Monday, May 9, 2005

Blogging in Circles: The Vanity of Media Blog Chatter Obscures Their Real Impact

The New York Times posted a feature article on weblogs highlighting Nick Denton's Gawker Media, a collection of popular consumer weblogs underpinned by common ad sales and infrastructure. The gist of this article and a complementary opinion piece by Adam Cohen in the Sunday Times is that increasingly weblog "moguls" find themselves playing by the same rules as other journalists and media outlets as they reach for broader audiences and try to aggregate readers for ad dollars. In short, weblogs are just another media outlet that can be tamed for revenues like any other channel, or left to run wild without intervention from title managers and monetized under the New Aggregation model by ad services operating independently of traditional media outlets. Neither the traditional publishing model for managing a stable of weblogs nor the independent model for weblogs is "right" or "wrong", just as a printing press can be used to publish propaganda or eternal truths. Weblogs are just a technology that some have figured out how to monetize effectively along with other leading content technologies. But the push my many in both consumer and business media to figure out weblogs seems to obscure the benefits of their simplicity and (when left to their own devices) lack of hype.

The importance of weblogs is not in the handful of relatively well-known titles that gain the lion's share of notoriety and visits - these are turning rapidly into just another form of commercial content that can be managed and monetized under familiar models and are increasingly just another set of over-hyped media outlets. Some in the non-hyped part of the weblog universe also succeed from a business standpoint: Rafat Ali's being a fine example of a subject matter expert who just goes about his business as a business-oriented publisher using weblogs as a technology vehicle quite adeptly and profitably. The real impact of weblogs is the ability for readers to pick and choose individual weblog titles for aggregation at their own whim, providing a level of loyalty and branding for content that's far more focused and personal than most publishers are used to providing on a title basis, more akin to an artist's fan base than a media outlet's loyal readership. Those are qualities that are a little harder to package for most publishers and difficult to balance for those who are trying to navigate the transition from authentic voices to media properties. Hopefully we can get past this frenzy phase of weblogs and get back to the real issues of managing content in a user-centric aggregation environment that are the real focus of today's most important challenges to publishing.
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