By Kevin O'Keefe

Rick Klau of Feedburner/Google [LexBlog Q & A]

We’re taking the LexBlog Q & A in a different direction this morning, putting our focus for today’s interview less on the law and more on new media technologies (specifically, RSS). And who better to speak with on this matter than Rick Klau, a lawyer who formerly served as vice president of publisher services at FeedBurner?

Rick, who since FeedBurner’s sale to Google has been a part of Google’s content acquisition team, answered a few questions via e-mail last week about his views on RSS, the role the Internet has played on the 2008 presidential campaign trail and more.

1. Rob La Gatta: Do you remember when you were first exposed to RSS? What were your impressions of it at the time, and where did you expect it to go?

Rick Klau: I started a blog in December of 2001. Radio Userland (the product I used at the time) had an aggregator built in, and I started realizing that the ability to subscribe to sites I liked was fundamentally changing how I used the web. I was more consistently informed on subjects I cared about, and spent less time looking for information that mattered. Best of all, I was building relationships with people I hadn’t met – based on the strength of their writing and our shared interests.

I don’t think I gave it a lot of thought to try and actually predict where it would end up, but I do recall telling friends that RSS felt as significant to me as the browser felt when I first used Mosaic.

2. Rob La Gatta: In your opinion, has the world – and by that I mean the general, news-reading public – embraced RSS technology to the extent you would have expected when you started at FeedBurner?

Rick Klau: Absolutely.

Watching the growth curve of audience adoption was a very gratifying part of my time at FeedBurner. When I joined, aggregate subscribers to all the feeds we managed was measured in tens of thousands. Today that number is close to 100 million.

Perhaps best of all, many people who have “embraced” RSS have done so without really recognizing it. They just add headlines to iGoogle, or have their favorite blogs e-mailed to them, using FeedBurner’s feed-to-e-mail service…they don’t know that they’re “using” RSS, and they shouldn’t have to. (How many people using e-mail know that they’re using SMTP or POP3? Not many, and that’s how it should be.)

3. Rob La Gatta: What about the professional community: do you believe that businesses are utilizing RSS and blogging as much as they could/should be?

Rick Klau: There’s always room for improvement. The last time I looked at a number of law firm websites, few were distributing information to clients via RSS. With the mass-market adoption of RSS and the ease with which firms can produce RSS feeds, they should see this as a simple way to embrace a convenient medium that gets them closer to their clients. Whether that’s to distribute client alerts, podcasts (great for clients who commute!) or to summarize interesting and useful info found on the web, law firms can greatly increase their influence by embracing this medium.

4. Rob La Gatta: I saw you wrote about the Obama Facebook application, which is in many ways indicative of the way politics has taken on a new face for the digital age. How important do you see Internet-based tools in determining the outcome of the 2008 election?

Rick Klau: I’m not sure we’re at the point where we can say conclusively that Internet-based tools are determining the outcome of the 2008 election. What they are doing is ensuring that more people can participate in the process – as volunteers, donors and even advisors. Savvy candidates are using the tools to more effectively organize their volunteers and leverage their input, which means that the tools are making the volunteers more effective.

Ultimately, the candidate still has to be able to sell people on their ideas. I was very involved in the Dean campaign, and watched as MeetUp and blogs emerged as tools that connected supporters offline as well as online. In this cycle, Facebook and even the campaign’s own sites (my.barackobama.com is spectacular in this regard) are going further, giving me the ability to organize my precinct, recruit volunteers, and reach out to other voters by phone or by knocking on doors.

Back to your question – I don’t think we want the technology to determine the outcome of the election. But if we can get more people involved and active in the process, we’ll get the government we deserve. And that will be a good outcome all around. Particularly if Barack wins. :)

5. Rob La Gatta: Your blog is very personal. You have a disclaimer present, but some might still argue that you’re walking a fine line (as we’ve all read about professionals whose personal blogs came back to bite them).

Do you have any concerns that being so personal out in the open could impact your professional reputation? Or do you think that developing a personality and a voice that people come to know – as you’ve done with your blog – is necessary for business professionals today?

Rick Klau: I’ve never worried that my blog would negatively impact my professional reputation, because what I write on the blog is what I say to friends, family members and co-workers. Writing on the blog is how I think, how I refine my opinions and how I challenge assumptions. I don’t hide my personal opinions, but I also see the blog as a place to think out loud. It’s not an outlet to take aim at others, and I don’t think I’ve ever said something I’d be embarrassed by if a co-worker, competitor or friend were to read it.

Without any qualifications, the blog has had a dramatic, positive impact on my career. It’s led directly to my last two jobs. Once I landed at Google, I met several senior people here who knew me because they’d read my blog in the past. It’s produced speaking invitations at conferences as far away as Prague, resulted in inclusion in a number of high profile news publications, and opened doors with political campaigns where I’ve chosen to get involved. (It even got me a mention in Joe Trippi’s book about the Dean campaign!) I’ve reconnected with classmates from high school, college and law school, and I’ve developed strong friendships with people I’ve never met personally – yet we exchange Christmas cards and chat frequently.

Do I have any concerns? Sure. I’m particularly sensitive to the fact that I’m now at Google, so I’m careful not to venture into territory where it might look like I’m speaking on behalf of Google. I stick to what I know, try to exercise common sense, and enjoy the process of writing about what I feel strongly about.

You talk about situations where a personal blog has come back to bite them – in most cases I’ve seen, that’s been where the personal blog hasn’t matched the professional appearance and it’s caused embarrassment (or worse). My blog, as I mentioned above, *is* me. So far, it’s working out pretty well.

Interested in hearing more? Recent LexBlog Q & A posts:

Or, see our full list of legal blog interviews.

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