23 March 2005

How well do you know your users?

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I’ve been using the XML support platforms for only a short time. Yet, I’ve come across a few quandaries. Maybe other people are wondering them as well.

I also thought that these might be useful for some of the XML CEOs to consider when putting together their FAQs on their sites, or perhaps they might find them useful when responding to media questions.

In the worst case, if you’re ever surprised with some iPod interview, maybe having thought about these questions in advance will help you look good.


User quandaries about feeds and bots


Some of the questions I have about bots and feeds spring primarily from my lack of familiarity with how your particular platform works. All I know is what I see on the screen and the results.

You are at an advantage. You’ve designed your platform from the ground up, and have many thousands of hours invested in your platform. On top of that you’ve also made a number of presentations to you VC-team, and have others helping you out.

In short, some of these questions are so basic you may be surprised that someone who is remotely familiar with how to search is puzzled by them. Well, there’s a reason.

Keep in mind who your users are. They aren’t simply people who show up and want to search for feeds. Rather, they’re using your platform to help them out with something else.

Publishers have one primary goal: To get their content subscribed to by more readers. Searchers have a contrasting goal: To find content.

The two goals clearly relate to feeds, but they drive different approaches to how they approach you as the CEO and your platform as a tool.


Contrasting motivations drive different questions


Publishers want to know the constraints of your system, not because they want you to admit the limitations, but they want to know what they’re working with.

Searchers on the other hand, want to know the abilities of your system, not because they want to be sold on your product, but because they want to maximize their results per unit of time.

For example a publisher might ask, “Will the bot know to dig deeply in the content without a ping?” A publisher is asking this question because they want to know how old, archived information is accessible to readers.

The publisher wants to know whether an updated can simply be updated; or whether they have to make special notices either on the platform or in other notes.

The searcher, however, will want to know “Where does your bot go” not because they are clueless about bots, but they want to know the percentage of coverage your system has compared to the XML alternatives and the leadings search engines. This question is not a technical question, but is one drive by the interest to know what percentage of the available content does your platform cover.

Again, this question is not driven by the desire to know how a bot works [although they may really want to know that]. Rather the searcher wants to know your platform’s footprint.

If you have a large footprint, you’ll get higher on the list of search platforms to consult. If you have a smaller footprint, this is good to know as your platform may be more useful in a specialized search.

Take A9 for example. They have a multiple footprint. This is an interesting tool for searchers to use. It will take some time to determine how the variable search-engine-platform will compare with the existing XML tools and the larger search engines.

The delay in understanding the capabilities is not related to a lack of interest or a poor understanding of either A9 or the various alternatives. Rather, because of the dynamic nature of A9, searchers will still have to spend some time first getting used to A9, and then taking the time to notice the difference between A9 searches versus a plain-vanilla search engine, or the XML platforms.

I would be cautious in making any statements about the relative footprints of a given platform as more vertical platforms like A9 appear on the horizon. People who say their XML platform is better than A9, in my view, don’t have much credibility. It’s far too early to tell. And the platform has yet to be rigorously stress-tested in its own right; or credibly compared to the alternatives.


Plain user questions


Then there are the everyday user-questions that people have about your platform. These are simple questions, but don’t be fooled.

Your user is actually trying to figure out how easy it is to work with both your platform and your results. The two are not the same.

You may have a great platform and it is easy to use, but the results are not reliable; at the same time you could have a very clunky platform, that is hard to navigate, but your results are sterling. Make sure you really know your platform and how it is different from your search results.

Users simply want to know what actually works. A publisher on the other hand is concerned with whether their information will get discovered. Not just in time, but content and key words.

What your user is really asking is: If they use certain words on their platform will the readers know to use them; or are there ways that your platform will guide searchers to their content, even though they may be using different words. Again, there’s a subtle difference, but how you approach the question can drive different responses in your interviews, and also drive different decisions in how you manage your new projects.

You may also get asked about what the users have to do to get their content accessible. Again, this is not strictly a publishing question. Your users are not asking you to edit their content, or give them feedback on their writing. Rather, the users want to know whether there are any special codes they need to add to work with your platform.

Again, the user isn’t going to specifically ask this as they don’t now about your codes and may have no clue about XML. Rather, the user simply knows enough that there might be some integration issues. Your job in your FAQs is to simply get right to the point with what must be done on the template to get the publisher’s code to integrate with your platform and bots.

Users would also like to know the other platforms that also work with the same protocols. Again, they’re not going to ask you to spill your guts on your competitors. Rather, what they really want to know is: If I make this change to my platform, what other platforms will I be able to work with?

Again, they’re not asking you to point them to other platforms to ping their feed. Rather, the users simply want to know the tradeoff of not doing what you say. Suppose you say that your platform requires X-codes to get changed. The user’s first response might be to simply say: What if I don’t do that, does it matter? If the real answer is that they’ll lose very little, and retain a lot by still getting access to those that use another system, you’ll get a big yawn from your readers.

On the other hand, if you and your CEO peers issue a joint statement and press release saying that everyone is on board and all users-searchers-publishers are going to benefit by this change, then you’re likely to get taken more seriously.


