The Brave New World of Open Expertise

I’ve written books on storage and have been an analyst and so people sometimes think I’m an expert. Not me. For years, I’ve been trying to figure out ways to consolidate the knowledge of IT customers in an online community. I never figured out how to make a living by attracting talented IT people, getting their insights and presenting them in a community for everybody’s benefit. I figured this would be a lot more valuable to customers than research reports written by people like me working for analyst firms.

Now as a part of Dell, working in their communities and conversations group (yes – that’s right, I’m not in the storage organization here), I’ve become aware that a bunch of people smarter than me have been able to turn this concept into reality. We have a social media project underway with Techdirt and Ars Technica, with the idea of attracting expertise in the area of server room operations and storage. At first, I was pretty confused about how it was going to work, just as EMC blogger Chuck Hollis was when he wrote about it earlier today, which sparked a flurry of comments from Techdirt founder Mike Masnick and others. I’ve copied the meat of Chuck’s most recent comment below:

I guess, then, my issue is less with TechDirt, and more around how Dell is presenting your "mini-site". I, for one, was a bit surprised to learn of the business model, and it caused me to look at the material differently. I also felt a bit mislead. Others may feel the same as well. My recommendation? Perhaps have the folks at Dell be a bit more transparent as to what's going on regarding the site.

I get what you are saying here Chuck and we will probably try to change the metadata a bit to help people understand – including our own folks. This project really is Brave New World material, which makes it very difficult to describe.  Contributor Stephen Foskett wrote in a comment on Chuck's post about his perception of Dell's Future of Storage project:

I think it's like a paid appearance. They asked you to come speak, have some idea of the topic, and can stop you from taking the stage, but you're free otherwise to say what you want. There is, of course, some threat relating to future work, but this is always present no matter what kind of work you're doing.

This is definitely not blog-for-hire or advertorial content, in my opinion.

I didn’t understand myself for several days, including the whole posting process and was wondering what the %$#% was going on. In fact, I put up a completely wayward, post – wondered why it wasn’t being posted, then found out it was way off base. FWIW, there is a blog post that is pretty critical of Techdirt for the way the initial entries (insights) are handled. Mike Masnick’s reply to that review is good enough for me that they are working on improving things.  But I don't want to throw out the baby here, I think Mike is really onto something that is very, very good and that could fundamentally change the analyst business – something that Chuck would probably be very interested in also.

So here’s how it's working: Dell opened an Insight (request for blog entries) with Techdirt and they invited members of their community to contribute. These entries were screened by Techdirt editors for suitability (no Dell influence in this process) and then published on a Dell sponsored site called the Future of Storage, as a way to expand the discussion. We now have some of that going on and people can contribute there. Just keep in mind that the entries are moderated by Techdirt and it takes a little time for them to be published. I think if you look for the usual wolf in sheep’s clothing ads here, you won’t find any (at least that’s the goal). The point is not to pimp our stuff but to establish dialogue – and this differs in a very major way from most blogs, including Chuck’s and mine.

It’s a radical concept, but I think it has a lot of merit. I know there are IT bloggers reading this that might want to check out the ability to make a little extra scratch this way and I encourage them to join up and check it out. I’d also encourage people to check out The Server Room, which is getting great reviews from members there. It sponsored by Dell, but you’ll see its pretty obvious we aren’t moderating the content. To some that might seem a bit risky, but the fact is we don’t have anything to gain by trying to control the discussion.

About the Author: Marc Farley