By Matt Marshall, Mercury News Sat Aug 20, 3:04 PM ET
When it comes to blogging, big corporations are turning to twentysomething mavericks for advice. If they can't lick them, they may have to join them. So it was Thursday, as 21-year-old blogger Matt Mullenweg navigated the hallways of San Francisco's Palace Hotel, giving select corporate & other confidants a sneak peak at his latest offering: a special blogging software tool for companies.
Mullenweg is just one of the stars of the Blog Business Summit being held in San Francisco through today. Public relations representatives of companies from Hewlett-Packard to Wells Fargo are here to meet Mullenweg & other blogging bigwigs to get tips on how to communicate with bloggers, & how best to get the word out about their products, on their own blogs.
Take the woes Dell Computer has faced. In recent months, big-name blogger Jeff Jarvis, on his Buzzmachine.com blog, has hammered on Dell for its poor customer relations. That, in turn, unleashed a deluge of similar comments from his readers & spurred other bloggers to whine about Dell, too. On Wednesday, the University of Michigan released a survey confirming a drop in Dell's customer satisfaction ratings, something that may or may not have been related.
Bloggers have a swagger to their stride these days. Just a few years ago, Mullenweg, of Texas, thought he was going to be a musician, but a fascination with computers sidetracked him. He soon found himself the lead developer of a fast-growing blogging software, called WordPress. He has since moved to San Francisco. Today is his big day. He's showing off the corporate version of his software, called WordPress.com, for the first time. It'll allow companies to host the software on their own or WordPress servers, giving employees the freedom to blog. There are at least 70 million blogs & counting. And at least a half-dozen blogging software companies are competing for those users.
In an industry where there is notoriously little money being made, there's hope corporations may pay big bucks for help in understanding blogs & in producing their own. Just how should companies respond to snarky bloggers? Clam up, or let their employees start their own blogs to respond? Mullenweg & scores of his cohorts here believe companies will see the light & launch their own blogs. The trend is still in its early days: ``Right now, they're paralyzed by fear,'' says Mullenweg.
As he offers his sneak preview, another blogger celeb walks into the lobby & greets him. It's Robert Scoble, who writes the ``Scobleizer'' blog. Scoble works for Microsoft, which many Silicon Valley veterans like to view as the evil empire. His blog is often critical of Microsoft's offerings, but the company hasn't snuffed him. This has boosted both Scoble's credibility & Microsoft's. ``It's hard to underestimate what he's done for Microsoft,'' remarks Mullenweg, ``& it's hard to hate Microsoft anymore.''
Soon Mullenweg is off to work the crowd. He's got his work cut out for him. His main competitor, a company called Six Apart, has a corporate blog tool called Typepad, & is also a sponsor of the event. Typepad is considered the industry leader, but one Mullenweg thinks he can catch by offering better spam protection. Scoble, meanwhile, is mobbed by other visitors. One person headed to snag Scoble is Vassil Mladjov, owner of a new company called Blogtronix, which is using Microsoft's .Net platform to let companies blog there. He's betting corporations will trust Microsoft's platform more than they would an open-source company like Mullenweg's WordPress.
Mladjov has a coterie of programmers in Bulgaria, and he's poised to exploit what he says is a coming wave of corporate blogs: ``PR is dead,'' he said, citing the words of Dave Taylor, a blogger & entrepreneur who used the line Wednesday to shake up the room of public relations professionals attending the conference. Taylor argued that blogs have stymied traditional forms of public relations.
Others had their own agendas. Elizabeth Gebhardt, who runs a marketing company, hoped to find new blogging tools, such as podcasting, to help better engage people. Bob Wyman, leader of a company called PubSub, prowled the halls talking about his software, which monitors 14 million blogs & can notify companies within 10 seconds after a blog has mentioned them or their product. Seth Mazow, 24, of Mountain View, scoured the hallways for sponsors for his Web site, Interplast, which helps doctors in developing countries learn about reconstructive surgery for people born with things like cleft lips or palates.``I'm reaching out to the blogeoisie,'' he said, using bloggers slang for more established bloggers who might have money to give.
Contact Matt Marshall via his blog at www.siliconbeat.com.