Bloglines Eric Engleman Discusses the Blogosphere with Eric Enge

Published: November 19, 2007

Eric Engleman

Eric Engleman is the General Manager for Bloglines at Ask. He also severs on the advisory board for iQ212. His experience prior to Ask includes:

  • Vice President at Hands-On Mobile
  • Director - Product Management at Yahoo!
  • Director - Product Management at EarthLink
  • Director and other titles at Excite At Home
  • Producer at iGuide - Newscorp Online
  • Assistant Producer at CNN Interactive

Interview Transcript

Eric Enge: Can you provide any data on the rate of growth of the blog market, and the way that market is changing and evolving.

Eric Engleman: You got it. At a high level, yes the market continues to grow, especially now that there are business models to support bloggers. Four years ago it was kind of a hobby where it was unclear how people would make money. Now, especially in the tech sector you see how these blogs and blog networks are becoming little mini media empires. But, I think that we need to consider the 1 - 9 - 90 rule. Not everyone is going to become a journalist.

That rule is 1% of the people are writers, 9% will make comments, and the remaining 90% are readers. I think that there was a lot of enthusiasm a couple of years ago about how blogs were taking over the world, and there were a sixty million, going to be a hundred million. There were going to be more blogs than people.

Eric Enge: Well, that seems difficult.

Eric Engleman: Yes. Right now we are seeing a lot of consolidation, as some of the writers really standout from the crowd. In the publishing industry, I used to work in the publishing industry, we'd call that a flight to quality. You've seen a lot of that, and you could even checkout my blog Galaxy of Emptiness, where last summer I was talking to a lot of people, and they kept talking about one thing, and it was about the magic middle.

In the long tail there is just somewhere in between, some people describe it as between the head and the tail; some people call that the meaty middle or the magic middle. In the case of the blog world they are saying that there might be sixty million blogs; and while any active blog matters, it's maybe the top million, or top half a million that are really going to be the big winners, because they are the ones that are going to stand out from the crowd. They will potentially become bigger publications. The remaining say fifty million, hundred million, whatever the number of blogs that are out there maybe people who are experimenting, or people who are targeting a very selective group, perhaps just their own family.

Eric Enge: What about changes in focus in terms of the type of content that they write on. There are blogs for nearly any topic, but there have to be some areas that are bigger or hotter than others.

Eric Engleman: Yes. A lot of blogs are really personal blogs. They matter to the ten people or fifteen people in your family or friends who are watching your garden, or seeing your kids grow up, things like that. On the other end of the spectrum, one segment that is growing rapidly is the tech segment. The tech segment is already becoming very stratified.

You are getting lots of little niches filling out; these sites are becoming bigger, they're beginning to hold conferences. You definitely see a lot of growth there. Another interesting one I think is more in the fashion/women's topics, and a big example of that is Glam.com. It's a combination, destination site with a blog network, and that's doing really well. In fact it's bigger than the Conde Nast websites. There are two big areas. Also, on one of the women's magazines there was a really interesting research report that came out from the Pew researchers.

The report said that blogs are more female oriented because woman are used to talk about their personal point of view, and talk about their emotions. It's very conversational in tone; it's all about taking part in a community, and perhaps women are more accustomed to doing those types of things.

Eric Enge: With all of that content out there, obviously management of it all as a reader becomes a real challenge, and that's where a service like Bloglines centers in.

Eric Engleman: Yes. Bloglines is a feed reader and it allows users to control their reading experience. Instead of visiting all these different websites, they can go to one destination, and get that content sent to them. It really helps content in the long tail. These bloggers might not be blogging on a regular basis, maybe they will blog once a week, or maybe they are posting three posts on Friday, but nothing for a couple of weeks. As a result, it's kind of hard to keep track on a daily basis. Also, these probably don't offer a full portal experience. If you are blogging on a specific topic, you probably can't command an hour of a person's time in a way that a major portal could. So, you need a tool to be able to aggregate up all of these different sites that you want to track, and read these posts in one destination.

Eric Enge: Who do you view as your major competitors at this point?

