Singles and Posts
Something dawned on me while reading that Gawker has launched a couple more weblogs including LifeHacker. It looked pretty interesting, so I signed up. In doing so, however, I started questioning the business model of these sorts of blogs. What happens when all the niches have been filled? And what happens when we're all using our aggregators for most of our online reading?
Then I started to think about the coming advertisements we're going to see in RSS feeds. There's already some sites out there doing it, and I assume it'll become more common soon. I started realizing some of the effort I put into some posts lately to drive traffic, but how for the most part I still use this blog for personal rants, etc.
What's happening is that online content is becoming a series of single serving content bits, sent around and filtered in a variety of ways. It's the same way that online music stores like iTunes have pushed singles back to the forefront again. Remember when you used to buy singles on records, and then it became a waste and you just bought the whole album? But now kids just buy the one song they like and don't waste money on the rest. Those that really like the song will explore the rest of that artists catalog, but for the majority, the one song is fine.
Weblog posts are like that as well, no? Back when I first started blogging, I modeled my blog software on Radio Userland's style. One page per day, with # anchors on the different posts of that day. Eventually as I continued to write, I decided that since my posts were generally longer, needed titles, and usually completely unrelated to anything else on that day, I switched to one post-one html page like Moveable Type, or WordPress. This works well for comments as well - that first post becomes the beginning of a discussion, and I don't have to worry whether my readers have weblogs or not to respond.
When the post goes out over RSS, however, it's completely devoid of all context. It's just my content in a self-contained post. Right now I imagine most people continue to read each post in sucession, as an easy way to keep up to date with a weblog they happen to like. However, as the number of RSS feeds increases, we're going to need filtering even on the blogs we've subscribed to! (Those information sources we've ostensibly filtered already by adding them to your aggregator). I've got 300+ weblogs in my aggregator (you can see them in my favorites page). This is already becoming hard to manage, especially if I happen to skip a few days.
What's going to start happening is that I'll be looking to pick and choose the content via filters or searches or whatever new system we come up with tomorrow like tags. Desktop search for weblogs? The problem is that unlike the web search engines which point to individual websites that are able to monetize the traffic with banner and text-ads, a blog desktop search would be pointing at just your internal cache. That site may have a click-though to the original site in order to read the content, or, as is more common, the RSS feed has the entire content of the post and there's no reason to go back to the website. Thus you have the per-post RSS adverts.
But what are ads other than someone else paying for the content you get to read for free? Is that square inch of space on your aggregator worth something to you? Maybe we're entering the age of micropayments finally. They didn't make sense before, but now that we've all started to deal with online content not as "sites" to visit, but as "posts" to read, there's going to be pressure on the system like there is in the music world, to monetize the singles rather than the bundle.
Would you pay a third of a cent to read this article? I mean $0.003 doesn't seem like a whole lot of money, no? My posts get about 10,000 individual readers a day, which would bring me $30 a day. About the same as the $30 a day that Google AdSense is delivering me, except that my readers would be happier without ads... Now how this system would work and how to prevent it from being gamed, I don't know. But the thing I'm pointing out is the macro-view of online textual content following the similar route as music. I think it's an interesting observation (and probably one that's been made 1000 times before, but I just grokked it, so it's cool to me...)
And the coolest bit about this stuff? Singles and Posts fit *really* well on mobile phones. :-)