August 21, 2006

Golly gee, a blog about business finance? I'm in!

The Washington Post has been ahead of the game in embracing and understanding the power of blogs, particularly with its ingenious idea to link to every blogger who links to a story. Every Post story’s page has a box like the one to the right, which says, “Read what bloggers are saying about this article.” Through an agreement with Technorati, they are constantly updated with bloggers who’ve linked to the story. I’ve appreciated this from all three angles: As a reader, it’s great to have an outlet for conversation with other readers about a story I’m interested in; as a very occasional contributor to the Post, it’s been huge fun seeing what bloggers write about my stories; and as a blogger, I like the trickle of traffic that comes my way every time I link to a story. It certainly encourages me to link to more Washington Post stories -- oh fine, here’s a random one just for the hell of it -- and that’s no doubt exactly what the Post wants.

So, it’s hard to really fault them for their latest attempt. Still, I’m going to try.

Washingtonpost.com has launched a little advertising feature called Sponsored Blogroll. This is what it looked like today:

wpsite_sponblog.jpg

According to the blog of a sales guy there (via Adotas), the feature is intended to share advertising revenue with blogs while helping “B-list and C-list bloggers” gain more traffic. Could it work? Perhaps. Hell, if I allowed advertising on my site, I’d probably consider it. But today’s launch was really weak, and not just because it has so few blogs listed and is, as the ad guy writes, “in the ghetto position” on the site’s front page. The real problem is the blogs they made deals with.

The blog world is made up of, as I see it, organic blogs and zombie blogs. The organic blogs are what you actually read: Everything from Gawker to your friend’s online diary, put together with varying degrees of skill by people who understand what blogging is. The zombie blogs are promotional, ad-driven websites in the form of a blog, created by companies who don’t understand the medium but want to appear relevant. If anybody reads those things, I’d be shocked. They’re the equivalent of old women wearing tank tops and short shorts: Your clothing can’t mask who you are.

Right now, the Post’s “Sponsored Blogroll” is filled exclusively with zombie blogs -- or should I say, five zombie blogs and one site (cruiseandvacationpackages.com) that doesn’t even fake being a blog. This is the wrong way to launch this feature. The Post has to recognize the meaning of “Blogroll”: You can learn a lot about a blog from its blogroll, but, in this case, when you’re electing to join a blogroll, the company you keep is just as important. If I were a blogger interested in this promotion, I’d be scared away by these things. Who wants to be in a blogroll surrounded by corporate shills? What kind of lame-o club is this?

And furthermore, what viewer wants to sift through a blogroll full of advertisers? At that point, the feature’s no different than any of the other advertising links on the site. The point of a “Sponsored Blogroll” is that visitors will be curious to check out the links, which are somehow different from the rest of the site’s advertising. Clicking must be done, because without an exchange of traffic, there’s no tangible value. To accomplish that, though, the blogroll needs to become a destination that visitors can expect interesting things from. Maybe it’s me, but a blog called “Small Business Management” doesn’t fit that bill.

Good luck, Washingtonpost.com. It’s great you’re thinking about blogs, but you may want to think a little more critically.

Posted by Jason Feifer at August 21, 2006 09:48 AM

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