Money and blogging

Here’s JuiceTorrent. Here’s how it works.

I like that it’s a grass roots project to create a new and less centralized advertising economy. (Or maybe it’s decentralized. I’m not sure which, because the site doesn’t yet say what happens behind the curtain. Is it like BitTorrent in its architecture? If so, does it use the BitTorrent protocol in some way? And what’s actually centralized? Who sells the advertising? How is relevance determined? How is pricing determined?)

I also like anything that can start breaking what amounts to a near-monopoly on advertising by Google. At U.S. v. Microsoft, 10 Years Later, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s top legal honcho, became impassioned at just one moment during the 1.5 day event: when he was asked about an advertising deal between Google and Yahoo. This would combine the #1 and #2 online advertising companies, leaving Microsoft a distant #3. Disregarding the irony of crying “waah” because Microsoft is losing at a game it failed to buy (or innovate) its way into, Brad still has a case.

What I don’t like is the corrupting influence of the advertising economy itself.

Right now online advertising is a river of gold flowing out of the ground in California, and millions of bloggers — along with countless new and traditional businesses — are rushing to grab some. In addition to the other economy-distorting consequences of this rush, it is corrupting blogging’s original nature, which is amateur in the best sense or the word. Amateur is derived from amatorem, the Latin word for lover.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with making money by blogging. I am saying there’s something wrong with blogging mostly to make money, or to let advertising determine the purpose of your blog and what you say with it. If your business is the latter, you’re flogging, not blogging.

There is an old and subtle distinction here. Businesses and professions at their best are ways to pursue passions and organize talents — not just to make money. Of course they can’t thrive unless they make money. But few of us go into business just saying “I can’t wait to return value to my shareholders.” Investors are the main exceptions, but the best of those know that human passions other than greed are at the heart of every good business.

And it’s a distinction I’ll be making at BlogWorld Expo in Las Vegas at the end of this week, somewhere in the Citizen Journalsism Workshop.

Meanwhile, check out JuiceTorrent. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes, since right now it’s single mention on the Web comes from Emil Sotirov of People Networks, which created the service. (I discovered Emil and his work through a comment here.) If this be a snowball, we can mark where it started.

[Later... Emil answers many questions above in the comments below.]

22 comments

  1. Terry Heaton’s avatar

    As I’ve said so many times, Doc, people who are paid to say something are different than people who have something to say. This is why blogging has had such a cultural impact, and like you, my fear is that some bloggers — by way of human nature — will cross the line from one to the other.

    Can you do both? I suppose, but it’s a question of what drives what?

  2. Doc Searls’s avatar

    I like “people who are paid to say something are different than people who have something to say”. That’s why Bill Hick’s discourse on marketing cuts so deep. I’ve been in marketing, advertising, PR. Ouch.

    I’ve also been paid to say many things, though always to say what I believe. It’s a good market to be in — to say what you believe, because others like it and want it to be heard more widely. From the buyer’s perspective, however, I’m a person who’s paid to say something. Does that make me different from a person who has something to say?

    So I’m not sure it’s the people who are different. It’s the corruption of people purely monetary motivations. Blogging for dollars alone reminds me of the old George Burns line: “Honesty is the best policy. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”

  3. Derek K. Miller’s avatar

    I think you’ve hit on a point some of us should have made at Gnomedex a few weeks ago. It seems to me that, as in many other endeavours (golf, fishing, gardening, wilderness activities, mountain biking, etc.), the real money is to be made in helping people enjoy their hobby (if it’s blogging), rather than in the activity itself.

  4. Robert Paterson’s avatar

    I suppose in a way I blog for dollars but not directly. By having something to say, I have had people pay me to help them make these ideas real or simply to hear me talk about them in person.

    More money available I think for having ideas than for promoting traffic as an end in itself

  5. Emil Sotirov’s avatar

    Doc,

    Thank you for taking a look at JuiceTorrent. I am really happy and thankful to have a reaction and comments from someone like you.