Content access


Publishers are primarily concerned with whether their content is going to get buried. They’re asking about pings and timing so they get an idea of how long they have to wait between each blog-entry.

Some bloggers may have a number of blog-spots that they’re working on at the same time. Ideally, what they’d really like is a system that allowed them to publish many blog-spots all at once, perhaps kicking 10-blogspots out in a package, and having the platform bots find all 10, and properly index them.

What’s actually appearing to happen is that the publisher has to wait between pings. This can slow things down. So your publishers are asking about pings, time, and archived content not because they have huge plans to spam, but they are asking about the difficulty their readers are going to have in finding new, updated, revised, or archived content.

Your publishers are asking about archives because they want to know if they make changes to old content, would their readers know where to go and that there were changes; or will these updates need to be highlighted in a new way.

In turn, what this does is generate questions about your bots. Your publishers are interested in knowing the capability of your bots because they want to know whether your bots dig deeply in the archives, or whether the bots simply look at the most recent pinged-content.

Either way, it doesn’t matter what is going on. The publishers simply want to know whether the bots are going to find this archived information and the changes; or whether the bots are going to miss it and the publisher might have to do something different. In turn, given the uncertainty related to the indexes, archives, pings, and ancient changes, some publishers may be in a quandary.


  • Should I bother updating old content?

  • If I update old content will anyone notice?

  • If the bots only look at the current platform-changes, how will readers find out about old changes?


  • Again, your searcher-publishers are not in a panic. They simply want to make plans about what they need to do given the existing constraints.

    It’s all well and good to talk about designing platforms for the user to work as they actually work. In practice, your users know this is just a slogan: The users have to work with what is available today, not what might be available in the future.

    In turn, what the searchers are really trying to figure out is: If I don’t ping a certain platform on changes, does it really matter?

    What they’re really saying is that if there is a competing search engine that archives the information and indexes better than yours, and the publisher knows that most people searching for this type of content use a search engine [and not an XML-focused search tool], then the fact that your bot does or does not pick up ancient updates is irrelevant.

    The intended audience of this content already is choosing not to use your platform because it is well known that your platform cannot find these changes, or it doesn’t adequately index the deeply buried archives.

    In other words, you may get surprised when you face questions from people who would otherwise know not to even raise the issue. A publisher that is familiar with XML would know your platform’s limitations and never raise the issue to ask you about something they know your platform does not doe and has never done.

    Rather, the reason people are raising questions about your platform is that they still have faith and hope that, despite the limitations, there may be something on the horizon that they could plan for.

    Again, your publishers want to know whether to use your site tools. If you develop a product or tool for a publisher to work with, but your main platform does not adequately support doing searches on deeply archived material, then you may get some blank stares when you start talking about new technology.

    The publisher has already made up in their own mind that your platform isn’t giving them the coverage they need, so there’s no sense adopting your tools. These are decisions made about what exists today, not what may happen in the future.


    The publisher will gauge the capabilities of your platform to drive decisions about whether to:

  • specifically point to changes in their content or let the reader get notified of them through the FeedMesh;
  • update blogs or whether to add additional comments pointing to those changes; or
  • ping repeatedly or simply publish without a ping, and assume auto-discovery by non-XML-focused search tools.


  • Going forward

    Publishers want to be able to make changes to their content and their readers to find it. Whether your platform finds that content, or whether a non-XML-tool does it, is irrelevant. The searcher and publisher are going to meet, eventually.

    Ideally, the publisher would like to be able to change any content, the readers find it, and the searcher-reader gets notified when there are changes to content that is related to what the searcher wants. Most importantly, the publisher wants to make sure that their readers can get access to the content and the updates.

    How you support or not-support that interaction is out of anyone’s control. But the publishers and searchers will simply work with [or not work with] what you have today.


    Getting more eyeballs on your platform


    Let’s say that you’re doing all the right things, and you’re moving along with a high percentage of readers using your platform. And you’ve got a significant market penetration.

    Can things suddenly turn ugly? You already know that answer. The trick is to go after the problem and turn it around to your advantage. That means really listening to what your searcher-publishers are going after and why, and then positioning your product to meet that need, then getting your resources to work toward meeting what the audience really wants.

    Again, your audience isn’t going to go through their complicated decision process when interacting with your platform. That’s something you’re going to have to figure out. But what you can do when interacting with your subscribers, readers, and users is understand what they really want out of your tool.

    A searcher may be a user, but don’t let your publishers overshadow the decisions you are making about a different class of user. Searchers and publishers have different motivations. Ideally, both are served; in practice, the good CEO will know how their strategy is linked with which of each of the segment’s interests. There may be tradeoffs. It is possible to serve both at the same time. The trick is to do that better than your peers.

    You may have corporate users who are focused on monitoring the public discussion; you could also serve a blog-audience that is primarily interested in publishing their own content; or you could be servicing primarily publishers in their quest to make their content timely available. Or you may have a goal of doing all three at the same time.


    Worksheet


    Let’s go through some specific questions. Remember, there are no right answers, just your answers.

    Let’s talk about each of the questions from the perspective of your users and what you know about them. Get clear on what you think your users want, and then segregate them into different classes.

