Twins separated at birth both fail as bloggers

tn_outing.jpg  Steve Outing & Scott Adams tn_scott-adams-1.jpg

Okay, they’re not  really twins. Outing is a citizen media guru. Adams draws the Dilbert cartoon. But their failures reveal a flaw in the DNA of the Web – it sucks as a money-making medium for content publishers. So what is it good for?

I woke this morning with a song in my head. Do you remember “War,” the 1970 Motown tune? With that in mind, I say:

Blogs! (pause) Huh?  (pause) Yeah!

What are they good for?

Absolutely nuthin!

As a reader and writer of blogs I often feel that way, especially this morning as I consider two recent declarations of failure by bloggers far more accomplished than me. Steve Outing is a newspaper guy turned new media commentator. He recently shut down a network of citizen journalism sites, the Enthusiast Group, devoted to biking, hiking and other outdoor activities. Outing, who had tried to construct his startup around user-generated content, found he couldn’t get enough good content to draw a large enough audience to win the ad sales he needed. His Editor & Publisher column, An Important Lesson About Grassroots Media, is a thoughtful and instructive warning to avoid the pitfalls that he discovered. 

Scott Adams. creator of the Dilbert strip, has blogged more or less daily for the last two years. But just before Thanksgiving he told readers he would be writing less frequently. Why? Because daily blogging had produced trivial ad income and, worse, he occasionally irritated blog readers who took their revenge by boycotting the Dilbert strip that pays his bills. Adams concluded his posting titled, “Going Forward,” with this quip:

“It’s hard to tell the family I can’t spend time with them because I need to create free content on the Internet that will lower our income.”

I don’t dare show that remark to my family because they feel the same way. When my teenaged sons say, “Dad, are you blogging,” what they really mean is, “Dad, are you still stupidly wasting your time?”

I don’t have a great answer for them yet I continue to blog. Why?

Because I do not expect to make money. What I expect from my blogging is to “meet” like-minded people with whom I will later collaborate on projects that none of us can yet imagine. It’s about organizing, stupid! It could be an information bank set up after the tsunami in Indonesia a few years ago, or the similar efforts that arose around Katrina. Or it could be the come-from-nowhere presidential campaign of Ron Paul (read about it).

These are ad hoc efforts and that is the only useful thing about blogs — and here I use blogs as a proxy for Web media in general. Web media and blogs are eclectic, edgy, entertaining, sometimes information and useful, sometimes even important — although the imporatance of any bit of commuication is measured by its value to the recipient and  not by some empirical measure such as weight or volume.

For the most part, however, blogs and the Web are distractions. They are a 24×7 pipeline to much of the accumulated wisdom, folly and drama of human kind. But how does the continual access to all of that . . . . content . . . help us get through our day? The fact is, it doesn’t. It is a distraction, not an assist. And though as a content creator it pains me to say this, I think Web content is properly valued at net to nothing because it is not terribly helpful to me or anyone else except on those rare instances when you or I really need  to find something. That is why a company like Gargle is worth a zillion dollars a share — and few other publishers are making any money at all.  Because investors have discerned that the Web – and its subset, the blogosphere — is simply one global shoe box filled with all sort of stuff that can so only found through a search. The rest of the time, we’d better stay away from this time-wasting sinkhole lest we fall into it and never be found again.

Errata: Thanks to my blog buddy Charlotte (ArtBlossom) Yee for pointing me to the Scott Adams posting. And if I could entice you to waste a bit more time, the Wikipedia entry on the War song is a cute, quick parable of one of the great protest songs of our time.