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It's the End of the World As We Know It

Posted by editor on July 17, 2007 at 8:05 AM PDT

Blogs doom high-value online media. Or not.

A little diversion from the front page items today, one which gets at the very idea of the front page items. I'm looking at a little cognitive dissonance between two prominent reports that came across my browser recently (no, I don't do RSS; it's just never really suited me). Basically, one makes the case that in-depth articles are far more valuable than hastily-written blogs, while the other claims that the millions of blogs (and the Google ads that often keep them afloat) have depressed the online advertising market that keeps many of the article-driven sites afloat.

We'll start with Jakob Nielsen's Write Articles, Not Blog Postings. He says that to demonstrate leadership, build credibility and respect, and avoid commoditization, that you want to develop deep, value-added content, rather than taking the easier route of adding comments and pointers to content that already exists or is developing in the blogosphere.

In-depth content that takes much longer to create is beyond the abilities of the lesser experts. A thousand monkeys writing for 1,000 hours doesn't add up to Shakespeare. They'll actually create a thousand low-to-medium-quality postings that aren't integrated and that don't give readers a comprehensive understanding of the topic -- even if those readers suffer through all 1,000 blogs.

He also points out that with the massive number of blogs, even experts who write quality blog entries will get lost in the stack, and they'll frequently be outclassed by lesser semi-experts anyways. On the other hand, creating high-end content that only true experts could create offers far more value to the reader and to the host.

Buuuutttt... will anyone pay for it? Forbes notes how badly ad-supported content sites are doing, despite tech's current good times. Tech Boom, Media Bust starts off by noting that Red Herring faced a three-day eviction notice a few weeks back, and goes on to discuss falling ad revenue at other content-driven sites, with CNet and PC Magazine getting beat by blogs like GigaOm, TechCrunch and Valleywag.

So what does this matter to the reader? Fortunately, the site does not require (or accept) advertising, as it's supported by Sun, so we're not grasping for declining ad revenue. That lets us focus on quality content, ideally content that helps foster community and bring attention to the projects and activities on the site. The feature articles, podcasts, and blogs can focus on being good, and not feel the pressure to suit advertisers' goals. Of course, it's interesting to note that some of our bloggers effectively do write the kind of high-end piece that only an expert could write... and those of you doing so should e-mail me so we can pay you to write those as feature articles next time around.

It's also interesting that this discussion mirrors the results of a poll we did a few years back, asking What is your preferred source for learning about new products and projects?. Granted there is a self-selection bias here (an online poll will naturally tend towards answers that involve online activity), but the results still surprised people at O'Reilly that I've shown them to: after "formal online sources" (feature articles, white papers, etc.), the next most popular sources were "informal online sources" (blogs, forums, etc.). Books and magazines, represented as "formal offline sources", were a distant third. Lesson one that we drew from this was that online stomps offline. Lesson two, though, is that a significant number of people do find value in the informality (and sheer mass) of sources like blogs and forums. And this is something I'd like to understand better: are the people who like this kind of content thinking of the expert bloggers and sites with thoughtful article-length blogs (Ars Technica, Artima, etc.), or are they finding value in reading lots of shorter, pointer-and-comment blogs, and perhaps participating in the comments on those blogs?

There's value in getting the expert to go in depth. Is there also value in the online producer, copy-editor, and podcast producer? Or would you rather eliminate the production values and make everything be an article-length blog? Of course, you effectively vote with your mouse by choosing what you do and don't view or hear, and if you have more thoughts on how we can make more useful to you, please followup in the comments below...

Speaking of our bloggers, today's Weblogs section starts off with Kohsuke