  • Does a change to archived data get reported, updated, indexed, searched in a database?

    Searchers want to know whether the data is available; the publishers are actually the ones who are most interested in this question.

  • How does the platform let readers know if there are changes to old content?

    Your publisher is asking this question. They want to know whether someone using an aggregator can find their content.

  • Will your platform’s bot find these changes?

    Your publishers are asking this question.

  • Do I need a new blog to really do what I want to do?

    Again, publishers are asking because they want to know the tradeoff of not doing what you recommend.

  • Will the reliability of your platform meet my needs?

    Searchers generally ask this question; but publishers also want to know this because they want to know whether a small number of hits form your platform is something to be concerned with.

  • If I add a comment to my blog, will your bot find it?

    Publishers will ask this question because they want to know how to guide their readers to respond in blog-conversations: Should they encourage readers to blog, tag, start a discussion, or place comments in blogspot-comments.

  • Others.

    Take some time to look at the kinds of questions you are getting. Can you see some patterns? How do they contrast with what’s been discussed above? Do you have a specialized segment that is appearing? Are you platform-users appearing to ask the same question, but for different reasons?

    The trick will not simply to answer their question, but identify who you are talking to. This will guide you in how you respond. Either way, remember your goal is to know what the user really wants to do: They are collecting information to support a decision, and explore options to know the tradeoffs.

    Bluntly, publishers and searchers do not care about XML, or your platform. They want to know the best way to support their goals.


    Comments


    Remember your audience may or may not know about comment feeds; may or may not know about update-protocols in blogs or strikeouts; and may not know how to create a comment-feed for comments.

    They may also think they have to update their blog because the comments [that they could include in their blog-comments] may not be getting indexed; or that if they place a tag in their comment feed, that the comment-title will not be clear enough to attract attention in a tag-group.


    Other questions


    See how questions are? Let’s go over some other ones and talk about the types of responses your searcher-publisher is looking for.

  • Does buried content get archived and searched?

    Your searcher wants to know whether a publisher’s changes are traceable. Searchers want to know whether the URIs they’re using have to be updated to find and target specific spots. Searchers want to know whether to have an e-mail alert of changes; or whether the page changes will automatically post in the aggregator.

    Publishers are asking this question because they want to know what content is accessible. If they’ve published something and made changes, they really want to know what extra steps they need to give to the reader to help them.

  • Does one-ping of a blogspot-mean that the bot will monitor that blogspot forever and even report changes to my readers in their aggregator; or is the ping just a one-time view at only changes?

    Publishers want to know about your bot’s ability to find updates. They are interested in knowing whether content that changes many months from now will get indexed by your bot. They want confidence that their content will get found. They’re also interested in hearing about how your platform will integrate with PingOMatic and FeedMesh. They want to know how your platform gets information.

    One useful approach is to think about a master schedule. Expand the steps that your bots take and think about showing the parallel paths. At one level your bot is doing things. At another level of that program chart your main servers and indexes are doing something else. Remember your audience -- they may not be interested in the detailed code. What they’re more interested in is getting a feel that there’s a logical flow and order to what is going on.

    Users would benefit if they had a sample search displayed. How frequently does your bot come back; why does the bot come back; does the bot have to get notified; or is there something that tells them there is a change; and how your bot-ping system is different than non-XML systems.

    Also, the users want to get some idea of what would prompt your bot to show up. What signal, user action, or search command would trigger this. Again, your publishers are interested in knowing what they can do to make their content accessible; and your searchers are interested in getting information to support a decision.

  • Does your tool find changes; how are the changes reported to the readers?

    Your searchers want a sample search shown. Again, if you show too many codes and logic diagrams they may get lost. But you could show these as an attachment or as a mouse-over for those who really want to know the details.

    Tailor your logic diagrams. In the end, remember that it’s all logical. And if you expose a group of attorneys to a logic diagram, don’t let them cry fowl. Simply remind them that this is like the rules of evidence that they apply: There is a logic to the madness; and that each cause of action has certain elements.

    If you’re talking to students don’t let them think that only one profession relies on logic. Rather, everything does. So tailor your logic diagram to something that is very simple. Like choosing between Cornflakes or MaltOmeal.

    Your young searchers can relate to this. Let the younger students see that your bot is simply like a goldfish or small pet: It likes to do certain things like eat, and swim around. All your tool does is give hints to the goldfish on whether it’s feeding time.

  • What is the estimate of the percentage of content, changes, updates, and original blog entries that are missed, not indexed, or valid tags not reported in the index or search results?

    This is one of those how high is the sky kind of questions. The people asking this question already know there is a problem.

    Don’t run form this question. You need a good answer for it. Your publishers are trying to get a feel for how your platform compares to your competitors.

    Your searchers are trying to get a feel for how big your platform’s footprint is. Don’t over sell, as your searchers are going to figure it out. It’s better to lowball your capability and overdeliver than vice versa.

  • How long does it take for a tag [that is either buried in content or archived] to get discovered; are some tags missed; what percentage of the buried tags are not indexed using your platform?

    Here your publishers want to know the time lag between posting, pinging, discovery, and indexing. Again, they’re not focusing just on time. They really want to know what percentage of the tags are missed.