    Here are a few points about JuiceTorrent in no particular order…

    JT works “on top” of contextual ad markets like AdSense and YPN. Hopefully MS will put up some fight in this area because users of JuiceTorrent will only benefit from a wider choice in terms of quality and efficiency of the ads served through JuiceTorrent. So the ads come from these services. We leave to the big guys to deliver on relevance and quality of the ads. However, for the time being, we decided to serve text only ads through JuiceTorrent in order to minimize the “annoyance” effect of the introduction of ads on blogs which otherwise would not have had any rational to have ads at all.

    But your big question about the “corrupting” influence of money on blogging is what I really want to address here.

    JuiceTorrent is designed to make money for organizations and bloggers based only on voluntary support from other bloggers and small site owners. The ads are served on the supporter’s blogs. This is the core of the JuiceTorrent idea. The ads (served by JT) you would see on a blog would be generating revenue for someone else – and only because the owner of the blog wants to support that other entity. JuiceTorrent re-maps genuine relationships with small (miniscule) streams of revenue. Taken separately – each one of these small streams is economically meaningless for the owner of the blog where the ads are displayed. So, we hope that JuiceTorrent will, in fact, work for a less (money) corrupted but still ad supported web. That’s our BIG idea.

    Here is a post on my blog about JuiceTorrent:
    http://sotirov.com/2008/09/02/juicetorrent-is-on/

    Thank you again for marking the entry of JuiceTorrent (our baby) into the world… :)

  6. Ivan Ivanov’s avatar

    Doc, JuiceTorrent is based on a proprietary technology that has nothing to do with Bit Torrent protocol. The idea behind the term ‘Torrent’ in this case is non-technological. It rather refers to the potential multiple money streams towards the supported entity (blog, organization etc.)

    Terry, I believe that JT presents one solution of the problem that you are referring to. It appears to be an answer to your question ‘Can you do both?’ JT frees bloggers to concentrate on the cultural impact of their writing and as a side effect to receive some monetary support. If a blog connects culturally with other people and they really like it, they may decide to support it. So, in a sense JT defines the real target – the quality of blogs.

    Additionally, my guess is that the visualized statement of approval by others will be even more rewarding.

  7. Robert Grosshandler’s avatar

    Doc –

    I applaud what JuiceTorrent’s trying to do. It can work. We’ve seen great uptake making the same thing work for search on sites in the iGive model with iSearchiGive.com (each search means a penny or more for your favorite cause.)

    Rob

  8. Patrick Sand’s avatar

    Somewhat closer to the ground the idea of an online advertising explosion is a bit troubling. One of the discussions I’ve had with a couple of the neighborhood bloggers here in Seattle revolves around our belief that there will eventually be ad pollution. After that it will be difficult for us to sell ads because there will be online advertisers who bought something on a page that only a couple dozen people read which would lead to the buyer then turning around and saying, “Online ads don’t work!”

    As McDonalds is fond of telling their employees, people’s last impression is their only impression.

    Also as some one who was at Sarah Lacy’s “talk” at Gnomedex I found her suggestion of being a professional conference goer to be an unsatisfactory alternative. By not selling ads and setting yourself up as a consultant it seemed to me that you were taking the noise portion of the signal-to-noise ratio and moving it around rather than fixing the problem.

  9. Doc Searls’s avatar

    For other folks on the thread, I’ve known Robert for a long time, and admire what he’s been doing with iGive and related projects.

  10. Emil Sotirov’s avatar

    Robert… I noticed you’ve been doing iGive since 1997.

    Thank you so much for your encouragement!

  11. Neil Gorman’s avatar

    For me (and I’m only speaking for myself here) new media like blogging is very much about creating a contribution, a way to GIVE BACK to the network of people on the internet.

    Doing new media as an amateur is NOT something to be looked down on. In fact I’d argue that it is something to be celebrated, because it is such authentic forms of expression for expressions own sake.

    I sort of look at new media the same way that I look at musicians. I don’t see anything at all wrong with a musician getting paid to make music. But, I think that most musicians make music out of a love of making music, rather than out of a love of getting paid to make music.

    i.e. getting paid is a by-product of creating good music / content.

