Archive for December, 2006

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The Demise of Blogging

December 13, 2006

PR blogger Steve Rubel looked at some statistics yesterday that suggest blogging’s upward curve may be starting to falter. While the number of blogs continues to increase, the average number of posts per day is “cresting” as he puts it. Frankly, I don’t know that his post makes a very statistically convincing argument that blogging is peaking, but I still think he’s probably right. His accompanying thought that the influence of blogs is increasing even if the numbers start to flag makes sense, too.

The question that this post raises, of course, is, why? Why would blogging be starting down the other side of the slope? Here are some ideas:

Blogging is Going Pro – In the beginning, blogging was amateur hour, and a lone voice could become highly influential in the blogosphere, which of course would incite amateurs to blog even more. As the phenomenon of blogging matures, the pros are taking over. Blogs that are spinoffs from traditional media and new blog networks consisting of paid bloggers (poorly paid but paid nonetheless) are upping the ante in terms of what a blog can be. As the paid pros rush in and start to actually break news, their blogs become the “go to” places for the latest scoop. The Internet only needs so many blogs about celebrities or politics that simply echo the news and thoughts of those who are doing it professionally. How long would you continue to air a public access news show when you have no way to gather news except rehashing what the big guys already reported? There’s no audience in it and no fun either.

Bloggers Have Less to Say Than They Thought – How many times have you run across an interesting blog that quickly goes dull? Why does that happen? Because bloggers start out full of gusto, say all the big things that are in their head that they’d like to share, and then they realize they don’t have any more to say. Their posts devolve from analysis of the human condition or at least quirky observations about their co-workers into making snarky comments about obscure news items. After a while, they quit.

Blogging is a Time Waster – This is not to say it’s necessarily a waste of time. However, to really say anything of value in a blog takes some time. If a blogger wants a real audience, it takes time to think of things to write about and then time to actually write about those things. If you want to build an audience, you have to post frequently, which takes time. Posting frequently is especially important if the blogger does not have any particular qualifications to discuss politics, business, sports, etc. Malcolm Gladwell can blog once a month; you can’t.

Take those ideas together and blogging is a time-intensive practice that usually results in few people reading your words and no money coming your way, either. If you don’t have the time, resources and desire to become a “pro”, then you will likely tire of blogging and stop it altogether. (And feel very good afterwards when you realize all the extra time you now have to actually go outside or maybe even take a nap.)

That’s not to say the amateur blogger is going anywhere. There will still be plenty of people that blog as a way to reach a small circle of friends, or blog mostly about very specific subjects that allow them to be part of a group of like-minded people. In other words, niche bloggers will continue to exist. But, over time, the average person who picks up blogging to spout off about whatever comes to mind will disappear back into the real world for more interesting and worthwhile pursuits, with their blogger blogs still existing and being counted but being the equivalent of online ghost towns.

Just because anyone can become a publisher doesn’t mean that everyone will or should. And if they do, a large proportion are going to decide it’s not worth the effort. Thus the demise of blogging as a large-scale activity will be upon us in the next couple of years.

When the shakeout is over, there will be more quality and less quantity. That’s not a bad thing at all.

e-mail me: adam@bessed.com

Adam Jusko is founder and CEO of Bessed, a Web site promising “search without spam”, thanks to human-edited search results and ongoing visitor feedback. Do a search, offer your comments, submit your site–help create the “bessed” search site in the world.

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Latest Bessed, December 12 2006

December 12, 2006

Every day Bessed adds new topics, updates others and expands the information you can tap into…

Facebook seems to thnk it’s worth at least as much as YouTube. Metacafe doesn’t, which might earn it plenty of money nonetheless.

Nicole Richie is the latest “star” to get her mug shot for DUI.

Cameron Diaz is in a new “Holiday” movie, and her hair’s black.

Mary J. Blige was nominated for a ton of Grammys.

Apocalypto proves that people are willing to forgive if they get to watch enough heads roll, literally.

Gwyneth Paltrow can’t seem to decide if she’s proud to be an American.

