Networking blogs

When Gawker media mogul Nick Denton announced he was selling two of his domains, speculation about the profitability of blogging hit the streets immediately. Friends jumped to his defense by saying he was doing necessary pruning of unprofitable wings of his multi-blog empire (Gawker, Wonkette, Fleshbot, etc.). Lost Remote asked “Is the blog bubble about to burst?” to which commenters responded in the affirmative.

Let me make something perfectly clear: Blog groups — such as those of Nick Denton or Jason Calacanis — were originated to carve out pieces of the mass media pie, and while they use the technology of blogging, the business play is textbook reach/frequency. Are they then blogs? Well, I believe that if you call yourself a blog, you are one, but I think the argument is irrelevant. The point is these networks are media companies, and they are competing with every mainstream outlet online. Nothing wrong with that.

But blogging — as in the personal media revolution — is much, much more than this, and it’s here where I part company with some of my colleagues and friends. Heather Green of Business Week gets it right when she writes that blogging isn’t about making money.

Sorry if I am repeating myself, but I remain convinced that the destabilizing nature of blogs (and personal media writ large) won’t be the creation of a group of huge new media companies (à la Gawker) that displace the traditional ones. The real power is how personal media fragments the mass market audience by turning readers, watchers, listeners, into writers and video and audio creators. Most of these folks won’t make money and it won’t matter.
Fellow Nashville (and beyond) blogger, Rex Hammock (himself a magazine publishing fellow), writes that Denton is just practicing good business, but that many observers are missing the point about blogging.
Bubbles, booms, busts, bears: these are financial terms that are confusing to me when misapplied to blogging and the adaptation of personal media. Blogging (except to a small universe of individuals who see everything in financial terms) is more a social or cultural phenomenon than a business and financial one. I certainly think personal media will have a tremendous financial impact and transform certain aspects of the way business is conducted, but even finding a “pure play” in the blog-arena is going to be a challenge for the lay investor (not the professional one), so how can there be a bubble in the classic sense?
Of course, the real problem for me, since I deal with real world media companies, is that they view the Gawker model as the “real” model for blogging and the other, generally, as a messy nuisance. It’s really not, because there are ways that local media companies can work WITH local bloggers to make money.

Networking local blogs is a win-win for everybody, because it creates clout that advertisers recognize and provides the money for bloggers to pay for their hosting, etc. But this type of network rises from the bottom instead of being organized from the top, and this is the source of its strength.

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