MS Podcast#58


The 58th MediaSnackers podcast discusses the new blogging platform Vox with its founder Mena Trott.

(WORLD) The MediaSnackers podcast focusses on individuals, organisations or companies who are simply impressing us and which are crying out for more discussion.

Mena Trott, president and a co-founder of Six Apart who run blogging platforms Movable Type, Typepad, LiveJournal and recently launched Vox in October.

0.00—0.33 Introductions
0.34—1.38 what Vox is all about
1.39—3.26 privacy settings within Vox
3.27—5.12 why we need this
5.13—7.02 convergence with mobile phones technology
7.03—9.39 the future of blogging
9.40—10.06 trying to get some number about Vox
10.07—11.34 how the users direct the service development
11.35—11.46 outro

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Mena Trott: So, my name is Mena Trott and I am founder and president or co-founder and president of Six Apart and we make blogging software services. We have four products Typepad, Movable Type, LiveJournal and a new one called Vox. And I’ve been doing this for five years as the company and six years as a blogger and it still is pretty exciting and that’s a good thing.

DK: Definitely. And we’re going to be talking about Vox specifically today. Give us an overview of what Vox is all about and maybe flavour that with some of the numbers as well. How many people are currently using it?

Mena Trott: Okay. Vox really is about personal blogging made fun and easy but it’s not meant to kind of be something like a newbie service that nobody can use other than newbies. We wanted to make a service that we could feel that you could be on and family could be on and your friends could be on and all have a really great experience. And the biggest hurdles to get people online have been privacy and permission and allowing people to see your content.

They get very intimidated by the idea of the whole world’s going to see your stuff. So what we wanted to do is take a lot of what we’ve learned from LiveJournal and make a service that was very, very fine level permission settings that allow people to say, this photo my friends can see, this post my family can see, the public can see this. And kind of figure out how you make people feel comfortable blogging, what do you have to do to make it something that is pretty much a mainstream experience.

DK: That’s interesting because we call it permission based viewing on MediaSnackers and we’ve touched on that. And I know a couple of other people have been flirting with platforms like MySpace and Bebo in terms of you can shut down your profile. Tell us how would the privacy settings work? You gave us a little bit there but could you go into a little bit more depth?

Mena Trott: Yeah. So what we wanted to do was to create an experience that if you wanted to have a public viewable blog, you could have that, so people can have a blog that looks like any other blog. But then we also wanted to make it something that if you did give people special access to view certain posts, and I’ll go into detail how you can do that, they would see certain things that the public wouldn’t see but it would be very seamless.

The thing that we find with a lot of services is if you have any sort of privacy or permission based viewing, it screams you don’t have access to this; enter a password or it’s something that feels very exclusive. We wanted to create something that people felt was not intimidating to you but also something that didn’t make people feel bad, if that’s the easiest way of saying it. So I create a post and I can choose who can view it based on the people who I’ve set up. I’ve added people as friends, I’ve added people as family, I’ve added people as the neighbourhood. And neighbourhood is kind of everybody that you want to see your stuff that’s not the public, kind of like contacts is used in the other services.

And when you create your content you can go and define grade levels. So I’m writing a post, I decide that this post can be viewable by the public. Maybe it’s about a vacation I took and I don’t want people to see pictures of me in my bathing suit, for a good reason; I can insert those photos into the post and only make them friends only. And so anybody else can see a post but they won’t see the photos.

DK: And is this in reaction to kind of the discourse out there in terms of too many people, especially young people are throwing a lot more stuff online that maybe they shouldn’t do.

Mena Trott: Yeah, I mean one of the greatest reasons I think that people don’t think about it is that there is this sort of security via obscurity model. When we started blogging six years ago or when I started blogging, there was very few people reading blogs and the search engines that existed wouldn’t find blogs the way that they do now. And so when you wrote a post, you knew maybe 50 people would find it because the blogging world was so small. And so you could write things and be you know kind of say more personal things and know that fewer people would have seen it so it didn’t really matter what you wrote.

And I think the mentality as the years have gone by is that that’s still kind of true; where you’re just writing, you know that there’s a certain people that read it and then no-one else will see it, but then now with search engines people will stumble upon your blog. For example, I have a Typepad blog that I kind of retired and I haven’t posted for probably about a year to it, a real post. But I get about 600 visitors every day just from search engines. And this is pretty much a dead blog.

And to think that 600 people that come to my blog who don’t know who I am, don’t know what a blog in my context is and they find my post. And so what we had to do was figure out how do you create a service in this day and age when content is so easily accessible and easy to be found. How do you create a service that people understand by default; they want to create privacy settings but not feel like they’re locking down their lives? And so we wanted to do flexible privacy.

DK: That’s great, because it’s still digital breadcrumbs I think I’ve read the other day that was kind of a nicer way of summing it all up. People throwing too much content online and people don’t realising they could still be tracked. Now I know Vox as well has developed that kind of conversion site due towards mobile phone technology. Tell us about that.