Other topics, by request: Economic Depression, Spain Vacation Rentals, Lawn Sprinklers, Children’s Poetry, IT Training, Superheroes, Custom Doors

Others not by request: Wikia, Guacamole, My Morning Jacket

Got a site that needs attention? Add yout URL to Bessed. Find your topic and tell us about your site. Don’t see a place where your site fits? Let us know—we’ll build the category you request and add your site to it.

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Book Review: The Yellow House – Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles

December 7, 2006

About five years back, I saw the show “Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South” at The Art Institute of Chicago. While I enjoyed the art, it was the story of these two soon-to-be-famous painters living together in a little house while Van Gogh slowly succumbed to mental illness that fascinated me. Like most people, I knew Van Gogh as the crazy painter who cut his ear off—even if I liked some of his paintings, I hadn’t ever really thought of him as anything more than a caricature. That show filled in many of the gray areas, and it made me excited to read a new book that goes into much more detail on the time when these two artists spent a short, magical, bizarre time living and working just a few feet from one another.

The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles by Martin Gayford takes an in-depth look at who Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin were as people, how they saw themselves as artists, how their art fit into the historical context, how they influenced each other, and how their personalities ensured that their time together would be short-lived.

While it seems amazing that Van Gogh and Gauguin could have ever been roomies, looking at the situation it wasn’t strange at all. Both were struggling painters doing what at the time was considered experimental art, and Van Gogh’s younger brother Theo was an art dealer in position to sell their paintings. Especially Gauguin’s, who was just starting to get serious nibbles from art collectors. (Van Gogh was not selling anything and his brother was supporting him.) Each had little money, each ran in similar art circles, and each had Theo van Gogh in common. So, for roughly two months in the fall and winter of 1888, they lived together.

The idea had been Van Gogh’s. He admired Gauguin’s work and was hoping their time together might be the start of an artists colony of sorts in the French town of Arles. Gauguin was five years older than Vincent, and although Van Gogh’s work would eventually outshine Gauguin’s, at the time Gauguin was more successful and Van Gogh treated him like a wise big brother. Gauguin was the alpha male in the relationship, and Van Gogh was anxious to impress him.

Author Gayford does a nice job of setting the scene in many ways. He discusses how Van Gogh’s erratic behavior and dress turned off so many of the locals. (Until the more stable Gauguin showed up, Van Gogh could rarely get anyone to sit for him as subjects of his work; in many of the portraits done at this time, Van Gogh is painting the subject from the side because the person is facing Gauguin.) He discusses how Gauguin set up systems to keep their money straight. He discusses how closely the two must have sat as they painted, and how Van Gogh would often talk and pace and suddenly paint in a frenzy, which must have been distracting to the slower, methodical style of Gauguin. He offers multiple examples of how the artists were influenced by each other, and how they created many of their most famous works during this short period together.

Despite being the Post-Impressionist odd couple, Gauguin and Van Gogh got along well for much of their time together. (Gayford does make it clear that Gauguin seemed to tolerate the ravings of Van Gogh, who often got very worked up over topics both serious and inconsequential.) When the weather was warm enough they would take their easels and paint outdoors, then come back where Gauguin would cook before they capped off many an evening in the local brothel.

While Gayford chronicles Vincent’s increasingly strange behavior (including showing up at Gauguin’s bedside in the middle of the night and then wandering away and falling quickly asleep), it’s not clear that any one event caused Van Gogh to finally slip over the line. However, he was perceptive enough to worry that his behavior might drive Gauguin away, the thought of which only seemed to heighten his state of anxiety. Gaugain, probably rightly so, started to fear a little for his own safety within the tight confines of the Yellow House. When one night Van Gogh’s behavior was worrisome enough to make Gauguin spend the night in a hotel, a despondent Van Gogh, who was now sure Gauguin would soon leave, famously sliced off his ear. He would soon be confined to a mental institution, and would be in and out of such institutions for the few remaining years of his life, until finally committing suicide at age 37.

