From Blogger To Journalist? Roland Piquepaille Becomes An Official ZDNet Blog Editor
Roland Piquepaille is now one of the few bloggers of ZDNet, itself part of CNET, which is the largest publishing company about technology in the world.
His new ZDNet official blog is called "Emerging Technology Trends" (ETT) and is located at http://blogs.zdnet.com/emergingtech/.
Photo credit: Ophelia Cherry
The new blog keeps carrying in-depth daily technology stories about what Roland finds interesting, only providing him with extra motivation, prestige, visibility and exposure to do what he has always been doing, even better.
And I went out to interview him right after he learned the good news.
According to Roland, "ZDNet gave me complete freedom about the subjects I want to write about".
Roland Piquepaille former tech blog Primidi will continue to be updated though its format has changed since September 3rd. Now, on Roland's original blog, posts only contain an introduction and a link to the full story which now appears on his new ZDNet blog.
He says: "I don't think so. I'm still a blogger, but with a greater visibility..."
Since I have been following Roland for over two years now, and have interviewed him in the past on the future of relative to online collaboration and web conferencing, I felt compelled to congratulate the guy and to ask him permission to have a god conversation online.
Unfortunately the recording is nothing to be proud of as both the quality of our mikes, and the tool (HotRecorder) I decided to test for the recording, did not perform as they should have. So, I have taken the due time to make a faithful transcription of our 35 minute talk which I am publishing here.
Roland does provides here some interesting insight into his new media blogger career and share some of rare to find information about his popularity, working methods and goals.
Robin Good: ...Today I have here Roland Piquepaille in Paris, France, one of the leading technology bloggers who has been posting and writing about many interesting topics since 2002, if I'm not wrong. Is that correct Roland?
Roland Piquepaille: Yes, that is correct I started back in April of 2002, yeah.
RG: And, what did it take you to start this adventure in blogging and why did you do that in the first place?
Roland Piquepaille: Well, in the beginning it was because I just had a lot of time after restructuring my company, so I had plenty of time and also plenty of interest in scientific and technology trends.
The fact is, in my company, I was always doing software development for super computers and I didn't have time really to do... to look at all my interests.
So once I discovered I had a tool that was allowing me to share my interests with other people, I said to myself "why not?" and I started to write about one or two things a day that were really to me of interest but not of imitating the rest.
It's not news as lots of other blogs, it's about things that will (have) some impact on our future. It may be five, ten, or twenty years.
So that is how I originally started this blogging adventure, and in the beginning I didn't think it would either last or that it will find an audience, but apparently it did. So I continued.
RG: Indeed! I am here in fact today to congratulate and complement publicly Roland for his outstanding job because it is not that I chose out of the blue to go and pick Roland out as I didn't have any specific reason other than the fact that a few days ago, inside my e-mail I received his monthly traffic report, which he systematically sends out to his subscribers, and within that e-mail he was also announcing something quite major for anyone who you would call a technology blogger.
Roland, do you want to share and say yourself what's been happening to you for which I am so proud of to come over and want to interview you for?
Roland Piquepaille: Well, in fact Dan Farber, the editor-in-chief of the ZDnet blogs portal just sent me an e-mail three weeks ago and asked me if I wanted to be editor of a specific blog on ZDNet.
Well, speaking about technology trends because the ZDnet which is itself part of CNET networks has lots of blogs about IT, about computers about security about... whatever technologies that are current. But, I was reading a thing about the technologies of the future so except that sometimes they are covering a little thing about nanotechnologies or robotics because it is exotic or it's fun or it's just odd but they don't have any bloggers that cover all this new trends in technologies so (he) asked me to do this. IN the beginning I was puzzled I was thinking to myself what a guy I've been reading for about fifteen years in different magazines is calling me to write a blog for ZDnet? So I decided to look at it and discovered that ZDnet wanted to expand its blogging rosters, they now have about fifteen blogs, and I after about eleven weeks we agreed on a contract, we agreed on a format, and now my imaging technology trends is live on the ZDnet blog portal since September 1. And, of course it's unbelievable three years ago that such a huge publishing empire like ZDnet-CNET, which is a 2 billion dollars company would ask me to build a blog for them.
RG: Absolutely, I fully agree with you, and I am curious to ask more, in fact. So, did this happen just out of the blue? Did you have a conversation before with Dan Farber of ZDnet?
Roland Piquepaille: No, no. I didn't know. He told me that I was in his music records that he was reading that for quite a while but no, I don't know him, I've never met him.
RG: Did you know anyone at ZDnet before?
