Six Apart

Sunday essay: Why Microsoft won't beat Six Apart.

I have been asked by several teams and people here at Microsoft about weblogging and what I'd like to see in a weblogging tool or service. I can't give away too much details, cause that would help our competitors. But, if I were a Microsoft competitor (like Six Apart), I wouldn't worry too much yet, because no team has asked me the important question yet.

What's that?

“How do you get the A-list bloggers using Microsoft's stuff?”

For why that's important, let's go back to the desktop publishing market. Let's go back to 1987. Aldus Pagemaker, along with the first Apple Laser Printer, ruled the roost. If you wanted to do desktop publishing, you needed Pagemaker and a Laser Printer.

When I started getting into publishing at the camera store (I did all the ads for the store that ran in the San Jose Mercury News) that's what we used.

Later, when I went to West Valley College, they were using the same thing to produce their school's newspaper.

But, then, I saw Quark XPress. Man was that an advanced tool. Faster refreshes. More control over positioning. Worked with boxes that made more sense than the metaphor that Pagemaker used.

Quark built a sizeable business around advanced users. Today most newspapers and magazines use Quark. Well, they did until Quark fumbled the football (even then, most are still on Quark — due mostly to the influence of advanced users).

The first crack in Quark's dominance came in the early 1990s. I, and other employees, were trying to get Jim Fawcette to switch to Quark. We almost had him convinced, too, but then Quark did something really stupid.

See, there was a big hurricane in Florida. I forget the name now. But some gentleman had written into Mac User magazine and said that his house had been totalled and that his copy of Quark had been destroyed and that he wanted a replacement copy (he had a receipt and serial number, if I remember right). Quark was forcing him to buy an entirely new copy. But, not only were they taking that position, but that was their position in response to a letter to the editor of one of the biggest Mac magazines. I remember that Quark told him to see his insurance company and get them to pay for it.

Jim Fawcette threw down the magazine during a meeting and said “this is exactly why we will never use Quark here.”

The crack got a lot larger lately. Why? Because Quark took forever to get a version out for Mac OSX. Adobe was ready with a new, written from scratch, program called InDesign.

Yeah, Quark still owns a lot of market share, but they gave away a significant part of their market in the past two years.

So, what happened? Connectors (those folks who we all look up to) decided not to wait for Quark. Most early adopters went to OSX right away. When Quark didn't show up, these influential users started looking at the alternatives.

It's funny, but for my PDC resource cards, I've been using Microsoft Publisher. Hey, I'm trying to learn all of Microsoft's programs (I'm still partial to Adobe's stuff, by the way). It's a real nice program, but it isn't the most advanced program out there. It wasn't aimed at connectors and influentials. Instead, it was aimed at mom and dad.

Publisher has lots of ease of use features that neither Quark nor InDesign has. Tons of pre-designed templates. Tons of wizards and instructional aides to help “regular users” to get through the task of building traditional publishing things. You know, letters, memos, invitations, business cards, etc.

It's understandable why we do that. After all, there are many many times more “regular users” than there are “influential, or advanced, or professional” (I call them connectors) users — so we design programs for “everyday users” rather than “connectors”. For every page designer at the San Jose Mercury News there's millions of people who could do publishing tasks.

One problem, though. It's the connectors who influence what the rest of us buy. Why? Well, they did the early work of convincing all the print shops to support their tools. I ran into this this week. I had to talk a printer into accepting Microsoft Publisher files for my job. They were used to Quark or In Design users.

How many of you use Photoshop, even though you don't use 1% of its features? Why do you do that? Because of this effect of influentials who've told you Photoshop is the best.

I saw this in my camera store too. I sold many many Nikons because “that's what the pro at the basketball game was using.” (Back in the 1980s nearly every pro photographer used Nikons). In fact, that's why I bought my first Nikon back in high school. I had met several pro photographers and asked them what they used and why and I set my mind on getting the same camera. Worked an entire summer to get to that goal too.

So, now, what happens in the weblog world? Same thing. New weblog readers come in because someone told them to start reading Glenn Reynolds or Cory Doctorow or Leo Laporte or Chris Pirillo or Dave Winer or Mark Pilgrim (or put in your favorite “big name” weblogger here) and if they get interested enough in weblogging to start their own blog, they'll ask the pro. “How do I get started, what tool do you recommend?”

Lately, I've been doing my own asking and more and more of the “A listers” are answering “Type Pad” from Six Apart. Clearly Six Apart has figured out what the advanced users want and will recommend to their friends.

Anyway, Microsoft tends to focus on the mass market, not the connectors. I think in the weblog world that's a mistake. But, maybe it doesn't matter. How many AOL'ers are there now? How many people using Live Journal?

And I still like my Radio UserLand. If some team here at Microsoft gets me to switch, you'll know they started asking the right questions.  [The Scobleizer Weblog]

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