    You need to have some back-up for what percentage of the content is missed. They want to know that you know there are some problems; what you’re doing about it; and that your system is really aware of its limitations.

    If you and your board have ongoing negotiations during a potential acquisition, and you can’t comment on specifics, then simply say that the details are currently under review and you have some specific plans to look into the issue. I’d recommend you consult with your general counsel if you’re, in fact, in the middle of a quiet period and have still decided to have a public discussion on your system.

  • What are the other ways that the user-searcher-publisher might want to accomplish their task; is there another way to report this information/tag; is there another way to find this information/tag?

    This is a general question, but its one of those types of catch all questions that you need to have some good back-up slides for.

    This is the kind of question that you may want to have already available as a ppt. slide presentation or adobe for your audience to remember. You could simply start at the beginning of your presentation with an acknowledgement that there are many issues, and point your audience to the site where this detailed information may be.

    You might find that your T-mobile and I-podders are actively surfing to this site as you are talking. So be prepared for some direct questions. This isn’t the old days when you could hide a couple of hours and come up with an answer. You might be right in the middle of a major merger discussion, and you’re connected live to a classroom of students on the otherside of the planet.

    Be prepared to have your ground rules on tape recording in place. If you’re in an academic environment make it clear in advance what the real ground rules in re IPOs and quiet periods are. This will help the mediator know when to step in, and also guide the audience to questions and issues you are allowed to discuss.

    Again, whatever you do, make sure you carefully review your SEC rules in re Sarbanes-Oxley with your general counsel. The public would rather have an understatement and you overperform, rather than have you rally the world to your new product, only to have a chorus of investors outraged that you mislead them.


    What you can do


    What may be needed are some specialized guides created and tailored by those who might be in a position to assist you: Librarians. You may choose to engage with international library associations to ask them for guidance on producing educational material to present at world conferences.

    Remember, the students you assist today will be the ones who will come to rely on your tool when they enter the workforce. Your midlevel managers are going to listen to these new employees on the fast ways to solve your problems. Now is the time to invest in the education of librarians in your search tool.


    Tips on making a guide for your users


    Remember, the people who are going to be helping you out are the educators who will be giving hints to their students on how to find valuable content. Your job is to assist those in creating these guides.

    What you want is reliable information that your public comes to trust: Not just on your platform, but in how your platform can support a decision maker; and also in making a simple guide that a person in elementary school can understand.

    Those who are writing these guides are going to want data and information from you that will help them craft the guides to bridge the gap between who they know [the students] and what you have in your platform.

    The educators are going to ask you for information on the capabilities of your platform. They want to know how your tool will support the typical searches their audience will have.

    Perhaps you may want to go through some sample searches with students; let the students give you direct feedback on how your tool works; then include these lessons learned in the press packages you issue when launching your industry support initiatives.

    Remember the current tools that your audience understands. Your job is to not only talk about your tool that differentiates it from your competitor, but actually show how your tool will support this audience.

  • If your tool will do a better job of supporting a student, be specific with examples with how your tool can get access and link the students with experts.

  • If your tool can look forward to new information, show how your platform can integrate with educators to mesh the lesson plans with the future searches.

    Show that your platform can take a lesson plan, and have search results already available that are tailored to specific questions and decisions that both educators and students will be tackling. Then give them the tools, approaches, and worksheets that they can then apply to new projects so that they can apply your tools to new initiatives.

    You and your team may find that there are supplemental software packages that the educators may want to have in place that not only showcases your tool, but does a good job at assisting the educators with making a presentation to students.

    You may also find your team is getting more attention with these supplemental support packages than your original platform. Perhaps you’ll have so much work and interest that you’ll want to spin this effort into a new company. How you manage that decision is clearly up to you and your board to chart.

    Remember, not all the questions you get are simply about you or your bot. The questions are simply efforts to find out your capabilities. All the users are trying to do is figure out whether your tool helps them, is worth the time, and gives them valuable content. At the same time, they also want to know that your tool is something that they can rely on to get their content exposed to the right people.

    How you achieve those results is clearly a business decision. But the smart CEO will know that a simple question can be very complicated simply by looking at the questions from a different perspective: Is this person asking me this question because they are a searcher, a publisher, or something else?

    Spend some time with librarians. Notice how the public is actually looking for information. Help those who are going to be the ones who work face to face with the people who are using your tools. They want to do a good job. And you’re the best ones to help them succeed.


    Summary


    By now, you’re well aware that public discussions can be great feedback. They can also be valuable times to get new insights into your readers, subscribers, users, searchers, and publishers.

    The time you invest today in coordinating responses with your public relations and customer outreach will pay great dividends. Your job as the CEO, as you don’t need to be told, is to make the magic come together.

    You also know that you have many people working for you will bring the magic. Your job is to know in advance the questions your audience may ask. They are asking these questions because they have a problem they want to solve.

    Your job is to know the real problem they are trying to solve, and ensure your response, performance, and guidance gives them what they really need, not just what they may be asking for.

    The next step is simply to get your platform to cooperate. Oh, XML!


