John Battelle on The Conversation Economy, Hairy World Issues and High School Musicals Part 1 of 2.
Susan Bratton

Episode 54 - John Battelle on The Conversation Economy, Hairy World Issues and High School Musicals Part 1 of 2.

John Battelle, considered an essential figure of the digital world, is an entrepreneur, journalist, blogger, author and truly masterful interviewer. Susan puts John in the "guest chair" for this two part series. John goes into detail about how the web has "infected the world," he shares his tips for being a master emcee, he explains what the Conversational Analysis Toolbox can do for marketers, and gives us a sneak preview into his ideas for the sequel to his highly-acclaimed first book "The Search." John also offers the cure for social networking fatigue and shares his sadness at the "enervation of Yahoo!" And that's just part one of a two part DishyMix!

John answers DishyMix listener questions from Steve Patrizi of LinkedIn; Tom Hespos of Underscore Marketing; Mario Faria of Accenture; Scot McLernon of Upstream Group's Habitat, Dominique of eCairne, Des McDonnell of Farille and Steve Bustin, a top Internet Revenue Consultant. 

The questions range from "How successful have you been in building conversation between advertisers and blog readers?" to "How should B2B marketers use conversational marketing?" to "How will advertisers benefit from using social networking as a channel to reach customers and prospects?" to "What's your perspective on the plethora of social network offerings?" and "Are you gonna go for the Yahoo! CEO position?"

John takes these questions in stride, gives pithy and actionable answers and still delivers key insights and strategic technological considerations you may have never even pondered, like the idea of opening Google's search algorithm -- creating a completely open search index and using "the force of many" entrepreneurs to create better forms of search. 

Then look through the Battelle filter to find out what some of the most interesting Web 2.0 trends are, including "using the web as a platform for good," genomics, outer-space, health and world poverty. This wide-ranging interview will give you a lot to consider and it will make you feel great to be part of this industry.

If you like this juicy show, please forward this episode to a couple of friends and help Suz' double her listener base by the end of the year. 



Susan Bratton:  Welcome to DishyMix, I'm your host, Susan Bratton, and on today's show you're going to get to know John Battelle.  John's the founder, chairman and CEO of Federated Media Publishing.  He's that and many other things including an entrepreneur, a journalist, an author and he's been called an essential figure of the digital world.  I like that phrase because that's how I think of John too. 

On today's show we're going to talk about conversational marketing, Web 2.0, the search marketing industry, blogvertising, interviewing tips from the master (and that's John), rock-n-roll, running, and wine cellars.  On today's show as well is Part One of a two-part series.

There's such richness in what John's working on for DishyMix listeners.  I got so many listener questions in advance of this show that John has agreed to go a little long on the interview and we'll do a two-part series.

John Battelle:  But once you get to a place where you may be joining a conversation as a marketer, creating media as a marketer, that you hope people will interact with and converse with, measuring that you know is kind of a Wild West frontier.  If you take search and search technologies in a way that we as a culture interact with the internet as a media, we sort of use search as our interface to the internet.  I remember doing my reporting in 2004 and 2005 on the book and asking Larry Page or other luminaries in the field, you know, "What is the perfect search interface?"  They would say "Oh, you know, the computer on 'Star Trek' where you could just talk to it." 

You need to, if you're going to engage in conversation with a potential set of customers or a current set of customers or both, you can't just horn in and demand that people talk with you.  You actually have to listen and understand what they want to talk about and then add value to that conversation.  Untold millions of people who have never been in a social network don't even know what it is and aren't sure why they would be.  I have a feeling that this majority of people who are going to come into social networks are going to do it without realizing that they're actually doing it.  It's just going to be part of a useful application for them and it might be as simple as "Hey, join my Live Journal or my WordPress."

Susan Bratton:  Welcome, John.

John Battelle:  Oh, thank you very much, Susan.

Susan Bratton:  It's great to have you for a minute.  I'm glad we got your time today.  You're currently running Federated Media.  You also are the Executive Producer with Tim O'Reilly at the Web 2.0 Summit.  You've launched a new summit on Conversational Marketing.

John Battelle:  Yep.

Susan Bratton:  You are also still “Band Manager;” I love that title, with  Before that, before the dot bomb crash, you went back to school.  You were the Bloomberg School of Journalism Chair at Berkley.  Prior to that, of course everyone knows, you were the founder, CEO and Chairman of Standard Media, the great and fabulous publisher of "Industry Standard" and co-founding editor prior to that of "Wired" and "Wired Ventures."  You came out of the Mac world in journalism as well before that.  Is that right?