Mena Trott: Well one of the things we realised early on – our first round of funding came from Japan in 2003. And the reason why we took the funding is because we knew mobile phones were such a huge part of Japanese culture as well as European culture, but Japanese was the biggest influence for us. And we realised that blogging was going to be something that had to be tied to mobile to be able to actually get it to the next level. And so what you see right now and it’s especially true with the people in my neighbourhood on Vox, is that they may not post a text post every day but for the most part they’re using their mobile phones to post a picture every day.

And what they’re doing is documenting their lives in a way that they wouldn’t do necessarily with a camera. I know that if I had to keep my camera out and upload the images, I’m less likely to do that. I save my camera for special events usually; trips, weddings, all that sort of stuff. But the mobile camera with me every day or the mobile phone with me every day with a camera on it, that’s part of my life documenting. And I don’t think, I mean we know the numbers about how camera phones are going to outsell digital cameras. I think they did last year, they will definitely next year and forever probably or until we get to the next stage of the mobile experience. It will only make sense that we create a service that is so tied in that way. And we’re actually going to be announcing some stuff at the beginning of next year or in January so you keep your eye out for that.

DK: Yeah, I’ll keep an eye out because obviously in relation to the discussion around young people, you know a lot of our training is geared towards enabling kids to do that or enabling youth professionals to understand that. And we say that young people today are tooled for involvement already. You know like you just illustrated to that point. And I know we’ve discussed before this recording but we have a very kind of empowered and positive attitude to blogging. And I know you’ve talked about it as a communication evolution and there’s been lots of discussion in the blogosphere very recently about maybe a tipping point to do with blogs or people kind of burning out with blogs. How do you see that kind of playing out? What is the future of blogging?

Mena Trott: Yeah so there was a survey I think that came out a couple days ago. I’m not sure if it was a couple days ago, I just read it yesterday. I think it was forester analyst that basically we’ve hit the point with blogs and that most people think they have something to say but they really don’t. And by next year everybody who’s blogged will have blogged. And I think that’s so ridiculous. I think perhaps if you think about blogging as it is today, maybe that’s true. That you think about maybe the punditry or the people who are writing to talk about a specific subject, maybe we’ve reached that cap. I don’t believe it’s that either.

I think that what you realise is that blogging is just a new form of communication and young people especially are very quick to embrace new forms of communication. I mean you look at adoption of IM versus email. A lot of young people don’t like email for a lot of the reasons that adults don’t like email but we’ve just gotten used to it as being the way of communicating. And so what you see with blogs; I think blogging is going to continue to grow but it’s going to evolve and be something probably different. With Vox, you know Vox isn’t called anything with the word ‘blog’ in it. And that’s not because we feel that people are burned out, we think that it’s something more. And that if you call something a blog, you kind of limit what people think about what it is.

We’ve done focus groups of people where we talk about blogging and they say, oh bloggers are people who sit in their bedroom all day, in their pyjamas just kind of being critical and spending a lot of time just trying to figure out things that are wrong with the world. And then you ask them, well okay let’s not talk about blogging, let’s talk about what you do online and what would you like to do online? And what they end up describing is blogging. And what you have to do is figure out how to get to these people in a way that they understand and they like that doesn’t have that sort of baggage that the media kind of has presented on blogging in the past.

DK: Definitely. And I just wanted to get a kind of a brief insight in terms of the numbers on the Vox at the moment. I know you’ve only been going what, less than a year?

Mena Trott: We, let me think, June was our beta for our first beta and then October 26th is when launched officially. And we don’t really give the numbers out publicly.

DK: Okay.

Mena Trott: The only number that we say was at beta which we released on October 26th, we were about 85,000 people.

DK: Brilliant. And very briefly then, the last question. How do you see the usership on Vox, in other words, people who use it actually kind of directing your services on there and the development of it?

Mena Trott: We’ve been doing this for five years and our users have always been great with feedback and I think our products wouldn’t be as good if it wasn’t for our users and our customers telling us what they want. Vox is very interesting because we get the feedback, we get the feature request, a lot of stuff because they’re from a new kind of audience we haven’t really thought of and it’s great because we want to incorporate it. For the most part we’re working hard to incorporate these features but we want to make sure that we create a service that we really think people want.

And sometimes like if you think about when we first launched and we had a lot of the early adopters on and they were like, I need a custom domain, I need to customise my templates, I need to do all these things to be able to use it as a service. And we said, well let’s just think about it. Why don’t you use the service for a week and see if you really need it? And they’re like, I’m not going to use it and then they come back and then they use it and they keep on using it and it’s like I didn’t really need that anyways. And so what we want to do is kind of figure out how to push blogging to that next level, not necessarily have to carry on every single feature that is in our other products and kind of create a new experience.

DK: Brilliant. Well I just want to thank you for giving up your time to speak to MediaSnackers Mena. It’s been insightful, it’s been really good. Thank you.

Mena Trott: Oh thank you.

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