Jason Calacanis of Netscape/Weblogs Inc./AOL just kicked off the day at the Blog Business Summit here in lovely and cloudy Seattle. The topic of the keynote was “Maintaining Authenticity and Integrity Within Commercial Social Media”.
Calacanis does have good experience in this area from being open about much of what was going on at Weblogs Inc. in terms of statistics and operations before their AOL purchase, and he’s defininitely honest and open about much of what’s going on at Netscape. However, his talk wasn’t really much about that, it was more of a history of his experience with blogging mixed in with interesting anecdotes. I have to hand it to Calacanis, he’s not afraid to speak his mind, which is refreshing and interesting to watch. I’ll try and give an overview here….
He led off with a history of blogging, which was actually pretty interesting as I’ve been on the web since 1994 but hadn’t heard who people really credit with “inventing” blogging. Calacanis talked about Justin Hall, a kid who started publishing information about his personal life in 1995 while the web was still very focused on business and education purposes, and Hall started traveling to schools teaching kids how to blog. Apparently there is a movie called Homepage that was made about Hall.
While running Silicon Alley Reporter Calacanis worked with Rafat Ali who started PaidContent.org, and he thought it was no big deal Rafat was working on a blog because he didn’t think it would amount to anything. Then he heard he was pulling in 60k from his blog working a few spare hours a day, and he started to realize there may be something to it. He also was putting together conferences with Xeni Jardin, who was working with BoingBoing and started getting a ton of publicity and success with that. He began to wonder if he was holding people back as a manager because they started to gain success on their own through blogging. That’s when he realized there may be something to it.
He was already working with Brian Alvey, who later became a partner in the company to create Weblogs Inc. They decided at a Knicks game to try and make a blog, and realized that one blog alone wouldn’t be a big business. But what if they made 500 blogs and a platform to run those?
He then started working on it with the idea that each blog should be a subdomain of weblogsinc.com, and set up a lunch with Nick Denton who was already running Gawker Media. He told Nick that he was going to start getting into blogging as a business, and Nick tried to talk him out of it and told him there was no money or future in blogging, it was just a small lifestyle business. He asked Nick to keep it between them. Then shortly thereafter when Calacanis publicly announced Weblogs Inc., Denton posted on his blog that the “Dot-Com Bubble Boy was going to ruin the blogosphere.” Calacanis being a competitive guy, decided he wanted to put the hurt on Denton. He determined his strategy and best way to hurt him was to take his most talented people.
He used more pay and equity in Weblogs Inc. to lure Peter Rojas who was running Gizmodo to run WeblogsInc’s Engadget. This moment led him to realize they needed to brand their blogs individually instead of as a subdomain.
Calacanis learned another lesson when he wanted to hire an editor for WeblogsInc, and Judith Meskill applied for it, and he told her he didn’t really have any magazine qualifications. She pointed out to him that you don’t actually edit bloggers, so as an organized blogger she had the qualifications he needed. She was right.
Jason also knew Mark Cuban from the earlier days of the web, and at a SXSW conference Cuban told Jason he wanted to blog. Jason said they’d set one up for him, so Brian Alvey was a little hesitant, and Jason pointed out that when a billionaire asks for a favor, you do it. So Alvey stayed up all night creating a blog for Cuban. Shortly thereafter, Jason asked Cuban for a little investment, and Cuban agreed right away. Easiest investment Jason had ever received.
He then spoke about starting to talk to AOL and other media companies, and how Nick Denton had also been talking to them, although Denton claimed publicly that he’d never sell Gawker and it wasn’t for sale. He then proceeded with some funny Denton impersonations, but pointed out that he and Denton are now good friends so he feels okay giving him a hard time.
Calcanis wasn’t so sure he wanted to sell to AOL at first because the company was so young, and that he told AOL that they’d want to edit the bloggers, and that just wasn’t okay. He pointed out that the Weblogsinc team worked for the bloggers, not the other way around.
He also pointed out how bloggers are generally misfits and outsiders, and pointed to Robert Scoble in the audience and pointed out that he was about the 59,000th most important employee at Microsoft and was basically a company outsider, then blogging vaulted him to be their #1 communicator. A powerful medium indeed.
Calacanis then went into a tirade that was quite amusing about “A-list blogging” and the complaints from people about how it’s bad for the blogosphere. He said all you have to do is look at the top stories on TechMeme, say something intelligent about the story, link to the other five top bloggers talking about it, and do that for 30 days straight, then you’ll be an A-list blogger. Those that write one post a week, and hope to achieve something, frankly just suck. Then people complain to him that Engadget and Gizmodo “control” the gadget blog world, but if your gadget blog is ranked #67 in gadgets, there’s probably a reason. Your gadget blog sucks.
His point is that it’s the most open, free, and competitive medium there is right now. If you have talent and a little effort, you can make it in the blog world.
This led into complaints about PayPerPost, who he thinks is bad for the blogosphere. He compared blogging to a beautiful Main St. that we’ve all built, and PayPerPost is coming in and pissing on our street. An interesting visual. The point was that they are covert and he believes that authenticity is important for the blogosphere.
This led to calling out Tim Draper, who led a $3 million investment in PayPerPost. He said “I realize a video of this speech will show up on the web right after I’m done, but I don’t care.” He’s called out Draper on his blog as well, and said he hasn’t heard a response about why someone who supports the blogosphere can support PayPerPost.
Next up on Calacanis’ discussion list was to talk about podcasting. He said two years ago he said podcasting wouldn’t work, and again admitted he was wrong. He realized he’s now listening to more “radio” then ever, but he’s not turning on the actual radio, he’s just listening to podcasts. So, he’s announcing today that PodTech.net and GoDaddy will sponsor his new “CalacanisCast” podcast. They’re paying $100,000 in total to sponsor his podcast and the money will be donated to a private school in Brooklyn to put two kids on scholarship who couldn’t afford it.
He then finished by answering some questions about Netscape, PayPerPost, and a few other issues.
Overall, an intersting talk with some funny anecdotes and refreshing honesty.
Pro PR from Thorney Fallis has a nice post with some pictures and direct quotes.