By the end of 2006, hardly anyone will read blogs anymore.
At my ad:tech panel earlier this month, I had a number of real blog luminaries, including Nick Denton, the brains behind Gawker Media. He pointed out the blog reader demographic is the archetypal wired guy: young, male, coastal, and tech/culturally sophisticated. And there it will stay. Denton's right, but only because the definition of "blog" is about to change. Interestingly, Denton's leading the charge.
The End of Blogs as We Know Them
In 1999, Phil Kaplan created a site that catalogs dot-com failures. At the time, it was frequently updated throughout the day (hey, a lot of companies were failing back then) and allowed readers to comment. The site has a clever name, which is unprintable in a nice, family-oriented online marketing journal like ClickZ. But you know which one I'm talking about.
I asked Kaplan what he thought about 2005's blog phenomenon. If he launched his site today, it would very clearly be called a blog. His response clarified the future of blogs for me in an instant. "In my day," he said "we called them Web sites."
A perfect reminder and a great thing to remember about blogs. A blog is simply a method of publishing content on the Web. Calling something a blog now is a focus on the technology used on the server, the content management solution. Of course, there's a significant culture that's grown around this particular technology, but that culture is bound to remain a subculture. Not because the number of people who are involved in blogging is going to shrink but rather because the number of people reading content published using Movable Type, Blogger, or any of the other tools is going to grow. Fast.
Growth: Syndication and Networks
The primary reason for this growth will come from the content being pushed into new spaces. I tend to agree with Denton; the demographic most likely to type in "www.wonkette.com" is that wired guy group. But as of last week, content from the Wonkette blog will begin to show up in Yahoo News. Content from the other blogs in Gawker's network will also show up, in appropriate places. Add to that deals recently cut by AOL with Weblogs, Inc. and Intelliseek to bring blog content into the normal fold, and we should expect significant traffic spikes for those blogs linked to popular news stories.
The other big growth driver will be the establishment of blog networks. Some of these are going to be loose, some more concrete. For example, Federated Media Publishing (FM Publishing) is a new venture that's bills itself as an "Indie Label for Blogs." It offers a series of marketing and technology services for high-quality blogs that help turn content streams into real businesses. The organization is sort of loose. FM Publishing blogs aren't necessarily connected (so far as the consumer is concerned) to another.
A more concrete network is the new Open Source Media (OSM), a collection of primarily political blogs that can all be found under one umbrella. Either way, the idea of consolidating the individual efforts of bloggers into a single organization clearly helps all participants. The collective is better able to leverage technology, as well as land new syndication deals or attract traffic. OSM, for example, may be able to bid on search keywords to attract traffic to its main site, then channel readers to different blogs, based on their interest.
Advertising on Blogs Will Get Easier
Officially, my ad:tech panel was about advertising on blogs. Clearly, as the best of the blogs begin to bubble up and become integrated with popular destinations, advertising on blogs will become easier and more reliable. Easier because a brand will be able to work with one of the networks to achieve the targeting and reach necessary to make the effort worthwhile. More reliable because the networks will evolve to offer sophisticated ad controls, such as measurement, dayparting, and frequency capping.
Next year the whole blog phenomenon will slowly fold back into the core of the Web. The fascinating thing, though, is the opening of the content floodgates. Certainly, Gawker's properties are written by professionals. But their inclusion into Yahoo News is part of a larger initiative by Yahoo to integrate what it calls social media into its offering. That's intriguing and exciting, as it represents a real new source of interesting content, narrative, and opinion.
You just won't call it a blog.
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Gary Stein is SVP, strategy and planning in iCrossing's San Francisco office. He has been working in marketing for more than a decade. Gary lives in San Francisco with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @garyst3in. The opinions expressed in Gary's columns are his alone.
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