I spent all of last week in NYC for two conferences: BlogOn and the Empowering Brands conference. The audience for BlogOn was primarily PR folks and marketers, and the other’s audience was primarily marketers and ad agency folks. The biggest takeaway for me was a reminder of how those of us in silicon valley get caught up in our own echo chamber. While I often talk about personalization, blogging, RSS and some of the major shifts in consumer behaviour we’re seeing, there are a large number of people still learning the basics. Fellow Yahoo Jeremy Zawodny attended a totally different conference and had the same feeling. It’s both a clear reminder of how far we have yet to take this and how much opportunity exists out there for this to reach a large audience of folks that don’t yet know about all the great stuff going on on the web today.

I’ve begun to read the Signal vs. Noise blog on a regular basis (its on my own My Yahoo!). I find all of the guys there insightful but I particularly look out for Jason Fried’s posts.

Today, Jason points out a great thing: Bessemer Venture Partners Anti-Portfolio.

BVP isn’t afraid to show how they totally missed the boat on some amazing investments. I’ve always admired people who don’t take themselves too seriously. I try to live that way (I try) and I like that many people at work try to do the same. I’d love everyone to give this a try.

Maybe this should be one of those memes that floats around: My Anti-Accomplishments. Now, I just need to summon up to courage to do it first…

I’m heading out to New York for two conferences where I’ll be speaking.

The first is BlogOn 2005 on Monday & Tuesday (10/17 & 10/18). I’ve been on their advisory panel and I’m also speaking at a session. Last year’s blog on was a great event, but clearly targeted to the industry types talking to ourselves. This year, BlogOn aimed for a broader audience and attracted more media/advertising/publisher types to balance the crowd out. I’m very interested to see how the interaction turns out this year.

The second conference is part of a series called Empowering Brands Conference and its audience is largely Ad Execs and publishers. The topic is “Personalization: The Next Big Thing”. As you might guess, I completely disagree with the title. Personalization is already big. In so far as “One-to-one marketing” was the “next big thing” in 1994 – then this is old news to marketers and ad execs. However, I do look forward to sharing a little of our view of personalization with this audience – and get them to focus on putting the consumer in the center of the experience – not themselves.

If you are in NY and will be at either conference, be sure to say hi.

On the Apprentice this week the winning team got to go on the field of Shea Stadium and play a little baseball with some Mets players. (is that really a reward, couldn’t they have gone to see the Yankees?) Craig mentioned how he thought that’d be a cool thing to do and it reminded me of the time I got onto the field of Wrigley Field in Chicago (home of the Chicago Cubs).

In 1990, I worked for a small TV production company in Chicago as a gopher/audio-tech/PA and went on shoots for private clients, local TV stations and CNBC and ESPN. That year, the all-star game was in Chicago and ESPN was all over it. I did numerous shoots for them in the weeks before the game but one was much more special than the others.

Our assignment: an interview with Don Zimmer at practice before a Cubs day game. Once we got there and found the PR rep, we followed him into the park. I’d been here many times before as one of the thousands of fans that filled the stands. But the seats were empty; the players were all around the diamond doing sit-ups. I loved this park and this team, so I was already excited. Then he led us right onto the field. Stepping in the grass, walking around the bases as we headed to find the coach, I was in complete awe. I couldn’t help but look around trying to soak it all in.

Then I felt myself bump into someone. It was Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg (for you n0n-cubs fans he was the second baseman for the Cubs) doing sit-ups. Here I am a huge fan, and I nearly trip over him – I could imagine the headlines: “MVP Sandberg sidelined by careless TV crew”.

The interview with head coach Don Zimmer (who later went onto the Yankees) was fine. He kept spitting tobacco at my feet–gross!–and my job was to hold the boom mike as close to his face as possible without getting it soaked with that tobacco. I didn’t really pay any attention to whatever he was saying, I was still just looking at all the players and the stadium in complete awe.

Working in TV gave me all sorts of great opportunities like this one, its really one of the things I miss most about leaving TV and working on software and the Internet. Maybe someday I’ll figure out how to turn this blog thing into another trip back to Wrigley Field.

While reading USA Today yesterday on my plane ride home, I read this great quote in an article about Web 2.0 by Kevin Maney:

It had all new buzzwords. Remember “B2B” and “push technology”? Now it’s “user-generated content” and “AJAX”. Until last week I thought AJAX was a cleaning fluid…but no–it’s an acronym for something you use to get money from venture capitalists.

Funny. I definately felt some of the late 90’s creep into last week. New startups abound, people building features instead of businesses, lots of hand waving and back-slapping. I feel very optimistic this time around, but Web 2.0 was enough to make me worry a bit that folks just can’t wait to go overboard.

It’s been a busy day for social media at Yahoo! Following on the heels of our RSS research we’re launching three four cool new things on Yahoo! today.

  • Yahoo! Podcasts (Y! Next Release) – this early test release starts off with a podcast directory (with tags and ratings/reviews) and a search engine to help you find all the podcasts out there and subscribe using iTunes or YME. The backend of this is integrated with the RSS database at Yahoo, so if your podcast isn’t there, be sure to add it to My Yahoo and ping blo.gs to let them know when there’s an update to your feed. There’s more exciting stuff coming from this team, so be sure to keep an eye out.
  • Blog results on News Search beta – do a search on Yahoo! News search and you’ll see that results from the blogosphere appear on the left side. It’s still beta and it looks like there’s a bit of improving to be done, but my search on Supreme Court Nominee Miers returned some perfect blog results on the right. Again, this is hooked into the RSS database at Yahoo!, so add your feed to MyY! and be sure to ping blo.gs to let them know when you’ve updated.
  • Themes on 360 – As a more advanced user I love the idea of tweaking CSS and getting my blog just right, but for everyone else, 360 just launched Themes to make it easy to pick from a bunch of themes (kinda like you can do on My Y!).
  • Also, 360 launched a “blog this” toolbar button on Y! toolbar. I haven’t tried it yet, but I really like the WP bookmarklet I use on this blog, so I’m assuming that’ll be all good too.

