Lenovo’s Olympic Blogging Program

A year ago I presented a plan in Beijing for how Lenovo would support its sponsorship of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games online. I started with the premise that no one in their right mind would seek out and visit the web site of an Olympic sponsor unless they were teased there with the promise of winning something such as a trip to the Games themselves, some Olympic-themed product or souvenir, or the typical contest or sweepstakes. If you look at the Web history of the Olympics, you’d have to declare the first web Games was probably Atlanta, when IBM launched a pretty awesome web presence in light of the technical state of the art in Web 1.0 (sure, IBM took grief for its IT hiccups, but the web site was great). Since then, all the major sponsors have launched sites or microsites for the Games, but no offense, the bar never has really been raised that high.

With that contrarian approach – “who in their right mind would go to a sponsor’s website during the Olympics” – I needed something beyond the strategy of building an interactive program around a public relations story, a sweepstakes, a contest … Lenovo already does that sort of thing, every sponsor does in one form or another. That’s a checklist item, not a strategy. Lenovo needs a strong catalyst for a young brand seeking recognition as a global technology innovator on a global scale. Yes, there will be television advertisements running, and the Olympic rings will appear on our magazine ads and on Lenovo products, but I think we need more.

I’ve been nagged for a year by the question of not so much “who” or “how many” would come to a sponsor’s site, but “why.”

Let me set forth some beliefs that have been lighthouses in plotting the course:

  1. These are the first fully Web 2.0 Olympics: however you define “2.0”, these are the Games where social media, tagging, blogging, vlogging … are all well established and part of the mainstream. Not only for the spectators, but for the athletes.
  2. Athens struck me as the first example of Long Tail media – crude as it was – in that NBC flooded all of its properties, not just the flagship Peacock Network, but CNBC, MSNBC, USA, etc. with a lot of sports, sports I had never seen. I found myself, for the first time, watching badminton and cycling, rowing and sailing, long tail sports the old media model never could support, focusing instead on the marquee events like gymnastics, swimming, basketball, etc.. Beijing, with its time zone differential, and the ubiquity of digital video recorders (Tivo), has even more potential to bring attention to more sports and exposure to more athletes.
  3. What is the Olympic ideal? The idea that propels the Games? In the end, in my opinion, it’s about the athletes. Some 12,000 extraordinarily talented and driven individuals and teams who are literally the best in the world. For me, the consummate athlete is not necessarily the champion who comes away with the gold, but the 11,000 athletes who won’t win a medal, the athletes who don’t have an agent, an endorsement deal, indeed, for some, even a glimmer of hope of standing on the podium hearing their national anthem. I want to know their story. My good friend Luis Felipe Gonzalez III, MD, skied for Puerto Rico in the freestyle mogul competition. He didn’t do very well, but the fans loved his enthusiasm. My old boss at 21i.net, Fritz Kaiser, represented Liechtenstein in the Montreal Games in judo. He didn’t win, but he is the consummate competitor.

So it struck me, in working to develop an online strategy for the Lenovo Champions – our team of superstar athletes – that if I were to provide them with blogs and video capabilities … why not offer it to a lot of athletes. Not just the Champions, but the “spares”, the everyman athlete, the person who competes for the love of the game, not the medal, and the potential medalists in the sports that don’t get a lot of television coverage: the kayakers, the archers, the scullers. And it dawned on me that this is a Games of unrestricted abundance. That with the right partner I could scale an idea for 12 people into 12,000 (in theory.)

That partner was Google.

Starting in August we began discussions at the highest levels about using Google’s iGoogle platform to build a sophisticated Olympic platform of our own. It is live, it is http://2008.lenovo.com. It, like iGoogle, is a collection of gadgets – content modules that draw on feeds to present a dynamic stream of customized information. We call it the Lenovo Olympic Podium and thanks to Google’s devoted engineers and passion for these sorts of things, we gained the capability to not only build and host this Podium, but also to develop the most important content stream in the history of the modern Olympic Games.

Here’s my big idea:

What is the main event were the athletes themselves? What if, using Google’s Blogger platform and YouTube capabilities, Lenovo could offer any athlete a way to share their Olympic experience with their fans, family, friends, even the world?

These are not Lenovo blogs. They are not intended to be advertisements for Lenovo or Google. I want to enable athletes in three ways.

