As previously noted, I was on a panel at the SES Conference to talk about the world of "web feeds" (that's Danny Sullivan's term for RSS/Atom) and blogs. Of course, the folks in the audience care a great deal about the effects that this "new" technology and the micro-content it produces are having on search engine results.

These are my longish unordered thoughts, several days and one round trip to the Nevada desert later...

Random Notes

  • It was great to meet some folks that I've "known" in the blog sense for some time now (Scott Rafer of Feedster, Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Watch, Andy Beal of Search Engine Lowdown, Chris Tolles from while also seeing those that I hadn't seen in a while (Mark Fletcher of Bloglines, Dave McClure of PayPal, others I'm surely forgotten).
  • I didn't know what to expect going into this. I'm used to speaking at technical conferences where the folks in the audience are developers or sysadmins, not marketers, PR, or other business folk. It turns out that it's not really that different.
  • Attendance at the talk was amazing. The room was full and this was the last session on the last day of a multi-day conference. People who attended more of the conference than I did tell me that this was one of the best attended (if not the best attended) sessions of the show. Wow!
  • My presentation isn't on-line yet. I'll see about getting the PR-approved version put on-line somewhere.
  • If I told you what the one difference between the slides I made that those that I presented at the the talk, you'd laugh. Not at our PR folks but at me. Really.
  • I used my time (actually a bit less than my alloted time) to briefly talk about RSS and search engines in general (link spam anyone?) before giving a quick overview of the integration between Yahoo! Search and the "RSS Headlines" module on My Yahoo!
  • The marketing and advertising angle on Search and RSS is now much, much more clear to me. Not that I'd ever spent many cycles thinking about it, but it's clear that Bloglines, Feedster,, and probably many others (Technorati, certainly) are coming at this from similar but not too similar angles.
  • The questions during the Q&A session, as best as I can remember, were fairly diverse. I especially liked when Dave McClure asked about other stuff people would like to see RSS for (stock quotes, travel fares, eBay auction items, etc). I hope that got people thinking. It always frustrates me when I come across a site with content I want that's updated regularly, but there's no damned RSS feed. That's true of a lot of the small guys out there and the big guys too.
  • Danny gave us the option of asking the audience a few "show of hands" questions, but I was only one to use that opportunity. I asked folks to raise their hands based on the number of feeds they track in their aggregators (or manually? I don't remember...). The hands really go down fast once you get above 20. I've always suspected that 20 is sort of magic number in this area, and this was really my first change to test that theory on an audience that wasn't already full of bloggers or geeks.
  • A question came from the audience about what happens when employees openly blog about their company, job, etc. I don't remember the whole question, but the gist of it was "this could be a PR nightmare, can of worms, big problem, etc, right?" And I thought for sure it was aimed at me, but Scott managed to use Robert Scoble as an example and save me the trouble of either having to say "no comment" or come up with a very good (meaning "safe") answer on the spot. Whew!
  • Andy Beal came up to introduce himself after the session ended. Though we don't always agree, we read each other's stuff and respect each other. He asked me if I ever get folks suggesting that I tone things down a bit. Sure, that happens. But it's my blog and I write it mostly the way I want. I figure that if you don't generate controversy once in a while, you're not trying hard enough.
  • Related to that, someone recently asked me about blogging and my job. I managed to explain it this way: About a year ago I realized that far more people at work were reading my blog that I had expected. I write with that in mind, but it doesn't stop me from disagreeing with what the company does or pointing out when we do something I think is great. I figure that my blog will have one of two effects at work: it'll help in unexpected but positive ways or it'll get me in deep, deep shit (maybe fired?). Possibly both. The only way to find out is try.
  • When Danny introduced me to the crowd, he mentioned that he's been reading my stuff on a daily basis for a while. He didn't say that about anyone else. And, now that I think about it, I don't know that any of the other panelists blog frequently. But I could be wrong on that.
  • Google was invited to participate but didn't send anyone. That seems weird to me.
  • Speaking of Google, I never bashed PageRank, though someone joked about it before the session.


Any doubts I may have ever had about the SEO (that's Search Engine Optimization) and SEM (that's Search Engine Marketing) crowds not realizing how the landscape is changing under their feet have been erased. They're onto this stuff in a big way. They may not understand it all yet, but I'm sure they're hot on the trail now.

One thing I do wonder is what all those people did a few years ago--you know--before search engines mattered.


Next time SES comes to Silicon Valley, I predict that...

  • This session will be during "prime time" instead of at the very end of the schedule. There may be multiple sessions focused on this stuff next time, or the notion of RSS feeds, blogs, and syndication may just weave its way into the appropriate sessions. I'm pretty sure on this one.
  • The conference site will be set up to receive TrackBack pings from attendees and speakers who are blogging the show. (O'Reilly Conferences have been doing this for, what, two years now?) It may not happen, but it should. The technology is not rocket surgery.

Other Coverage


Hats off to the Inside Yahoo! folks for this little poke at Google for running out of beer at the Google Dance. Battelle picked it up too. As I said in his comments, I've never attended a Yahoo party in 4+ years where we ran out of beer. Imagine the horrors! :-)

Posted by jzawodn at August 08, 2004 08:39 PM

Reader Comments
# travel guy said:

Sad thing is that the reason some of those sites don't offer RSS for things like fares is because of some sales and marketing folks.

Damn, I hope that changes. i want to offer that so bad.

on August 8, 2004 10:47 PM
# Dirk said:

I think RSS is still a blind spot for many people including webmasters and of course PR folks. This will undoubtedly change, but it's a fact right now.

on August 10, 2004 10:31 AM
# Matt said:

What did we do before search engines mattered? I was a TV sportscaster and radio sportstalk host. :)

And I do agree with you 100% that we're starting as a community to latch on to "web feeds", as Danny calls them. And also agree with your predictions for next year's conference.

on August 10, 2004 02:50 PM
# Tim said:

The one thing that stands out here is the number "20". Tells me a lot; specifically, it says that aggregators haven't really got it together yet. The 2- or 3-pane group-of-feeds approach doesn't always cut the mustard when everyone is really interested in a large disparate number of topics.

I propose someone invent an aggregator where the process of reading an article is fed-back to increase the aggregator's view of how interesting the human found that article to be; this can then be used to "sort by sum of interesting keywords" - so if you click on an article about Britney Spears and Tux the Penguin one day, tomorrow's article about "Britney Spears Penguin" will be rated higher in the pile. Think of it as ultra-naiive Bayes, if you wish.

I have a trivial 1-user implementation of this for myself at the moment (scheme CGI, click-throughs), and it does sort of work for me. Ish.

on August 12, 2004 02:15 AM
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