Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

Blogging again

I think I might have just taken my longest sabbatical from blogging for Squash.

Like many bloggers who also run businesses you inevitably just eventually run out of time and energy especially when your in development/creation stage and you really need to give all your concentration and creativity to your project. I’ve been heads down in that stage with MediaConnect for what seems like an agee but just starting to come up for air again now and looking to turn our attention to biz dev and marketing again.

Which will give me an excuse to start blogging with a bit of regularity again. :-)

I do miss the thought process that blogging prompts me to engage in. To think broadly and analytically. But I tend to lose focus when I blog as my thoughts and attention wonder all over the blogosphere. It’s probably a good time for me now to get my head out of my work and see what else is around before I dive into a new round of development as well. Not exactly sure how long I’ll keep it up for but with the League season coming to an end and my side the Parramatta Eels on the verge of bowing out, I’m likely to have a bit more time again and a need to channel my writing somewhere.

Mind you, I have doubts I have any RSS subscribers left so not exactly sure who I’m talking to. If anyone is still out there say hi!

Filed under: Blogs

Now Duncan Riley’s blog is offline

So the Duncan Riley saga gets more mysterious…

Now duncanriley.com is off line. Upon clicking through to read Duncan’s post about him leaving, the page failed to load. No prob, I’ll check it out in the Google cache, I figured. Bugger me, if I couldn’t find it there either.

Duncan Riley has dissapeared off the face of the blogosphere. Has B5 DoS’ed him? Is he now blogger non grata?

I wrote a post not too long ago commenting how intriguing the B5 thing was. The fact that this enterprise could evolve without the main stakeholders in the business having ever met each other.

As best as I know, this Toronto trip that Duncan was on was the first time he’d met with his Canadian co-partners. I’m not sure if this means it’s just better not to meet or the way that this thing sprung up was just bound to spring leaks somewhere along the line.

Duncan attended MediaConnect’s most recent Forum, I had a great, long chat with him one night over a bunch of beers. I’ll be very interested to see how much more is said. Bloggers crap on about transparency incessantly but when push comes to shove and people’s reputations, businesses, careers and so forth are at issue, you’ll generally find everyone takes the legally safe route of wishing each other the best and making no further comment. When you don’t it tends to lead to lawyers getting involved. Is it a coincidence that Duncan’s blog is offline?

Filed under: Blogs

Blog networks – Worth the money?

UPDATE: Squash feedback suggests a $10 mil valuation is pretty unlikely and $4 to 5 mil is probably more realistic.

So 2 mill for the B5 boys and girl?

Unfortunately, that figure would be much more useful if Rick Segal of JLA Ventures let us in on the stake they and BrightSpark got for their pound of flesh. But with those nice round figures lets take a punt and guestimate a valuation around the $10 mill mark, which would pretty smart multiples for a business model that the jury is still out on…

I go back and forth on blog networks. I do believe blogs have a lot of evolving to do and will become more complex and richer and gradually incorporate more social media functions and value-added functionality and so aggregating the technical function is going to be useful. Probably more importantly, Blog networks can also invest properly in SEO which is something your independents struggle to have the time or resources to do and its this that in many cases makes or breaks a blog.

The issue I question with blog networks is the margin-factor. B5 blog guru Darren Rowse reckons it takes a year to put a blog on the map. That’s got to mean your looking for a 2-year turn around before you get a positive return on each new blog you’ve invested in. You then have to hope that a) your blogger hasn’t run out of steam b) they haven’t got so successful that it now makes sense for them to go out on their own.

You hear increasngly around the traps of blog and podcast networks who are locking their talent into really, tough contracts – ‘we own you mofo’ – and with these kind of economics vs risk you can see why.

B5 have said the money will help them put on a VP of sales and I hope they get a good one. Coming from a media background, its impossible to understate how important it is to have an effective sales function and its no difference with blog networks. Problem is this kind of talent ain’t cheap. That’s going to hit your margins too….

Rick also riffed a bit about Doc Searl’s Intent economy. Not sure if I buy it. B5’s biggest traffic generators by far are its celebrity blogs, which don’t exactly fit this model. If I see a future in blog networks, I think its probably going to have to do a lot with reader profiling. As a single-site publisher I may not be able to build up enough of a profile on you to do some serious ad targetting but if I publish a couple of hundred blogs and you might visit 5 of them I can then start to develop a pretty neat profile…

Filed under: Blogs

The Oscillating Hype Cycle (plus the world’s shabbiest attempt at a graph)

My favourite anal-ist material of all time is the Gartner Hype Cycle. In my not-so-humble opinion, it very much reflects the 'hype cycle' that most big technology trends go trough.

