constructive way”, also wondering what people “read” into his behaviour as he is not very active in that.

He also says that it’s difficult to delineate what weblogs do in that respect, since there are often multiple tools involved. He gives an example of getting to know Nancy White through her blog and other online activities and inviting her to stay in their house when he found out she was coming to Australia, and their collaboration that followed.

He suggests that weblogs provide “some level of reputation”, exposing people and their interests. It is “not explicit, you intuitively get a feel for type of the person they are and whether that […] is your type of person. It’s almost like a pre-dating.”

“Photos seem to give your more than just the text. You also get a sense of the people in terms of links and depth of their post”. He tells that he mainly reads weblogs through RSS feeds, so “it’s not that much the design and appearance of it”.

We talk about weblogs he reads and what kind of relations are those

He subscribes to about 300 weblogs. “I tend to gravitate to weblogs to the people I know (I met personally and know quite well) and bloggers who write in different field […] most KM blogs not very interesting at all… The majority are weak ties or not ties, 5% strong ties…”

“For the people I know I read to find out how they are going, people I don’t know I read for their content.” For people he knows weblogs provide an “additional way to see how they are going”, to find out “if there is something important to ring them up”. He says that it often prompts “some other way of communicating with the person”.

He says that “weblog is pretty accurate but incomplete reflection of the person”, giving an example of a wrong assumptions about events in another blogger’s life given her content.

Role weblogs play in the different stages of developing relation with others

“If someone got the weblog, they are inviting people to contact them”. He says that this is usually the case when he attempts to contact them by email. He adds that when contacting another blogger, the fact of both blogging creates a commonality, even if content is very different – “I am a blogger, you are a blogger, we should catch up”.

Shawn talks about finding other weblogs “through serendipitous encounters”, following links and recommendations of others. However, he says that with many of those weblogs he tends “not to engage except of reading” and just skims through.

In tells that his weblog is mainly a business blog, so the relations that come out of it are mainly business-related. He gives an example of people contacting him because of weblog and asking for a meeting. “It might turn into business or may not, it’s a beginning point”.

We also discuss the differences between bloggers in respect to the networking and interaction. Shawn gives an example of Johnnie Moore, whos blogging style “seem to have the interaction going”, but tells that he is not constantly interacting with other bloggers via the blogosphere (if it happens it’s often an email, phone or f2f meeting).

We also talk about the ratios between personal and business content in weblogs, and Shawn notes that “the best mix is somewhere in between”. He talks then about the blurring lines between business and personal in knowledge-related fields and notes that “people hire you based on trust, which doesn’t come from how clever you are, but what type of person they think you are”.