My takeaway from ComputerWorld Canada

The first thing I noticed was the productivity. When we firstlaunched ComputerWorld Canada ’s Blogging Idol contest last year weweren’t sure what to expect in terms of posts, and after a handful thefirst day things slowed to a trickle. Not this year. On day one we had10 posts, and a number of the key contestants kept up the pace, with afew contributing multiple times a day.

Pedro Cardoso,who won this year’s competition, clearly had his game on from the verybeginning. He made good use of Twitter, Facebook and other socialnetworking tools to make sure his posts got visibility. But he alsofocused on something else: quality. His writing was by turns inventive,thought-provoking and topical. In the course of six weeks he emerged asa virtual unknown in our community to an instapundit, and a credibleone at that. He deserved to win, and what’s heartening for me is how healso took the time to connect with and encourage his fellow bloggersalong the way. I wasn’t surprised to see others congratulating him onthe site today.

Blogging Idol is more than a contest for us. It’s an experiment inengaging with our audience. We focused this year not only on trying toget more material on our Web site, or even getting more traffic, not oneducating and supporting new talent. We held an information se ss ion.We created video tutorials. We had our search engine optimization groupconduct keyword research, which we made available to everyone. As ITWorld Canada evolves, I want to see us expand from a traditionalone-way publisher of information to a platform where Canadiantechnology professionals can set up their own profile, author their ownarticles, produce their own videos or facilitate meetings with eachother. This is much harder to do with voluntary contributors than it issalaried staff, but the contest is teaching us a lot.

Probably the most important thing we learned this year is thattraffic in and of itself is not necessarily in our best interests. Whenwe started training our blogging contestants, we talked a lot about theimportance of headlines with popular keywords, of taking what’s in thenews and tailoring it to the points you want to make. Over time, ourbloggers took this lesson to heart. When Blogging Idol began, we saw alot of focus on fairly deep IT management issues. As some contestantsgrew more sophisticated, we saw an increasing number of posts focusedon consumer software, the Palm Pre, iPhones, Twitter, Twitter and yetmore Twitter. Even Don Sheppard,last year’s winner and in many ways the conscience of the contest,pointed out the tendency to pander to what’s popular. Not to say someof those Twitter posts weren’t interesting or insightful, but few ofthem had much to do with enterprise IT.

In that sense, Blogging Idol was in some ways a social experiment,in which we took ordinary (albeit highly technically proficient andtalented) people and put them in the role of quasi-journalists. Andjust as the mainstream media is often accused of ambulance-chasing orsensationalizing coverage, we saw Blogging Idol veer towards flashierand flashier subject matter. Even at its peak, though, there wereexceptions to this trend. There was Chris Lau’s thoughtful defence of open source, for example, or Don’s reflections on blogging and the contest in general.

Besides attracting readers, Blogging Idol is about discovering andsupporting new voices, and ultimately helping foster a conversationamong Canadian IT professionals. That’s the win-win, if ever there wasone. Thanks to everyone who helped make it happen.

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