Gayford offers some interesting theories (which you’ll have to get the book to see) on why Van Gogh chose such a gruesome act as cutting off his own ear (and then delivering it in a box to a prostitute at the brothel) . He also offers theories as to Van Gogh’s form of mental illness in general. Gayford’s conclusion is that Van Gogh probably suffered from bipolar disorder, or manic depression—a conditon that would explain why Vincent could go from states of almost uncontrollable excitement and prolific creativeness down to states of dark depression in short periods of time. It might also explain why, even in his final years, Van Gogh could have “attacks” of madness which were then followed by extended periods of sanity. In fact, after cutting his ear, Van Gogh did return to the Yellow House for a short period (Gauguin was gone) before another attack sent him from Arles for good. And one of Vincent’s most famous works, The Starry Night, was produced during one of his stable periods after leaving Arles.

The thought of having two artists on the cusp of fame living together and producing their best works while one descends dramatically into mental illness would be too unbelievable of a plot if it weren’t all true. In The Yellow House, Martin Gayford does the job of making you a fly on the wall as this unlikely plot unfolds. If you are an art lover, you’ll find plenty here to enhance your understanding of these artists’ works (I wish I could see that Art Institute show all over again after having read the book). But even if you’re only passingly familiar with their work, the drama of their story makes this a book worth reading.

e-mail me: adam@bessed.com

Adam Jusko is founder and CEO of Bessed, a Web site promising “search without spam”, thanks to human-edited search results and ongoing visitor feedback. Do a search, offer your comments, submit your site–help create the “bessed” search site in the world.

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My Morning Jacket at House of Blues Cleveland

December 6, 2006

My wife and I ventured out to see My Morning Jacket at the House of Blues in Cleveland last night. They put on a good show and this being my first show at the House of Blues even though it’s been open for probably two years now, I was impressed by the venue as well.

I don’t really know how to review a concert, because I generally only go to see bands I like and so I usually like the shows, so there you go. I like My Morning Jacket, so I liked the show. If I’d thought they were half-assing it, that might have made me not like it. But they did not; in fact, they were in high spirits for a Monday night, which I’m guessing would be the least inspiring day to do a show, although maybe they can’t even remember what day of the week it is when they’re on tour.

So, here are some impressions that don’t include me trying to describe their soaring vocals or kicky tunes or other ridiculous descriptions I always read in concert reviews.

First, the beers are crazy expensive at this venue, which I’m used to, but I thought they were a bit extreme even for a concert. I think it was $4.75 for a bottle of Sam Adams, which is admittedly a bit more expensive of a beer, but that still seemed extreme. It was possible to get a 16 oz. Pabst Blue Ribbon for $3.75, so I suppose to be fair there were deals to be had.

As you’d expect, the concert was heavily weighted toward the material from Z, their latest. There’s good stuff in there, so that was a good thing. I didn’t have to spend any part of the concert thinking “when are they going to play some of the old stuff?”

Lead singer Jim James was wearing what my wife referred to as his “Detroit Rock City” boots, which I thought was a pretty good description. They looked good for stomping.

New keyboardist Bo Koster is a Clevelander, more specific I hear he is a native of Lakewood, where I currenty reside. Excellent. They’re like a hometown band now.

I was surprised to find that the House of Blues does the “products” in the bathroom and has a guy who hands you your towel to dry your hands, which of course means you’re supposed to tip. Do I go to a My Morning Jacket concert to tip the guy in the bathroom? I can get my own paper towels, thanks. Can’t understand the rationale there—its not like I’m going to a wedding at the Ritz, but whatever.

I’m no longer young enough that I need to get close to the stage. I paid a bit more for balcony seats and it was great to sit and enjoy while also having a perfect view of the stage. Excellent acoustics there—I could actually understand every word Jim James was saying. Usually you go to concerts and the singer is rambling on about who knows what and the people right in front are cheering and laughing and no one else knows what the freak is going on. Not that James had the most entertaining stage patter, but it was nice to actually understand it.

No encore! I love it! I hate having to clap and whistle during shows while a band pretends it’s not coming back for an encore. These guys just played hard for a good long time and then said goodbye. Perfect.

