Is it time to throw out the old Internet already?

Okay, okay. I’ll be the first to admit that I love them. So do you, in your heart of hearts. Those cozy nuggets of knowledge condensed into a few, seemingly incoherent, letters or words. Only you know. And a few other well-placed friends, colleagues, and, well, “insiders” really. They tell you that you are worthy of special distinction, distinguished mention, of buzz. Yep, they’re Internet buzzwords and they’re cool. Heck, we’re all cool when we say that we “heard about a great indi flick that the Blogosphere is raving about” or that we “can’t wait to post to Wikipedia on our Blackberry” (I know all those words, but do they make sense together like that?). So sit back, crack a cold one, and prepare to learn more Internet buzzwords in one sitting than you can handle. You can thank me later.

M. Hedayat, Your Humble Blogmaster

Disclaimer: The following post does not guarantee you will be able to carry on a coherent discussion with anyone between the ages of 15 and 21 (who already know more about the Internet than you will ever cram into your egg-shaped lawyer’s head).


Additional Disclaimer: The below information will more than likely be out of date by the time you read this.


Final Disclaimer (seriously): Use only as directed. Avoid operating heavy machinery while using Internet buzz words. If you experience nausea, outbursts of explosive Blogging, or projectile e-mail syndrome (PES) while using buzzords, contact an IT professional immediately.

From our “Give Credit Where Credit is Due” Department:: The below post is (mostly) taken from an article in Law Office Computing, March 2006 (Online Edition) by Attorney-Consultant-Entrepreneur-Cottage Industry Larry Bodine who, according to his author’s credit in LOC “[consults regarding] marketing strategy, offers marketing coaching, and provides business development training at lawyer retreats.” Ed. Note: In other words, Larry shares the distinction with Dennis Kennedy and Bruce MacEwen of having spun their opinions regarding law practice management into a (presumably money-making) business. Kudos to all. I still do it for free but hey — I’m a giver.

And now, on with the show:


Wikis
Buzz: Topping the “heard about them, not sure what they are” list are wikis — Web sites to which anyone can add content or revise what already is there. The prime example is Wikipedia.org, a free online encyclopedia whose entries come from users and those who simply wish to contribute, instead of a staff of researchers.

Application: According to Larry, wikis are “a cutting-edge technology that can be used to communicate and exchange ideas with clients. Creating a wiki for a client is an excellent way to thrash out ideas on a project, case or transaction. By sponsoring client wikis, a firm can distinguish itself in the marketplace.” Uh … yeah. Okay, let’s go with that.


Blogs
Buzz: Not to beat this one into the ground — we all know what Blogs are — but what the heck: here’s a definition anyway. A web log or “Blog” is a series of posts, usually by a single author to a single web page. Posts are generally short (the post you’re reading is obviously an exception) and can easily link to other articles, posts, websites, products, etc. anywhere on the Web. Did I mention that most Blogs are free? The exception, interestingly enough, is Lexblog, a site created to host Blogs for, you guessed it, Lawyers. We’ll pay for anything won’t we?
Application: According to Bodine’s article, as of mid-January at least 1,176 law firms and lawyers had started blogs in 202 legal categories according to Blawg.org. Reasons cited by Bodine for the exponential rise of Blogs among Attorneys include widespread availability of broadband, cheap blogging software (again, it’s mostly free) and the ability to post using any device that can send e-mail (i.e. Palm Treo, Blackberry). Bodine’s conclusion is a grand one: “… the offline “old media” are crumbling because they are too slow, too expensive and must appeal to audiences that are too wide.” Ed. Note: I too would like to believe that we as Lawyers have an alternative to constantly being gouged for everything from advertising to research to the price of paper. But just to play devil’s advocate Larry, I think that if Westlaw or Lexis read your opinion they would probably point out that they buried a number of other threats, either by buying the the competition or using their vice-grip on the legal market to kill them. Just ask Tim Stanley and Stacy Stern, co-founders of Findlaw, about what happens to innovative companies when they’re bought by one of the big boys.