Eric Engleman: It's really been interesting in the last few years to see how the feed reader space has consolidated. At this point of time, there are really only a couple of clear competitors out there, obviously Google Reader. Then, also the Newsgator suite of products.

I specifically call out Newsgator, because it's the closest one from that product family, because it's online and it's free. There are also other products that are out there that are close competitors or tangent tools like Startpages, or My Yahoo.

Eric Enge: Do you have any sense as to what your market share is?

Eric Engleman: Being an Ask.com brand, we get to look at lots of data. What we've been able to tell is that we have a greater market share as measured by the number of sessions, as reported by Hit-Wise, than Google Reader.

But, it's very difficult to kind of track these topics, because all the reporting services have skews one way or another. But, when we look at it here in the US and North America, we continue to have a very large audience, we know that. And, it appears that we have a greater share of sessions than Google Reader.

Eric Enge: What are your main advantages over your competitors?

Eric Engleman: One of the biggest things is that Bloglines has been around a long time. So, we have a wide range of features, and we are in the process of doing a redesign to repackage those features. We have a lot of hidden features that people might not know about within Bloglines, in addition to their core feed reading experience. To be a feed reader everybody needs to solve the problem of core feed reading, but there are also lots of other additional things we have added.

Within Bloglines you can turn a group or mailing list into a feed. We basically create an email address, in this case say Eric Enge no#1078, and then you can use that as a contact message within a group hosted by Yahoo, Google, or a mailing list. Then, you can receive all of the email, or group traffic, and then actually reply back to that group from that email address. So, that way you can manage your communication from your feed reader.

Eric Enge: Right. So if you had a kids soccer team that you were coaching

Eric Engleman: Yes, right.

Eric Enge: and you wanted to simply manage the mailing list, you could do that.

Eric Engleman: That's a really great average user example. Most people would use their email address, but at this point of time your email address is pretty overwhelmed, at least mine is overwhelmed with email subscriptions from people sending me email, because I signed up for a service at one point that I can't remember; FaceBook, or other types of social network notifications, and, of course, Spam mail. This is a way to take control of that and maintain contact with people that matter to you.

Eric Enge: Right.

Eric Engleman: Another example that's kind of a hidden feature is that we have a user subscription, or we have a user directory, and I can discover feeds by perusing other people's public feed libraries.

Eric Enge: You can subscribe to someone else's library essentially.

Eric Engleman: Yes. You can actually search within that person's feed library. You can search the entire Bloglines feed index, or I can search within my own set of feeds, or I could search within Eric Enge's set of feeds.

To me one of the great strengths of Bloglines is that, we have been around for a long time, and we have a lot of features that appeal to new users, as well as features for power users.

Eric Enge: You have also been quite active recently with rolling out new features. For example the OpenID announcement that you made, I think it was on the 1st of October.

Eric Engleman: I've been reading your posts and understand your audience, and I am sure that people understand OpenID. But basically, it's a technology which allows users to control their identity. We are already producing OpenID's, and then we will be consuming OpenID's shortly. It allows our users to log in with a Bloglines ID across their site, or a user ID from another service would be able to log in with Bloglines. That way they will in the future be able to have more of a single sign-on experience, and will be able to integrate features. Users won't have to sign-up again and again.

Here at Bloglines, as part of IAC, OpenID is practical, because we could implement deeper integration across different IAC properties. Because, OpenID can either be promoted as OpenID in public, or you could use OpenID just as a technology platform to allow for a single sign-on. One could imagine deeper integration between Bloglines, one of the IAC properties, and if that IAC property is OpenID enabled, we'd be able to do a single sign-on via the backend.

Eric Enge: Right. What other companies are participating in the OpenID initiative?

Eric Engleman: There are lots of people, for example, Six Apart. You have to give them props, because they helped create the standard, and evangelize it from beginning. These is also LiveJournal, Vox and their properties, and then two of the other really big ones, are AOL, and then in Europe, ORNJ, which happens to be one of the biggest Telcos in Europe.

Eric Enge: Do you see more people coming into this initiative?