There were a couple of very big guys about two rows ahead of me, and the one guy was going nutso. He loved MMJ, man. He was one of those people that likes to spend a lot of time at a concert with one arm raised, pointing at the stage and bouncing that arm up and down. Usually people who do these things kind of annoy me, but I liked watching this guy. He wasn’t just pretending to have a good time, going through the motions of what you’re supposed to do at a rock concert, he was in a rapture. He got his money worth from My Morning Jacket, and so did I. And that’s all you can ask.

e-mail me: adam@bessed.com

Adam Jusko is founder and CEO of Bessed, a Web site promising “search without spam”, thanks to human-edited search results and ongoing visitor feedback. Do a search, offer your comments, submit your site–help create the “bessed” search site in the world.

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Bessed, Two Months In

December 6, 2006

So it’s been two months since Bessed launched, and my goal is to frankly assess where the site is at the end of each month.

On the upside, the site now boasts of just over 300 topic pages, with quite a few in the queue waiting to be added.  That’s good.

Our traffic fell from the first month, however, down to just 3,170 page views last month, or about 105 per day.  It’s not unexpected that traffic would go down a bit from the first month to the second, as the first month of a launch is when it’s easiest to get some press coverage and get a little word of mouth.

While I’m not happy with the dropoff, I’m glad to see that the dropoff in traffic was worse than the dropoff in revenue—traffic dropped by 58% but revenue dropped by 21% from October.  That tells me that the people coming in over the past month were more likely to be people that were doing specific searches for topics that lent themselves to greater revenue generation, versus the larger swarm that can be expected to check out a new site but not necessarily use it as intended.

Nevertheless, it’s a significant drop in both traffic and revenue, which is bad. No sense sugar-coating it.

Challenges so far.  Getting new topics added while trying to keep existing topics updated as new events occur. I said in an earlier post that I didn’t want to just sit back and wait for others to add sites because that creates a boring, fairly static directory.  But in order to keep a site more “alive”, that means paying attention to the news and updating topics on a more timely basis.  We’ve been somewhat hit or miss on this, not adding topics as fast as I’d like, and only getting a certain amount of existing topics updated to the place I’d like them to be.

It’s basically a matter of not having enough manpower (peoplepower?) to do it as well as we should. What I then need to ask is, are we trying to do more than we really can in making the site all-encompassing?  Is it realistic to take on all topics, or is it more realistic to limit the number to what our people can reasonably do really well, thus keeping things updated but growing the site much slower in terms of total topics covered? I’m not inclined to slow down the introduction of new topics; I’m hoping that we’ll continue to get more feedback from users, which will prod us to update topics that need updating quicker—the truth is that we can’t possibly keep up with the absolute latest thing happening on each topic every single day.  But if we’re getting feedback from visitors saying, “hey, Steve Wozniak was on Colbert last night, you should link to that” or whatever the case may be, we’ll do better and the site will be better.

The truth is that what makes a site work is traffic and contributions from visitors.  We’re not the only social media site that is ready to be social but doesn’t have enough socializers if you get what I’m saying.

For now the goal is to continue to expand, to serve the people that are coming in and making suggestions, and see how the traffic trends.  It’s much too early to get down on things, but it’s never too early to start raising the questions that eventually need to be answered one way or the other.

That said, on to month #3.

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Latest Bessed, December 5 2006

December 5, 2006

Every day Bessed adds new topics, updates others and expands the information you can tap into…

Blood Diamond is the title of the latest Leonardo DiCaprio flick starting this Friday, and its portrayal of how the diamond trade has been used to fund violence in Africa is causing some stir, especially among diamond retailers.

CNBC has re-launched its Web site, with a dizzying array of videos, as well as the expected financial tools and stats.

AskCity is a new YellowPages/Events/Maps mashup that looks useful from where I’m sitting.

Lindsay Lohan is attending Alcoholics Anonymous.

Danny DeVito is not, despite his recent boozey appearance on The View.

By request, we added topics for Custom Doors, Lou Pearlman, and Destination Weddings.

Also added: Citizen Marketers, Olay Regenerist, Christmas Gift Ideas for Men, Christmas Decorations, BitTorrent, ClickStar
Got a site that needs attention? Add yout URL to Bessed. Find your topic and tell us about your site. Don’t see a place where your site fits? Let us know—we’ll build the category you request and add your site to it.

