Karen Wickre: Mother Of The Google Blog On Google’s Official Blogging
When Google launched the Official
Google Blog back in 2004, it started as sort of a ho-hum event. There wasn’t
anything particularly gripping, and some wondered if the company should be more
edgy with its posts. Since then, Google has launched more than 70 additional
official blogs over the years. Some have gotten edgy; a few even have comments, but most
important, they’ve turned into an essential communications vehicle for the
A few weeks ago, I sat down with Karen Wickre, who aside from her
formal title at Google of senior manager, global communications & public
affairs, is who I’d best describe as "mother of the blogs." Karen is ultimately
responsible for how they all work, and she shared some insight on how Google makes use of blogging.
Will the big three of Google — Larry, Sergey and Eric — ever blog? Will comments come to the main Google blog? Will Google’s blogging replace press releases? Read on….
Danny: How would you characterize your role in relation to the blogs?
Karen: I shepherd them. I call myself the managing editor, and I’m
the gatekeeper for the new blogs. I’ve been with Google a long time and have
worked in publishing a long time, so I can’t help but pay attention to the
words — to the ways in which Google is communicating with the world.
Danny: I’ve tended to think of you as mother of the main blog and the
various blogs in general. Fair to say?
Karen: Mother of the blog is as fair as anything else. [Former PR staffer] Nate
Tyler and I pitched the idea of a blog to our team and got agreement to turn
it on in May 2004. This was after we’d announced the IPO, but before we went
Initially the agreement was one post per month. There was no
opposition to the idea, but our lawyers literally combed over every word,
since we were then in our quiet period. I would say do not launch a blog
during a quiet period — or if you do, expect to work with a lot of lawyers on
I love editing and making things read better. That’s what an editor does. A
blog is a publication, after all. The idea that I could guide product managers
and other Googlers to get new topical blogs off the ground, for example, is
Danny: Google has so many blogs now. Do you have to read through each
post before they go live, or do some of the blogs have more freedom than others?
Karen: While it’s important to have a review, I never want to
overwrite what a Googler is saying about their topic or product. All posts are
reviewed by a few relevant people on the immediate team, plus a PR person for
approval. As a rule, this isn’t labor-intensive or overbearing. We try to
encourage original perspectives and stories insofar as company blogs can
feature those. We share drafts in Google Docs and do edits there. Again, I try
hard not to overwrite or have the team wordsmith to death. That’s not going to
get us interesting reads.
We have different categories of blogs, and the type
influences how reviews work. There are product blogs [like the
Google Reader Blog], developer
blogs [like the Google AJAX
Search Blog], country-specific blogs [like the
Google Australia Blog] and some
vertical interest topics [like the
Google Public Policy Blog].
All posts go through someone for approval.
The product blogs are the biggest group, and we have lots of people
interested in posting and writing up stuff. With the developer blogs, there
tends to be much less editing. There’s no sense wordsmithing there. Developers
are a natural blog-reading constituency. In some cases, posts are so
well-written from the start, and have a PR staffer on the blog team, such as
the Google Public Policy blog, that there is very easy collaboration.
Danny: It feels like Google is running more official blogs than most
other companies. Any idea if this is the case, if Google is somehow unique in
the amount of blogging it is doing?
Karen: We do have more than 70 blogs now. I feel like Google is one
of the few places doing this differently. There are other companies with
many blogs, but those tend to be unofficial blogs written by individual developers,
such as those from Sun, IBM and Microsoft.
Our network of corporate blogs are definitely all company-based, not
personal communications, but we aim to have lots of Googlers writing and covering
lots of topics in interesting ways.
Of course, in addition to our many official blogs, we’ve also got individuals like
Matt Cutts [from Google’s web search quality team] posting. We’d love more
For us, the blog platform is a fast way to publish news and notes about
Google and to directly reach millions of people. It’s so fast and easy
compared to newsletters or, God-forbid, press releases. It is a PR platform,
but we try hard to make it not traditional PR-like. That’s why we want our
individuals from teams actually "in the trenches" to do the bulk of the
Danny: So are the blogs working well enough that you might give up
Karen: Press releases are not going away. There are legal requirements
and business requirements for press releases, so they serve a function. Down
the line, maybe the whole industry will adopt blogs for public communications.
