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Archive for May, 2005

View from third base

by henrycopeland
Tuesday, May 10th, 2005

Is there anything more exciting than watching 8-year-olds play baseball?

Bzzagent stung by own bzz

by henrycopeland
Monday, May 9th, 2005

Bzzagent, a company that pays folks to talk up clients’ products and services, offered pro bono to help the CreativeCommons get people excited and evangelize its cause.

The move backfired when bloggers and commenters flamed the move. Bzzagent’s boss called one of the angry blogger’s work a “vicious cycle of lies.” The CreativeCommons rescinded its decision to collaborate with Bzzagent. And the whole thing unwound online, in full public view.

The bitter Bzzagent honcho commented: “Let’s get this straight: Over 80% of word of mouth occurs OFFLINE. Blogs are a tool for word-of-mouth interaction, but just because there’s plenty of them out there, it doesn’t mean it’s the best place for distributing an honest opinion.” While that perspective is open to debate, there’s no mistaking the fact that in this case, 100% of the word-of-mouth that drove this undeal was online.

(Via Brain Clark.)


Two new mininets

by henrycopeland
Monday, May 9th, 2005

Republican women and
liberal blogs.

Happy customer

by henrycopeland
Monday, May 9th, 2005

Lauren Youngs at Bella Bead Design writes: “Blog Ads have made a world of difference for my Business. I tried Google Ad-sense for 4 months up to $3.50 a click and got nowhere. I got three sales the first day with blog ads and business just gets better all the time with lots of repeat business. Thank You blog ads-!!”

Business Week uncovered

by henrycopeland
Saturday, May 7th, 2005

Stephen Baker, one of the authors of last week’s bullish Business Week cover story on blogging, does the cluetrain thing and writes on BW’s blog, “It hurts to admit it, but Henry Copeland mounts an uncomfortably convincing case that a BW cover story can be a curse.”

Baker rightly notes that BW wasn’t making a market call in this cover issue. But he stands by his prediction that traditional media can dominate blogging: “what do you do if you’re a big media company that’s getting its lunch handed to it by smart, nimble blogging startups? My guess: You try to buy a passel of them.” Maybe. In fact, I know of cases in which bloggers were in negotiations to be “bought” by traditional media, but traditional media could’t match the latitude and revenues that blogging already provides in this early stage of its development. The publisher’s ability to pay was capped both by traditional journalistic pay scales (don’t want those print boys griping when a blogger works 6 hours a day at home and makes more than they do!) and multi-layered publishing overheads, which left not enough juice for all to stay hydrated.

Again, I’m a happy reader of Business Week. It’s extremely well written, concise and full of quotable factoids. It does a wonderful job of encapsulating yesterday and the current moment. I just don’t trust it’s look into the future. Though now that Stephen and Heather are blogging on their own outside of the editorial info-processor, maybe the foresight will improve.


by henrycopeland
Saturday, May 7th, 2005

I’m just off the plane sitting in the Courtyard Marriott enjoying free wifi & on my way to the opening party for blogNashville. It’s a gorgeous evening, 70 degrees and blue-green in the twilight.

I’m excited by the breadth of issues to be covered here, lots of topics — military blogging, faith-based blogging — that hasn’t been covered in bluer Bloggercons. The whole thing is shockingly well organized, with much of the weight carried, as far as I can tell by Robert Cox.

With Glenn Reynolds’ encouragement, I’m catalyzing a session tomorrow on blogonomics. Here’s a refresh of what I’ve written before about this session:

I hope this session works in extreme socratic mode. Everyone in the room will get called on to contribute both questions and answers. The stuff below is just a foundational list.

I’d like to situate the discussion between two poles. On the one side, Business Week says: “Mainstream media companies will master blogs as an advertising tool and take over vast commercial stretches of the blogosphere.” Are you looking forward to working for MSM?

On the other side, with MSM clearly collapsing — Tribune Circ rev down 9% in a year! — somebody intelligent BETTER step into the vacuum that will occur when the current media ecosystem finally (soon) collapses.

So, some categories of discussion:
— what are bloggers’ “unique selling propositions” in the info-economy? (Remember, MSNBC.com sells ad space for $0.10 CPMs!)
—- * passion
—–* networkness
—–* audience loyalty
—–* influentials audience
— what technologies/services currently enable bloggers to efficiently monatize their audiences?
—–* Blogads, Adsense, Pheedo, Pajamas
— are indie bloggers unsafe for advertisers… or safer?
— what is the current/potential role for publishers (traditional or newmedia) versus indies in the economics of blogging?
—–* NYT, Salon, Slate, BusinessWeek
—–* Gawker, MarketingVox, PaidContent, WeblogsInc, Corante, GrassrootsMedia, HuffingtonPost, Pajamas
— what new technologies/services might help indie-bloggers monatize their audiences?
— how many bloggers will earn a living from blogging in 5 years?
— do bloggers compete with each other for ad$?
— unless anyone vehemently disagrees, I’m going to leave discussion of “getting hired to do blogging as PR for a company” for another session. Many people will make a good living doing this in coming years, but I think that career path is pretty clear, so would like to focus on murkier/bigger stuff.

t-shirts and the subversive future of online fashion (and marketing?)

by henrycopeland
Friday, May 6th, 2005

Over the last year, we’ve had a lot of fun watching the T-shirt vendors use blogads to peddle their wares. Now the WSJ

It turns out the T-shirt is a perfect fit for online commerce. It captures the Web’s renegade allure and allows surfers to show off their virtual journeys. Easy to make and deliver, T-shirts often cost $15 or less online.

