There is a lot of discussion about the blogosphere and a lack of advertising right now. Most of it has been sparked from a post by Greg Sargent, in which some of the top liberal bloggers voice their displeasure with progressive organizations not spending advertising money on blogs.
I know first hand that running these blogs carry a huge financial burden. Of the four bloggers Greg talks so, Crooks and Liars and Daily Kos carry the highest monthly costs just in terms of equipment. I don’t know Kos’ expenses first hand, but can only guesstimate from what I know of his server infrastructure. I do know Crooks and Liars system first hand, since I am the site’s developer. I am not going to give out the exact expense, but I can tell you that our monthly internet bill alone is more than many make in a month. Pushing out videos is an expensive business.
But now we are at a point of stagnation in the blogosphere. Traffic spiked during the election last year, then it fell off drastically. It has been slowly creeping back up, but not like we would like to see. Perhaps its time to look for new ways to promote our product and offer our readers a sense of involvement.
This is something I have been working on a lot lately for Crooks and Liars. I just did a series of major upgrades this morning that will build the foundation for a more robust community, with much more user interactions. We are planning to have much of it fully implemented by the end of the summer.
The hardest part of this is time. I have a full time business that needs much of my attention, so the work I do for Crooks and Liars is more or less a hobby. John Amato knows that and has no problem with it. We have been doing this stuff together for close to five years now. I used to do work with other blogs, but had to drop them. It was turning into way too much of a time commitment for me, and I was seeing periods of working 18 hours a day seven days a week. It was obvious on this blog during those times since there wouldn’t be any posts.
So what keys are there to building the blogosphere into something much more robust? User interaction. That’s the reason sites like Facebook and Twitter are the big rages. Instead of just reading, people love being able to comment on the articles. That was enough to keep them engaged, until now, where things like Facebook take user involvement to a whole new level.
Daily Kos has always been awesome at being a community driven site. They actually have lead the way, not just with their diaries, but also their use of rating systems. Allowing users to promote comments and posts they think are worthy adds a better sense of community. You can expect to see more blogs following suit on these type features in the future.
Another good way to help build a site up is to integrate it with larger social sites. Facebook connect is awesome, and considering the huge member base Facebook has, its a way to really build your community. Most sites now require registration to comment. That can easily push people away, but if they can simply do a quick click and be authenticated against their Facebook account, then they have all the more reason to join up.
Of course all this comes with a cost. First off, developing these new systems takes money. Sure there are enough people out there who can figure out how to copy and paste source code together and make something work, but that’s not very safe. You need someone developing who fully understands that code and ways hackers might try to exploit it. Also you need to consider performance. I have seen code written so poorly that it would require 10 times the server power needed to run it, as compared to spending some time and reworking the logic. So that means hiring fully qualified developers, who put security and performance as a fore front.
But costs don’t stop there. Next you got to think about any increases in your hardware. In the old days, web pages were all static content. Basically when you went to view a web page, a file was read in from some server and sent to you. Now the world is dynamic. Instead of just reading and sending a file, an actual program has to run on the server. Every time someone views a page on this site, Drupal fires up and determines which page to show you. It also has to determine if you are a logged in user, and things like if you have voted in my polls or not. The more dynamic content you add in, the more that server has to work.
Scaling out servers is also not a simple matter, and something that needs to be considered in development. You need a developer who understands what it takes to get 4 or 5 machines working together to do the same thing as one machine. For example, I have designed Crooks and Liars backend to the point we can quickly add more servers if needed. People who have visited over there for sometime now probably noticed how the site used to crash all the time. That was before we got off WordPress and moved to Drupal. Not to get into a battle over these great systems, but I have always had much better luck with scaling out Drupal for larger sites.
These are the costs I deal with day in and day out, rather through my normal business or while doing my work with Crooks and Liars. It’s also the reason there is a need to increase advertising revenue on these sites. The blogosphere has been an enormous tool in changing our nation, and right now it needs a little help. It would be nice if the people who receive help from the hard work of the blogosphere could give back a little in return. Its not about greed, but rather growth – a chance to grow the blogosphere into something so much more than it is today.