Eric Engleman: There has been a lot of momentum in the last few months. There are lot of startups, people like Zoomer and Magnolia who are beginning to enable OpenID. One of the great things about OpenID is that it's pretty easy to implement, and it's far easier than other identity platforms out there to implement. So, they've really done a great job of making it a low hurdle.

Eric Enge: What kind of mashups that can you envision coming out of this initiative?

Eric Engleman: In the case of Bloglines, one could imagine feed recommendation engines being integrated, so you would have this kind of single sign-on experience between Bloglines, and then FeedHub or Outbrain. These two products offer recommendations of feeds and posts, and right now you can use these few services, but they are not really totally integrated.

OpenID would allow you to log in and have a single experience between these two services. Another example would be, integrated feed creation services, so you would be able to sign into Bloglines and say sign into Dapper. Dapper allows you to turn any website into a feed.

That's pretty cool for a feed reader, because it opens up all the websites in the world to being consumed by a feed reader. In the past we've had API's enabled for Bloglines Classic. We will continue to have this API available for Bloglines Beta, and will make a wider set of API's available to other developers. So, if people wanted to create even more mashups; mashups that I haven't thought of, they will be able to use the API's that we have available. API's are also available from others that allow people to create totally new applications.

Eric Enge: Right. The API is much more than just a single sign-on, it's allowing you access to that data, or is it really a situation where, because you are logged into both services, you can write an application that uses the individual API of both services?

Eric Engleman: More the latter, But being signed into both via OpenID makes that access easier.

Eric Enge: Let's switch gears a little bit and talk about some of the other recent changes, the changes to the mobile feed reader?

Eric Engleman: Great. The biggest change on that product is that we no longer send all unread items to the user. In the case of mobile, that's pretty important, because let's say you have a hundred unread items, we won't be sending that to you, because if it's a large set of items, it might exceed the volume of your browser cache.

Also, if you are mobile, you are out in the open. You probably don't have your full attention on your cell phone. You are walking maybe talking to somebody; and you need to be interruption tolerant. So, if you have a hundred posts in, you are probably not going to read all one hundred.

In this case what we do is we send, we chunk up the number of posts in a smaller volume, and make it easier for people to read, save/pin that post for future reference. Because, the reading experience is little different on mobile; you are probably not really digesting, really thinking about it hundred percent. You are doing a little more of a scanning, so you want to save it for future reference.

Eric Enge: It's a frightening thought actually that we have managed to create an environment which is more scan-oriented than the web already is.

Eric Engleman: I mean I think that's an interesting statement.

Eric Enge: Just how attention challenged we already are in dealing with the regular web amazes me, and as you've rightly pointed out, Eric, in the mobile environment it's significantly more attention challenged than the regular web.

Eric Engleman: Yes, I think this is a really big topic. There was an article in the New York Times just last weekend in the magazine section, where they profiled a French philosopher who was talking about the virtues of skimming, and he just has written a book in France about, I guess it's essentially that the death of reading and the virtues of skimming. It's a bit tongue and cheek, but a bit serious, because of all the cultures where you would imagine reading being a virtue, you might pick the French culture. Now, they too are becoming a skimming culture.

Eric Enge: Talk some more about the changes that you ended up making to deal with this attention challenged world?

Eric Engleman: There are lots of different types of users. Some people really read each word; other people are scanners, some people are filers and pilers. There is this very wide set of behavior or activity models. That's reinforced by the fact that these feeds vary very widely as well, for example there is a large number of posts within the Slashdot feeds. Then there is Cute Overload which is more of a picture blog, with cute pictures and a few comments. I mean they are just very different types of feeds, so some of those you really scan and others, you will read more deeply.

As part of the redesign, we have implemented the start page to allow people to do a quick scan. So, those people who need to scan content between meetings can do that. We have three different reading views for people who like to scan, people who like to read, and people who envision the feed reader experience as more of an email application. It's just really fun to talk to people who use feed readers in general, to see how they read/scan content, because that really is a scanning world.

Eric Enge: How big do you think the mobile feed browsing market will end up being?