It looks like this:

Basically, as a significant technology breaks through it will pick up momentum and it reaches the peak of its buzz stage. Then the doomsayers step in and tear down the tech for not living up to unrealistic expectations. Slowly as the technology matures it takes a gradual rise back up in terms of visibility as successful case studies emerge and eventually it plateaus out.

So I was looking at this and I was wondering where both blogs and Web 2.0 fit onto this graph. And it struck me that it's not so simple to plot. Were this two years ago, I'd have said both blogs and Web 2.0 were at the top of the hype cycle. Both Web 2.0 and blogs have made cover stories in major mainstream magazines and that's generally a pretty good indicator of having reached that "peak of inflated expectations".

And you'd probably also be able to argue, as I have in recent posts, that we're notwstarting back down the slope. I'm not the only one who's saying things have gone flat and certainly the increase in Web 2.0 "snark" has been well-and-truly recognised.

However, you probably could have made similiar arguments a number of times along the way to the point we're at now. There's been big bursts of publicity and interest in both blogging and Web 2.0, followed by a pretty serious backlash in the blogosphere.

So, what I'll posit is that the blogosphere actually changes the shape of the Gartner Hype Cycle some what. In mainstream media, we pretty much all tend to jump on the same boat. You'll tend to note that it's generally all one way or the other as the media both shapes and reflects public opinion in a self-perpetuating snowball.

However, the blogosphere is different. The diversity of voices mean you get a lot more positive vs negative. So as a technology rises and falls you'll get a constant to-ing and fro-ing of champions and critics and therefore in its early days the hype graph will oscillate quite dramatically (and yes, I know this is the world's lamest attempt at a graphic but hopefully it gets across the picture).

I'm not quite sure what impact this has. Perhaps the trough doesn't go so deep because a lot of the negatives have already come to the surface along the way and may even get addressed before we go into freefall.

But it does change communications models somewhat. It also does make it hard to look at data and say is this a mini-spike or mini-trough or are we actually heaving over the peak and down towards the trough? My last post regarding the tech blogosphere peaking. If indeed what I was claiming to observe was really there, was it just a small dip or has the peak indeed been reached as was originally hypothesised.

I dunno, but I think it's good food for thought.

Filed under: Blogs, Web 2.0

Tech Blogosphere has peaked

The tech blogosphere has peaked. Definitively. It's reached it's nadir and I'm afraid it's nothing but downhill from here, baby.

You might have noticed that Gabe launched his memeorandum engine into another vertical yesterday – baseball. The reality is, he had to. Since Christmas, tech.memeorandum has been trending downwards. It hasn't been a plummet or anything, but there's a very definite gradual decline there. In March, that decline got a little bit steeper and a little more consistent. And it wasn't just memeorandum, Tailrank pretty much mimicked the traffic flow as well.

Now maybe it's the memetracker category hitting a flat spot. But I think tech.memeorandum in particular has been the barometer for the tech blogging community for a long time now, so it's now an unreasonable suggestion to declare that what's good, or should we say not so good, for the gander or also bad news for the goose.

I hardly blogged over the last couple of days. Fact is, I rely on memeorandum to keep me up to date with what's hot in the blogosphere. Unashamedly, memeorandum is my muse. This week, memeorandum has been my valium.

I think it was last Friday, when I started to notice the rot. The top memeorandum post was about Yahoo! and China (blah, heard it all before) followed the next day by the Scoble vs Amazon CTO dust-up (blogosphere = geek celebrity tabloid). Next up we had the joy that was April Fool's day where those self-indulgent rib ticklers just seemed to go on and on and on. That was displaced by the New York Time's "radical" front page redesign where, wait for, they've discovered RSS and today I'm staring at some story about nasty ads that have GM's nickers in a knot (ok, this one is a little bit interesting).

All in all, dross. Where's the disruption? What happened to the revolution?

Here's a question: When was the last time you found a really, great new voice. Who's the hot new blogger? Late last year/earlier this year, there was a pretty significant influx of new bloggers into the game and personally I think we'll look back and say that was the tech blogosphere's golden age.