John Battelle:  You've done your homework.

Susan Bratton:  Well, I've read your bio, dear.  You also wrote "The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture" and you continue to have a conversation about search marketing on your blog called "Searchblog" and it's just one of the things we're going to talk about today. 

John, my goal was really to kind of capture the world of John Battelle and at the same time deliver some key insight into the strategic thinking that you are processing all the time in all the things you do.  So I chunked our interview today into two sections and I want to start with Conversational Marketing and then get to the Web 2.0 world.  Then we'll probably break halfway through and talk about what's happening with the search industry and then come back and talk to you more about Federated Media.  My listeners had a ton of questions about Federated Media, and then about you, and what's DishyMix without all the personal stuff which makes it fun?

So I want to get right into that part of Conversational Marketing.  The first thing I noticed was that you've recently launched (I saw a press release) something called a  Conversational Measurement Toolbox.  This is some open-source platform.  Tell us what it is and who cares and why we want to use it. 

John Battelle:  Well, it really came out of the work we've done the last few years with a lot of large clients and agencies; you know the Intel's, Proctor's, and GM's of the world.  There's a thesis underlying the work that Federated Media does and it's basically that we're in a world of media that has different economic underpinnings and different rules around content creation and consumption.  The listeners to this podcast are not going to find any great insight when I say that there is a new form of media called Conversational Media where the audience is as much responsible for the creation of media as the media creators.  I mean I'm sure you have more input, comment and so on (participation in what you create), than the actual creation in terms of just you know, the amount of content there is.  My site is the same.  It's far more comments than there are posts by me. 

In that world, marketers are kind of in a little bit of drift.  It's not a world they're comfortable in.  You know a comfortable place is where you have media as a distribution channel for marketing methods.  They're very good considering that.  But once you get to a place where you may be joining a conversation as a marketer, creating media as a marketer that you hope people will interact with and converse with, measuring that is kind of a wild, Wild West frontier.  So we started keeping track internally of all of the requests of our clients -- of what they wanted us to measure.  Once we hit like a hundred different kinds of things to measure, we realized that it was time to maybe take a leadership position in declaring the standard.  We have a technology platform that we built and we don’t really talk about it very much because it’s sort of like you don't talk about plumbing if it works.  That's great, you know.

Susan Bratton:  Is that your ad serving system?

John Battelle:  Well, we’ve built a platform on top of that.  So we use any number of ad servers.  We have one of our own that we built.  We have one that we built around sort of the functionality of OpenX, Openads.  We also, of course, work very directly with DoubleClick and any third-party ad tag as well.  We have had to stitch all of that ad serving with the 170 types that we work with and you know, count every impression, optimize every impression, bill every impression, reconcile every impression, report every impression.  So we’ve already created an impression that just draws a very large amount of data in and creates reports you know, to all sorts of constituents; whether it’s the marketers or the publishers that we work with, or ourselves as ad men, our finance group or whatever. 

So we realized that this platform we’ve already built is already kind of optimized to take more feeds in.  People, marketers are asking, “Hey, we want to do Dynamic Logic study.  We want to do Pre – and Post.  We want to look at Search Equity.  You know we want to see how various search-related terms that have to do with our brand are doing before we run a campaign and after we run a campaign.  Are people talking about it and that means we’re changing where we are in Organic Search?”  That’s a feed we can put into the platform and measure over time.  They are asking “Hey, can you work with BuzzLogic?  Can you work with Cymfony?  These are buzz monitoring and tracking and

Susan Bratton:  Online reputation management.

John Battelle:  Right.  Exactly.  Of course, our answer is always “Yes.” 

Susan Bratton:  Yeah.

John Battelle:  Because they’re the client.  We realized that it was time to pull all this together and sort of put a stake in the ground and say "we’re going to open an API to this platform.  We’re going to spec that API and invite data you know, people who measure stuff into the platform."  So that’s what we announced, we call it the Conversational Analysis Toolbox and it is just that.  Because every single marketer we work with has a different set of requirements and they want to be able to tune their campaigns against what they consider their goals.  It’s a far cry from click-through rates and reach and frequency.  So we announced the sort of architecture of the platform about two weeks ago at our summit.  We’re delivering the API and the first version of the beta platform with a handful of partners at the end of the summer.  We’re just going to build from there.