Roland Piquepaille: I know a couple of people at ZDnet in France, but I know nobody in the U.S.
RG: But I seem to remember that you did work or contribute to ZDnet in the past as a journalist?
Roland Piquepaille: No, never. No.
RG: Oh, okay. (Robin laughs) I just had to make sure. Okay, good, so that is absolutely fantastic. So how did you react initially to that offer?
Roland Piquepaille: Initially I said to myself it's so incredible I just want to do it. So right after I scratched my head and said: is it too good to be true? Because a lot of time in the last three years I've received some attacks from vendors and stuff like that. So I was wondering if it was the real guy or if it was a new name that was forged, it's so easy to do that by now, but I checked all the headers in his initial message and I sent him a reply and he replied me back. So obviously it was him and so I accepted immediately.
RG: After which point did your brain started to think again? Once you realized that it was not a dream, did you start thinking about what kind of contract you wanted or if the finance was going to be an issue or was this just completely secondary?
Roland Piquepaille: Well, I'm going to say it was a little secondary, because I know that they don't have, they probably have a small budget for that, and they have some fees, some structure for fees that is almost identical for all the people who have blogs at ZDNet except for the ones who are really journalists in the ZDnet group. So, financially no, that was not an issue. In fact, I am continuing to do what I was doing before but with a little extra money, with a little cash more, yeah.
RG: Yes, so this extra money does not significantly change your whole revenue stream produced by your blogs, or does it?
Roland Piquepaille: No, no, no, it did not change significantly my financial income. Right now I'm making some money with Google AdSense and a little bit with the Blogads program. But I cannot live with this. For now I'm still living off from my consulting job, I am not making a living from blogging.
But this is because I live in the center of France with all the expenses that this requires. If I were to live in a little village I could probably live from my blogging activity by now because I would not need the big expenses like you would need in a big city like Paris and Rome.
RG: So, that is exactly what I am interested in: people becoming able to realize that the internet does offer them the possibility of exiting the traditional system of nine-to-five jobs, and if they have something spicy in their heads, or something they are passionate about, there is indeed (with some serious effort) a possibility of stability, of financial stability online by writing. And, I'm just serious about following people like you that are initial models, tangible models for others to look at. So, I would like to know what is your frank opinion about this independent publishing reality as a venue to self-sustainability? Do you see it coming? Do you see it as not being reachable? What do you think?
Roland Piquepaille: No, I really think this coming and very possible. I personally know some civic bloggers here in France who can live off from their blogging and news reporting. They can live by talking about their district in Paris and by having local sponsors and stuff like that. All these people have not been making lots of money but they do sustain themselves with this type of activity. And, the more time goes by the more I can see this happening. And really I think, just like you, that this is not in fact a nine-to-five job. It can be some days eighteen hours, and some days nothing at all depending on how you organize and plan your work. But it is definitely not the typical day job routine. Yes, this is really a different style for living; it's totally opposite to what any corporation has to offer.
RG: Thank you for sharing your views on this. And let me ask you to share with our listeners, in fact the URLs of your blogs because not everyone may be already familiar with your writings, though you are certainly very popular.
Roland Piquepaille: The easiest way to discover the URL for the internet is "blogs," B-L-O-G-S dot ZDNET dot com. So, that's pretty easy. And from there you go to emerging technology and you jump to my blog otherwise you can see a preview of what I'm writing for ZDnet on my own blog so this one it's just Primidi, P-R-I-M-I-D-I dot com, so that's pretty easy too. And my two blogs are about company blogging, it's "blogworkers.com" B-L-O-G-W-O-R-K-E-R-S dot com.
RG: Very good, and I understand from your words and what I've seen online that you actually use a good part of your blog content in the ZDNet posts. So, somehow you can have a double-use of what you write. Can you explain me a bit more how does this work?
Roland Piquepaille: Well, What I'm writing on Primidi.com is just the introduction of the story which is on the ZDnet portal. So, the introduction and the ideas, the first paragraph let's say, is on my blog with a link to the ZDnet portal which contains the full story.
RG: Great, that makes a lot of sense. Do you want to share with us how do you think yourself you've become such a prominent blogger? That is, what are your native skills or talents or what are the acquired ones that you think you have leveraged the most to get where you are now?
Roland Piquepaille: As a matter of fact I've always liked to write, whether in French or English, and about thirteen years ago I started my first internet newsletter inside my own company. At that time we didn't have any blogging tools, and it was all done under UNIX with custom scripts, and anytime you needed to change the aspect of the newsletter it was a great pain and it took me lots of time to do it.