Eric Engleman: I think it will be pretty big. Bloglines has always thought that way, because we were one of the first feed readers out there with a really strong mobile offering. We launched an iPhone application a while back when that first came out. We think it's pretty big because of two things; "Always On" broadband, and mobile basically create this Always On degeneration. People are just accustomed to having their content, their friends with them at all times, or having access to it all times.

They want to be able to read their content in little snacks throughout the day. We think it's pretty big; you can also see a lot of practical use cases for it, because let's say you are sales person and right before you go into a sales meeting, you might want to check your feeds to see if there has been any new news about your clients, or their competitors. Likewise, if you are going to a party you might want to check your friends feeds to see what they have been doing. A feed maybe not necessarily a blog, but like an activity feed, things like that.

Eric Engleman: So, going people will be always on, always with you, and scanning all the time. One reason I say that is because I commute along highway 280 in California, which is pretty hilly and curvy, and you see a lot of people reading magazines or Blackberries. I have actually seen people with magazines on their steering wheel.

Eric Enge: That's a frightening thought. Let's talk a little bit about the personalization preferences that you just introduced as well.

Eric Engleman: Like I mentioned earlier people use feed readers, they have a wide range of ways they interact with a feed reader, and with their content. Personalization preferences allow us to more closely model our experience to what people want the product to do.

In other words they can make it their own, they can personalize it, customize it; make it do what they want it to do. Secondly, we have a business goal, and the business goal is to make sure that our current users are happy with the new product. So, we want them to be able to maintain their reading habits. One examples of a personalization preference is: how you like to mark an article as read; do you like to click on a folder and have all the items within the folder marked read, or do you like to mark each post individually as marked read.

We've also been experimented with supporting CSS styles. So, publishers of content can style their feed content using CSS, and we'll honor those. We will honor forty or so different CSS styles. So, that way they can use different CSS tags to be able to make sure their content is better rendered on a feed reader. Some people they might like that; we give the people an option to turn that off if they don't like the way their publishers are sorting content. Because, a lot of people are scanners and they have very specific idea of the way they want to scan the content.

Eric Enge: You also offer some ability to categorize, don't you?

Eric Engleman: Yes. We offer what we call folders, and with the new beta release we make it really easy for people to drag-and-drop, and create folders. And, that categorization I think is really important for people. Once they get past twenty or so feeds they want to group their feeds into different groups. For example, I have an SEO folder, I have a tech folder, and I have a health folder. Drag-and-drop makes it really easy, because you may find yourself continually adding feeds and discovering new relationships between the feeds. I also have a web pundit folder, and it's basically a group of people who all seem to link to each other.

I just seem to notice they all seem to link together like Chris Pirillo, Dave Winer and Robert Scoble, for example. I couldn't think of another category for them, but cranky tech bloggers maybe another personal category.

Eric Enge: Indeed. Yeah, well another scenario that occurs to me is when you have somebody who has a services business, or a consultant that wants to have a folder that pertains to each of their clients. Using a lawyer as an example, maybe they have a client within the health industry, and there are four or five blogs that they are following just to keep up-to-date on things in that industry so they can just be in a better position to relate to their client. And then, they have a completely different folder for blogs that relate to a different client. So, right before going to a meeting they can read through the data and be up to date on happenings in that client's industry.

Eric Engleman: That's a great example of specific professions and individuals who would like greater categorization.

Eric Enge: How have all these recent updates been received, now that it's a month later?

Eric Engleman: The updates have been very well received. We see the number of new user signups going up. It's basically double from where we were before. Also, we monitor the blogosphere, and our users in the forums, and it's gotten a lot of great feedback. The other thing to know is that our iterative release process allows us to get these features out there, and then monitor these features in a somewhat controlled manner. In that way, we can really get an idea as to what the different segments like or don't like about the specific features.

We get a better idea of where the segments are within the feed reader audience. We have two things we need to navigate. One is, navigating the fine line of making sure our current set of users are happy; and two, creating a product that will attract new users. This means navigating the balance between satisfying power users, real techies, and satisfying people who are new to feed reading.