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Book Review: Citizen Marketers by Ben McConnell & Jackie Huba

December 1, 2006

In 1983, the show “Cagney & Lacey” was canceled by CBS, only to be brought back after a huge letter-writing campaign by viewers. As a 13-year-old boy I had no use for this female cop show (although I liked the looks of that Sharon Gless), but the thought that it had been brought back to life by the will of determined viewers captured my imagination. Power to the people!

Fast forward twenty-some years and the people no longer have to resort to hopeful letter-writing campaigns. As the new book Citizen Marketers, by Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba, makes clear, everyday citizens now have the Internet at their disposal, and woe to companies that ignore their blogs, their discussion board posts, their YouTube videos. In today’s world, one happy or unhappy customer can make a big impact—fast. A blog post or consumer-created video gets posted today, goes viral tomorrow and is picked up by big media next week. All of a sudden, that disgruntled customer sitting alone in his apartment has turned a corporation’s world upside-down.

Of course, the active participation that is increasingly taking place by companies’ fans and/or detractors also presents an opportunity—if companies are wise enough to listen. Citizen Marketers (subtitled “When People Are the Message”) introduces us to people who voluntarily spend much of their free time writing and talking about consumer products, services, TV shows, movies, etc. Who are these people? Why do they do it? Are they the beginning of a sea change in the structure of society, or is this a passing fancy, with people temporarily taken with the novelty of how much easier it’s become to have one’s voice heard?

Citizen marketers come in many shapes and sizes. McConnell and Huba classify them loosely as Filters, Fanatics, Facilitators and Firecrackers. In short, this means they range from people creating one-off blog posts or videos that suddenly explode into the public consciousness, to people starting and running community Web sites built around their favorite companies or products, to Web site owners that function almost as extensions of the companies themselves, creating de facto hubs for news, information and rumors about the companies on which they focus.

Why do they do it? Sometimes out of love, sometimes out of hate, sometimes out of a desire to help others. Sometimes just to hear the sound of their own voices. The point is, they’re doing it. And how a company reacts to them can have big consequences.

Journalist-turned-blogger Jeff Jarvis wrote about being in “Dell Hell” when Dell couldn’t/wouldn’t fix his new computer in a timely manner. Soon enough, thousands of others chimed in with their own anti-Dell stories, which led to mainstream media latching on as well. It’s hard to quantify a public relations disaster such as this, but the subsequent 45% drop in Dell’s stock price over the following year couldn’t have been completely coincidental.

Citizen Marketers includes dozens of other stories about the positive, negative, and sometimes confused reactions of the companies that are targeted by the “1 Percenters” (as the book refers to citizen marketers, who make up such a small percentage of the whole). It’s clear that not every company “gets it”—perhaps they’re the ones who need this book the most.

As the founder of Bessed, a search site that encourages user participation, I was particularly interested in how McConnell and Huba see the “democratization” of the market playing out in terms of new business models. While it’s interesting to see a single person make enough noise to get noticed by Coca-Cola, that’s an example of new means of citizen participation affecting old ways of doing business. But are there companies being built specifically around this “democratization”, and, to quote the often-asked question of the Internet’s early years, how do you make money from it?

Active Internet users can quickly point to sites such as Digg and YouTube as examples of participatory models. But, other than the fact that YouTube’s founders got rich by selling out to Google and Digg’s founders may have a similar exit strategy, these types of sites have been more about building a user base than about turning a profit.

So I was particularly interested in McConnell and Huba’s focus on Threadless. On the surface it’s simply a site that sells T-shirts. But look under the hood and you see that Threadless has made democracy the core of its business. Membes of the Threadless community create T-shirt designs, which are then voted on by other community members, with the winning designs printed and sold by the company. The community has already told Threadless what they want to buy, so there’s never a clunker in the bunch. It’s on-demand production of sure winners. Threadless pays the designers a nominal amount (as well as some free T-shirts) for designs it already can bank on. Now that’s a business model!

That said, Citizen Marketers has as much to teach entrepreneurs as it has to teach lumbering corporations. When people are the message, treat them as such, and everybody wins.

e-mail me: adam@bessed.com

Adam Jusko is founder and CEO of Bessed, a Web site promising “search without spam”, thanks to human-edited search results and ongoing visitor feedback. Do a search, offer your comments, submit your site–help create the “bessed” search site in the world.