But, really it was these writing skills, this curiosity for finding out new things that got me started.. And, after that I don't know, it was a high appeal to the fact that some of my written stuff was being picked-up by bigger blogs that started referring and citing some of this. So then I started my own blog, and got some agreement with Howard Rheingold for contributing to the "Smart Mobs" news blog, where I am one among fifteen other editors.
So, I gradually built my audience and now, I must say, it is quite amazing to see that the numbers that would make for the population of a small town are in fact my daily readers. Of course, these people are all over the world, but that makes it even more enticing. Not only. By blogging you do get a lot of new contacts and can get to know lots of interesting people. Lots of friends too, like you; I have friends all around the world.
Sometimes when I'm speaking about a product that nobody talked before, I would sometimes...there is a director or a general manager of a company that sends me an e-mail saying "wow, before we normally have fifty people a day coming to our site, and yesterday, thanks to your blog article we had two thousand!" For example, yesterday a guy from Scotland visited me in Paris. Well, I talked about one of his products about a year ago and well, now I have a fantastic great bottle of a single-malt whisky that he brought me over. It's not cash, but many times friends and presents are much better than real cash!
RG: (Robin laughs)Yeah, wonderful! That is definitely good. So what would you advise to some of the newcomers or the people who are struggling to get some visibility or exposure with their blogs? Is there any easy advice relating to some of the basics that you have learned in the last three years that you could share?
Roland Piquepaille: Well, the first thing is content. If you don't have content, well, who will come to see you? That's obvious but that means also that if you are talking like everybody else, covering the same news like say the new version of Microsoft Windows, well you will be just one of the one hundred thousand bloggers in the world that is talking about this.
So, the first thing is original content, or something you can not find easily around.
If in your blog you only pick and send out all the major titles from your own sources, what's the added value you are providing? None! So, you need to have something to add, to complement, to stand out and make your news and articles different from everyone else.
For example in my case I have a strange format for a blog because I only have one daily entry and this daily post contains an idea that comes from one newspaper, or one article in the press or press release or whatever. That is my editorial approach. My uniqueness comes from the fact that I look at all the work done around the subject I select, I check the scientific literature around it, and what others have written before on this. I also add some references, so I have lots of added value content that you don't find, even in an article from the Wall Street Journal, for instance.
Sometimes it's very very precise.
Sometimes I saw people decide to quote my entry, because they say this summary is more valuable than the whole original story they read in some major newspaper.
So that is the first thing.
The second thing is obviously regularity (posting on a regular basis).
The it comes the issue of being linked by others. Fact is that back in 2002 when I started, there were probably seven or eight times less bloggers than there are now. I don't think there were even a million or two by then. Now, the numbers have changed a lot: there are anywhere between fifteen and seventeen million blogs today, but most of them are not really what I would define as professional blogs.
My peculiarity and characterizing trait in getting linked by others is also the fact that I want to share with my readers new things about technology that aren't easily found. This is I think a good way to get to be known. You provide unique news that are seen by other reporters and bloggers and that is how they start to refer to you.
And I don't think this is more difficult in 2005 than it was in 2002, and today like then, what counts is to identify a specific focus, theme or niche that nobody else is covering. If you start a blog on "computer mice" for instance, you might have something that nobody is already covering.
RG: Before you were referring to the size of a small village when you were referring to your audience size, can you share any numbers about your popularity so we can get some idea of how much makes someone popular as you?
Roland Piquepaille: Robin, I have between 200 and 250 thousand page views per month, at least according to Radio Userland which is the maker of my blog software. Now, I expect the numbers to go down significantly because even if people keep coming to my blog now, the full meat of my writing will be on the ZDNet blog.
RG: What about other issues that may be relevant in becoming a good blogger or an independent news reporters online? Are there other tools that you have used to achieve your popularity? Next to content and being systematic at putting that quality content out, did you use any specific method or approach to increase or speed up the rate that you gained more popularity?
Roland Piquepaille: No, that's really it. The only other tool I'm really using is a spell-checker. Quality is of the essence and for this I always double check all the facts I'm publishing and make sure there are no overlooks. If your blog is full of misspellings, outdated info or inappropriate terms for example, I personally will not read such a thing.
So I really have no other specific tool I use for this except a good spell checker and my favourite search engine.