More than 1,500 Web sites now sell T-shirts, says Rodney Blackwell, a Sacramento, Calif., entrepreneur who runs several Web sites. Mr. Blackwell, who began cataloguing the number of sites offering T-shirts in early 2004 for one of his Web properties, tracked just 500 such sites last year before the market exploded.

Here are some examples of their craft. Nothing but tarted up rags? Nope, t-shirts are a symptom of an important trend. After a hundred years of mass market clothing (produced by giant factories, marketed by giant companies via giant media) the web is enabling new levels of personalization, self-expression and niche identity. I think some of these t-shirt companies are going to become major players in clothing, slowly expanding and leveraging their knowledge of this new social and commercial modality. And I think that we’ll see other manufacturers realize that the need to personalize/nichify their products too. Here’s an extension of this argument, a thought experiment about how blogging and niche commerce will cross-pollinate:

Great blogs inspire strong group identities. These groups see the world through a certain set of eyeglasses. They speak in certain codes and fixate on certain issues.

So ads ideally show the advertiser (and the product buyer) to be one of “us” rather than one of “them.” Show some friendliness towards a blog’s sensibilies and two good things can happen. Readers click AND clickers have positive disposition as they engage your offer.

Here’s a thought experiment that pushes this strategy to its logical (and profitable?) extreme.

Every marketer dreams of having a product that appeals to everyone; but most of us would be very happy to sell to 20% of a given marketplace. Consider, for example, Volvo, which sells roughly 100,000 cars a year in the US. What if, rather than simply observing that Volvo drivers tend to be Democrats (65/35), Volvo sought to align itself as THE itself Democratic light vehicle of choice by running ads exclusively in Democratic venues and discounting Volvos to key Democrats?

If a Volvo became an identity badge for Democrats, Volvo might lose 35,000 yearly sales to Republicans, but how many sales, out of the total US sales of 17 million a year, might be gained?

Of course, this is untenable for two reasons. Volvo is owned by Ford and Ford seeks to appeal to Republicans too. And Ford Inc has Republican shareholders.

But what an established, publicly traded company like Ford can’t do, a privately owned upstart with a clean-slate brand CAN.

Consider the success of Ben & Jerry’s. Heck, if frozen milk can tap into a political sensibility to grow a brand, anything can. Ben and Jerry were happy to forgo ambitions for a certain large market segment, the apolitical ice-cream consumers they could never realistically win anyway, to absolutely own another segment that was reachable.

Betatesting Blogads 3.0 functionality

by henrycopeland
Wednesday, May 4th, 2005

Some folks have asked why bloggers would put in the effort to create and manage the nano-networks (links: 1, 2, 3, 4) you’ve seen sprouting this spring. You know… the NYC, Philly, TV, North Carolina, Economists, LA, food bloggers, New England arts, Evangalicals, baseball, gay, and sports networks. (Still waiting for someone to step up to the plate for conservatives and liberals.)

Of course these networks provide the organizers the chance to help other bloggers; there’s some gratification in helping create and grow something; there’s the challenge of sorting through just who is who in the blogosphere; there’s the satisfaction of being the hub for a great bunch of writers.

In the future, there will be money too, though most of the public-spirited folks so far helping create these networks did not know this when they pitched in. How much and exactly what for? If you are a casual reader of this blog, hang in there while we beta test and work out details. If you are blogads geek, give me a shout and you can help advance the idea.

There’s obviously work beyond wires and programming involved in building a network, whether Blogads.com itself or the nano-networks we support. We’ve wanted to judge how much work and what kind. How to help bloggers organize themselves, how to sort out the great from the good from the bad, and how to encourage good citizens versus free riders. These are questions we chewed on while specing version 0.1 of Blogads three years ago. (Here’s the first evidence of Blogads.com I can find, from the Wayback machine from November 2002.) Now, after what feels like decades of working on the network and talking constantly with bloggers and advertisers, we have a better sense of what is at stake.

I’m not going to lay out all the details here yet. But you should note that, as a first step, we are closing the current, annoyingly inefficient application process for bloggers who want to sell blogads. There are simply too many bloggers queuing up to join the network. In theory, we could take everyone on board, but some bloggers might turn out to be nuts (bloggers are not exempt from the general population’s distribution of dementia), others require dozens of hours of support for $5 a month in revenues to us. We would be diverted from focusing on smart bloggers and their advertisers.