This isn’t up to Google to determine, of course. But we’ve never been a company that issues a ton of press releases.
Much more often than a press release or a Google Gram [these are special
email alerts sometimes sent to selected reporters], we’ll issue a blog post.
[Note From Danny: Indeed, over the past two years or so, product coverage
I’ve done often revolves around when a blog post will go up announcing it,
rather than a press release being issued. Google often will tell me and others, "and the blog post will go out on…."]
Danny: How many readers do the various blogs have?
Karen: The main Google Blog has over 500,000 [this was in mid-August — now it is
nearly 700,000 readers]. After that, the Google China Blog has many readers,
as does Google LatLong. Anything to do with geo stuff is always hugely
NOTE: Karen emailed this week that she also tallied up everything at the
end of September using a combination of Google Analytics and FeedBurner.
Across the blog network, Google had 16.6 million readers in the first 9 months
of the year. She also sent this list of the blogs with the most subscribers
according to FeedBurner:
- Google Blog: 724,522 subscribers
- Google Reader Blog: 79,553 subscribers
- Orkut Blog [Portuguese]: 45,956 subscribers
[Orkut is huge in Brazil, and this is reflected in the fact that the
official Orkut blog at blog.orkut.com
is in Portuguese, while English posts about Orkut are relegated to
- Google Japan Blog: 19,781 subscribers
- Google Webmaster Central Blog: 19,926 subscribers
- Google Code Blog: 19,257 subscribers
- Inside AdSense: 16,301 subscribers
Danny: Is there any attempt to try and coordinate postings across the
blogs, what people are blogging about, or set any schedule or number of posts to
Karen: We do coordinate posts when we have news that touches on
different areas. For example, a Google.org initiative that ties in to our
corporate environmental projects gets posted on two blogs, but each one is
different. We don’t duplicate posts. A post that’s about YouTube policy may
run on the YouTube blog and another one on Google blog.
We do encourage a focus on more interesting items and a regular frequency
and not just an endless stream of a product updates and how-to info. So we
always aim for useful information and a good read. We don’t have a quota
system. We do encourage frequency, but writing something just to have a post
Danny: How do you work with those teams to encourage more quality
Karen: First, a team has to propose the blog and really understand
what’s required to maintain it. A PR "designated hitter" has to be involved and
work with the product team to get a product blog going. We’re all in
agreement by the time it’s live. There have been some country blogs where
there have been one or two interested people running it. In a smaller
market, that would be OK. In a bigger country, we would need more
people to contribute.
Danny: Sometimes a post on one of Google’s sub-blogs also runs on the
main blog. Is there competition to be "good enough" for that?
Karen: Definitely. Someone will write me and say, "I don’t know if
this is big enough for the Google Blog." I have a wide-ranging readership in mind, which
is global for the Google Blog, and so I ask if the post reflects the
multiplicity of Google enough. Things that are small or a feature update on
some product probably won’t go on Google blog unless we want to elevate its
Danny: First the Google Librarian Blog, then Google Webmaster Central
Blog gained comments
earlier this year, something some
argue is required
for a blog to call itself a blog. How has that been going? Will more blogs gain
Karen: If the team is going to be vigilant about watching them,
sure. We want a good read and a conversation, which means watching for spam
comments and way off-topic stuff. Developers generally know how to handle
comments, so those are easy blogs to enable comments for.
Danny: How about comments on the main Google Blog?
Karen: We’ve been talking about it for a long time internally. Some
of us would like to, even though there’s plenty of concern about the time
required to monitor comments. We aren’t out to censor criticism, mind you, but
to keep the reading and the exchanges useful and informative takes constant
review and ability to reply quickly.
Lots of people even outside of Google tell me this is just too hard to
manage. After all, big sites like The Washington Post have
problems with comment abuse. So we continue to watch, and evaluate, for
the Google Blog itself. Some of our more targeted blogs with smaller
readership following very defined topics have an easier time monitoring to
maintain an interesting exchange.
