blogging for dollars

Michael Arrington advises bloggers to turn down venture capital buyouts of their blogs. I don’t think hi advice – sound as it may be for the bloggers at his level – really has any bearing on blogs in the long tail, which is of course where most blogs (and Techcrunch readers) are. While I don’t have much comment on the dynamics of money and politics that he describes, the following did leap out at me as somewhat relevant to bloggers of more humble station:

When you stop seeing other blogs as people you admire and want to discuss things with, and start to see them as your competitor, your brain shifts and you stop linking the way you had previously.

Luckily, the newbie bloggers are there to fill in the links when they’re needed. That’s why, if you are a mid-level blogger, you are likely courted by the bigger blogs looking to get your support. If you know what’s going on and are willing to play the game, you can see your blog rise very, very quickly. Choose the wrong blog, though, and you may find yourself alone and lonely in your forgotten blog.

As an aside, when I see a young but promising blogger, I’ll start linking to him or her constantly to build them up (others, like Winer, Scoble, Jarvis and Rubel did that for me). The goal is to help move them up to a position of influence as quickly as possible.

The problem here is that even if every A and B list blogger were to pick a handful of blogs to promote, the result is simply vaulting those blogs into the B and C list. An ecosystem develops in which the top tier relies on the second tier as a filter for news, info, and blog topics, and the second tier relies on the third, etc. so that you have a constant filtration system going on. By the time the process completes, you have only homogenized news at the top tier (which is where the vast majority of blog readers spend their time).

There really is no way for a truly diverse churn of ideas to filter to the top because of this structure. What’s needed instead is for the long tail to become more self-organizing. One of the strongest tools in the toolbox are blog carnivals, which operate as a link exchange. I took the idea of a blog carnival further, actually, and launched a “real-time” carnival for the Muslim blogsphere called the Carnival of Brass. The point here is to use social bookmarking technology from to create a “badge” that adds new links constantly. I describe the idea in more detail in the Carnival of Brass FAQ and there is no reason that a similar system would not be effective in the techsphere, otakusphere, or any other niche blog community.

Ultimately, a newbie blogger (like yours truly) isn’t going to make it to the big leagues without an A list sponsor. And that solution doesn’t scale. Rather than chase after the A list traffic, and the big money at the top, the best route to blog success is to grow your audience from within your niche, mining the long tail for eyeballs. Slow and steady over a period of years will definitely bring results, and perhaps not a windfall valuation but certainly incrasing and steady income from ads and affiliate programs. That’s the reality for most of us, though watching the blog gods up on Olympus certainly makes for fine entertainment.

TechCrunch (hearts) Valleywag

Does Mike Arrington have a stake in Valleywag? At TechCrunch, Arrington issues a dire warning that Valleywag (a Silicon Valley gossip rag) will drive someone to suicide soon enough:

Today I read all the sordid details about the alleged sexual encounter between a notable technology visionary and a woman who appears to be looking for as much publicity as possible. Where did I read it? On the Silicon Valley gossip blog Valleywag.
A lot of people I know read Valleywag, and say it’s fun to hear all the gossip. But all of those people change their tune the first time the blog turns on them and includes them in a rumor. An example: TED founder Chris Anderson, distressed over the publication of the TED attendee list, recently wrote to Valleywag owner Nick Denton that he “didn’t think [he’d] be on the receiving end” of Valleywag gossip. His email was promptly posted to the site.

Most of the gossip is harmless. Much of it, though, isn’t (like the sex incident above). Celebrities have had to live with this kind of nonsense for decades, which explains why some of them pull out of society entirely and become completely anti-social. Perhaps, some argue, they bring it on themselves by seeking fame.

But for people in Silicon Valley, who are not celebrities and who have no desire other than to build a great startup, a post on Valleywag comes as a huge shock. Seeing your marriage woes, DUI or employment termination up on a popular public website (permanently indexed by search engines) is simply more than they can handle. They have not had the ramp up time to build resistance to the attacks.

The suggestion that web entrepreneurs are more emotionally fragile than Hollywood celebs is pretty weak. The reason for Valleywag’s success is not because Nick Denton is out to getcha. It’s because prominent Silicon Valley entrepreneurs – like Michael Arrington – keep reading Valleywag, sending them tips and gossip, and blogging about it.

Arrington goes on to observe the obvious, that tragedy is good business:

So how long will it be before Valleywag drives someone in our community to suicide? My fear is that it isn’t a matter of if it will happen, but when. Valleywag and Nick Denton, though, will likely look forward to the event, and the great traffic growth that will surely follow.

Emphasis mine. I think that it borders on libel to suggest that Denton would “look forward” to the event, though obviously he won’t mind the traffic. But all of that traffic exists because, as Arrington observes, there’s a market for it. Is Denton to blame, or the people who Valleywag writes about themselves, who seem all too eager to eat their own? As Anderson found out in the anecdote above, no one thinks they will be on the “receiving end” of Valleywag’s gossip. As they say, pride goeth before the fall.

Arrington must be making good on his promise to suck up to Denton, because his post at TechCrunch just gives Valleywag all that much more power. He complains that “the valley was a much nicer place to live and work before the days of Valleywag” – but whose fault is that?