There are a lot of people who have responded to our call and a lot of people who are interested in being part of the beta, so we’ll have more news on it in the coming weeks.

Susan Bratton:  Who do you want them to contact if someone would like to participate, either from the marketer, publisher or tool developer prospective.

John Battelle:  Sure.  The, our Vice President of Client Services is Josh Stivers, who’s heading up the project.

Susan Bratton:  Mmhmm.

John Battelle:  Anyone can email me and I’ll forward it to Josh.  I’m [email protected] so anyone can send something to me and anyone who knows me well knows I can’t go to bed until I clear my email box and so…

Susan Bratton:  I’ve gotten email from you at all hours, but then again, I’ve been up to get them. 

Conversational Marketing and we’re going to also later on in the show, in the second half of the show when we get to the Federated Media piece, we have a lot of questions from our listeners and they want to understand some of the new work that you’ve done to go beyond the banner to do some brand integration in the Conversational Marketing space.  You’re going to give me a couple case studies on that.

John Battelle:  Sure.

Susan Bratton:  So that’s coming up.  The next thing that I heard was a rumor that you’re writing a new book on conversational marketing.  True?  Not true?

John Battelle:  I think that the more those rumors well up that the closer I’ll get to actually writing a book.  It’s kind of like Mike Mulligan and the steam shovel; the more people that are watching, the more chance that I’ll dig the hole.

Susan Bratton:  Exactly.

John Battelle:  Or maybe I’ll dig the hole first and then I have to write the book.  But I have a very, very clear idea of what the next book is.  The only problem is, of course, in the eternal optimism of an entrepreneur and I see it as an opportunity, is that I’m kind of recording the book by running Federated.  So the book is kind of a sequel to “The Search”.  If you take it, so if you take search and search technology and the way that we as a culture interact with the internet as a medium, we sort of use search as our interface to the internet.  When the interface uses words, you know natural language phrases, now they’re often quite different.  The way you search for a Chrysler mini-van might be very different than the way I search for a Chrysler minivan and we might use different grammatical phrases to get to that.  But the fact is we’re using language that makes sense to us between our ears.  I see that as a sea change in the way we interact with computers and the way that our culture starts to interact with each other through this interface of search.

So if you look at search as sort of the first kind of utterances of a conversational interface to technology, and I remember doing my reporting in 2004 and 2005 on the book and asking Larry Page or other luminaries in the field, you know, "What is the perfect search interface?"  They would say "Oh, the computer on 'Star Trek' where you could just talk to it.” Right?  This idea of talking with computers because communication and language is literally the highest evolutionary form there is; it’s an incredibly robust high-bandwidth, low-power usage way of communicating language.  Using language is an extraordinary way to do business.  As a matter of fact, it’s how we all did business before we got to the age of Henry Ford; the mass made-to-one approach that has dominated media up until the internet. 

I see the searches as the first you know, chapter in a very long story of how businesses are changing; how they interact with customers through the mediation of the internet.  The book I want to write next, my working title is “The Conversation Economy” in that the companies who are going to be very good at having conversations at scale, mediated by high technology are going to win.  Companies that are bad at that are going to lose. 

Susan Bratton:  So let me ask you a question on that, John.  I’m going to fold in a listener question because I think this is the sweet spot for it.  Steve Patrizi, he’s the Director of Advertising Sales at LinkedIn Corporation.

John Battelle:  Sure.

Susan Bratton:  He says, “I enjoy John’s perspectives on conversational marketing and I’d be curious about what advice he has for how b-to-b marketers should best put conversational marketing to work.  Should they be thinking about it differently than b-to-c marketers?  Is there anything specifically they should or should not do?

John Battelle:  I don’t think the principles change very much.

Susan Bratton:  Mmhmm.

John Battelle:  I think it’s the execution that has to, but the principles don’t.

Susan Bratton:  What are the principles?

John Battelle:  Well, we’ve done a ton of work with b-to-b marketers at FM.  The principles, you know we’ve also done a lot of you know, b-to-c work with like Procter or JC Penney or something like that.  But you know, in working with Dell and the FNB or b-to-b category for example, the principles are the same.  You need to if you’re going to engage in a conversation with a potential set of customers or a current set of customers or both, you can't just horn in and demand that people talk with you.  You actually have to listen and understand what they want to talk about and then add value to that conversation.  If you want to start a new conversation, you have to figure out what is it that people are actually interested in conversing about that might add value to their, in this case their work life, right, because we’re talking about b-to-b. 

