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Buzz Bruggeman of ActiveWords [LexBlog Q & A]

February 26, 2008

For today’s LexBlog Q & A, we didn’t need to travel far from home. In fact, we didn’t have to travel at all: our guest Buzz Bruggeman joined us in LexBlog’s Seattle office for an in-person chat.

Buzz, a former lawyer, is also the founder of ActiveWords, a Windows-based software that uses key commands to make simple computer tasks take seconds. He also posts – sometimes about ActiveWords, sometimes on other new media issues – at his blog, buzznovation. See the text of our transcribed interview, conducted late last week and highlighting the professional value of blogging, after the jump.

1. Rob La Gatta: Where do you ultimately see the blogosphere going for business professionals?

Buzz Bruggeman: The first phase of the Internet, in terms of being online, was about “search.” Now, I think we’ve switched over to what I would call “discovery.” And the difference is, let’s say that you are searching for a law firm in Seattle. If you go to Google and you put in “lawyers Seattle,” then you’re going to get, what, 1000 hits? You’re going to get this great maze of data…you’re not going to be able to sort it out, or be able to logically reduce it into something that makes a great deal of sense.

There’s a friend of mine here in town who has a blog on China law, Dan Harris. So, for a moment, let’s assume that you’re looking for a lawyer in Seattle who knows something about law in China. Suddenly, you’ve “discovered” – instead of searched for – Dan’s blog. And you’ve found the things that he is writing about that relate to China. Suddenly, you realize there is a personality, a depth of thinking, a level of authenticity – not just a name – about Dan and his work.

It totally transforms how we’ve historically looked for a lawyer. Because if you go to the classic means of looking for a lawyer, you would use a site like Martindale Hubbell. And at Martindale Hubbell, you’d find out how old Dan is, where he went to law school, where he’s been admitted to practice, and things like that. But you wouldn’t find any dimension to it.

So balancing search versus discovery: in one case, we’ll search and find his name and phone number; in the other, we’re discovering a lot about him, how he thinks, how he relates, what his experiences have been. In one case, as a lawyer you’ve paid Martindale Hubbell a few hundred bucks for that listing; in the second case, Dan’s taken his blog and he’s turned it into a terrific device by which he can communicate with his clients, both known and unknown, and people who are looking for him, or don’t even know they are looking for him until the find him.

2. Rob La Gatta:

So how does that relate to what you’re doing with your blog, buzznovation?

Buzz Bruggeman: When we were building ActiveWords, I realized that when you have a product that is difficult to advertise, you have to find the people who would write about, talk about, [and] think about your product. So I realized very early on – 2000, 2001 – that people who wrote blogs were the type of people that I wanted to have using/trying/talking about our software.

Doc Searls of Cluetrain Manifesto fame said two things that stuck with me. The first was that once you are on the Internet, you’re famous for fifteen people. So when you pitch your product to 100 bloggers or 200 bloggers, and they write about your software, you have this viral impact. It’s not just 200 people; its 200 people plus the 15 that read their blog, or another 15 that they know. It goes exponentially forward…you’re not just talking to one person.

The second thing he told me was that “markets are conversations,” and I then reasoned if a market is a conversation, then a product must be a conversation.

When a smart, thoughtful lawyer is blogging, he’s articulating ideas about his practice, about what he does, about the issues that are going on in his legal market.

It’s very difficult for me to imagine today that a successful lawyer would not have an active blog. It’s sort of like imagining that they wouldn’t have business cards, or imagining that they wouldn’t have their number in a phone book – it’s a way to discover them, a way to understand a lot about them, a way to reach out to them. And [it] provides an easy way to comment on what they write, to make the conversation even richer. Blogs are a lot about conversations. If there’s no conversation, it’s difficult for a potential client to get their head around who you are, what you’re doing and how you think.

3. Rob La Gatta:

So by blogging about ActiveWords, are you having more of an impact than you would if you had PR folks contacting The Seattle Times and saying, “we want you to see this”?

Buzz Bruggeman: Absolutely. When you interpose a PR professional in between a company and the person who is the customer, the client, or the news source that you want to write about you, you’re creating a filter that you just don’t need. What they want to know is:

  • what it is you’re selling,
  • what problem it is you’re solving,
  • what successes you’ve had, and
  • why you’re a story.

Another thing that I’ve certain about is that the more you write, the better you write. When I think about my blog, I asked myself a simple question, e.g. “Is it better to write about great products, or how do you aggregate those great products? How do you take one plus one and make it into nine?” Because if one product plus another, plus your time, yields only a slightly better result, than no one is going to bother. But if the net result is an order of magnitude better than you have something.

If a lawyer blogs and says, “I am a very good lawyer,” that doesn’t get him anywhere. But if a lawyer blogs about a problem and how they went about solving it and how the courts are handling it, and how they got a great result, that allows the client to get comfortable with who this guy is and how he thinks. And that does a couple things: it provides a greater opportunity for the lawyer, and at the same time filters out the people who that lawyer might not want to have as clients.

4. Rob La Gatta: So if you’re using a blog to sell either yourself as a product, and people are using comments/e-mails to get back to you, can that be used to help either build upon that product? Do you do that to build upon ActiveWords?

Buzz Bruggeman: Sure, we do that all the time. The very best example that we’ve ever had related to your question was with a terrific guy named Robin Capper who works for a company like Nordstrom, in New Zealand. He’s involved in their facilities development/management department, and he’s a big AutoCAD user.

One day out of the blue, we got an e-mail from Robin – who we’d never heard of – asking us a moderately technical question about ActiveWords. We answered it. And a couple days later, we got a second, more technically complex, question. We answered it too. We really had no idea where this might go.

The next thing we knew, people were downloading our software, and making casual references to Robin. They were downloading our software because of things that Robin had written; he had written some very clever stuff about ActiveWords and how he was using it, particularly in an AutoCAD context. And we didn’t know anything about AutoCAD.

So here’s a smart guy, 10,000 miles away, writing about our product and providing us with intellectual capital about things we had never thought about and helping us build a better product. He’s got a page on his website now that is simply devoted to ideas around ActiveWords. When people Google us, they often find Robin’s blog. This is the best part of the whole word-of-mouth metaphor; here’s somebody who has no skin in our game and isn’t part of ActiveWords, who is simply a user-enthusiast about a product.

5. Rob La Gatta: On the other end of that spectrum: watching blogs, what do you think is the worst thing – your biggest pet peeve- that people are doing?

Buzz Bruggeman:

I think it’s hard today, as compared to the way it used to be, to write really unique thoughts. There’s been such a plethora of blogs out there that there’s not much uncovered or unplowed turf; and people – the people that I know – aren’t probably writing as much as they would have before.

One time one of my friends suggested that one day on the Internet we would have the ability for everyone who is passionate about the letter “A” to meet up at the corner of cyber and space, and they can talk a lot about the letter “A.” Or the color purple. And so with that sort of breakdown, then you end of very narrow market segmentation that doesn’t apply to a wide variety of users. I guess I believe that by writing well with a range of ideas, and by pointing to smart people who are also writing well, you do yourself and those who read your blog a great service.

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