TCS Daily


Blogger Buzz-Kill?

By Glenn Harlan Reynolds - February 21, 2006 12:00 AM

For blogs, it is the best of times, and the worst of times -- depending on who you listen to. British business writer Tim Montgomerie is praising blogs for their "diverse wisdom:"

"All over the world bloggers have toppled leading politicians and journalists. Businesses are the latest targets of their campaigns. Disgruntled customers know that a rubbish reply from a plc's customer relations department is no longer the end of the road. They can start up a free weblog to highlight experience of a shoddy product or poor service. If that experience strikes a chord, hundreds of other disempowered customers are only a Google search away.

"The empowerment of the little guy is one of the most powerful and most democratic benefits of the internet age. The trade press is no longer the authority on the quality of a product. Conversation about politics is no longer monopolised by politicians and journalists who lunch together. The cosy and complacent relationships between big media on one hand, and big business and big politics and the other, are coming to an end."

Clay Shirky, meanwhile, wonders if blogs are becoming too commercially successful, rendering the old model of the lone blogger obsolete:

"Of the top 10 Technorati-measured blogs, (Disclosure: I am an advisor to Technorati), all but one of them are either run by more than one poster, or generate revenue from ads or subscriptions. (The exception is PostSecret, whose revenue comes from book sales, not directly from running the site.) Four of the top five and five of the ten are both group and commercial efforts -- BoingBoing, Engadget, Kos, Huffington Post, and Gizmodo.

"Groups have wider inputs and outputs than individuals -- the staff of BoingBoing or Engadget can review more potential material, from a wider range of possibilities, and post more frequently, than can any individual. Indeed, the only two of those ten blogs operating in the classic "Individual Outlet" mode are at #9 and 10 -- Michelle Malkin and Glenn Reynolds, respectively."

Well, my blog is nearly five years old, an eternity in Internet time. No wonder I'm practically a dinosaur! Shirky continues: "In February of 2009, I expect far more than the Top 10 to be dominated by professional, group efforts. The most popular blogs are no longer quirky or idiosyncratic individual voices; hard work by committed groups beats individuals working in their spare time for generating and keeping an audience."

On the other hand, Daniel Gross, writing in Slate, thinks that blogs are doomed as commercial enterprises: "Every day, thousands of people around the world launch their blogs on LiveJournal or the Iranian equivalent. But as businesses, blogs may have peaked. There are troubling signs -- akin to the 1999 warnings about the Internet bubble -- that suggest blogs have just hit their top."

Of course, Gross uses Amazon.com as an example of an Internet "bubble" indicator, which seems a bit odd. I'd gladly swap my net worth, or Gross's, for Jeff Bezos'. And so would you, unless you're Bill Gates. It's like a reverse-Pyrrhus -- another such bubble, and we will all be rich.

So which is it? Are blogs too commercial, or not enough? Just taking off, or doomed?

The answer to these questions is probably "yes." Which suggests that they're the wrong questions.

I'm sure that the blogosphere of 2009 will be at least as different from the blogosphere of 2006 as today's is from that of 2003. But the real problem with these questions is something I've observed in numerous interviews with journalists -- the tendency to focus on the biggest, or the richest, or the most popular, as if that's the story. Sometimes it is, of course. But in today's more diverse media environment, and especially in the probably much more diverse environment of 2009, we'd be wise to pay more attention to what Chris Anderson calls the "Long Tail," the huge aggregate impact of the small-but-networked. He's got a book on the subject coming out, entitled, The Long Tail: The Radical New Shape of Culture and Commerce, but the argument is clear enough: The future won't be so much about the biggest or the richest or the most popular, but about the millions of niche-market entries prospering in their own fields.

Even if the biggest, richest, and most popular blogs are hugely successful financially -- and more importantly, even if they're not -- there will be millions of people out their generating and publishing their own content. Regardless of what happens, the vast majority will be doing it without being paid (they already are) and they'll be doing it because, as I noted last week, it's fun. Which is what should really worry the Big Media people, because it's something that doesn't change with the financial markets. From four years ago comes this advice: "Beware the people who are having fun competing with you!" Because it's hard to put them out of business, so long as it stays fun.

So the real threat to Big Media will persist even if Gross's (wishful?) forecast of a blog "bubble" comes true: It's the danger posed by a collection of amateurs who can do many of the things that only a select few used to be able to do. And the real story isn't whether some bloggers get rich -- though, obviously, I'm all in favor of that -- but whether those who used to be sheltered by high barriers to entry can manage to survive in a world where those barriers have largely vanished. So far, it's looking like a close-run thing.

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4 Comments

BLOG == is new fad and will die soon,
As internet user well remembered in 2000 Newyork times introducated one bog name ABUZZ, I WAS MEMEMBER OF THIS WEB, IDEA WAS VERY GOOD ONE MOST EMINIET INTELEGENT PEOPLE WERE PARCIPATED ON THIS PLATFORM BUT BY SOME TIME THIS PLATFORM GON TO RUT, MOST MEMBER LEFT ONLY RETIRED FELLOW REMAIN THEY QWERE SO BORING AND USELESS THAT THEY HAVE NO NEW IDEA SO LASTLY NYTIMES CLOSED IT.

Rumors of Imminent Death Greatly Exaggerated
Boring blogs will die, but few will care. Interesting blogs will grow because readers / commenters are interested and do care.

One could argue that the NYT blog died for the same reasons that the NYT is dying a slow death. People interested in liberal opinion and commentary may seek out the news pages of the NYT. Some may even seek out the NYT editorial pages for more rabid liberal opinion and commentary, or even for "Dowd-ification". However, those looking for news will go elsewhere, because they will have trouble finding NEWS in the NYT.

Another interesting development
Another interesting development is the rise of News Aggregators like News Bump, which seem to be the next round of news innovation.

Another interesting development with link
Sorry, link didn't work. Should have been.

Another interesting development is the rise of News Aggregators like http://www.newsbump.net, which seem to be the next round of news innovation.

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