Silicon Valley Insider

10 Jun 2008

Growing up in Silicon Valley, Robert Scoble (pictured) has circuitry in his veins and the credentials to carry on the legacy

Robert Scoble recalls: “I grew up in the Valley and my dad was an engineer so I have always been around the tech industry. But in high school I got into journalism, which was followed by a job at a computer programming magazine.

“I liked journalism better than I liked studying math and science!”

The conferences that Scoble organised as part of his work at the magazine, Fawcette Technical Publications, gave him a taste for people-driven technology and turned him in the direction of the newly emerging trend for blogging during the web boom of the mid-Nineties. The rest is history.

His blog, Scoblizer, is a bible for those watching the rising stars of Silicon Valley start-ups, but he also has an uncanny knack of getting interviews with hotshots including Facebook’s founder, as well as heavyweights like Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer.

All the while, he exudes a laid-back, Californian ‘I’m just hanging with you guys’ attitude that gets juicy insider information.

This can seem at odds with the more formal, old-media methods of chasing news: “In the past, newspapers and magazines never had to worry about where the traffic came from or how to get traffic to their site, whereas every professional blogger I know cares deeply about this.

“I was on a panel recently with the business editor of the San Jose Mercury News and he said, ‘My first job is to fill the newspaper. That’s where my readers and profits are.’ The web, even today, is second on the agenda.

“Most news is taken from print and repurposed for the web but news on the web travels much faster than that, the story will have already broken, and many newspapers don’t understand that,” says Scoble.

“That’s why bloggers get so many scoops. They can publish something in 10 seconds,” he adds.

“A lot of journalists see bloggers as not having ethics or following the rules. I think they are totally missing the point about how this stuff works. The audience is moving to the internet.”

The same goes for television, reckons Scoble: “I turned on the TV last night and there was nothing on, so I went to YouTube and instantly pulled up videos on my interests, like photography.”

Even when he does have the urge to watch mainstream television, Scoble heads to the web, something he says kids and young adults are increasingly doing.

“When I want to watch Lost, I don’t have to wait for Saturday evening or whenever it comes on.”

His influence cannot be underestimated and this is partly down to his ability to harness the social power of the web.

Everybody knows Robert Scoble, or at least he is on everyone’s friend list in the most popular and most talked about social networking sites on the web, including Twitter, Facebook and Friendfeed.

Scoble is the geek equivalent of Paris Hilton – omnipresent and like, so hot right now. He has 21,135 friends on micro-blogging site Twitter (Barack Obama is the only one to beat him with 35,038) and claims to be able to follow all of them.

“For a couple of hours every day I use Google Talk and watch everyone who is twittering (talking). It comes in at about one post or tweet a second. It’s
pretty easy to do if you dedicate time to watching it alone.”

Tracking the masses of information generated on the web on a daily basis can seem like a monumental task. Scoble, like many tech-savvy people out there, uses news feeds or aggregators such as Google Reader or Friendfeed to pick out content he is interested in based on keywords or friends’ activity.

However, Scoble does think a smarter, more database-driven web is in development that will help sort relevant information for us but he declines from referring to it as the ‘Semantic Web’: “I don’t like that term – it confuses people.

“The way I put it is Web 1.0 was about getting a webpage up and Web 2.0 was about adding people to those pages. Web 3.0, or the Semantic Web, is about getting rid of the pages.

“You’re just adding data to the web, not links, and everyone else is rehashing or redisplaying it. Google Reader is a good example of that. My URL – the importance of my URL – went away.

“The Semantic Web is about displaying your information and your interests in the way you want.”

By Marie Boran