The Friendly Ghost BlogBoost: review of ‘a shel of my former self’, Shel Holtz

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Recently I reported on the Case of the Disappearing Widgets in which, because my blog reverted to its default layout, I realised how useful the blogroll could be and started displaying it again. Now I’m starting to think that it’s about time I really got to know the people I link to rather than running around and gathering subscriptions like some demented magpie intent on accumulating shiny things.

So, I’m going to give short reviews of each of the blogs on my roll. This isn’t because I think I’m particularly qualified to do this, nor will I be an annoying critic. I’m just going to take the time to find out where that person’s at, and give a flavour of it here.

My methodology is fairly loose. I’m going to spend as long as it takes to nose around the blog, read the content, check out the links and so on. We’re not talking half a day here, but neither are we talking half a minute. Anything from half an hour to an hour, say, just until I think I’ve seen what there is to see.

The only fair way to do this is in alphabetical order so, first up is ‘a shel of my former self’, by Shel Holtz…

It’s strange how in this world of connectivity you can have what seems a small, innocuous link on a webpage that on further inspection proves to be highly significant. Perhaps, like tag clouds, links should be displayed with font sizes giving an idea of how important they are to you, based on your past preferences (maybe like the search engine idea I had recently).

If this were the case, a shel of my former self – blogging at the intersection of communication and technology – would be in 50 point Impact bold. Turns out Shel is what some might call a guru (I prefer ‘expert’) although he seems to have moved beyond that and is an illuminati in the twilight zone of new media marketing and PR.

The major feature of his blog is The Hobson & Holtz Report, a bi-weekly hour-long podcast in which Shel and his colleague Neville Hobson talk about, well, anything they’ve found interesting in their worlds recently and interview, well, anyone they find interesting! It’s a varied format, often with Neville’s part of the blog from his base in Wokingham, Berks, UK, and Shel out and (very) about in the US, with contributions from other colleagues along the way.

The podcast lives here as well as on their personal blogs and I highly recommend you subscribe. At first I wasn’t sure – Neville had a little whinge about how he can’t get Vista drivers for his soundcard in the first one I listened to – but you soon settle into it, and next thing you know you’ve listened to a polished podcast, complete with sig tunes and a magazine-type format comprising regular sections, highlights and comments fom other significant figures. If you don’t want to listen to it right now you can even download the MP3 and listen to it at your leisure (which is what I did this morning on the Tube with my fab 4GB-enabled K750i).

It works well with Neville’s thoughtful tone and Shel’s charismatic stateside drawl. I’m trying to think of any other Anglo/American double-act and can only come up with Laurel and Hardy, which is contrived and unfair. Their tone is relaxed, informal and chatty while their content is interesting and insightful. It really is quality time with two very experienced people – and this is what I mean when I say it’s astonishing that I can get this for free simply through that little link to the left of my blog. I mean – for FREE. Wow.

As Shel says, he’s simply taken advantage of the blog as narrowcast and essentially produced a show that focuses on PR which most radio stations probably wouldn’t countenance (although I’d like to challenge that somewhat and point out that The Message on Radio 4 is an excellent half hour of news for journalists, producers and writers) (POST EDIT: The Message doesn’t have a feed. Thank you BBC).

That’s not all. A shel of my former self also includes observations on issues that interest him, as do many other ‘pro’ blogs (such as, hopefully, this one). There are some real nuggets. For example he illustrates the difference between IT and business leaders perfectly:

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that business leaders seem to have more enthusiasm for social media applications as business tools than their peers in IT. It should serve as a reminder that IT is a service function that should implement business solutions identified by business leaders.

You see his engaging tone there, inviting the reader actually to think? That’s what the podcasts are like too.

He then goes on to list the Six IT Decisions your IT People Shouldn’t Make:

The first three relate to strategy: How much should we spend on IT? Which business processes should receive our IT dollars? Which IT capabilities need to be companywide? The second three relate to execution: How good do our IT services really need to be? Which security and privacy risks will we accept? Whom do we blame if an IT initiative fails?

Great stuff.

The only criticism I’d level at a shel of my former self is that I find the layout a bit confusing. There are messages from sponsors, show notes, links to podcasts and download links dotted about the place and at first glance it looks a bit busy. But you soon figure out that if you click the little player icon you get the podcast, in much the same way a monkey would realise that if it presses the yellow lever it gets the banana.

I’d also say that the podcast tends to accentuate the positive. I’d love to hear them really throw a controversial viewpoint into the mix, which is after all a characteristic of a blog (and imho a good one).

So to summarise, what’s good about a shel of my former self? It is ‘about’ something, it’s entertaining and it’s informative. But the podcast is its ‘killer’ feature. It’s two hours a week of expert analysis and opinion and – tell me if this gets annoying – it’s FREE. My God.

So from now on, as well as listen to the Reith lectures on the BBC Radio 4 website each Saturday morning while eating my poached eggs on toast, I’m going to catch up on the Hobson and Holtz Report too.

I’m starting to use my broadband for a lot of web audio nowadays. Something tells me I’m going have to build that HTPC I always promised myself.

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