About that time, anybody in tech who was ever likely to start a blog did. Let's face it, you need to be a certain type of person to blog. You need to be something of a workaholic because good blogging takes time and anyone who's any good should have a pretty full plate anyhow; you need to be able to string a few sentences together; you need to have a raging ego and you need to have a head for ideas. If you're one of those people, you've almost certainly already started to blog.

Now, there's a pretty fair chance that you've either considered giving up the blog or you're blogging less. Let me as an old Dead Tree 1.0 dinosaur give the Web 2.0 folk a quick editorial lesson.

When I was an editor, two years was always as long as I felt I could give a job. After two years you find yourself recycling the same old stories, writing the same old opinion pieces, producing covers that looked like something else you did last year. I like to live under the delusion that I could find an angle on a flag pole but at that two year mark, I run dry. Actually, I reckon you start to run dry after 12 months but you can probably hang on for another year with selective recycling.

A lot of your more interesting bloggers will be hitting that point now. They'll be writing something thinking 'god, this sounds like that other post I did about…' On top of that, their families might be starting to tire of the old, 'As soon as I've finished this blog post' routine and then there's the kicker – Web 2.0 itself is getting stale.

Turn over to TechCrunch and tell me how many of the new launches are really inspiring or new. Mostly they're tweaks on the same old ideas – social networking, search, photo sharing, news aggregators, etc. I never thought I'd say this, but I'm missing the Web 2.0 ballyhoo!

So begins a slippery slope. The tech blogosphere gets progressively more boring so less people are inspired to blog which begets more ennui and so on. I'm not suggesting for a moment that it's dead or anything, just that it's plateued. Those of us who are still blogging are probably doing it because we've discovered a positive ROI on it and we'll likely keep doing it. However, I don't see where the next rocket is coming from that's going to start a new wave of smart people blogging about tech. Web 3.0 anyone?

Filed under: Blogs

April Fools – literally

OMG, I've now seen once and for all why the blogosphere is evil.

April 1st, 2006 was either the day the blogosphere killed April Fool's Day or it was the day that April Fool's Day killed the blogosphre.  Either way, the carnage wasn't pretty to watch.

Was it me or did every single blog in the universe just take advantage of the fact that now that any one can publish it means that we all have the means and wherewithall to prove just how not funny and unimaginative we are. Ho Ha He. Squash has quit our job and is now working for the opposition. Ha de Ha. I think my sides just split.

Filed under: Blogs

Not Blogging (otherwise known as nogging)

Stuart Kennedy is the technology editor of The Australian, a national here newspaper down under. I thought I'd link to Stuart's mirthful recent column Nogging to say, and we meme it if for no other reason than just to make his nog part of the "great online conversation". It's cool, hey?

Filed under: Blogs, Piss take

Blogs on steroids

For some time now, I've pushed the barrow that for blogs to take that next step, where they can perhaps evolve into sustainable, self-funding publishing vendors, the blog platforms must first evolve to enable blogs to provide readers with richer, deeper experiences.

That's finally starting to happen. Over the last 24 hours or so, WordPress.com have released their Widgets plug-in out into the wild and now TypePad have launched their own Widgets offering.

That leaves Google as the odd-man out with Blogger. What we'd really like to see is for Google to allow Blogger users to snap in the same widgets that can be plugged into the Google personalised Homepage.

While the simplicity and ease-of-use of blogs are their greatest asset, it is also their biggest flaw. Let's face it, right now there is only so much you can do with a blog. To build a deeper, more involved website you still need to piece something together in a content management system or invest a bunch into developing a custom blog platform.

Why is this important? Because every publisher, from the global empires to your tiny blogger-come-media-magnate-wannabe needs a certain level of repeatable consistent traffic to sustain it.

Most blogs traffic patterns look like rollercoasters. They make spike when a story gets picked up in the blogosphere and linked to but then just as quickly it can fall back to near zero a couple of days later. That undermimes every rule of publishing which is based on being able to spend x amount on content to satisfy y number of readers who will be the basis on which to generate $z of revenue.

The peaks and troughs traffic model just can't be sustained. Even on purely a human capital basis, every blogger has to do deal with the reality that the post you've just spend hours lovingly crafting may end up being read by basically nobody. I don't care who you are or why you're blogging at some point you're going to say, I've got better things to do with my precious time.

Blogs need something more, something to convince at least your most loyal readers that they should drop by at least every couple of days to keep track of what's going on. These something more need to be low maintenance, because the one thing almost bloggers struggle with is their time.