    I believe that when people who make music or new media focus too much on the monetary aspect of content creation and distribution they frequently lose sight of creating quality content for its own sake.

    If the authentic joy that flows from self expression is diminished, or disappears all together, the quality of the content sufferers as well.

    Am I making sense?

    -N

  12. Emil Sotirov’s avatar

    Neil… you make a lot of sense.

    But read carefully how JuiceTorrent works – it is exactly about freeing the creators of good content from the “monetary aspect.” With JuiceTorrent, it is the supporters’ blogs who “make the money”… JT is basically a new way of giving – fluid, ongoing, flowing along relationships of admiration, fanship, and support for worthy causes.

    As a JT star – you don’t have to have ads on your site. You don’t blog for money.

    As a JT supporter – what you make as a (miniscule) ad revenue – you give. You don’t blog for money.

    The motivations are the best possible. As you say, “getting paid is a by-product of creating good music/content” and having fans and supporters.

  13. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Patrick,

    I think we’ve long since passed the point of advertising saturation online. I’m reminded of cigarette smoking in the 50s. It was beyond normative: a bad thing sold successfully as a good thing. The whole culture was pickled in smoke. What you see on Mad Men is no exaggeration. Worse, tobacco companies ran ads with testimonials by medical doctors about the health benefits of smoking.

    My father was a heavy smoker. Eventually killed him. But in the meantime our house and car stank of it. I grew up with it, and remember not liking it, but also not being able to do anything about it.

    I feel almost the same way about advertisng. But I’m also doing something about it, with ProjectVRM. One purpose of VRM is to eliminate guesswork about what customers actually want, and waste in trying to “drive” customers who just aren’t interested.

    Most advertising is wasted. That’s the bottom line. And it’s a problem we can fix. My work may not do it, but somebody’s will, eventually.

  14. Neil Gorman’s avatar

    @Emil — I really enjoyed your comment as well. I hope that my comment did not come across as an attack on JT. I did write it when I was in a rush, because I wanted to get the thought out of my head before I forgot it :)

    I wanted it to be a general comment about the difference in these three things.

    1. Creating something authentic just because you want to be creative
    2. Creating something creative and getting paid as a result
    3. Creating something (a “product”) with the only intention being to make money.

    If it (my prior comment) came across like I was taking a shot a JT that is *not* what I wanted.

    Take care.

    -N

  15. Emil Sotirov’s avatar

    Doc,

    If we are to believe Google (I still do), the ad spots will eventually evolve into smart communication interfaces – ideally – VRM devices. This may sound a little bit like the idea of “nicotine-free cigarettes”, but I don’t think that the analogy would be correct.

  16. Doc Searls’s avatar

    I once wrote “Our idols walk on clay feet when it’s the only way to get around.” I think that applies to Google in this case.

    As of today, advertising is the best we can do for many purposes. That doesn’t mean it’s not wasteful or flawed in fundamental ways. Still, it’s the best we can do if we’re producers trying to reach consumers. And Google has made it better in some fundamental and profound ways.

    Still, we have hardly begun to explore market improvement from the customer side — by equipping demand to drive supply, by providing each of us with tools to serve our intentions first rather than those of sellers.

    VRM is about equipping customers, not vendors. You can stretch advertising in a VRM direction, and make it better with VRM, I suppose, but it’s still a sell-side development. So I don’t see advertising, even greatly improved advertising, as a form of VRM. In fact, I very much don’t want to see it that way, because it just helps us rationalize improving the old when we need the new.

    This is not to say that you’re doing a bad thing in any way. Helping the ad business is just not what we’re about with VRM.

    By the way we have Google folks involved in the VRM community. The company is not monolithic, nor is it tied forever to its current business models.

  17. Emil Sotirov’s avatar

    Doc,

    “As of today…” is the key word for me in this case. For some time already, I am trying to focus on what’s actionable today.

    “…Google folks involved in the VRM community.” Now, that’s a good thing to hear!

    Thank you again for this post and discussion.

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