For a long time I was getting frustrated with where the industry, in general, and analyst space, in particular, are heading. When I got into research and analysis, I thought blogs can disrupt the analyst industry in the same way open source disrupted the proprietary software. As a believer in grassroots approach to social and political problems, I thought blogging offered an unique opportunity to break open the hold large analyst firms have on the market and offer more choices to buyers. In fact, that is exactly why I took the blogging route to research and analysis. Blogging worked well for me in open source evangelism and I thought I can use it for my analyst persona too.
Off late, the whole blogging industry has turned into a game of influence. From the A List idea in the early days of blogging to the current day industry analyst community, it is all about using the social media tools to establish influence. Whether it is getting a large Twitter audience or winning an award in an event next door or getting quoted in the traditional media (yeah, bloggers like traditional media when their names are on it), the analyst blogger community is more worried about their influence than their content. Over the past two years, I have seen some of the new age analysts going to shady heights not just to increase their influence but also in diminishing others. Yeah, it is sad but not entirely unexpected due to the very nature of the industry. First, the lust for being an A-Lister among the new age media pundits affected the quality of blogging in the tech world and now, I feel, the lust for influence among the new age analysts is affecting the impact blogs can have on the industry overall.
Today, the polls closed for Cloudy Awards and I was one of the people nominated for the most influential cloud bloggers list. The final result for the most influential blogger category is below. Do you find anything strange in these numbers?
I don’t know about you but I am surprised by these numbers. No, I am not talking about me winning the vote or Ben coming close to me. I am talking about the difference between the 2nd place person and the rest. I am talking about the number of votes Bernard Golden or James Urquhart got compared to the first two positions. I am talking about the absence of names like Simon Wardley, Chris Hoff, Lori Macvittie and numerous others who churn out great content without worrying about their influence in the market. Either me or Ben winning the race is not odd but what is odd is the distribution of votes. If James Urquhart and Bernard Golden had got comparable number of votes and lost in the game, I wouldn’t find the numbers odd. But they got beaten by huge margins while the race stayed close between the top two players. That is odd and that is outright crazy.
Let me first clear John Willis, the founder of Cloudy Awards, from the criticism. He is doing it for fun. In fact, it was just fun till last year. Even though there are some issues with how they handled the “Biggest Disappointment” category, the rest of the categories were handled well by John. Having cleared John and the awards idea from my criticism, I want to put the blame elsewhere. It is about the lust for influence among the industry pundits (no, I am not talking about myself and Ben here but in general about what is happening in the space) and the supporting roles played by vendors, PRs, users, etc.. This is not unique to the “influential blogger” category alone but I am focussing on this category because my name is part of the list and I won. Yes, I won this one by playing the game hard because I couldn’t have spoken about it if I had lost the votes or if I was not part of this game itself. Then, it would be one of sour grapes thing than talking with credibility on the issue.
Let us take a step away from Cloudy Awards and think about what contributes to this intense competition for influence among the new age industry analysts. These are my incomplete and developing thoughts. So, feel free to poke on it and add to it. Let us take a look at the struggles faced by the new age analysts to begin with.
- These new age analysts are fighting against analyst firms with monopoly power on both the vendor and buyer side
- They don’t have the powerful sales team which these big players have
- The low cost tools available for analysts has increased the competition manyfold as the barriers for entry is too low
When you add the “economics of abundance” brought in by the democratization of the industry (similar to the impact of open source to software business models), the competition in the ecosystem has become really intense with “survival of the fittest” becoming the mantra for success. As it usually happens in evolution inside any ecosystem, fittest in this case has come to imply “the one with huge influence”. This has completely altered the dynamics of the ecosystem and whatever we are lamenting today is a consequence of this shift. So far, we discussed the impact on the players in the analyst space and their reaction, let us now discuss the impact of the new dynamics on the vendors and the buyers.
When the industry analyst market had only a handful of players, it was easy for vendors to get their products validated. They just have to find a way into the quadrants or squares or curves or whatever shape that had the most eyeballs. The entire process to reach the buyers was simple compared to what they face in a democratized industry with large numbers of players. In order to focus their resources in an optimal way in this newly formed ecosystem, they needed influencers and they saw an opportunity in the intense competition among the new age analysts for growing their influence. From a purely business point of view, it made sense for the vendors to root for the analysts with whom they already have a working relationship. Any increase in the influence of these analysts will be useful for them. The same applied for PR companies too. For them, the democratization made it easy in terms of access but also difficult in focussing the resources optimally. Like vendors, PR firms also saw an opportunity in the fight for influence and they jumped in. The net result is what we saw during the Cloudys voting. The influence exerted by some PR firms and vendors in the voting process was very obvious. In fact, I even came across some of the campaign for votes myself. I won’t say they are wrong or immoral but the net result is diminishing impact of some of these great blogs in the industry’s blogosphere.
When the industry had only a few big name players, it was easy for the buyers too. They could write one big check and then attribute all the consequences to these big name analyst firms. With the mushrooming of new age analysts and the affordability offered by this model, buyers are definitely empowered but they also faced the biggest challenge that comes with any federated ecosystem, that of discovery. With the Signal to Noise ration very low in the blogs, discovery was a big problem and anything that could simplify this process was appealing for them. They usually tend to follow handful of analysts and any opportunity to push the influence of these analysts helps them later in justifying the buying decisions they made based on these analysts’ recommendations.
As we can see, influence matters to every stakeholder in this ecosystem and it spills over to the blogs completely undermining its real value. People like Simon Wardley, Chris Hoff, James Urquhart and others who write high value posts but don’t play the “influence game” because their salaries are paid elsewhere, lose out to those who play the game of influence. Sadly, in the process, their value doesn’t reach to more people as it was originally intended. No, I am not claiming that either me or Ben are not worthwhile. I am just arguing that the real value available in their blogs doesn’t reach like the “ones with influence”. It is shameful because the real intent of democratization is completely lost in the process. Similar to open source, the original intent of the democratization process was to disrupt the analyst industry and give more choice to the buyers. But what is happening is a formation of another layer in the industry with players trying to exert their influence with whatever tools that are available to them. In the end, we all lose.
Yes, my name is Krishnan Subramanian and I won the Cloudys vote but I reject it and dedicate it to the Simon Wardleys, Chris Hoffs, Lori Macvitties, James Urquharts of the world who blog with the only intention to share their knowledge for common good. Wake me up after the analyst industry is disrupted. Good Night and Good Luck.
PS: No, I haven’t given up my hope to disrupt the analyst industry through democratization. I am just venting at what is happening instead.
- PR News Survey: How Do You Define ‘Influencer’? (prnewsonline.com)
- Time to rethink the analyst firm? (zdnet.com)
- Searching for analysts about ? (technobabble2dot0.wordpress.com)
- Conversation >> Pontification (enterpriseirregulars.com)
- SAP plays games with analysts (dealarchitect.typepad.com)