  • I’ve been using the XML support platforms for only a short time. Yet, I’ve come across a few quandaries. Maybe other people are wondering them as well.

    I also thought that these might be useful for some of the XML CEOs to consider when putting together their FAQs on their sites, or perhaps they might find them useful when responding to media questions.

    In the worst case, if you’re ever surprised with some iPod interview, maybe having thought about these questions in advance will help you look good.


    User quandaries about feeds and bots


    Some of the questions I have about bots and feeds spring primarily from my lack of familiarity with how your particular platform works. All I know is what I see on the screen and the results.

    You are at an advantage. You’ve designed your platform from the ground up, and have many thousands of hours invested in your platform. On top of that you’ve also made a number of presentations to you VC-team, and have others helping you out.

    In short, some of these questions are so basic you may be surprised that someone who is remotely familiar with how to search is puzzled by them. Well, there’s a reason.

    Keep in mind who your users are. They aren’t simply people who show up and want to search for feeds. Rather, they’re using your platform to help them out with something else.

    Publishers have one primary goal: To get their content subscribed to by more readers. Searchers have a contrasting goal: To find content.

    The two goals clearly relate to feeds, but they drive different approaches to how they approach you as the CEO and your platform as a tool.


    Contrasting motivations drive different questions


    Publishers want to know the constraints of your system, not because they want you to admit the limitations, but they want to know what they’re working with.

    Searchers on the other hand, want to know the abilities of your system, not because they want to be sold on your product, but because they want to maximize their results per unit of time.

    For example a publisher might ask, “Will the bot know to dig deeply in the content without a ping?” A publisher is asking this question because they want to know how old, archived information is accessible to readers.

    The publisher wants to know whether an updated can simply be updated; or whether they have to make special notices either on the platform or in other notes.

    The searcher, however, will want to know “Where does your bot go” not because they are clueless about bots, but they want to know the percentage of coverage your system has compared to the XML alternatives and the leadings search engines. This question is not a technical question, but is one drive by the interest to know what percentage of the available content does your platform cover.

    Again, this question is not driven by the desire to know how a bot works [although they may really want to know that]. Rather the searcher wants to know your platform’s footprint.

    If you have a large footprint, you’ll get higher on the list of search platforms to consult. If you have a smaller footprint, this is good to know as your platform may be more useful in a specialized search.

    Take A9 for example. They have a multiple footprint. This is an interesting tool for searchers to use. It will take some time to determine how the variable search-engine-platform will compare with the existing XML tools and the larger search engines.

    The delay in understanding the capabilities is not related to a lack of interest or a poor understanding of either A9 or the various alternatives. Rather, because of the dynamic nature of A9, searchers will still have to spend some time first getting used to A9, and then taking the time to notice the difference between A9 searches versus a plain-vanilla search engine, or the XML platforms.

    I would be cautious in making any statements about the relative footprints of a given platform as more vertical platforms like A9 appear on the horizon. People who say their XML platform is better than A9, in my view, don’t have much credibility. It’s far too early to tell. And the platform has yet to be rigorously stress-tested in its own right; or credibly compared to the alternatives.


    Plain user questions


    Then there are the everyday user-questions that people have about your platform. These are simple questions, but don’t be fooled.

    Your user is actually trying to figure out how easy it is to work with both your platform and your results. The two are not the same.

    You may have a great platform and it is easy to use, but the results are not reliable; at the same time you could have a very clunky platform, that is hard to navigate, but your results are sterling. Make sure you really know your platform and how it is different from your search results.

    Users simply want to know what actually works. A publisher on the other hand is concerned with whether their information will get discovered. Not just in time, but content and key words.

    What your user is really asking is: If they use certain words on their platform will the readers know to use them; or are there ways that your platform will guide searchers to their content, even though they may be using different words. Again, there’s a subtle difference, but how you approach the question can drive different responses in your interviews, and also drive different decisions in how you manage your new projects.

    You may also get asked about what the users have to do to get their content accessible. Again, this is not strictly a publishing question. Your users are not asking you to edit their content, or give them feedback on their writing. Rather, the users want to know whether there are any special codes they need to add to work with your platform.

    Again, the user isn’t going to specifically ask this as they don’t now about your codes and may have no clue about XML. Rather, the user simply knows enough that there might be some integration issues. Your job in your FAQs is to simply get right to the point with what must be done on the template to get the publisher’s code to integrate with your platform and bots.

    Users would also like to know the other platforms that also work with the same protocols. Again, they’re not going to ask you to spill your guts on your competitors. Rather, what they really want to know is: If I make this change to my platform, what other platforms will I be able to work with?

    Again, they’re not asking you to point them to other platforms to ping their feed. Rather, the users simply want to know the tradeoff of not doing what you say. Suppose you say that your platform requires X-codes to get changed. The user’s first response might be to simply say: What if I don’t do that, does it matter? If the real answer is that they’ll lose very little, and retain a lot by still getting access to those that use another system, you’ll get a big yawn from your readers.

    On the other hand, if you and your CEO peers issue a joint statement and press release saying that everyone is on board and all users-searchers-publishers are going to benefit by this change, then you’re likely to get taken more seriously.


