Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Blogical Mystery Tour

Federated Media is not competing with Google AdWords, according to Mr. Battelle ... or, it's maybe competing in a small way, but it's not important. Just an tiny, itty bitty company, as he says.

Even after all the devastation, that's a remarkably modest comment coming from Mr. Battelle. I thought I'd take a tour of his "author partners" and see what this tiny little bitty company is doing.

There's one called Search Blog. It's actually Mr. Battelle's own site, where he writes about the great search company called Google. Search Blog claims 1,300 unique visitors a day. Hey, there are tiny rural weekly newspapers that survive on 1,300 readers ....

(The math is tough to decode. Most commercial websites sell ads based on page views, and there's a known advertising model based on "impressions" and the cost per thousand of those impressions. When you see an ad, that's an "impression.")

A premier Federated Media site is Boing Boing. It seems to feature a group of tech journalists writing about the great new articles they've written for other publications, as well as some blurbs about quirky computer news. It also has big traffic for a blog, reportedly some 70,000 unique visitors a day. No Drudge Report, or even Gawker, but it's good traffic. My newspaper website friends say that's a decent number for a smaller city's newspaper site. Boing Boing writers are regularly featured on "old media" programs such as the NPR news, so this property has potential.

(I've visited Boing Boing about 20 times this month at various times of day. Maybe I've been targeted as an undesirable consumer, but I've never seen anything but house ads in the Federated Media spots ... along with a number of "button" or "badge" ads promoting various Battelle products such as his book about Google. There are also some ads for Internet-freedom "pet causes" of the Boing Boing writers and an advertisement for a watch company that seems separate from the Federated Media space. Perhaps there's a busy time of day I've missed when many Federated Media ads appear.)

Battelle's operation seems especially proud of a blog called Dooce.com, which is written by an "alternative" mom, as far as I can tell. The blog claims a daily "unique visitor" count of 26,000 people. That's a lot of people reading a blog! Again, it's no InstaPundit or Daily Kos or Engadget, but pretty good for the content.

The content is hard to describe. The woman writes about her friends getting jobs, a child (her child?) getting a sinus infection, not being able to locate a pair of shoes, a dog sleeping and other concerns. As she still has AdBrite text ads and "begging links" for PayPal and Amazon donations, I am wondering how the Federated Media advertising is working out. Also, I've never actually seen a Federated Media ad on the Dooce.com site, just blank spots that say "Advertise here."

Then there's Fark.com, which a few of my younger nephews think is "the shit." It seems to be a collection of pornography, sports and "wacky news" links submitted by readers. It leads the pack with some 173,000 unique visitors each day. I got a Howard Stern feeling from this site, if on a much smaller level. And the ads reflected that: There's an ad from a sports-news website dominated by pictures of young girls in skimpy outfits, an ad for a lesser Howard Stern knockoff called "Opie and Anthony," and some house ads from Federated Media about website tracking software.

It smells of the Rush Limbaugh/Dr. Laura talk-radio problem: There are many listeners, but they aren't considered to be especially attractive to advertisers. The nightly news on television may have a much smaller audience than Rush, yet the commercials are for high-ticket items such as SUVs. The advertisers on talk radio seem to all be selling dubious precious-metal schemes and suspicious health-food appliances. (The talk-radio business may have low-end advertising, but the scale is massive. Limbaugh claims 3 million listeners per day.)

Maybe Battelle has actually been humbled by his disastrous past and really does consider his Federated Media to be a little tiny company. It's hard to imagine this roster of publications attracting luxury-goods advertisers you see on NYTimes.com - or used to see on the glossy pages of the Industry Standard -- and it seems more difficult than the automated Google AdWords system that places relevant text ads on sites large and small.

In other words, so far this looks like an oddly humble enterprise for some hype-whore like Battelle. What's really going on here?

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