Blog vs. research note
I’ve been grappling with finding the right balance between blogging and writing actual research notes. I am an all-at-once writer — I’m usually at my best when I sit down and write an entire research note at one go, so it comes out as one coherent whole. A research note is something that has usually percolated about in my head for a while and is now ready to be expressed in what I hope is a bit of crystallized clarity. Problematically, though, I spend nearly my entire day on the phone with clients — I often only have 15 minutes between calls, just long enough to attend to the needs of biology and deal with my email. Eight such fragments in no way equate to an actual uninterrupted two hours, or even one hour, which makes it very hard to write substantive documents.
On the other hand, I can write a blog entry in 15 minutes, or in a bunch of 15-minute fragments, because it’s far more stream-of-consciousness. It’s unpolished thought; it can be more disjointed. It can raise questions without trying to provide answers, speculate, and be wooly maunderings rather than actionable advice. It can be trivial in the broader scheme of things, but is given power by immediacy and connectedness. It’s enormously tempting to scribble things down and just let them float out into the world. I became an analyst in part because I like to write, and it’s easy to get sucked into scribbling something whenever I get a chance.
I was googling around for the thoughts of others on this subject, and I came across Andrew Sullivan’s newly-published piece in the Atlantic, “Why I Blog“. His musings in that piece have the elegance of long contemplation, and, I think, he does an excellent job of capturing the nature of blogging, writing:
A blog is not so much daily writing as hourly writing. And with that level of timeliness, the provisionality of every word is even more pressing — and the risk of error or the thrill of prescience that much greater.
Andrew Sullivan’s piece has, perhaps, one of the best indirect answers to the whole Bloggers vs. Analysts question, as well:
A traditional writer is valued by readers precisely because they trust him to have thought long and hard about a subject, given it time to evolve in his head, and composed a piece of writing that is worth their time to read at length and to ponder. Blogs don’t do this and cannot do this — and that limits them far more than it does traditional long-form writing. A blogger will air a variety of thoughts or facts on any subject in no particular order other than that dictated by the passing of time. A writer will instead use time, synthesizing these thoughts, ordering them, weighing which points count more than others, seeing how his views evolved in the writing process itself, and responding to an editor’s perusal of a draft or two. The result is almost always more measured, more satisfying, and more enduring than a blizzard of posts.
I think the need to engage with the wider community and to be more timely will inexorably push analysts towards adding blogging to their output activities (even if not employer-recognized), but it certainly won’t replace traditional research notes. Moreover, social media is here to stay in the lives of analysts; it’s useful and it’s relevant.
Forrester’s Jeremiah Owyang described 7 tenets of the connected analyst in his blog today; it’s a well-encapsulated set of thoughts on how analysts should engage with the community. To me, that emphasis on connection is a shift in the nature of analysts. Although we write research notes, our research clients probably derive the greatest value from the relationship, the one-on-one interactions that consider an individual client’s situation and provide tailored advice. Blogging, on the other hand, is a one-to-many, perhaps many-to-many, activity.
I’ll have something on the order of 800 one-on-one client interactions this year. Many of these clients will have read a research note before talking to me. But they want to talk about it — to privately ask detailed questions, to get help with their specific situation, to understand the data supporting the conclusions, and in short, to get the equivalent of boutique personalization.
Despite my belief in the value of the relatoinship, though, analyst firms, including mine, still make a lot of money off research subscriptions. And that gives me a professional responsibility to think hard about what to put in a freely-accessible blog versus what to put in a research note that people pay a lot of money for. So in the end, I think that what I’ll be blogging are the things that don’t yet make for good research notes — quick news takes, musings, interesting little tidbits, things that aren’t of ongoing interest to clients, and interaction with the broader blogosphere.
I’m curious to hear the thoughts of others on this subject, whether they’re other Gartner analysts, analysts at competing firms, our clients, or our detractors.