The funny thing about that is that requires the skills of what traditionally have been called publishers, right?  Publishers are traditionally the people who, in the b-to-b markets say “Well, I know a lot about...”

Susan Bratton:  My industry.

John Battelle:  My industry, you’re right.  So I’m going to be the, you know, the kind of collective; I’m going to collect the expertise of the industry as, for example, I did with the Industry Standard, right?  It was about the internet industry so I got a lot of writers who knew a lot about that space; and recorded the heck out of it, and we became the place you would go to learn about the industry.  Then marketers would come and attach their marketing to that content written by our authors.

Now what you see happening in the space (in the b-to-b space) now is specific to this particular industries – since LinkedIn is in it and we can use it - is that you know you have these bloggers that are the most influential people in the industry; you know, Mike Arrington, or Om Malik or podcasters like you, right?  And how do you interact with the audiences that they’ve drawn together?  Well, just attaching your marketing, that’s fine.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  That actually works as well if not better in a conversational context than in sort of a one-to-many context which is pretty much what banner ads were up until about three or four years ago. 

But what we’ve found has really worked is if you can listen and learn and say, you know “What is it that these people are coming for?” and then bring more of it to the table.  Add value in some kind of way.  In the Enterprise IT phase, for example, we’ve done a ton of stuff where we’ve created new expressions of media underwritten by companies who are interested in joining the conversation.

Susan Bratton:  I saw the Intel DIGG Arc Visualization piece.

John Battelle:  Intel DIGG Visualization.

Susan Bratton:  I will post that on the blog wrap-up for this.

John Battelle:  You might want to show them the “popurl blue” also, which is another Intel program we’ve done which is really exciting.

Susan Bratton:  I’ll check that out.  What’s it called?

John Battelle:  Pop, there’s a site called popURL and...

Susan Bratton:  OK.

John Battelle:  Popular URL and what we did was we created another site called
popurl blue.

Susan Bratton:  OK

John Battelle:  That’s a cut of popURL for Enterprise IT.  So we literally created an information resource for IT leaders, people who are involved in the IT industry. 

Susan Bratton:  Hey, we’re going to take a break right now and when we come back I have a couple more questions on Conversational Marketing then I want to move into Web 2.0.  All right?

John Battelle:  Great.

Susan Bratton:  Good.  All right.  We are with John Battelle of Federated Media and we’re back to talk about all our favorite stuff like Conversational Marketing, search marketing, Web 2.0, woohooo!  So stay tuned and we’ll be right back with John in this Part One of a two-part series.

Susan Bratton:  We’re back with John Battelle.  And John when we left off we were talking about Conversational Marketing and I’ve got a couple more questions for you.

The first one is kind of a general question.  It’s from Tom Hespos who’s the President of Underscore Marketing.  He says he’s been an advocate of building conversation between advertisers and blog readers. You’re starting to give us good examples of things you’re doing, Tom wants to know, “is it tougher than you originally envisioned?”  “Are you getting traction with the marketers?”  Are they coming to you and wanted to do these unique ideas or are you out pitching, pitching, pitching and having a hard time finding the people who want to do the things you think would be fun and right to do next?

John Battelle:  It’s both.  You know we’re out pitching all the time, but we’re also getting an incredible amount of traction, particularly at the higher level – that sort of CMO’s and Marketing VP’s and Directors both in client and agencies.  It’s difficult to execute these programs because you have to change your habits as a marketer and you have to change your habits as publishers.  And so that, we do run into that and it is difficult.  However, we’re starting to find that we’ve figured out certain approaches that work well, that are repeatable and that helps a lot.  So, it’s both very difficult and starting to get easier.

Susan Bratton:  Good.  Well, Tom will be glad as will the rest of the industry.  Mario Faria, who’s the Sales Director at Accenture Brazil, wants to know about the buzz and hype around social networks.  He wants to know if you can elaborate a little bit about how advertisers with their marketing expenditures will benefit from social networks as a channel.  So what we’re specifically looking for (there’s a million ways you can do that), what are the bright spots according to John Battelle in leveraging social media from a marketing perspective?

John Battelle:  I look at it almost as a publisher.

Susan Bratton:  Good.