  1. Hardware. Over 100 IdeaPads, our new consumer notebook computers, will be given to 100 qualified athletes. The qualification? Must be passionate, be a credible contender, and willing to communicate their story within the International Olympic Committee’s guidelines on Athlete Blogs (these are the first Games in which athletes are really permitted to blog during the Games). We’re also looking into giving them video capabilities through the built in web cam and other devices.
  2. Software. Google will power the blogs with Blogger (if it’s good enough for the Fake Steve Jobs …) and YouTube. Google is all about platforms. They have data centers with cooling towers (I think). These guys can provide infrastructure and innovation, a rare combination.
  3. Support: I’m going to aggregate all these blogs into one big OPML-Blog Roll, aggregated Olympic site. I want to drive the best of the network of what I like to refer to internally as “the IdeaAthletes” and get these athlete bloggers the connection with their fans that the mass media can’t. Ogilvy’s Digital Influence Project – in the form of uber bloggers John Bell and Rohit Bhargava are going to help me support the bloggers in the months leading up to the Games and during the competition.

What is the ideal scenario in my mind? The chain of events that will lead someone to declare success and not say “stupid idea, Dave.”

I want to see some valid give and take between athletes and fans. Period and full Stop. I don’t want to see ghost written homilies and comment strings that go unanswered. I certainly don’t want to see Lenovo emblazoned on these blogs or YouTube streams. I won’t expect any blogger to write a sentence like: “I love my IdeaPad and couldn’t have done this without the brilliant Mister Churbuck.” Nope, what I want for Lenovo out of all this is one simple piece of authentic, non-promotional recognition: “We were the PC supplier and sponsor to the Games who first enabled the connection between the fans and the athletes.”

The first athlete to enter the program is Drew Ginn, the Australian rower (okay, I confess to a bias towards rowing, after all, I did write the book), and Olympic gold medalist who is training now to represent Australia in the pair – a two man boat where each rower has a single or sweep oar. This is a devilishly hard boat to row and demands a level of synchronization and bonding between the two rowers that is impossible for non-rowers to imagine. Drew and his partner, Duncan Free, won the World’s in Munich last summer, making them the boat to beat this August in Beijing.

Drew has been our internal example of exactly what we’re seeking in an IdeaAthlete blogger. He uses Google’s Blogger, he posts videos on YouTube. He understands del.icio.us and Skype – in short, he’s very much the embodiment of a Web 2.0 Olympian. I am really psyched that he’s the first to come aboard.

So, if you’re an Olympian and you want to blog – ping me. If you already blog about the Olympics but want to do it with an IdeaPad – ping me. If you want to follow an Olympic blog – visit http://2008.lenovo.com and .. ping me.

Regional blog networks — Cape Cod Today

Cape Cod TODAY and WBUR

One of the better destinations in my daily rounds of the virtual landmarks is Cape Cod Today, an aggregation of blogs covering local news and opinion around Cape Cod and the islands. (Walter Brooks, the  ex-New York Post founder extended an invite to me to contribute, but I am far happier on my own server covering non-Cape Cod stuff as well as the occasional clam rant.)
Cape Cod Today is significant for a number of reasons. First, if a network of bloggers such as the Huffington Post can be said to be the future of national media, then Cape Cod Today is driving home the impact of blogs on local coverage, bringing life to the local “news hole” in a way that a budget challenged daily paper cannot. I don’t see CCT as a replacement for the Cape Cod Times — but as a bit of an anarchy laden, opinion-filled news that brings tired staples of the local press — the police log for example, to vivid life. Cape Cod Today broke the Wampanoag casino scandal last summer, through the reporting of Peter Kenney — aka the Gadfly — a fixture of the local cable-talk radio circuit. That scoop focused a lot of attention on CCT and sealed its reputation as a credible daily news source.
As always, the action is in the comments. Gauging from the ad count, the site is doing pretty well. Here is a transcript of a recent NPR profile of the network.

“He is known as the Blogfather of Cape Cod, Walter Brooks. Since 2003, Brooks has recruited 150 Cape bloggers to cover Cape news from tip to toe. All but five of the bloggers write for free. Most of them turn out opinion pieces. But most of them are also retirees, or are still working in their current professions. Their backgrounds are varied: ex-politicians, ex-policemen, ex-teachers, current teachers, current harbormasters, current artists. Not a pimple-faced pajama wearing basement blogger among them.

Brooks admits many of the blogs on Cape Cod Today are hit or miss. Many of them are nothing more than a daily rant. Nevertheless, he believes they are changing the way news is covered on the Cape, and that they’re breaking news.”

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