Congrats to all 3 teams and I look forward to seeing how these products evolve and get even better over time.

After getting back from all the Web 2.0 hubbub, I’ve finally been able to dig into what people have been saying about the RSS research that my team did. It’s always amazing to see how people pick up on these things and what people focus on.

Scoble wrote:

Of the big three companies (Google/Microsoft/Yahoo) Yahoo is definitely getting RSS the best…It’s suprising to me that the big companies still aren’t taking RSS totally seriously. Yeah, Microsoft is putting RSS all over the place. Yeah, you can spit out MSN Searches via RSS. Which, actually, is pretty advanced and interesting. But Yahoo is going further.

Thanks Robert. But I do disagree about one point: I think that the upward climb in RSS isn’t gonna come from the very valuable tech adopters, but from the masses. The “unaware RSS users” look just like the rest of the internet population and they love the benefit of pulling this stuff together from all over the web.

Tom Markiewicz wrote:

This is the first RSS study I’ve seen the finally takes into account the great mass of people who are actually using or have seen RSS, but don’t know it…The fact that 12% of users are aware of RSS is actually a great sign….The best part is this number will only increase.

Tom, I’m not sure that awareness of RSS is all that important and I don’t think that number should increase. My mom shouldn’t care about XML or RSS, but should should care about tracking what she cares about.

Steve Rubel, said RSS Needs to Become Seamless:

RSS (with or without MP3 enclosures) has to become seamless before it becomes useful to the masses. Even Google hasn’t mastered that yet. I am using Google’s personal page to access my favorite feeds and I was disappointed to see there’s still quite a bit of a learning curve for the average bear.

Steve, we gotta get you using My Yahoo! for that. And I agree that we as an industry need to make it easier.

Niall wrote:

The biggest surprise to me was the value of the browsable feed in each tool’s built-in listing. Blog authors should be aware of their placement within such listings and perhaps consider a paid listing for increased subscriptions.

I’m not sure how I feel about paid placement for RSS feeds in readers. I hope that when this does finally happen, we all take the lead from how the search industry has done it: seperate and clearly marked as sponsored content. Jeremy has a different take.

Alex Barnett tries to extrapolate the data:

If you’re only going to read one sentence of this post and have the remotest interest in RSS, then take this away with you: the number of RSS users in the UK and US is now at a staggering 72.8 million…worldwide this is 275 million (see estimate details below).

Staggering if you think about it that way. Dunno if it holds up, but the logic makes sense. This is big and only getting bigger. And Alex makes the great point that this research is US only and that we really need data outside the US (My Yahoo! RSS is already in over 15 countries, but the data doesn’t cover that)

Last point about XML buttons. Sean Bonner said it simply:

Not only do those orange XML buttons not work, it actually makes people run away from your site.

Other coverage:

UPDATE: Here’s a couple more I missed:

My team at Yahoo! recently partnered with Ipsos Insight on research into how many people on the Internet are using RSS (whether or not they know the “RSS” term) and how they are using it. We presented this research at our Web 2.0 party and then posted it online at our Publisher’s Guide to RSS (it’s over on the right side).

I was happy to see that much of the research confirmed what a lot of us already felt:

  • Only 12% of the internet population has heard the term RSS
  • Only 4% of the population has heard of AND uses RSS
  • 27% of the internet population uses RSS but doesn’t know that its called RSS.

After hearing all of this at the event Bob Wyman asked “we’re not Yahoo!, what advice can you give us based on this research?”. This research confirms other research I’ve seen and what I’ve said for a long time: consumers care about the benefits of RSS, not the technology. Focus your message on what your service does for consumers, not how it does it.

There’s tons more great info in the research so be sure to check it out, but a few more highlights:

  • My Yahoo! was the #1 way that “unaware” users used RSS (no surprise)
  • Among “aware RSS users” – the people “in the know” – My Yahoo! was also the #1 RSS reader! (a bit of a surprise with all the talk of other aggregators)
  • And about that orange XML button? Only 4% of the internet population ever clicked on it and half of those people said they either left the site or forgot what they did afterwards. We’ve got to make this easier for folks – we are losing 1/2 of the users who WANT to subscribe to content.
  • So how do people add content to their reader?
    • Over 50% use the list that comes with their aggregator. So if you are publishing feeds, you better make sure you are in everyone’s search index.
    • 27% used Add to My Yahoo! buttons to add feeds (that’s great for Yahoo! and jives with what we know: over 8 million web pages have that button on it already) but I still think there can be an more easy, open industry-wide way to do this better.

My hope is that this research can get out there to publishers and to other tech/rss companies and we can all begin to really take RSS to the next wave. Yahoo!’s been aggregating RSS for almost two years and other companies for even longer than that. Now as more companies are joining the party, we all need to come together and figure out how to take this to tens and hundreds of millions of users…

Very cool news tonight…we announced that the upcoming.org team is now part of Yahoo. More info is on the search blog and on Andy’s waxy.org.

At work we talk a lot about how media is fundamentally shifting to social media. The more we can put power in the hands of the community and put consumers at the center of the experience, the more rich and interesting the experience can be. The more that people use the services, the better they become. Upcoming is just that kind of service and I can’t wait to see how this integrates with Yahoo Local over time.

Congrats to the local team and to Andy, Gordon and Leonard. Welcome aboard!