John Battelle:  When you look at it as a social network like Facebook, for example, it’s very hard to get your arms around it.  It looks like just a mess.  It's just a million different conversations with a million different people talking to a million other people, but how do you engage with that as a marketer?  I look for places where communities have gathered and are engaged around a particular you know point of participation which frankly sounds to me a lot like a television show or a magazine.  It's a place where a lot of people are engaged around something that’s communal, and there are a lot of places like that inside social networks.  So find those places.  Figure out how to add value to those places and you will be valued by the members of those communities.

Susan Bratton:  Well, you have given me the absolutely perfect segue for another reader question, another listener question.  Look we’re both from print publishing.  They’re albums, not downloads.  And they’re magazines not websites.

John Battelle:  Right.

Susan Bratton:  Scott McClernon, one of my dear friends, President of Upstream Group Habitat, who has also done a DishyMix episode,
wants to know your unique perspective regarding the popularity of the web from ’99 to ’08.  He wants to know about so many social networks, so many social media offerings; an example being Fox recently launching a social network for weather.  What do you think about this explosion; all the social networking implications?  Gina Bianchini, CEO of Ning, was on DishyMix talking about her 260,000 communities that she’s founded already.

John Battelle:  330,000 now.

Susan Bratton:  330 -- there you go.  Yeah, it was like a month ago, God.  So where’s all this going, John?

John Battelle:  I think we’re very, very early in this particular part of it.  You know there’s a very robust conversation going on inside, in the equivalent of inside the beltway, right inside the valley.  You know around data portability and OpenSocial and a lot of different pieces that are supposedly going to make the social network fatigue syndrome go away.  But we have to remember that there are untold millions of people who have never been in a social network, don't even know what it is and aren't sure why they would be.  I have a feeling this majority of people who are going to come into social networks are going to do it without realizing that they're actually doing it.  It's just going to be part of a useful application for them and it might be as simple as "Hey, join my Live Journal or my WordPress group so we can share pictures of the family.”  The next time this person who joined that goes to, say Facebook, all of the data they already put in populates because the plumbing works right.  Right now the plumbing does not work right.  So we all bitch and moan about how we have to join another social network, but our experiences are not going to be the experiences of the majority of people 5-10 years from now.

Susan Bratton:  I like the “social network fatigue.”  That’s a good catch phrase.  I agree with you.  We get bored with things before they even become something. 

John Battelle:  Right.

Susan Bratton:  We’re so jaded.

John Battelle:  It’s like “Oh, God.  I’ve been blogging for ten years.”

Susan Bratton:  My God, blogs; that’s like so old-fashioned. 

John Battelle:  Well, my wife started a blog about two months ago and I knew that it was here to stay.

Susan Bratton:  Michelle, right?

John Battelle:  Yeah. 

Susan Bratton:  So I want to move on to the Web 2.0 world, the Web 2.0 Summits.  What I’d like to know first is, when I go to Web 2.0 and thank you so much for having me speak at one recently.  I enjoyed being there and for me the best part of the whole event was watching you do interviews up on the stage.  Obviously, I care about that deeply as I am a frequent speaker and an MC and I host a podcast show.  You are the best to me and it’s…

John Battelle:  Thank you.

Susan Bratton:  There’s a deep level of knowledge that you bring.  You’ve done your homework.  You have a really good way of building rapport with the person that you’re interviewing.  And you also do a really good job at the same time of connecting with the audience.  You are there, it seems to me, for us in the audience.  What tips can you give us?  What skills did you learn?  What are some of the little tricks that you can share for being a master interviewer?

John Battelle:  Besides doing a lot of high school musicals?

Susan Bratton:  High school musicals.  That sounds good.  Singing Broadway…

John Battelle:  It just has to do with being comfortable in front of a lot of people because that’s like the scariest part of it all.  I’ll never forget when I first went in front of the Web2 Expo and when we took the Summit and went bigger and did the Expo which was thousands of people as opposed to you know about a thousand people, it was like four or five thousand.  I went “Oh, my God.”

Susan Bratton:  Yeah.  Yeah.

John Battelle:  You know, I think you hit it on the head.  I really feel (I don’t know why) I feel a very, very deep responsibility to be the person who’s come to be a part of it an attendee.  And so I really act as if I were the attendee.  So when I sense the audience is kind of not buying what someone’s saying, or when I sense the audience needs comic relief, I play off that very, very much.  If I’m not feeling anything from the audience I get really nervous.  You know, and I try to bring something out that gets a response.  It’s almost like being a musician.  You know you want that instant feedback; it’s addictive and incredibly important to being an interviewer.  So I think I pay a lot of attention to it.

