by Dana Blankenhorn
  Volume IX, No. XXI

This Week's Clue: Jerimoth Hill

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This Week's Clue: Jerimoth Hill
SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)
Best of the Week
The American Diaspora
ZDNet Open Source
Clued-in, Clueless

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For the Week of May 23, 2005

There was an interesting reaction to my piece last week, denial.

Many of the leaders in the blogging business read it, and all of them denied its inherent truth, namely that they had A Clue.

I'm not a business, insisted Jason Calacanis. Never mind that he has 65 blogs, a uniform look-and-feel, that his writers don't even get their pictures on their blogs and, when they leave, they leave with nothing. No, it's all about passion, he insists. We do this for love, he says. Business? We're not building one of those.

So it went.

I'm not a success, insisted Rafat Ali of Paidcontent. I'm not powerful, insisted Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos. I'm a dilletante, said Glenn Reynolds. I'm only here for the beer, said Dave Winer. I'm no one at all, said Pamela Jones of Groklaw.

Well these are early days although Moulitsas, to his credit, at least admits he's now a public figure, making him harder to libel. (I shall refrain here from testing that statement.) You don't want to encourage competitors, especially when you're still undercapitalized.

But I'm not going there. I think this is a Microsoft fear. Over the last decade Microsoft has steadily eaten its young, taking every successive new niche into the operating system, destroying the incentive to innovation Gates champions politically. (Virtualization is the latest example.)

As a result innovation has moved heavily into the open source space. But there's not as much money there. It's almost considered gauche in open source to try and charge for software, let alone claim a serious business model there. Yet this is where the venture capital is going. It's like the music business in the late 1960s, everyone claiming it's not about the money when it's all about the money.

Calacanis has another reason for concern. I question how well his business model can scale. His blogs are content, most with only short content threads attached. He can bring in a lot of writers, but none can earn more than the ads on their pages gather. And most items don't even jump to a second page.

If Jones or Moulitsas were interested in making money they easily could. They don't. Ali's PaidContent has just brought in its first employee, who appeared at Blognashville. Even a hash house is a bigger business.

In a way all these people are just at Jerimoth Hill. Don't know it? It's the highest point in Rhode Island, my mom's native state (where many of my own ancestors lie buried). It's all of 812 feet above sea level. My home in Atlanta, by contrast, is 1,003 feet above sea level (according to Google's Keyhole).

No one in the blogging business wants to be accused of being Yertle the Turtle, or Napoleon the Pig (from Animal Farm). We're all equal here. No one is more equal than others (yet). Not while our bankbooks show just three or four digit balances, and we're having to spend all our time just keeping our blogs operating.

This is indeed a problem. Even top bloggers are spending too much time in their businesses, not enough time on their businesses. I praise them because they have learned to please readers, or they have generated a lot of interaction. The next step, should any choose to take it, is to please advertisers, to define their blogs in terms of the link between buyer and seller of something.

Of the bloggers I've described Moulitsas comes closest to this ideal. He learned in the last year that he could deliver dollars to those he anointed. He could even keep candidates in the money race. What he, and all the other liberal bloggers failed to do last year, was simply win, baby. Older technologies - radio, direct mail, printing - brought out the winning margins in most races they targeted. So even in blogging's biggest niche there is much to learn.

As a result the way is open, right now, to publishers. The Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News are launching a version of MSN Spaces with the promise that the best entries might be published in local versions of the papers. I've got a gig at ZDNet, and I get paid to write about Open Source there. (I've learned a lot in the process.)

Publishers understand the need for income to exceed outgo, and they're not shy about admitting it. The owner of Lingeriedreams put this into perspective for me this weekend, a quote I'm certain will get Calacanis nodding his head: "I come at this from the webmaster/SEO perspective...where's the traffic? Where are the valuable clicks on AdSense? How can I put these two together and make money?"

I've said before, advertising is just one business model. I also question the need to fear publishers, whose instincts to avoid controversy and "vet" everything mean they can't handle blog-speed interactivity.

I will repeat one of my favorite sayings. The "In" in the word Internet is short for Intimate. Today's successful blogs create intimacy between writers and readers.

The next step is to create intimacy between buyers and sellers. That is the Denali of a scaled, successful blog business model.

And you already know where we are now.


Shameless Self-Promotion

I'm now helping to produce a special blog on Open Source for ZDNet.

I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am on the development team for EgoScout, a new kind of mediator for mobile phone users.

My last non-fiction book, "The Blankenhorn Effect" won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards. Write me for a PDF copy of my latest novel, "Baptists are for Dunking."

On my Mooreslore blog I've written a new novel, "The Chinese Century." It's a story told in real-time, with real characters, but entirely fictional, dealing with the consequences of the falling dollar. I'm beginning a sequal, "American Diaspora," exploring the themes of the first book but with more fictional characters. It's a true alternate history, but set in the present day.

You are encouraged to forward this newsletter widely. And if you have trouble subscribing let me know. Remember: it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...


Best of the Week

PARTI Hearty

Two decades ago I was part of new social movement called online conferencing.

A Publisher's Ethics

By and large publishers do not share journalism's ethical sense. Instead they apply business ethics.

The Times vs. Sullivan Boundary

To win at trial, public figures must show that a story about them showed "a reckless disregard for the truth" or that a lie was deliberate. This makes it very hard for public figures to win libel awards, although to this day some do.

Last Friend Gone

The U.S. is in the process of losing its last friends, the Brits. I'm not just talking here of recent elections, where Labour lost much of its majority specifically due to its support of the Iraq war. No, I'm talking about Malcolm Glazer.

Tragic End to Jones-O'Gara Feud

The feud between Maureen O'Gara of Linux Business Week (left) and Pamela Jones of Groklaw has ended with O'Gara's professional destruction.


The real secret (to Fox News) is much simpler. The "network" is actually a studio. Few bureaus, no big investigation team, no bench, little support. Who needs writers when most hosts can wing it. It's talking heads. It's radio economics. No, it's blog economics, or Blogonomics.

CNN Surrenders to Blogosphere

With local TV news no longer covering politics or policy, and with cable news now virtually ignoring it, what other conclusion can be drawn?

Is a Drug Danger Story Being Ignored?

The story is that some very common drugs have been implicated in sudden death from heart attack. The study was done at the Erasmus Medical College and published in Europe's leading journal on cardiology.


It was amazing to me how lost and alone I felt when I couldn't find a free spot around me.

Googlejuice, Googlejuice, Googlejuice

Googlejuice is that precious elixir which makes the difference between a site or blog that has tons of regular traffic, and those that don't. Getting Googlejuice, legitimately or not, is a real industry. It iranges from Search Engine Optimization to spamdexing.

The Real Difference Between Bloggging and Journalism

The real difference between blogging and journalism is on the business side, not the creative.

Dirty Little Secret: Glenn Reynolds Is OK

Reynolds, who teaches law at UT Knoxville and apparently enjoys it, also plays a right-wing crank on his Instapundit site.


The American Diaspora


Table of Contents

ZDNet Open Source

Is Open Source Nimble Enough?

Open Source Rising in Africa

How Do Open Source Enteprises Handle Security?

Open Source, Altruism and the Business Model Problem


Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is Markos Moulitsas who at least acknowledges his popular blog has made him a public figure. Most bloggers are reluctant to go that route.

Clueless is Fuad Kircaali. He has no idea how easily his business model can be corrupted by unpaid staff.


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