Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Comparing legal blogging platforms

I originally got into blogging because I was past deadline for my nothing.but.net magazine column for the American Bar Association. Three searches in three days resulted in #1 results for John Robb's blog - and, being me, I called John to ask him why he kept showing up at the top of my Google queries. (More on that here.)

John was at Userland at the time, his enthusiasm for blogging was infectious, and I started a blog so I'd have something to write about. Here we are 8 years later, and it's very cool to see a number of companies emerging to offer blogging guidance to lawyers and law firms.

So I was pretty disappointed to run across a post tonight from one of those new entrants, Avvo, who wrote up a post on their blog purporting to compare "legal blogging platforms". In the post is a chart that compares Blogger, WordPress, and TypePad, along with Avvo and LexBlog, two of the companies focused on the legal blog space. The post would lead one to believe that the only rational choice is to spend $25/month on an Avvo Legal Blogs.

I tried to comment on the post, but (irony of ironies) it seems to have vanished. Just in case it stays in limbo, here's the text of the comment that I left earlier tonight:
Conrad, as a non-practicing lawyer and an avid supporter of lawyers embracing new technology, I'm thrilled to see you call attention to the benefits that blogging can have for a professional's marketing efforts. I started a blog 8 years ago, and was one of the first lawyers to advocate for blogs as a marketing vehicle (both in my ABA column in LPM magazine as well as in the book I co-authored about marketing on the Internet, also published by the ABA).

However, I'm disappointed that you misrepresent almost every aspect of Blogger in your comparison. I'm the product manager for Blogger, and find your statements about its capabilities to be quite misleading.

For starters, Blogger is the most visited blogging platform in the world, and millions of users use Blogger to publish to their blogs every week - for free.

In addition to gadgets built specifically for the millions of users who rely on Blogger (http://buzz.blogger.com/2009/07/contribute-gadgets-to-blogger.html), our users can control every element of their page and embed Flash, javascript and any other interactive code provided third parties that they want, giving them complete control over the functionality of their blog.

Domain registration and configuration is built into the app itself - allowing users to easily register their domain and begin publishing within minutes. My own blog is hosted by Blogger at http://tins.rklau.com/ - for which I pay nothing other than the domain registration fee. See this page for more info including a simple how-to video:

http://www.google.com/support/blogger/bin/answer.py?answer=76543.

Our Terms of Service explicitly establish that the user owns all content they create: "Google claims no ownership or control over any Content submitted, posted or displayed by you on or through Google services." Link:

http://www.blogger.com/terms.g

In addition to controlling their own design, users can choose from thousands of third-party designed templates for a completely unique presentation. See here for links to some of the more popular designers:

http://buzz.blogger.com/2009/06/spruce-up-your-blog.html

Blogger's not for everyone, and I think there's ample room in this space for solutions tailored to the needs of the professionals you're catering to. But let's trust our users to make fully-informed decisions based on accurate representations of each platform.

--Rick Klau
Product Manager, Blogger
rklau@google.com
http://tins.rklau.com/
Other comments indicate that Conrad's comparison is further flawed; Kevin O'Keefe took issue with some of the claims about LexBlog, Rex Gradeless pointed out that Wordpress.com isn't as limited as Conrad claimed, and Doug Cornelius suggested that self-hosted WordPress deserved a look too.

I'll reiterate what I said in the comment: there's plenty of room in this space for healthy competition. My law school roommate is a very happy customer of Kevin's at LexBlog. (Of course, I have also challenged Kevin - on his claim that Blogger's a non-starter for professionals - he's entitled to his opinion, but there are many, many professionals using Blogger and doing just fine. I'd like to think I'm one, btw.)

Bottom line, healthy competition should be on the merits, not on misstatements of fact.
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16 comments:

  1. Wow. Hopefully the moderator just didn't notice your comment and will approve it shortly Rick.

    Not a good idea to delete comments critical of ones post particularly when you are representing a competing blog platform.

    Good post Rick.

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  2. Rick -

    I found the comparison to very disingenuous.

    Avvo is selling a turnkey for setting up a self-hosted Wordpress blog. They are just charging a premium to buy the domain, run the Wordpress install and plug in the theme. Something that has become very easy to do.

    I am a fan of blogger and my first blogs are still there. I have two complaints which are shared by Kevin.

    1. The "next blog" button is a disaster for a professional site.

    2. The ability of Blogger to shut down a blog without notice as a spam site. I had that happen to me on a blog that was clearly not a spam site. That is what drove me to WordPress.