    Content access


    Publishers are primarily concerned with whether their content is going to get buried. They’re asking about pings and timing so they get an idea of how long they have to wait between each blog-entry.

    Some bloggers may have a number of blog-spots that they’re working on at the same time. Ideally, what they’d really like is a system that allowed them to publish many blog-spots all at once, perhaps kicking 10-blogspots out in a package, and having the platform bots find all 10, and properly index them.

    What’s actually appearing to happen is that the publisher has to wait between pings. This can slow things down. So your publishers are asking about pings, time, and archived content not because they have huge plans to spam, but they are asking about the difficulty their readers are going to have in finding new, updated, revised, or archived content.

    Your publishers are asking about archives because they want to know if they make changes to old content, would their readers know where to go and that there were changes; or will these updates need to be highlighted in a new way.

    In turn, what this does is generate questions about your bots. Your publishers are interested in knowing the capability of your bots because they want to know whether your bots dig deeply in the archives, or whether the bots simply look at the most recent pinged-content.

    Either way, it doesn’t matter what is going on. The publishers simply want to know whether the bots are going to find this archived information and the changes; or whether the bots are going to miss it and the publisher might have to do something different. In turn, given the uncertainty related to the indexes, archives, pings, and ancient changes, some publishers may be in a quandary.


  • Should I bother updating old content?

  • If I update old content will anyone notice?

  • If the bots only look at the current platform-changes, how will readers find out about old changes?


  • Again, your searcher-publishers are not in a panic. They simply want to make plans about what they need to do given the existing constraints.

    It’s all well and good to talk about designing platforms for the user to work as they actually work. In practice, your users know this is just a slogan: The users have to work with what is available today, not what might be available in the future.

    In turn, what the searchers are really trying to figure out is: If I don’t ping a certain platform on changes, does it really matter?

    What they’re really saying is that if there is a competing search engine that archives the information and indexes better than yours, and the publisher knows that most people searching for this type of content use a search engine [and not an XML-focused search tool], then the fact that your bot does or does not pick up ancient updates is irrelevant.

    The intended audience of this content already is choosing not to use your platform because it is well known that your platform cannot find these changes, or it doesn’t adequately index the deeply buried archives.

    In other words, you may get surprised when you face questions from people who would otherwise know not to even raise the issue. A publisher that is familiar with XML would know your platform’s limitations and never raise the issue to ask you about something they know your platform does not doe and has never done.

    Rather, the reason people are raising questions about your platform is that they still have faith and hope that, despite the limitations, there may be something on the horizon that they could plan for.

    Again, your publishers want to know whether to use your site tools. If you develop a product or tool for a publisher to work with, but your main platform does not adequately support doing searches on deeply archived material, then you may get some blank stares when you start talking about new technology.

    The publisher has already made up in their own mind that your platform isn’t giving them the coverage they need, so there’s no sense adopting your tools. These are decisions made about what exists today, not what may happen in the future.


    The publisher will gauge the capabilities of your platform to drive decisions about whether to:

  • specifically point to changes in their content or let the reader get notified of them through the FeedMesh;
  • update blogs or whether to add additional comments pointing to those changes; or
  • ping repeatedly or simply publish without a ping, and assume auto-discovery by non-XML-focused search tools.


  • Going forward

    Publishers want to be able to make changes to their content and their readers to find it. Whether your platform finds that content, or whether a non-XML-tool does it, is irrelevant. The searcher and publisher are going to meet, eventually.

    Ideally, the publisher would like to be able to change any content, the readers find it, and the searcher-reader gets notified when there are changes to content that is related to what the searcher wants. Most importantly, the publisher wants to make sure that their readers can get access to the content and the updates.

    How you support or not-support that interaction is out of anyone’s control. But the publishers and searchers will simply work with [or not work with] what you have today.


    Getting more eyeballs on your platform


    Let’s say that you’re doing all the right things, and you’re moving along with a high percentage of readers using your platform. And you’ve got a significant market penetration.

    Can things suddenly turn ugly? You already know that answer. The trick is to go after the problem and turn it around to your advantage. That means really listening to what your searcher-publishers are going after and why, and then positioning your product to meet that need, then getting your resources to work toward meeting what the audience really wants.

    Again, your audience isn’t going to go through their complicated decision process when interacting with your platform. That’s something you’re going to have to figure out. But what you can do when interacting with your subscribers, readers, and users is understand what they really want out of your tool.

    A searcher may be a user, but don’t let your publishers overshadow the decisions you are making about a different class of user. Searchers and publishers have different motivations. Ideally, both are served; in practice, the good CEO will know how their strategy is linked with which of each of the segment’s interests. There may be tradeoffs. It is possible to serve both at the same time. The trick is to do that better than your peers.

    You may have corporate users who are focused on monitoring the public discussion; you could also serve a blog-audience that is primarily interested in publishing their own content; or you could be servicing primarily publishers in their quest to make their content timely available. Or you may have a goal of doing all three at the same time.


    Worksheet


    Let’s go through some specific questions. Remember, there are no right answers, just your answers.

    Let’s talk about each of the questions from the perspective of your users and what you know about them. Get clear on what you think your users want, and then segregate them into different classes.

