Jeff Barr, Chief Evangelist for Amazon’s AWS and a key player in its growth, spends 80% of his time blogging.
Not just any blog, but a blog about AWS news and answers to questions that arise internally and externally in regard to AWS. The AWS News Blog.
AWS, if you are not familiar with it, is a subsidiary of Amazon that provides on-demand cloud computing platforms to individuals, companies, and governments, on a metered pay-as-you-go basis. AWS dominates the cloud computing market and is the fastest growing Amazon segment, representing well over half of the company’s operating income – $7.3 billion in 2018, up almost $3 billion from the year before.
Barr celebrated fifteen years on the AWS Blog with a post about why the blog, why him and the status of AWS blogging today.
Read the whole post, Barr’s story is a good one.
I found it interesting that Barr was over at Microsoft, where I first witnessed large scale corporate blogging by developers. I was trying to figure out blogging from my garage. He also had an interest in Dave Winer’s work with XML and RSS – keys to us following the blogging of others, via syndication.
Instrumental for any blogger – corporate or legal blogger – is passion for what you’re going to cover. The light bulb went on for Barr that AWS was going to big a thing for Amazon when he saw web services being made available for developers en masse. Baar’s developers relations plan included a blog from the start.
Like all of us, Barr was not a natural born blogger – nor a good writer.
“I struggled a bit with “voice” in the early days, and could not decide if I was writing as the company, the group, the service, or simply as me. After some experimentation, I found that a personal, first-person style worked best and that’s what I settled on.”
Topics came in a random way (still do for me).
“In the early days, we did not have much of a process or a blog team. Interesting topics found their way in to my inbox, and I simply wrote about them as I saw fit. I had an incredible amount of freedom to pick and choose topics, and words, and I did my best to be a strong, accurate communicator while staying afield of controversies that would simply cause more work for my colleagues in Amazon PR.”
The AWS blog has become key to AWS’ growth and developer relations. Barr’s time allocated to blogging as grown, and “now stands at about 80%.”
Blog posts are no longer done randomly.
“We now have a strong team and an equally strong production process for new blog posts. Teams request a post by creating a ticket, attaching their PRFAQ (Press Release + FAQ, another type of Amazon document) and giving the bloggers early internal access to their service. We review the materials, ask hard questions, use the service, and draft our post. We share the drafts internally, read and respond to feedback, and eagerly await the go-ahead to publish.”
Rather than press releases pushed to the media and a few bloggers, the regular practice for law firms and legal tech companies, Amazon used the blog for developer relations. It’s developers, after all, that are going to be asking the tough questions, and ultimately be influencing the purchasing of AWS services.
With over 3100 posts under his belt, and plenty more on the way, here’s what Barr focuses on when writing a post.
- Learn & Be Curious – This is an Amazon Leadership Principle. Writing is easy once I understand what I want to say. I study each PRFAQ, ask hard questions, and am never afraid to admit that I don’t grok some seemingly obvious point. Time after time I am seemingly at the absolute limit of what I can understand and absorb, but that never stops me from trying.
- Accuracy – I never shade the truth, and I never use weasel words that could be interpreted in more than one way to give myself an out. The Internet is the ultimate fact-checking vehicle, and I don’t want to be wrong. If I am, I am more than happy to admit it, and to fix the issue.
- Readability – I have plenty of words in my vocabulary, but I don’t feel the need to use all of them. I would rather use the most appropriate word than the longest and most obscure one. I am also cautious with acronyms and enterprise jargon, and try hard to keep my terabytes and tebibytes (ugh) straight.
- Frugality – This is also an Amazon Leadership Principle, and I use it in an interesting way. I know that you are busy, and that you don’t need extra words or flowery language. So I try hard (this post notwithstanding) to keep most of my posts at 700 to 800 words. I’d rather you spend the time using the service and doing something useful.
I started to publish a blog during a year long covenant not to compete with LexisNexis. I was noodling around in my garage thinking of what to do next. When I stumbled into a blog, I saw it as delivering on two fronts.
One, I wanted learn to write, something I was never very good at. Two, I needed to get passionate about something to do for work. I feared, at then 47 years old, that I would never have another good idea fueled with passion to start another company. Maybe this blog thing would take me there.
So I was struck with some of Barr’s personal thoughts on blogging.
“Writing – Although I love to write, I was definitely not a natural-born writer. In fact, my high school English teacher gave me the lowest possible passing grade and told me that my future would be better if I could only write better. I stopped trying to grasp formal English, and instead started to observe how genuine writers used words & punctuation. That (and decades of practice) made all the difference.
Career Paths – Blogging and evangelism have turned out to be a great match for my skills and interests, but I did not figure this out until I was on the far side of 40. It is perfectly OK to be 20-something, 30-something, or even 40-something before you finally figure out who you are and what you like to do. Keep that in mind, and stay open and flexible to new avenues and new opportunities throughout your career.”
So much to be learned from successful bloggers.
For lawyers and law firms, that means sticking your head up and looking at the blogging being done by corporations, professionals and businesses outside the law.
For me, I am going to revisit my blog’s focus so that at least a portion of my blogging is focused on legal blogger relations for LexBlog. Maybe get some of our developers, support and editorial people contributing.
To show you why you need to stick your head up to see who you learn from, Jeff Barr accepted my Facebook friend request a few months ago when I had no idea he was part of the AWS blog. I just knew he was the Chief Evangelist at AWS, a heck of an interesting job, and that he posted interesting items from Seattle and around the world.
I’ve picked up plenty of lessons from Barr already, and I am sure I will learn more by following the AWS News Blog from now on.