Over the weekend, I started to read Dan Gillmor's "We, the Media".  I'm only about 100 pages into the book, but it is so tightly aligned with how my thinking has evolved in the last 24 months, that I simply must start writing about it now.  Warning -- this book will probably prompt some rants.  I'm writing them as Ed Brill and representing my individual thoughts alone.  I should also shout out to the reviews of this book posted by Tom Duff and Christopher Byrne -- they inspired me to move this book to the top of my reading list (and to buy it, even though Gillmor has generously posted the entire book online).
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When I started blogging 21 months ago, I didn't have a particular objective in mind.  Simply, I thought I was just taking my online interactions to a new place.  I've been involved in online communities for many years, actually.  When I was in college in 1988-1990, I participated in many usenet newsgroups...none really from a professional/academic perspective, but stuff like ham radio and computer games and whatever.  When I graduated from college, I quickly found my way back online through dial-up BBSs and CompuServe and the like.  At US Robotics in 1993, I was the project manager for our internal Internet access rollout -- doing (then) edgy stuff like getting HR to put e-mail addresses on business cards, setting up tech support and sales with e-mail addresses, creating an anonymous FTP site, and echoing the comp.dcom.modems Usenet newsgroup into a cc:Mail bulletin board.  You can still find some of my postings to that group and others in Usenet archives.

So it was only natural that when I came to Lotus in 1994, I found my way into online communities, both internally and externally.  I became a prolific use of our internal Comms Sales Discussion, and contributed early on to the Lotus Partner Forum and notes.net.  When I moved to staff assignments in 1998, I accelerated this activity, and was a regular posted in the R5 and Rnext beta forums, which is where I got to know many of you who read this site today.  Even when I moved into the ranks of IBM management, I continued to make all of these forums a regular and important part of my daily activity.  It seemed only natural to me.  

In fact, there was a time where one of my managers told me that I was "wasting" too much time in the forums, and I just ignored the input.  Why?  Because I assert that my career success is based in part on my online community interaction.  It provides a connection between me as an individual decision-maker at IBM and my customers, prospects, partners, and competitors, in a way that is incredibly powerful.  I am usually one of the first to know of a press article about Lotus products or our competition.  I'm reading, and regularly directed, to blogs, white papers, downloads, and forums where Lotus products are discussed.  As such, it's evolved to the point where specific postings in discussions on the LDD communities and in the Lotus Partner Forum are directed to me individually -- even when the question is completely outside of my area of responsibility (I'm especially flattered when it is a highly technical question :).

What does all this have to do with We, the Media?  Everything.  One of Gillmor's major points in the book is how the leveraging of electronic communities can fundamentally change the interaction between vendors and the market.  He espouses the concept that I've embraced for years -- how the web allows many-to-many and few-to-few interactions in a way that was never before possible.  He also spends a lot of time describing the way that anyone with a blog can become a credible voice -- changing the way newsmakers interact with the "media".  We certainly experienced that in the Lotus community several weeks ago -- a firm that appeared to have the old school view of "any publicity is good publicity" ended up with an avalance of negative writing, all of which will live on on the web long past the immediate item being discussed.  Gillmor cites several stories in his book that parallel the analyst report discussion linked above  -- blogs, IM, RSS, and an intersection with "old media" have combined several times to surface the story behind a story.

Yet that leads to one of the big questions that reading this book has raised for me -- how is it that a "community" even formed around Lotus Notes, anyway?  And how has that impacted the success of Lotus in the marketplace?    I'm going to save that for my next chapter.

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