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  3. @Doug
    "1. The "next blog" button is a disaster for a professional site."

    You will find so many tips to remove the button like this (change CSS in Blogger-Template):

    #navbar-iframe {
    height: 0px;
    visibility: hidden;
    display: none;
    }

    @Rick
    I hope, the remove is not a violation against the Blogger TOS?

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  4. Thanks for correcting Avvo Rick. Very, very troubling that a company in the legal industry which should be upholding the truth is spreading incorrect information about other's products.

    Me calling Blogger a non-starter for lawyers was a poor choice of words on my part. I'm sorry. Being a believer that most lawyers need strategic consulting, professional design, one-on-one training, marketing etc., I'm biased towards my company, LexBlog. But I'll be the first to agree there are many professionals using Blogger who are doing just fine.

    I'd also like to spend some time with you to learn more about Blogger's offering so I make certain I am not misrepresenting its capabilities.

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  5. @Doug - Much as I hate to hear "that's why I left", I appreciate you sharing the context. As you might imagine we deal with a ton of actual abuse, and are always working to combat it without impacting legit users. We sometimes come up short there, and I believe we are minimizing false positives. Nevertheless, I'm really sorry to hear you got falsely marked as a spammer. Did you request the review, and did we respond? Or was that part of the problem?

    @Doug, NoodleGei: Separately, I'm happy to report that removing the navbar does not violate our TOS, but we are in the midst of making changes to it that should dramatically help both the blogger and the visitor to the blog. Stay tuned.

    @Kevin - really appreciate your comments, and I'm happy to chat with you about Blogger in more detail. Let me know if you're passing through the Bay Area any time soon, or we can hop on the phone.

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  6. I host a number of blogs, across several platforms including MT, WP, and Blogger. They all have pros and cons; a comparison is certainly warranted.

    However, Avvo's chart wasn't a valid comparison. It wasn't even spin. Some would call it misleading, I'd call it outright dishonest. It makes me question the integrity of everything Avvo does--and for a service built on honest ratings, that's a really bad move.

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  7. Oh, not to hijack this post. But the new Blogger comment mechanism seems broken in Firefox.

    When I select "Comment as Google Account" and try to post, when I hit "Post Comment" it just refreshes the page. I've tried disabling my plugins (Ad Block, No Script, etc.) as well as enabling pop-ups, all to no avail.

    I had to launch IE to comment on this post--and it seems to affect other blogs I read that are hosted on Blogger. It's probably just my Firefox configuration, but it's damnned annoying.

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  8. @Dave - Thanks for the heads-up. If you can e-mail me (rklau -at- google.com) details (FF version, OS, plugins) I'll have the team take a look.

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  9. Oh, the irony. Conrad and I are in touch via e-mail. It appears that WordPress ate my comment over on the Avvo blog (I recall this happening with some frequency when I frequently left comments as the head of pub services at FeedBurner; I think Akismet doesn't like including name/title/email in a block at the end of a comment).

    But it gets better: in retaliation, Blogger has apparently *eaten Conrad's comment here*, where there's no record of his comment.

    Let's be clear: I don't believe there's any censoring going on on his part, I think this is a good case study of commenting being an imperfect solution today (both on WordPress's and Blogger's sides).

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  10. It was tough to comment here Rick. Took me 3 or 4 times to get it in. Finally, just did comment in email and cut and pasted it in so I did not have to rewrite the comment for the 4th time.

    I also kept getting 2 comment screens showing up on the UI. Couldn't figure out which was the right one. Using latest version of Safari.

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  11. @Kevin - Wow. That's awful. I'll look into that, thanks for the report.

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  12. Please ignore this test comment

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  13. Regardless of all the features and apps that blogger offers, I still prefer wordpress

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  14. Hi Rick,

    "Well whatever be the opinion and thoughts about people over blogger, I have found BLOGGER simply amazing and nothing can change that feeling for sure."

    I'm also so glad to know that finally blogger have started its own Gadgets/widgets (recent comments, recent posts) for blogs.Only request, if the widgets could be more customize accourding to choice.
    Perhaps, there is still lot of scope of improvement. The follower-widget works now fine.

    Blogger simply ROCKS!

    Cheers;

    Rachana Shakyawar
    Blog: Humming Today

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  15. Inviting comments is definitely a big one, at least for me. My blog has a very small but loyal following. I know many of them personally, and they know that comments are always welcome and appreciated, but still it seems that they are more likely to comment when I specifically ask for comments

    Great Law Group


    **************
    Tamara

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