As we end 2008, the year ahead offers the biggest challenge ever in the history of blogging.
Although blogging dates back to the beginning of the first dot com boom, it truly came of age as the second bubble grew. From the rise of the political bloggers in 2004, blogging became mainstream, and with that came money and commercialism.
Blogging is more than its commercial endeavors, and as a non-commercial platform for networking, global communication and sharing blogging has many great days ahead of it, and may actually boom in 2009 after a dip in popularity over 2007 and 2008 as social networks became a first choice of communications and networking outlet for many.
But the commercial side of blogging is facing a difficult year. The same issues that face the broader Tech and Web 2.0 spheres face blogging: a dearth of VC, declining ad revenues, and even tougher competition as many try to compensate for lower ad revenues by driving even more traffic.
The dangers for commercial blog owners come on a number of fronts, but there's one trend we've already seen begin.
The rise of the Uber Blog
Some may moan at the use of the word uber, so feel free to substitute it with big or large, because the meaning remains the same. An Uber Blog is a blog that combines different content streams into one large blog, with one primary top level url. The Huffington Post is an example I've used before. The blending of content can be in related fields, or non related fields; for example, you might blend specialties in tech into the one tech blog.
It has already begun
In a post asking whether the blog network model is dying, I made similar observations on a number of companies, some I'll repeat here
ReadWriteWeb has gone from a traditional blog network in to the uber blog model. Owner Richard McManus gave away or sold the two blogs in the network, at the same time he was launching new blogs under the ReadWriteWeb brand. The reason given by Richard: a focus on the core brand.
Silicon Alley Insider
Henry Blodget merged the two blogs outside of Silicon Alley Insider into sub-urls on alleyinsider.com. While each blog maintains their own name and heading, they are now all parts of alleyinsider itself as opposed to standalone blogs.
b5media hasn't yet started blending blogs into larger blogs, but has instead undertaken a variation of the theme: branded portals. Content from b5media's business and celebrity channels fall under the banner of a larger site, which also acts as a gateway to the content. Why one large blog?
The reasoning behind the move is remarkably simple: it's easy to sell ads on one blog vs many blogs, for a couple of reasons. The biggest is simply traffic: having one big blog means increased traffic to the core blog making the sales pitch more appealing. Second, advertisers will often want to target the one blog and not buy the subsidiary blogs; maybe not always, but none the less common in my experience. If you have one big blog with various streams you've got better odds of getting high value advertising against all the content.
Expanding outside the niche
Having sub blogs within a large blog, or amalgamating smaller blogs gives commercial blog operators the ability to broaden their content range outside of a specific niche, often with the advantage of not necessarily polluting the core product. The content for example on Silicon Alley Insider and ReadWriteWeb's sub-blogs is complimentary, and allows both sites to increase content outside the core sites focus, driving growth and new visitors to the product as whole.
Three companies that haven't blended blogs but could or should
Michael Arrington followed the typical blog network route with the TechCrunch blogs, launching new sites on new urls. The problem with the network is that it has never produced a hit that has come close to TechCrunch itself. Excluding the country specific sites that site on the techcrunch.com url (except Japan), sites like CrunchGear haven't delivered (for reference, with a yearly budget that wouldn't cover one months wages at CrunchGear, we have more traffic according to Quantcast). CrunchGear though isn't a bad site, it just lacks for eyeballs because it's not part of TechCrunch itself. Perfect candidate for a sub-blog, like crunchgear.techcrunch.com. The same goes for Mobile and Enterprise. Despite his dislike of me, Arrington is a smart bloke, and I'd bet we see at least one of these sites blended this year, if not all of them.
Om Malik has been buying blogs in a tight market, expanding his network at a time most others aren't. The unique thing about the network is that gigaom.com doesn't dominate it, accounting for 31.7% of traffic vs second place TheAppleBlog with 26.9%. However, a number of small blogs would appear to be struggling alone, and would make prime candidates for folding into the leading site.
AOL Weblogs Inc
AOL has continued to go wide, aggressively expanding the network they acquired from Jason Calacanis 4 year ago. AOL does have a couple of obvious strengths: the ability to sell ads across the network, and the leverage of AOL.com to pump new sites. They have already though started to group sites around key brands such as Engadget, and I'd suggest in a tightening market that grouping, being it masthead or subdomains/ sub blogs could come into play in 2009. Conclusion
In 2009 big will be better. Not big networks of many sites, but big blogs that break out of the narrow niche focus that has been typical of commercial blogging until now, and instead go wide in content but focused on one brand and one url.
The rise of the uber blog will also mark the beginning of the time new media starts to surpass old media. The thing holding back new media to date has been its obsession with niche plays that didn't naturally lead to scale that sets them up well to compete with old media titans that went wide online as they did offline in print. The new media uber blogs of 2009 and beyond will offer real substitution of old media like we haven't really seen before, and with lean structures that are best placed to last the recession, could ultimately emerge on top.