January 20, 2007

Workin by Day, Bloggin by Night. Workin Day and Night Bloggin by...oops

I guess there's no way around the 24 hour day, unless human habitation on Mars is a closer reality than believed. Many of us in the blogosphere lead double lives. I'm no exception. I had many good years to myself to develop as an artist. I'd like to say between 1981 to about 1986 or so I was able to lead a bohemian lifestyle practicing for hours on end after school and my little part time jobs, eating Cheerios for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But by 1995-1996 I was feeling the pull of responsibility and that strange double edged comfort called the steady paycheck. Both of my parents passed away at the time and the strains of making the rent and paying the bills started mounting up. At one point my day consisted of working during the day, teaching in the evening and even taking gigs after that. I did that for a bit but it was just not humanly feasible for any length of time though. That was my first experience with being spread very thinly.

By 1997 my office naivete had sufficiently receded to the point I got my fist whiff of the diabolical world of office politics. It prompted my move to the company that I am still at ThomasNet. Although the position was similar in terms of customer service, it was a quantum leap in terms of the product being sold, company style, and in general the business community they serve. The company has been in existence for over a 100 years. The "what" of what ThomasNet offers (formerly known as Thomas Register of American Manufacturers and Thomas Regional Directories) took me a while to appreciate. I took me years to get a handle on this particularly dry business niche they occupied roughly classified as "Industrial BtoB" and Industrial Product News. The flagship publication they sold until recently was known endearingly as the "Big Green Books" (At one time they were a 34 volume directory) I really didn't know what the heck was in there and in many ways I still don't completely but I did have to answer to the tenacious community of businesses that swore by and vociferously demanded their yearly edition of this (seemingly) esoteric but vital commodity. In fact in 2004, due to some major changes in the company I played a vital role in the entire distribution of the big books, the CD and DVD versions of the product in addition to my main function which was distribution of the Cad title products PartSpec, PlantSpec and CADBlocks.

In the last 5 years, ThomasNet has been in the process of transitioning from the offline print and CD products to the online world and gotten hip to all the details very quickly, including building an online community. Integral to that has been pushing traffic to ThomasNet in new in creative ways. My new main role is in pushing traffic to ThomasNet Industrial News and blog section via ThomasNet's biweekly newsletter Industrial Market Trends. Although somewhat engineering and industrial business centric, in many ways the people who read the articles posted have diverse backgrounds and interests. This is in part due to the talents of the main writer at the blog, David Butcher who ably straddles his writing background and personal interests with the ThomasNet content world, resulting in articles of interest and diversity, dealing in world politics, office politics, economics, technology and engineering, to name a few.

Pursuant to building this online community further, my group is soft-launching a new Forums effort ThomasNet Forums with Jarad Krywicki at the helm. It takes a while to build momentum and a core population on a forum. My own forum Jon Raney Forum is a case in point. And you have to watch your mouth in cyberspace. People get pretty sensitive. And I have a big mouth, especially about things I feel strongly about. This lengthy blog again case in point. But the interactivity and informational possibilities you get by multiple contributors and link posts are extraordinary. You never know what subject matter is going to be the wall spaghetti for the cyberbugs. Here's an example of a "gathering" post at the ThomasNet Forum Engineering Disasters. But it's something that has it's own life and in this case it seems like hindsight is the only teacher. I think the fact that my world and my company's world are coming closer together is sort of interesting because we are both trying to bring together that unique web formula: buzz and then (hopefully)sales. And it's become increasingly clear that creating a place where people hang out (web trolls excluded)creates enormous potential for widening your audience reach. Just a single question about, "how do I do such..." and such can lead to the purchase of the "such and such" producer's product or service.

So back to the matters at hand in my little planet. I'm often busy as a beaver at my new day gig--often working late nights and working at home . Being new at deploying and tracking five company newsletters to a subscriber base of almost 700,000 people(and what can go wrong!)can be a daunting responsibility. I also know everybody is dying to know the status of Jimmy Raney project and book. It's going to be slow going the next month or two because I'm just one fella unfortunately. Your patience is appreciated. In the long run some of the skills I'm learning at ThomasNet will actual will be more productive here in this little community.

I'm not sure if this is the kind of career track my father envisioned for me, but this is life in the new millenium and at very least he probably would've dug the world of online publishing. I'm sure he would've been cranking more of the great stories that have been posthumously posted here.

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