RG: Well, I was asking this (and I haven't been having any secret about this with you in the past), because I saw you were getting lots and lots of traffic from Slashdot, on a repetitive almost systematic basis. So, that to me looked like a method, whether conscious or unconscious to reach that popularity and visibility you have now gained. I don't whether this played a significant role in getting you to ZDNet but it certainly provided you with lots of prominence and exposure. I myself have gone quite humbly there to Slashdot, after having asked around how things worked, in the attempt to point to some of some of the scoops I am able to write from time to time. And, without trying to play any tricks, I did submit quite a few great pointers, with no preceding coverage on Slashdot. I guess I have dome this nearly ten times, but for reasons that really escape my understanding, my suggested short posts were always rejected. So I was curious to learn anything from you that may help.
Roland Piquepaille: The thing that does it in my opinion is that my stories have been truly unique, and then once the Slashdot editors understand and appreciate the value you have as a source, everything becomes much easier. To have a space on Slashdot you can't really address the last Linux versus Mac versus Microsoft fight, as there will be always someone else covering it. You really need to pick a subject that it has not been picked up by others elsewhere.
Even for me, if a story is already covered by, I don't know, twenty magazines in the world, to me it is not a good enough subject. I want to have a subject which is not completely original but at least which is not covered broadly by the press. So, it is probably for this reason that in the last two years I have been Slashdotted between two and eight times per month (!!!), and yes, I do acknowledge that this is a good thing... though there are also lots of Slashdot haters which come after you after they discover you that way.
RG: I understand, and in fact I have been quite envious of your ability to post pointers to Slashdot to your own great articles and to see him get such incredible amount of traffic there. But I must say the greatest satisfaction came when I was on able to go beyond the traffic records he was setting with the power of my own and without ever having been Slashdotted once.
Roland Piquepaille: (Roland laughs) Yeah, but you see, your blog has a different format, it has a unique subject and you also have the benefit of being on the LockerGnome team, which further extends your visibility and impact. So it is not surprising to see that you are as popular and that you too have built a really faithful audience as well.
RG: Thank you Roland, I appreciate your comment on that. While we reach the closing part of our good conversation today, I wanted to ask you: it looks like you have to wake up very early in the morning to be able to do those articles if it's true you are going to do all that research and fact-checking; what is it: Four, five, six hours before you post something? Am I too off on that?
Roland Piquepaille: Between reading the RSS aggregator news and the time I choose a story, it's probably three to four hours, and after that, let's say it's an additional one hour and a half to two hours or more to finally publish it. So overall, it's probably about six hours, yeah.
RG: Do you make any effort to have your news coming out at a specific time, before lunch or anything like that?
Roland Piquepaille: No, not really.
RG: So, as long as it comes out during those 24 hours of any given day you are happy with that?
Roland Piquepaille: Yeah.
RG: And do your blog posts get published pretty much at the same time every day or can this change a lot?
Roland Piquepaille: Oh, it changes a lot. Sometimes I have a story I didn't have time to publish the day before, so I'm writing it and publishing it in the morning in France. Other times, I may have a lunch or a conference to attend, so I'm writing in the evening. So, it really has no pattern. The only pattern is how much time I spend for my background research and the amount of time I use to select my preferred story.
RG: Do you do weekends, too? I mean: Do you post on Saturdays and Sundays too?
Roland Piquepaille: Yeah.
RG: Okay, to arrive at the end, I would like to ask you what is your hidden, your most secret wish. What do you have in your heart and mind relating to publishing and writing that you would like to see come true. Is there any "dream" you are after?
Roland Piquepaille: Yeah, and that would be to become accepted by ZDnet like a prominent, established technology journalist like Steve Gillmor, David Berlin and others. This is for me the greatest achievement I look up to.
RG: Very good, and thank you Roland for all your time today and for sharing all this useful information. I am very thankful because again I would like to help as much as possible those people, those individuals who want to take advantage of these new media, these new technologies to publish, to share, to learn to research, and who want to make the best use of them to both become both more mentally capable of understanding reality all around us and not getting that filtered, downgraded version of reality that the mainstream media provides us, and also to see more people smiling and being happy because they are doing in their life what they have always wanted to do.
I personally think that it would be the greatest reward for me to see anyone being able to achieve that.
And in fact you're indeed one such reward for me and a great living example for others to look at. Although I didn't help at all in you getting there, I'm glad to be among your online friends, and to have somebody like you who I can talk and ask questions freely anytime I need to. I must say that you have always been very available and generous with your feedback. Thank you for all this, my sincere compliments and here is my microphone open for you to deliver any closing remarks you may have. Thanks Roland.
Roland Piquepaille: Thank you Robin and my greetings to all your readers from France!
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