Susan Bratton:  How do you get that feedback?  You are a very empathic man.  Even when you started Federated Media, you were kind of like “Power to the bloggers!  I’m going to take care of you!”  You take care of people.

John Battelle:  I don’t always succeed.

Susan Bratton:  But you try.  How are you feeling audience feedback?  What are you doing to get that?

John Battelle:  Well, the first thing is to ask the audience ahead of time.  So you know having Searchblog has been incredibly important to me.  Just like you asked your audience for questions for me, I do the same things with most of the interviews that I do onstage.  I ask questions ahead of time and it really gives me a sense of what people are thinking about. 

The other thing is you take that and prepare it with the subject.  So with Terry Semel  in 2005, for example, it was very clear that if I didn’t bring up right away the China issue (about the journalist who’d been detained by the Chinese authorities on Yahoo! information) that the audience was going to be mad at me.  And I said to Terry at breakfast we had prior, “You know, Terry, I’ve got to bring up these hard issues because the audience won’t forgive us if we don’t.”  So you get the subject to understand that the audience is the most important thing in the room; not the subject.

Susan Bratton:  Oh, speaking of that.  Dominique, the President of eCairne, she wants to know if you’re going to go for the Yahoo! CEO position anytime soon?

John Battelle:  I think I’ve learned one thing that I’m not particularly good at running really large organizations.

Susan Bratton:  Well, we’re going to get into the vision for Federated Media very soon, in the second half of the show.  So we’ll talk more about that.  So we’ve gotten a few tips for being a great interviewer.  If you think of anymore, let me know what they are, John.  I think sometimes you have to go inside yourself to understand what you do, but that’s valuable stuff for all of us. 

I want to touch on one more thing; about the Web 2.0 Summit and that’s obviously that you know every player in the Web 2.0 world.  So what I’d like you to tell us is, according to the John Battelle filter today, what are some of the most interesting companies or trends?  What are you watching?  What’s most exciting to you in Web 2.0 right now?

John Battelle:  Sure.  Boy, how long do we have?  I’m going to be short.

Susan Bratton:  Just a couple of minutes is fine.

John Battelle:  Well, the kinds of ideas Tim (O’Reilly) and I have brought forward for this year is that actually the web has gotten to pretty much infecting the entire world.  And now that limits of the web are not the web itself, the limits of the web are actually the limits of the world.  I’m really interested in companies that are springing up that are addressing major, you know, hairy issues in the world, like energy or health or financial markets. 

There are some very interesting and innovative companies that we’re looking at to feature in the Web 2.0 Summit who are not what you might consider traditional Web 2.0 startups, but have the same kind of DNA, you know this optimism, the entrepreneurial spirit, that sense of harnessing collective intelligence and using the web as a platform for good.  We see that in the large companies as well.  You know what Jeff Bezos is interested in in genomics and space; what Google is interested in in trying to find an alternative to coal; in what Bill Gates has become interested in and obviously what he’s putting his entire fortune behind in terms of health and third world poverty.  It’s very interesting to see the web, frankly, get out of its own fumes and start to pay attention to the rest of the world as an opportunity, not just the web. 

So we’re spending a lot of time bringing in interesting speakers on that subject.  Now if you get back just to the web industry itself, I think we’ve got lots to talk about.  Online advertising models and video are a very big topic right now.  People are kind of scratching their heads figuring out how to make money there in a way that doesn’t feel like we’re just doing what we’ve already done.

Susan Bratton:  Mmmhmmm.

John Battelle:  The question of how the major companies are going to work with each other with regard to distribution of content is a really, really big question right now that’s unresolved.  The search question is it’s almost; it’s enervating to watch what’s happening with Yahoo!  It’s depressing.  And Microsoft, as they chase Google’s search tail you know; and to see what happens when Google ultimately wins and becomes the natural monopoly in search which seems almost inevitable at this point. 

