Bye bye blog networks

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When Shiny Media was its height in 2007 we prided ourselves as being the UK, nay Europe’s, largest blog network. Egged on by our VCs we launched a whole raft of new blogs and quite probably bit off a bit more than we could chew. The blogs themselves were in excellent niches. We had a social media blog, a Twitter blog and a personal finance blog all of which might have gone on to great things. The trouble was from a commercial/advertising perspective it was becoming increasingly difficult to handle the 40 or so titles we already had. Still 40 blogs was nothing. Weblogs Inc, which in many ways provided the original template for Shiny, had nearly 80, while B5 Media boasted over 300.

As time has gone by almost all of what we used to call blog networks have evolved and become something different. Aol, which bought Weblogs, rationalised the blog count choosing to focus on hero sites like Engadget. Even Gawker Media ditched several sites to focus on its core areas of gossip, games and gadgets.

However, perhaps the most telling sign that the blog network has become a Web 2.0 dodo is the story of B5 Media http://www.b5media.com/. Early this year it began to roll up all those blogs into portals. And now it has just four sites. The traffic from the original blogs has been directed to the portals. In effect it has created four large sites with huge readerships that are much more focused than its disparate blogs and designed to appeal directly to advertisers. The restructuring of B5 hasn’t been without controversy and at least one of its original founders now thinks that the company is doomed http://www.duncanriley.com/2010/02/17/the-end-of-b5media/. However the development of the mega portals was probably inevitable.

In early 2007 there was a serious discussion about wrapping all Shiny’s fashion blogs into one portal. There are many technological, political, financial and editorial reasons why this did not happen, but had we succeeded we would have boasted the second biggest fashion site in the UK at the time, a very real rival to Handbag.com

It is becoming increasingly clear that the way forward for indie new media companies is to shoot for general big traffic sites. This inevitably gives the publisher bigger sites with more readers and greater visibility to advertisers. Online content that is too niche simply doesn’t attract enough traffic to make it sustainable for small publishing companies. Ironically it can work pretty well for individuals especially in the B2B arena – like Mobile Marketing Magazine http://www.mobilemarketingmagazine.co.uk/ – or if consumer facing titles can add a retail or strong affiliate elements to their sites like retrotogo.com http://www.retrotogo.com/ . There are of course hundreds of individual blogs doing very nicely thank you monetised by groups like Glam.

Both content business I am involved with are now working on larger portals. Anorak Publishing is building Anorak anorak.co.uk into a men’s lifestyle portal and Shiny Media has five sites that it is developing into portals. The issue though is how do you create portals that still cover the niche content areas that you have spent the last few years developing. It is less of an issue for Shiny now as many of its original fashion titles have new owners, but is something that must have been at the forefront of minds of the B5 Media team.

So was the blog network ultimately a failure? I don’t think Jason Calacanis’ bank manager thinks so (or Nick Denton’s for that matter). For me it was the publishing equivalent of what Google were trying a few years back – create lots of new entities and see which ones work. Almost every blog network might be gone, but there are a lot of websites that came out of those networks that are thriving.

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