So we’ve relied on a rough and ready applications process. Though ugly, it worked for a while. Here’s what we learned: some bloggers have a snowball’s chance in the Sahara of interesting advertisers. Some didn’t manage to answer the five simple questions we posed. Some did, but fudged their traffic estimate by a factor of 100. Some were alone in niches that we know we won’t be able to serve well for months or years. And some, understandably, got angry when we didn’t respond to their entitled insistence that Blogads.com serve them. Worst of all, some great bloggers got lost in the cracks.

I apologize for the shortfalls in that approach. We didn’t like the application process, most of all, because it forced Blogads to be the gatekeepers in a culture that is all about organic connections. We’ve know all along that Blogads isn’t our network. To work, Blogads has to be a collaboration among bloggers. Smart bloggers have understood this and have had a tremendous positive impact on their own and everyone else’s revenues by pitching into our efforts.

So, going forward, bloggers will join blogads on the invitation of current network members, bloggers who, in essence, have helped beta test the Blogads idea and build the network. These “beta” bloggers will evaluate, invite and guide new blogads sellers. New bloggers (theta?) will pay 30% of ad prices to participate in the network, rather than the 20% fee charged current blogads sellers. A sponsor blogger, only a handful at first, will get 5% of her sponsored bloggers’ revenues while she remains a sponsor. Essentially, sponsor bloggers will be rewarded for doing some of the work traditionally performed in corporate publishing by both an editor and staff in the HR department. (To be clear, this means identifying, recruiting and acculturating stars, not managing!) Sponsors are doing work they are far better qualified to perform than we. (Once acculturated, new bloggers will be able to invite bloggers too.)

In the future, other portions of Blogads’ fee will go to other players who help manage networks or sell blogads. As a corporate entity, Blogads.com will net less in percentage terms when the dust settles. We trust the pie will be bigger.

Let’s call this distributed publishing, a lively human-and-Internet powered swarming response to the fat, mechanistic, rigid, hierarchical infrastructure of traditional publishing. (I’ve always had special glee in participating in a business whose gross profit margin is well below the 30% net profit margin of the traditional publishers it competes against. Lots more on this in my May ’02 essay on blogonomics.)

This program will be in beta for a while, working with a very small number of beta bloggers, some of whom are current network catalyzers. We’ll be tweaking the formulas, payouts and the processes. Once we’ve got this nailed down, we’ll roll out other interesting mechanisms as we impliment Blogads 3.0 this summer. If you are a journalist, file this all under the topic of “distributed publishing” for future reference.

Vespa cruises into blog publishing

by henrycopeland
Wednesday, May 4th, 2005

Vespa scooters, steered by Steve Rubel at Cooper Katz, is getting into the publishing game by hiring four bloggers to drive two blogs.

One blog will celebrate the urban mobile lifestyle. It will include articles, tips, tricks and links on the latest tools that help individuals get around any city more quickly, easily and enjoyably. The blog will feature posts about Vespa scooters, with the aim of appealing to a broader audience – those who crave mobile gadgets. Content might include: how to get real-time traffic alerts on your cell phone; how to learn Spanish while commuting; how to prevent your gadgets from getting wet; Web sites that help you get around by subway more easily; gadgets for staying cool while commuting in the summertime; etc.

The other blog will focus on the journey we call life. It will help readers learn how to get from point A in their lives to point B, both literally and more “existentially.” Content might include: tips, tricks and links on weight loss; saving money; getting errands done faster; how to triumph over stress; or how and where to travel with your pet; etc. Like the other blog, this Vespa blog will also occasionally put the Vespa scooter in the context of larger lifestyle topics.

It’s an audacious move for a PR agency and scooter company. Yet another pirhana chewing on the publishing wildebeast. Not only are traditional publishers up against millions of bloggers and hundreds of entrepreneurs… now scooter makers are doing it too.

Comet strike

by henrycopeland
Wednesday, May 4th, 2005

The torrent of stories — journalists bemoaning the collapse of their profession and pundits jimmying the cracks in traditional corporate hierarchies and law jobs being outsourced to India for $65 an hour — are more evidence of the coming End of (Industrial) Times.

Major industries have evolved in parallel in the four hundred years since Gutenberg allowed the mass production of words and the Industrial Revolution allowed the mass production of objects. The confluence of publishing and manufacturing created a third industry — advertising. These industries are all, together, part of a giant ecosystem, jammed with interlocking processes, hyper-speciated job descriptions, complex food chains. It’s an organic whole, an industrial and sociological Gaia. I see it every day — braindead ads produced by blind and deaf industrial-age hierarchies serving clueless companies. They muddle along, doing OK by their own metrics, without glimpsing the startling new dimensions and rainbows around them.

The Internet is a comet strike into the lush eco-sphere that grew from the seeds planted by Gutenburg and
Watt and Arkwright. The temperature has dropped. There’s less oxygen. No big food. Can you say mass coextinctions?

(Long live the ants and their humble constructions.)

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