Friday, July 3, 2009

The Importance of Blogs

This is a post about how and why blogs will become an important foundation of genuine, participatory public discussion and how you, reader, can help lead the way. Basically, traffic-building strategies like search engine optimization (SEO), blog carnivals, trackback, and RSS/syndication align profit, informational value, and readership with low overhead and search costs. This means that anyone can blog, but only those who provide the most valuable information in the most easily accessible way will dominate in the long run. The "long" in long run dominance will be shortened by people like you reader as we develop more sophisticated interests in linking to blogs and, for you fellow bloggers, in learning how to build traffic.

A lot of server space is taken up by online articles, wiki-entries, and of course, blogs about the future of blogging and its role in society. One general consensus as I find it is that blogs are an unprecedented way for everyday people (not newscasters, public officials, or media stars) to have a public voice. For example, here is Technorati's stance and Scott Rosenburg's defense of bloggers against the apparently not-so-everyday journalist. Whether blogs are good for democracy is its own niche in the blogosphere and academia. There is the Habermasian Angle of free, open, and rational discussion ultimately reaching consensus and the information filtering argument in the spirit of John Stuart Mill. You should also read the blogs prompted by Arianna Huffington's debate on the issue for more complex positions. The jury will be out on this question and many others for a long time and will probably come back with mixed results like every other complex issue. However, when it comes to efficiently finding and consuming information, the blogosphere and internet as a whole has unmatched and probably unavoidable potential.

The first reason and lesson for readers, particularly you bloggers, is the fact that blogs run on traffic and traffic is created by content value. If you make valuable content, visitors will like you. If visitors like you they will come back. They will bring their friends by linking to you on their own blog, linking your blog on Facebook and MySpace, or the old fashioned word-of-mouth. This is the sage advice of bloggers' bloggers like Copyblogger and Steve Pavlina. As you may notice from the links, these are veterans' advice for turning a blog into a traffic and money-making hub. While not everyone cares about the money in blogging, those who dominate the field and their content niches do. If this is any indication of the future of blogging (and when has history not followed the money?), blogging will only create more high quality information, scale up on traffic, and become more commodified.

As an aside, the commodification of blogging opens up a whole other bag of worms that I will not get into now and that does pose some serious downsides, particularly over the medium run, and are likely to raise new questions and issues as it reshapes content on the internet.

The second dimension which both drives growth, quality content, and accessibility is the slew of traffic-building marketing tools currently used which link the traffic-quality base to integrating, content-driven marketing. Take Search Engine Optimizaiton (SEO), syndication, and blog carnivals for example.

SEO is the process of tailoring a website so that it is most easily found and visited from search engines. It can be such a technically intensive and profitable mode of traffic building that Google's own discussion revolves around hiring an SEO consultant. They do however provide a Starter's Guide (pdf). In total, SEO is a creater-side strategy which should aid search engines and reader heuristics (i.e. bookmarks, links on networking sites, feed following, etc.) to increase the overall information search efficiency among blogs. While it is not for everyone, it is but one efficiency tool.

Syndication increases visitors' ability to follow a blog's activity and return to the site and the same kind of starter information is also available. This may be one of the best ways to generate the medium term readership (those between one-time browsers and regular readers) which more fully tests a blog's content value. Additionally, social bookmarking sites like, which offer other forms of tracking, also offer another means for ranking and ordering blogs.

Lastly, blog carnivals are when a group of bloggers write posts on a certain topic and post them to a single site hosting the carnival. Not only does this provide a (rare) source of editing, they deepen personal, professional, and hyper-reference relationships between bloggers, expand readers' blog networks, and condense topical discussion to a much more localized venue.

These three tools exemplify the intrinsic link in blogging between growth, content quality, and accessibility in the realm of marketing a blog. First, these tools are cheap and accessible for those just beginning (unless you hire an SEO consultant and what self-respecting internet cowboy or cowgirl would?). Not only is it relatively easy to start a blog, but to market it. Second, these tools operate on the same logic of information organization as one of the most basic internet features: the hyperlink (I'll return to the awesomeness of this feature in another post (maybe)). Third, building hyper-reference networks through embedded images, hyperlinks, etc. transfers the status of linkers providing more cognitive and emotional meaning than any other dimension of a link. Lastly, each of these also makes the organization of information more efficient by matching content with entry point content like the text in hyperlinks or Google search results.

With the basic framework tied to traffic, content, and search efficiency; the last cornerstone is the basic economics of blogging - little overhead, low barriers to entry, and an unknown upper-limit on profits. There is little pre-startup selection meaning that everyone who wants a shot can get one. There is little natural selection, meaning that even if you're not successful, you can still do it without going broke. If you actually get the ball rolling on your blog, almost all of it is profit. Remember though that time is money and putting up a respectable blog takes a lot of it.

Lastly, how much money could be made in blogs is utterly unknown and new ways of turning readership into income are being invented everyday. (The ethics of monetizing blogs is also another major niche debate which I hope to address in another post. Lets just say for now that most strategies are at least annoying, but there are some methods that might benefit you, reader).

Blogging is an economic wild west and there's plenty of room for everyone right now to make some money and for some to potentially make an unimaginable figure based on high quality content and readership. In my opinion, the economic incentives are aligned to make blogging a crucial source for the public imagination, education, and discussion. We're not there yet and will not be there for probably another decade (in which time we'll figure out better ways to organize information on the internet, develop better-quality information, scale up blog production, and see more centralization of blog readership at the same time that readership grows exponentially).

The question and challenge for you reader is one, whether you care (and, if you've gotten this far, probably do); two, how can you do your part to help us all bring rule to this wild west; and three, to create the next generation of blogs. For those of us who are not full time bloggers or have hopes of being one, start tagging and linking to blogs you know and like. Put them in your RSS reader or Twitter them. Make it easier for others and yourself to find them. Also, as we all know you're good at, rain the criticism down. Make sure no bad content goes unpunished and no good content goes unmentioned. For those who are thinking of trying to live on blogging, I dare you to go beyond the achievements of the many great bloggers today, start finding the upper limit of readership and profit, and push. Since money, readership, and content are so intertwined in blogging, pushing the limits will open the doors to a bigger, better blogosphere; not immune to corruption, but subject to a much sharper "bend towards Justice."

1 comment:

emildizon said...

There are other ways like link exchange and subscribe to RSS Feed that are more crucial parts under SEO work.

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