There are a lot of really interesting questions.  There are companies now that live at a layer above the web itself.  Slide comes to mind as a company above, you know it is an application and it’ll go wherever.  It doesn’t care, right?  It’ll go to your mobile phone.  It’ll go to the social networks.  It'll live on the web itself.  Those are very interesting kinds of companies that we’re taking a look at.  And we’re, you know I could go on and on.  We’re also looking at questions of outages.  I don’t know if you guys have noticed, but Twitter’s down all the time.  Amazon went down.  Gmail went down.  What’s going on?  Are we pushing the limits of what’s possible in terms of moving data around in the current infrastructure?  Why is the United States so hopelessly cobbled by bandwidth?  What can be done about that?  There’s just a lot of stuff to talk about.

Susan Bratton:  Nice.  I love that wrap up.  That’s the best question I asked you so far.  That begs another question: what does enervating mean?  I thought it meant putting blood all through your body, like your nerves, your blood is innervating.

John Battelle:  No.  Enervating; draining energy out.

Susan Bratton:  Draining energy out...

John Battelle:  Yeah.

Susan Bratton:  Is enervating.  OK.

John Battelle: I may have screwed that one up and my mom will kill me because she was an eighth grade English teacher.  I'm sure she's the one responsible for me using that kind of vocabulary.

Susan Bratton:  Well, we'll look it up and we'll figure it out.  So we can just Google it. 

Editor’s Note:
en·er·vate  (nr-vt)
tr.v. en·er·vat·ed, en·er·vat·ing, en·er·vates
1. To weaken or destroy the strength or vitality of: "the luxury which enervates and destroys nations" Henry David Thoreau. See Synonyms at deplete.
2. Medicine To remove a nerve or part of a nerve.

I want to move into this, and you've given me another beautiful segue here with the remaining couple of minutes here.  We have about a minute left until the end of this show which is Part One.  I thought it would be good because you touched on these questions already.  Des McDonnell, Research Associate at Farille,Inc. wanted to know -- if you were in charge of Microsoft, what would you do to counter the threat of Google?  And Steve Bustin, Internet Revenue Consultant,  wanted to know what surprises, excites and disappoints you most about Google and its current market strategy?  I think the two things are kind of hand in hand.

John Battelle:  Yeah.

Susan Bratton:  So what I want to do with this last bit is to start on my questions I have for you around your whole blogging empire and then ask one of those.  Then come back in Part Two and get to Google.  So let's start with Microsoft as our last question here.  I'll ask it again, Des McDonnell, said "If you were in charge of Microsoft, what would you do to counter the threat by Google?" 

John Battelle:  I would create a completely open search index.

Susan Bratton:  OK.  Explain that.

John Battelle:  You know I'm in the midst of trying to explain that to myself.  It sounds great.

Susan Bratton:  I've seen you blog about it.

John Battelle:  I'm working on a piece right now.  But the idea is this: In a world where you're competing with someone who owns something that's closed, what has always been the way to win?  Open, right?  So Windows would close, right?  They're not a development environment; you need API's in, right?  Net, Seascape and all that good stuff right?  But, it's a closed environment controlled by Microsoft.  What has won the day over it?  Open Source.  So it strikes me that with search you've got Google on and they have circled their wagons around their secret sauce and there's no way you're ever going to know how they rank what they rank.

Susan Bratton:  Well, they change it all the time.

John Battelle:  They change it all the time.  Now it's really almost AI -- artificial intelligence.  I'm not sure they know how it works.  They just feed it…but that might be overstating it.  I think there is an opportunity to create a developmental environment that allows the, what I call “the force of many,” you know, all the entrepreneurs out there in the world to hook into a really good search index and start to play with the actual levers and dial behind the black curtain.  Let them start to create better forms of search.  They'll do it for real estate, they'll do it for construction, and they’ll do it for podcasts.  Give them the tools for a really great, updated index and then figure out a business model where they, you know, it's a service fee or something, or your advertising gets used or whatever.  I think that's a really change-the-game opportunity now.  There are issues with it with spam and misuse and so on and so forth.  I don't think it's insoluble.  So that's a real game-changer in my mind.

Susan Bratton:  That's a good place to stop for now.  When we come back next week, we're going to talk about video search (we touched on that earlier in the conversation today), your take on mobile marketing, how we should manage the information technology overload, some of your tactics at Federated Media that are working, and what your thoughts are on journalistic fragmentation.  And I want to hear about CrowdFire and your time at Bonnaroo and your run up Mount Tamalpais.  So, we're with John Battelle.  I'm your host, Susan Bratton.  And thank you so much for listening in to Part One of a two-part series with John Battelle, the CEO of Federated Media.  I'll see you next week.  Thanks, John.

John Battelle:  Thank you.