blog reading is the new personalization

Recently, the blogosphere has been hot with a buzz about how bloggers may not be “real” journalists, and thus don’t enjoy the same protection because of Apple v. Does (via Rex Hammock), even though folks like Peggy Noonan say brilliant things like this about the potential effects of blogging on mainstream media (via Steve Rubel). It’s even gotten to the point that there’s a conference called Blogging, Journalism & Credibility being formed.

Steve Rubel summarizes a discussion where David Scott Lewis suggested to Robert Scoble that he’d “get a lot more ideas from reading [100] printed trade magazines than from [1,300] blogs.” I don’t know what frightens me more: the fact that Scoble was able to find 1,300 blogs worth reading (my blogroll is still under 100), or that Lewis really believes what he said. Quite simply, good blogs update minimally once a day and some even many times a day and at worst once a week. I’m guessing that most trade magazines are distributed monthly, and contain around ten articles and ten columns. So, we’re comparing 100 magazines x (10 articles + 10 columns) = 200 things per month vs. 1,300 blogs x (1 entry per week x 5 weeks in a month) = 6,500 things per month, approximately. Considering that magazine articles are usually not shorter than 500 words and can even exceed 1,000 words, and your average blog entry is anywhere from 10 to 200 words, we’re comparing reading 100,000–200,000 words per month through magazines, or between 65,000–650,000 words per month through blogs.

However, many blog entries are duplicates of each other which presumably is where Lewis figures much time is being wasted by blog readers, having to skip over dupe entries which is what an edited magazine would help a reader avoid. I suggest that of the 1,300 blogs Scoble “reads” (presumably through an aggregator — which totally changes the meaning of “read” from the traditional sense), he could probably reduce it to 300 and not lose any information because of the wide overlap in content across many blogs. Now we’re talking 15,000–300,000 words per month of blog entries.

What I am not including in all this is the actual reading of the articles that are linked to from people’s blog entries. Yes, that adds to the blog reader’s total word counts. But, it’s also main-stream media like the magazines, so which we divide both sides of the equation and this count drops out, right?

So, after all this … what’s the point? Well, I just wanted to point out that 6-8 years ago, the Internet bubble was all a-buzz with “personalization” and “personalized portals” and “on-demand content”, etc. Editorially published content was great in its day when money was flowing like water to pay for all the warm bodies to produce it — hell, AOL is still trying to run a business around the model, even today in 2005 — but in tighter times like today, it’s just not cost-effective. User-contributed content scales better, costs less, and brings a more personal touch to the content. This is exactly what blogs are becoming today: a large source of user-contributed content on a wide variety of subject matter, both novel content as well as opinion-based value-add to someone else’s content.

This, in turn, makes RSS aggregators the new personalized portal: you subscribe to content that you’re interested in, and read new content when it becomes available. In other words, by using an RSS aggregator and reader, I can basically build myself a customized or personalized portal just for me, not just add “portlets” to a “My Portal” page with content that the portal owner wants to make available to me. This is why Scoble’s point about RSS feeds for content is now a requirement, not an option, is so poignant, although he limits his point by making it marketing-focused. It’s also why a new scheme for monetizing content other than ad delivery will need to be invented, and I don’t think the answer is just embedding ads in the feed like some content providers are trying. It’s exciting to think about the innovation that’s coming into this space and I’m hoping I’ll be able to play some part in it.

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