Karen: We may have a few more coming from Google Japan [Google
Analytics Blog Japan went up since we talked; over in China,
one for webmasters has also
been launched]. Perhaps one on Picasa, to cover tips on working with photos [Google
Photo Blog went up last month].
Danny: I’ve joked in the past that I can never remember the address of
googleblog.blogspot.com for the
main official blog, much less
google-latlong.blogspot.com for the Google Maps & Earth Blog, Google
Lat-Long. Will we get a better address?
Karen: We do want to move to blogs.google.com eventually. We’re
still working out how to do it with Blogger
(Google’s own blog authoring tool, that it uses for its own blogs).
Danny: Are all the blogs on Blogger? Isn’t
Google China Blog not using Blogger?
Karen: We use Blogger wherever it is offered. In China, we don’t offer Blogger as
a consumer product,
so we publish our various Chinese Google blogs within Blogger and use a third
Danny: Has anyone said they want to use a different blogging platform?
Karen: I don’t think that’s ever come up. Googlers with their own
individual blogs can use whatever they want [Matt Cutts uses WordPress, for
example]. But we want to showcase Blogger as much as we can.
Danny: How about the Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin
blogging, or Google CEO Eric Schmidt?
Karen: The big three? I don’t know. They’re so busy. We’d certainly
accommodate if they wanted to. They do, however, appreciate our blogs. I think they appreciate the
"direct to you" approach. I’ve worked with
them on a few of the posts that are essentially statements. These are a nice
way to state our position so that reporters can work from it directly. It also becomes
our standing statement on something. That’s been nice for us in a few
instances where we’d never put out a press release.
The Google bombing
phenomena is an example of this. I think it was almost two years ago, we
put out an
explanation of what this thing was. That has had huge legs in the
blogosphere. People have pointed to it, linked to it and said "Here’s the
definitive statement on this thing."
Danny: What’s are the most popular posts you’ve done?
Karen: Anything to do with Google Earth and Google Book Search has a
lot of readers. And our funny bits on the main Google Blog, like the
explanation about the Valentine’s Day doodle or
pounds of Silly Putty.
NOTE: Karen has since sent me this comprehensive list:
Strawberries are red, stems are green, Feb. 14, 2007: 226,131 pageviews
[Official Google Blog]
Pré-visualização da Reestilização: Simplicidade Fiel, Aug. 24, 2007:
117,507 pageviews [Orkut Blog]
An Update on Google Video Feedback, Aug. 20, 2007: 111,967 pageviews
[Official Google Blog]
Build your own Google homepage, Feb. 13, 2005: 103,701 pageviews
[Official Google Blog]
Doing the Shuffle, June 22, 2007: 80,811 pageviews [Google Reader Blog]
Go (Reader) Gadget, April 6, 2007: 72,252 pageviews [Google Reader Blog]
Discover your links, Feb. 5, 2007: 62,985 pageviews [Google Webmaster
A quick word about Googlebombs, Jan. 25, 2007: 62,640 pageviews [Google
Webmaster Central Blog]
Google Earth, Sept. 14, 2006: 61,953 pageviews [Google Japan Blog]
Breaking up isn’t hard to do, Dec. 18, 2006: 60,229 pageviews [Google
Speaking of Summer, Feb. 15, 2007: 35,652 pageviews [Google Code Blog]
Announcing Tesseract OCR: Aug. 30, 2006: 30,536 pageviews [Google
Google releases patches that enhance the manageability and reliability of
MySQL, April 23, 2007: 29,339 pageviews [Google Code Blog]
Introducing video units, Oct. 8, 2007: 17,197 pageviews [Inside AdSense]
- Get inline,
Aug. 21, 2007: 16,272 pageviews [Inside AdSense]
Looking for more about Google and blogging? Last year, Karen did an hour-long podcast on working on the
blog you’ll find
here. Also see 10
Google Feeds You Should Subscribe To on how to keep up on everything from
all Google blogs, if you want.