Whose Brand are You Building?

Towards the end of 2009 there were two great articles published by two of my favorite bloggers, Joel Spolsky from Fog Creek Software and David Heinemeier from 37signals.

Joel’s post wonders if growing your company too slowly means your company is bound to die:


David responds to Joel in his own post on his blog:


Normally, I would save each one of these links and break them down in my series “Breaking Down the Game Film,” however, there was something else here in these two posts that I thought was more interesting than their primary messages.

Scroll to the bottom of each of the posts and look at the number of comments attached to each one.  I would venture to say there is more written in the comments than in the original posts.  I’ve seen this before, but there was something that really struck me oddly as I compared and contrasted these two articles.

The idea of commenting on an article on the Internet seems to be one of the founding principals of the Internet.  Take http://www.slashdot.org, for example, Slashdot is built around people commenting on articles posted all around the Internet.  I have never found this phenomenon of people wanting to comment on other people’s work too interesting before.  In fact I would spend a considerable amount of time reading each one of the comments, never posting mind you, but normally reading the majority of the opinions listed below the articles.

Then something happened, I completely stopped reading comments on other websites.

When I first stopped reading the comments I attributed it to a lack of time-who has the time to scroll through 120 comments for just one article?  After that personal revelation I haven’t given it too much thought, however, lately, after a year of maintaining a technical blog, I realized what my real issue is with comments, and it boils down to this, whose brand are you building?

::We have a blog title, J::

David Heinemeier could have just as easily added his comments below Joel’s article, but he didn’t, he brought the conversation to his own blog.  On 37signals David controls the content, and most importantly of all, he will be able to find his comments again if he ever wants to.  He has a collection of all of his content and thoughts in one location, building his own brand, and his company’s brand on his servers and under his logo.

His thoughts won’t disappear if the server Joel posted his article on ever crashes or that company goes out of business.  His brand is being built in a location he has ultimate control over, and he can assure it never goes away if he chooses to.

Jeff Atwood has covered this topic on his own blog, referring to people who provide content to websites as “digital sharecroppers”.  Jeff doesn’t call out people who comment on blog posts directly, but rather cites the larger trend of people supplying content to the Facebooks and YouTubes of the world: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/archives/001295.html.

Ironically, below his post the comments are full with the people doing just what he suggests they shouldn’t.

I agree with Jeff that one should focus on building their own brand.  I’m not suggesting you don’t comment on what you read on the Internet, but rather, if you feel passionately about something you have read take that thought or idea and turn it into a post on your own website, expand upon the points made by the author, and strive to control your own brand.