On March 31, 2007, The Electronic Design Automation (EDA) Industry took one small step for a vendor, and one giant leap for the industry, as Synopsys published the first EDA vendor-sponsored blog called Magic Blue Smoke. Whimsically named after the mysterious blue smoke that emerges from a failing integrated circuit, the blog was designed to cover an ultra-niche topic — low power ASIC design.
The move was unprecedented because for the first time, an employee could publish content to the corporate website without being hamstrung by the least-common-denominator wisdom of a committee. Even more impressive was that the blogger was chosen from the applications engineering ranks, as opposed to a marcomm seat-warmer who couldn’t tell the difference between an electron and an electric blanket. And since he works side-by-side with Synopsys users, helping them tapeout their multi-million transistor chips, Godwin Maben was the perfect choice to write this blog.
His first post was published with little fanfare. Entitled Vt Cells Spacing Requirements, Godwin adopted an academic approach to his writing, one that he’s continued through today. 72 weeks, 44 blog posts, and 101 comments later, Godwin has become a very popular figure within the low power ASIC design community. How do I know this? Well, under full disclosure, I used to work for Synopsys. In 2006, I convinced the VP of Marketing to bring New Media to Synopsys. Between February 2007 and May 2008, I was Synopsys’s New Media Evangelist and Godwin’s blogging coach.
Over the past 72 weeks, Synopsys has quietly added seven more blogs to its stable. Together, they’ve produced 227 posts and gathered 260 comments.
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I first heard of Tom Diederich on March 21, 2008 through a Web Strategy by Jeremiah post that announced him as Cadence Design Systems‘ new Social Media/Web Community Manager. I remember looking at the calendar and immediately firing off an email to upper management letting them know that the clock was now running. Synopsys had just about a one-year head-start on Cadence in the Social Media space and it was going to be interesting to see how Tom and Cadence would approach the task.
On July 14th, just five short weeks ago, Cadence became the second EDA vendor to adopt New Media technologies. And they did it in true Cadence fashion — in a BIG way. Instead of playing it safe and dipping a toe into the water, Cadence cannonballed off the diving board, splashing their new community all over the front page of their newly designed website — a virtual “Shock and Awe” campaign for electrical engineers!
To be fair, when I first looked at the website, I was skeptical. It took me a while to grasp what Tom had orchestrated.
The Cadence Community consists of three parts: blogs, forums, and resources. The forums and the resources were easy enough for me to figure out, but I had a hard time getting my head around the blogs because of an interesting twist that was put on them.
Synopsys had chosen to match a blog with a blogger, such as Godwin and his Magic Blue Smoke. But Cadence did something a little differently. They charged 33 bloggers to write for 9 different categories. At first this looks crazy, but after a month, a pattern has developed and I can see the method to their madness.
A Cadence blogger writes a post on a subject that he or she is qualified to speak about. Before posting, the blogger tags that post with one of the 9 categories, thus ensuring that the blog post is filed appropriately. By using this system, Tom has created 43 individual RSS feeds for his customers to choose from (9 categories + 33 bloggers + 1 ‘all blogs’ feed) Therefore, if I only want information on Functional Verification, I subscribe to that category’s RSS feed. Or, if I want to just follow the writings of an old acquaintance (More disclosure, I used to work at Cadence too!), all I need to do is subscribe to Adam Sherer‘s feed. It took me a little while to figure out how to take advantage of this flexibility, but now that I understand it, I’ve setup my feeds accordingly.
Note: I do however recommend that Cadence create some example “use models” to help new users, who may not be as well versed in RSS, take advantage of this flexibility.
So, how is this new community working? Well, last week, Tom released a one month report card, letting us all know the answer. He says:
Since our July 14 launch – that is, in just 30 days — 6,534 people have registered, and they’ve contributed almost 1,000 posts. Pretty good!
Pretty good indeed based on some of the publicly available numbers that I’ve tracked from both companies websites. Let’s compare apples to apples.
I think that Tom has understated his progress:-)
In just five weeks, Cadence is producing blog content at a rate four times that of Synopsys. If Cadence’s blogging engine continues cranking out content at this rate, it’ll soon swamp the good work that Synopsys has been doing for almost a year and a half. Conservatively, even if they drop off a little as the enthusiasm wears off, they still have Synopsys beaten by sheer volume.
Of course, we can’t forget quality, which I believe Synopsys still has an edge with. Its strong 1.15 comment-to-post ratio demonstrates an active audience compared with Cadence’s 0.55. This lower than desired ratio may have some explanations though: 1) The Cadence blogs are only a month old and thus still building their audiences, 2) the bloggers are still finding their voice, or 3 (which is MY pet peeve) only registered members are allowed to leave comments! I don’t know the details, but I’m willing to bet that Tom fought for open comments and decided to lose the battle so that he could win the overall war:-)
I’m also expecting that the 33 bloggers will start stratify over time, as the long-term bloggers separate themselves from the crowd and rise to the top. A blog-by-blog analysis shows that of Cadence’s 33 listed bloggers, 7 have never written a post, 10 have only written one, and the highest number of posts from a single blogger is nine (might as well give an “attaboy” to Gerald “Jerry” Grzenia ). Management of these bloggers will greatly enhance the quality of the posts.
Lastly, although I’d like to compare the Synopsys Forums with the Cadence Forums, there’s really is no comparison. Launched at the same time as Godwin’s blog, the Synopsys forums continue to languish, as 259 registered users have only contributed 141 posts in 72 weeks, compared with Cadences 6500 registered users creating 1000 posts in the last 30 days. I gotta believe that the Synopsys User Community feels like General Custer at Little Big Horn.
I’m very excited that Cadence has raised the New Media bar in EDA. The more EDA vendors that jump into the mix, the better informed their mutual customers will be. Right now there are only two players in the game: Synopsys and Cadence. Are you listening Mentor Graphics or Magma?
Great job, Tom! It’ll be very interesting to see how, or if, Synopsys responds to your challenge.