Eric Enge: Right. What's happening in this space with sites like Technorati, who were once very powerful, and then don't seem to occupy quite a central position anymore? What's going on with that, any ideas?

Eric Engleman: I am not quite sure what is going on with Technorati at this point,.

Eric Enge: No, that's fine. I've just started pondering it a little while ago, and it would be interesting to understand, because this notion of searching blogs or the discovery of things in blogs is interesting. You can do it through Goggle Blog Search or a tag oriented system like Technorati. Ultimately, what you want is to have a process for discovering blogs of interest, and then you want to have a process for managing blogs of interest. I am over simplifying probably, but that's just the way I look it, the space and the various challenges of the various companies face with their strategies.

Eric Engleman: Yeah. I would say that as awareness of blogs becomes more mainstream people will turn to their current search product to find information about the categories of interest to them. We have our own blog search in Bloglines and also on Ask.com, so we see people coming to blogs that way. That's probably one of the problems when you go mainstream is that people are accustomed to using a different product to do search, right? That's one thing, and I think that in the case of the product where you manage your feed reading experience, all of these products now have search of some sort.

They didn't have search three years ago; we launched our search a year ago. You now have search available within these feed reader experiences. In short, you have blog search available for major search destinations. Then, you have blog search available from within your feed reader; so makes it very difficult to be a standalone blog search index I think.

Eric Enge: Right, people don't want to use a destination site.

Eric Engleman: Yes, it's hard to be a destination blog search site. In our case a lot of things that people want to do with search is to search the entire index. They don't want to search their own set of feeds, because they are constantly scanning, but they might not be able to remember a particular article. They want to be able to search around the index; and that kind of personalization is really only available from within a feed reader.

Eric Enge: Right. As you've talked about before, they also have the ability to subscribe to other peoples' feed, lists. That's an extra discovery element we can choose. What about Quick Picks?

Eric Engleman: We have set of default packages called the Quick Picks. They basically provide a way for people to discover say the top five or top ten blogs, or a pack of feeds within a category. That's one of the other things I think that also makes it hard for blog search, because initially I think people were just looking for blogs to find interesting content. And now, there are all of these other ways of discovering interesting content and interesting blogs that have been packaged up within feed readers.

Eric Enge: What are the key areas you see Bloglines focusing on in the near term?

Eric Engleman: We'll continue to focus on improving the core feed reading experience, because after all we are a feed reader, right? And, what I mean by that is making sure that people get into the flow of things. Within a video game people need to have just this perfect balance of skill and difficulty to have fun. In the case of feed reader, you need to have that balance of power and simplicity to make sure that people can read and can control their content.

That's at the highest level, and then for us we need to balance again that, between the power user and the new user. In the case of the power user an example would be providing an API, so that they can integrate an application or modify their feed reading experience. They can change their look-and-feel for themselves or by themselves, and do that in a more of a programmatic fashion to appeal to those core users.

We also support industry and open standards like OpenID, as well as APML. Then, for the say the average user, it's on the other extreme. Making it easier for them to understand feeds in general, and the value of feeds and how to setup feeds; how to discover feeds so that they can get value from the get go within five seconds as opposed to it being a complicated process. It's really the two extremes; enabling our power users, and enabling our new users.

Eric Enge: Right, making it easy to get started.

Eric Enge: Right, well cool. Alright, that's my list of questions, anything you'd like to add to the mix in terms of a general message for the audience?

Eric Engleman: Yes. We have been around for a bit now, and we are thankful to our users. We look forward to meeting you guys at different conferences or in forums or just in the bloggers sphere in general. It's been really fun so far, meeting all the people and getting feedback on the way they use feed readers and the way they use Bloglines. Bloglines was one of the first feed readers out there, and we look forward to building the next generation of feed reading applications.

Eric Enge: Excellent. Well, thanks Eric, I think it was a good discussion.

Eric Engleman: Great. Thank you!

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About the Author

Eric Enge is the Founder and President of Stone Temple Consulting (STC). STC offers Internet marketing optimization services, including SEO, Social Media and PPC optimization, and its web site can be found at: http://www.stonetemple.com.

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