I mentioned last week, Google Reader's ability to let users create their own RSS feed by simply tagging their favourite stories. That kind of thing is fantastic. Anything that enables a blogger to extend what is essentially their "brand"; ie their authority, expertise, contacts will assist blogs in increasing reader loyalty and building a more consistent traffic flow.

The other thing I think you're going to see is blogs becoming far more than just a blogging platform. We've already seen services like Edgeio that push the boundaries of how you can use blogs and I'm certain that we'll see more of that as information increasingly moves out to the edge. Some of the commerce widgets in the new TypePad offering are a fantastic example of this. Read my blog and while you're there, buy my eBay item!

As a point of disclosure, the company I've mentioned that I've been working with recently is about to launch a service that turns your blog into an application vehicle. We're pretty excited about its potential to really extend the way that people use blogs but more on that as we get ready to launch the beta.

P.S. If this sounds like a cool idea to you and you think you can help us by running an educated eye over the pre-beta gear send me an email at philipsim at gmail.com.

Filed under: Blogs

Power up the blog

My pet subject of native blogs vs RSS has picked up a bit of momentum lately with these posts from Jeanne Sessum, Shelley Powers and Euan Semple, among others.

As much as I agree with Jeanne and have expressed similar thoughts, I guess in the end, all bloggers have to take responsibility for ramping up their blogs so that they have more inherent value so people feel inclined to visit the site rather than just sifting through an RSS feed.
One very potentially valuable service for doing this is the new functionality that has been added to Google Reader. Google Reader now lets you tag or star your various posts that you read via RSS and then, and here’s the good part, let’s share those posts via a personalised RSS feed.

A lot of blogs try to add value by providing some quick links to things they found of interest, well if you plug this RSS feed or paste the required code into you blog, you can do that as simply as clicking on a star as you read the post.

Of course, the irony there, is you have to be reading the blog in the Google RSS reader, which kinda is against what we’re trying to achieve here. It’d be nice to have a bookmarklet so you can do the same thing but from within the post itself.

I got very excited about this prospect and I tried to use the new WordPress.com widgets to do it. However, the RSS widgets didn’t seem to work properly with this Google Reader feed and I didn’t seem to have any luck pasting the javascript code into a text widget.

This issue has frustrated me for the last couple of weeks. The startup I’ve mentioned I’ve been working with will in the next fortnight release a new service aimed at enabling you to power-up your blogs, myspace’s, e-mails and homepages. However, the service keeps striking problems because WordPress, Google Page Creator, Hotmail and others strip out the code that would enable you to do the neat tricks we’re trying to achieve.

In this Web 2.0 world of mashups, badges and so forth, it seems nuts that these kinds of services limit the code that you can copy into them. I have no doubt that over the next year, companies will keep piling on the functionality that enable you to do more and more with your blog if only their innovations aren’t thwarted at the point of publish.

Filed under: Blogs

The little post that could…

On the weekend, I posted a little tiny post about the new theme I just adopted. I was absolutely blown away when I logged in on Sunday to find that it was about #6 in the top WordPress.com posts at that time.

I sat there scratching my head trying to work out why? It didn’t have a sensationalized headline. It didn’t have any insightful commentary. It didn’t get linked by anyone. Then as I read the comments it struck me that the only thing it did do was convert my RSS audience into web traffic. As it was about something that you had to actually see on the site, rather than just being able to glean from your RSS reader, a whole bunch of people actually bothered to click on the link to visit the actual blog, rather than the virtual version.

Since I went through blog burn-out a little while ago, I’ve taken the advice of people like Matthew Ingram and Paul Montgomery and I’ve been paying far less attention to traffic. If I needed a reminder that blog traffic is relatively meaningless than this was it. Fact is, as much as Feedburner and so forth can tell you how many RSS subscribers you’ve got, the reality is if you’ve got full feeds you’re never going to know how many people read each post.

It also made me realise just how much traffic RSS feeds steal from websites!

Now, I don’t care. I blog because I’m trying to get my ideas out there so its of little concern to me if people read in RSS or on the blog (my dislike of RSS for that reason is purely philosophical not functional). But try telling a publisher that they can publish full feeds and not only cannibalise their web traffic but also lose control of knowing which of their readers are reading what.

They’re just gonna love that.

Filed under: Blogs

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