  • Does a change to archived data get reported, updated, indexed, searched in a database?

    Searchers want to know whether the data is available; the publishers are actually the ones who are most interested in this question.

  • How does the platform let readers know if there are changes to old content?

    Your publisher is asking this question. They want to know whether someone using an aggregator can find their content.

  • Will your platform’s bot find these changes?

    Your publishers are asking this question.

  • Do I need a new blog to really do what I want to do?

    Again, publishers are asking because they want to know the tradeoff of not doing what you recommend.

  • Will the reliability of your platform meet my needs?

    Searchers generally ask this question; but publishers also want to know this because they want to know whether a small number of hits form your platform is something to be concerned with.

  • If I add a comment to my blog, will your bot find it?

    Publishers will ask this question because they want to know how to guide their readers to respond in blog-conversations: Should they encourage readers to blog, tag, start a discussion, or place comments in blogspot-comments.

  • Others.

    Take some time to look at the kinds of questions you are getting. Can you see some patterns? How do they contrast with what’s been discussed above? Do you have a specialized segment that is appearing? Are you platform-users appearing to ask the same question, but for different reasons?

    The trick will not simply to answer their question, but identify who you are talking to. This will guide you in how you respond. Either way, remember your goal is to know what the user really wants to do: They are collecting information to support a decision, and explore options to know the tradeoffs.

    Bluntly, publishers and searchers do not care about XML, or your platform. They want to know the best way to support their goals.


    Comments


    Remember your audience may or may not know about comment feeds; may or may not know about update-protocols in blogs or strikeouts; and may not know how to create a comment-feed for comments.

    They may also think they have to update their blog because the comments [that they could include in their blog-comments] may not be getting indexed; or that if they place a tag in their comment feed, that the comment-title will not be clear enough to attract attention in a tag-group.


    Other questions


    See how questions are? Let’s go over some other ones and talk about the types of responses your searcher-publisher is looking for.

  • Does buried content get archived and searched?

    Your searcher wants to know whether a publisher’s changes are traceable. Searchers want to know whether the URIs they’re using have to be updated to find and target specific spots. Searchers want to know whether to have an e-mail alert of changes; or whether the page changes will automatically post in the aggregator.

    Publishers are asking this question because they want to know what content is accessible. If they’ve published something and made changes, they really want to know what extra steps they need to give to the reader to help them.

  • Does one-ping of a blogspot-mean that the bot will monitor that blogspot forever and even report changes to my readers in their aggregator; or is the ping just a one-time view at only changes?

    Publishers want to know about your bot’s ability to find updates. They are interested in knowing whether content that changes many months from now will get indexed by your bot. They want confidence that their content will get found. They’re also interested in hearing about how your platform will integrate with PingOMatic and FeedMesh. They want to know how your platform gets information.

    One useful approach is to think about a master schedule. Expand the steps that your bots take and think about showing the parallel paths. At one level your bot is doing things. At another level of that program chart your main servers and indexes are doing something else. Remember your audience -- they may not be interested in the detailed code. What they’re more interested in is getting a feel that there’s a logical flow and order to what is going on.

    Users would benefit if they had a sample search displayed. How frequently does your bot come back; why does the bot come back; does the bot have to get notified; or is there something that tells them there is a change; and how your bot-ping system is different than non-XML systems.

    Also, the users want to get some idea of what would prompt your bot to show up. What signal, user action, or search command would trigger this. Again, your publishers are interested in knowing what they can do to make their content accessible; and your searchers are interested in getting information to support a decision.

  • Does your tool find changes; how are the changes reported to the readers?

    Your searchers want a sample search shown. Again, if you show too many codes and logic diagrams they may get lost. But you could show these as an attachment or as a mouse-over for those who really want to know the details.

    Tailor your logic diagrams. In the end, remember that it’s all logical. And if you expose a group of attorneys to a logic diagram, don’t let them cry fowl. Simply remind them that this is like the rules of evidence that they apply: There is a logic to the madness; and that each cause of action has certain elements.

    If you’re talking to students don’t let them think that only one profession relies on logic. Rather, everything does. So tailor your logic diagram to something that is very simple. Like choosing between Cornflakes or MaltOmeal.

    Your young searchers can relate to this. Let the younger students see that your bot is simply like a goldfish or small pet: It likes to do certain things like eat, and swim around. All your tool does is give hints to the goldfish on whether it’s feeding time.

  • What is the estimate of the percentage of content, changes, updates, and original blog entries that are missed, not indexed, or valid tags not reported in the index or search results?

    This is one of those how high is the sky kind of questions. The people asking this question already know there is a problem.

    Don’t run form this question. You need a good answer for it. Your publishers are trying to get a feel for how your platform compares to your competitors.

    Your searchers are trying to get a feel for how big your platform’s footprint is. Don’t over sell, as your searchers are going to figure it out. It’s better to lowball your capability and overdeliver than vice versa.

  • How long does it take for a tag [that is either buried in content or archived] to get discovered; are some tags missed; what percentage of the buried tags are not indexed using your platform?

