October 19, 2005

Webzine Business

The first day of Webzine was very good. Day two was less so. I waited a week to write this, lest my writing reflect to heavily a momentary mood, a bit of jet lag, a tad too much partying.

Or maybe not. On day two, attention turned more toward politics and business, and the quality of the discussion, in my opinion, went south. San Francisco is a special place, and this was a very Bay Area conference and nearly everyone shared a basic political orientation and outlook. None of the political panelists seemed to notice that the right can use the same tools they've developed against them -- not merely by lifting plans from their web sites but by spoofing their messages and hacking their culture.

There were rousing assertions that the people should go out and use graffiti to reclaim the street from corporation and state, and then laments for the privatization of public space. If we're taking back ownership of the street, aren't we privatizing, too?

The romantic view of weblogs, oddly, overran the business panel : everyone seemed to believe that if you're a good person and really care about the customer, then the money is going to pour in. It did pour in for these guys -- Live Journal, Cafe Press, Hot or Not. That's nice. Others still have to work hard on margins and ratios, on pricing and marketing and fulfillment.

If we believe that passion and caring for the customer and your own personal wonderfulness are all that's required to build a thriving web business, doesn't that argue that all the people who didn't sell their startups to Google or Yahoo are simply scoundrels, unworthy or uncaring or accursed?

A big issue for the weblog economy should be this: are weblogs actually earning what Google is charging for Ad Words?

No one, I think, really knows: the bidding war for ad words is currently a greater fool's paradise, and bloggers (and Google, of course) are reaping the rewards. But are Google's advertisers receiving value? If not, that revenue stream is going to shrink -- and the shrinkage will siphon off the greater part of the weblog economy.