Bodine’s article concludes that “Blogs are the hottest marketing vehicle to come along in years … Firms can demonstrate expertise by discussing what the author knows and by informing clients of news and opinions they should know about. Blogs also can generate calls from news reporters looking for someone to quote on a topic. You simply can’t beat a blog as a marketing vehicle.” Ed. Note: Again — uh … okay, if you say so. Any empirical evidence that Blogs are star-makers? Don’t get me wrong; I write for and manage several Blogs and love them all. But they haven’t changed my practice or my life. For the most part they seem like good fun and little else.


Buzzstorming
Buzz: Real-world events, products and services can be hyped using online channels such as message boards, Blogs, etc. Bodine refers to GreedyAssociates.com as a way to get the attention of influential commentators (i.e. Bloggers) and tout a firm’s expertise.
Application: The application of this insipid concept is obvious. Sorry to be rude about it but I would counsel anyone using this brand of “stealth marketing” to plant references to their firm or themselves on message boards, on Blogs, etc. to remember that on the Internet those whose participation is solely for commercial gain are considered bottom feeding, scum sucking … ah, never mind. You get the idea.


Trendspotting
Buzz: “Listening” to information about you, your field, your firm, out on the Internet. What are people say about you?
Application: Law firms can research online buzz to anticipate client needs, spot business trends and measure the firm’s reputation. For example, copmany Brandimensions makes software that can search public conversations in blogs, chat rooms, and online fora.


Jamming
Buzz: Online brainstorming or threaded discussion open for limited time so it has a definite beginning and end. These “events” can replace traditional knowledge management and develop firm-wide consensus on issues. Ed. Note: For those of you who don’t know what “knowledge management” is anyway (the buzzword, in case you’re interested, is “KM”), you can officially stop caring. Apparently jamming is going to replace it anyway. Now what was KM again …?

Application: Basically, a firm can listen to its employees or Clients this way — it’s like generating an impromptu discussion among participants far and wide. It can also be a tremendously inexpensive way to generate real answers to firm-wide questions; answers that can be captured, organized, and used to head-off a similar problem, issue or dispute in the future.

RSS
Buzz: RSS (Really Simple Syndication) isn’t nearly as “really simple” as it’s name would imply. That fact notwithstanding, its’ function is easy to understand; RSS goes out and “grabs” the information you want from the places that make that information available (whether that place is a Blog, a Website, whatever). The key is that the information must be published using a format called .xml instead of the more traditional .html. The .xml programming language (extensible markup language) is proactive, if you will, and allows itself to be called into service. This flexible informaiton will respond to the call of a piece of software called an RSS reader. Examples given by Larry include Newsgator.com and FeedDemon.com — both of which cost a little. Personally, I prefer Bloglines which is free and so easy to use I think my 6-year old is overqualified to operate it. In other words, its perfect.
Application: Almost too many applications to mention here. Aside from the obvious (see e-mail group posts regarding RSS), there are uses for RSS that have only recently been envisioned and developed (see posts on the LPM e-mail group regarding Joyent, a virtual office solution that, among other super-cool innovations, uses RSS technology to allow you to pull in not just any old information but all information of any kind (e-mail, document, calendar date, note, etc. about any subject of your choice, and to do it MUCH faster than you could now by using, God help us, a search in Windows or some Microsoft Office application). RSS feeds can also be placed on law firm Web sites, allowing visitors to subscribe to specific sections of the site. For example, the 1,000-lawyer firm of Wilmer Hale, which has offices in 13 cities across the United States, Europe and Asia, offers 19 RSS feeds about topics ranging from antitrust to trade on its site.


Podcasting
Buzz: Podcasts are MP3 sound files that can be uploaded to Websites, creating an online radio show that can be listened to on a computer, or downloaded and played later on an iPod or similar device. Soon to come: video feeds as well. Same principal, right?
Application: See “The Sound of Podcasts,” February/March 2006 Law Office Computing. On the subject of video Podcasts, see J. Craig Williams’ May it Please the Court Blog Williams is the founding partner of The Williams Law Firm, a five-lawyer firm in Newport Beach, California. Podcasting has worked for small firms, such as Verner & Brumley, a four-lawyer family law firm in Dallas. Attorney Jimmy Verner has posted podcasts using FeedBurner on his blog site, which is linked to the firm Web site.

And finally … ther’s Tagging
That’s for another post. But I can promise you’re going to love it. Talk to you again soon.

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