    Here your publishers want to know the time lag between posting, pinging, discovery, and indexing. Again, they’re not focusing just on time. They really want to know what percentage of the tags are missed.

    You need to have some back-up for what percentage of the content is missed. They want to know that you know there are some problems; what you’re doing about it; and that your system is really aware of its limitations.

    If you and your board have ongoing negotiations during a potential acquisition, and you can’t comment on specifics, then simply say that the details are currently under review and you have some specific plans to look into the issue. I’d recommend you consult with your general counsel if you’re, in fact, in the middle of a quiet period and have still decided to have a public discussion on your system.

  • What are the other ways that the user-searcher-publisher might want to accomplish their task; is there another way to report this information/tag; is there another way to find this information/tag?

    This is a general question, but its one of those types of catch all questions that you need to have some good back-up slides for.

    This is the kind of question that you may want to have already available as a ppt. slide presentation or adobe for your audience to remember. You could simply start at the beginning of your presentation with an acknowledgement that there are many issues, and point your audience to the site where this detailed information may be.

    You might find that your T-mobile and I-podders are actively surfing to this site as you are talking. So be prepared for some direct questions. This isn’t the old days when you could hide a couple of hours and come up with an answer. You might be right in the middle of a major merger discussion, and you’re connected live to a classroom of students on the otherside of the planet.

    Be prepared to have your ground rules on tape recording in place. If you’re in an academic environment make it clear in advance what the real ground rules in re IPOs and quiet periods are. This will help the mediator know when to step in, and also guide the audience to questions and issues you are allowed to discuss.

    Again, whatever you do, make sure you carefully review your SEC rules in re Sarbanes-Oxley with your general counsel. The public would rather have an understatement and you overperform, rather than have you rally the world to your new product, only to have a chorus of investors outraged that you mislead them.


    What you can do


    What may be needed are some specialized guides created and tailored by those who might be in a position to assist you: Librarians. You may choose to engage with international library associations to ask them for guidance on producing educational material to present at world conferences.

    Remember, the students you assist today will be the ones who will come to rely on your tool when they enter the workforce. Your midlevel managers are going to listen to these new employees on the fast ways to solve your problems. Now is the time to invest in the education of librarians in your search tool.


    Tips on making a guide for your users


    Remember, the people who are going to be helping you out are the educators who will be giving hints to their students on how to find valuable content. Your job is to assist those in creating these guides.

    What you want is reliable information that your public comes to trust: Not just on your platform, but in how your platform can support a decision maker; and also in making a simple guide that a person in elementary school can understand.

    Those who are writing these guides are going to want data and information from you that will help them craft the guides to bridge the gap between who they know [the students] and what you have in your platform.

    The educators are going to ask you for information on the capabilities of your platform. They want to know how your tool will support the typical searches their audience will have.

    Perhaps you may want to go through some sample searches with students; let the students give you direct feedback on how your tool works; then include these lessons learned in the press packages you issue when launching your industry support initiatives.

    Remember the current tools that your audience understands. Your job is to not only talk about your tool that differentiates it from your competitor, but actually show how your tool will support this audience.

  • If your tool will do a better job of supporting a student, be specific with examples with how your tool can get access and link the students with experts.

  • If your tool can look forward to new information, show how your platform can integrate with educators to mesh the lesson plans with the future searches.

    Show that your platform can take a lesson plan, and have search results already available that are tailored to specific questions and decisions that both educators and students will be tackling. Then give them the tools, approaches, and worksheets that they can then apply to new projects so that they can apply your tools to new initiatives.

    You and your team may find that there are supplemental software packages that the educators may want to have in place that not only showcases your tool, but does a good job at assisting the educators with making a presentation to students.

    You may also find your team is getting more attention with these supplemental support packages than your original platform. Perhaps you’ll have so much work and interest that you’ll want to spin this effort into a new company. How you manage that decision is clearly up to you and your board to chart.

    Remember, not all the questions you get are simply about you or your bot. The questions are simply efforts to find out your capabilities. All the users are trying to do is figure out whether your tool helps them, is worth the time, and gives them valuable content. At the same time, they also want to know that your tool is something that they can rely on to get their content exposed to the right people.

    How you achieve those results is clearly a business decision. But the smart CEO will know that a simple question can be very complicated simply by looking at the questions from a different perspective: Is this person asking me this question because they are a searcher, a publisher, or something else?

    Spend some time with librarians. Notice how the public is actually looking for information. Help those who are going to be the ones who work face to face with the people who are using your tools. They want to do a good job. And you’re the best ones to help them succeed.


    Summary


    By now, you’re well aware that public discussions can be great feedback. They can also be valuable times to get new insights into your readers, subscribers, users, searchers, and publishers.

    The time you invest today in coordinating responses with your public relations and customer outreach will pay great dividends. Your job as the CEO, as you don’t need to be told, is to make the magic come together.

    You also know that you have many people working for you will bring the magic. Your job is to know in advance the questions your audience may ask. They are asking these questions because they have a problem they want to solve.

    Your job is to know the real problem they are trying to solve, and ensure your response, performance, and guidance gives them what they really need, not just what they may be asking for.

    The next step is simply to get your platform to cooperate. Oh, XML!


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