I'm a partner in the advanced analytics group at Bain & Company, the global management consulting firm. My primary focus is on marketing analytics (bio). I've been writing here (views my own) about marketing, technology, e-business, and analytics since 2003 (blog name explained).

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March 29, 2004

The Business of Blogging

This post originally appeared on my first blog, hosted by Harvard Law School's Berkman Center. Jeff Jarvis later kindly mentioned it here.

We're in the middle of a blogging bubble, or at least it feels that way if you spend any time at all in the Blogosphere.  So, many people are asking, "Is there a business here?"  This note suggests some ways of thinking about this.

Here are some numbers.

First, according to the Pew Research Center's most recent survey,  over 2 million Americans are reading blogs today, and just under 1 million are authoring them.  As many people read blogs as bid at eBay, and they outnumber those (that will admit to) visiting adult sites.

Blogging is pretty new, but it feels like we're in the steep part of an adoption curve.  So let's say those numbers double in the next year and we've got ~2 million bloggers out there.

Let's assume 1/3 blog for free through some service, 1/3 pay a modest fee (~$5/ month at Typepad's lowest rate) for something snazzier, and the balance blog on organizationally-sponsored blog software at the rate of ~100 bloggers per installation, with each installation costing ~$1k in software license fees/ year (more or less what Manila runs).

So that's ~1 million bloggers at $60/year, or ~$60 million, plus another million -- divided by a hundred per installation -- across 10k sites, at 1k a year each, for another $10 million.  Let's be generous and round up to $100 million, and then globalize things and double it. So we're looking at a $200 million/ year market.

This is of course modest by today's VC standards, which may explain why none have stepped in.  Notwithstanding, Joi Ito and the other  Six Apart investors, and Ross Mayfield's and Dave Winer's angels, if any, will doubtless make money because they will build $20m+/ year firms worth 2x+ sales, if and when they sell.  Of course, arguably blogs are ultimately a feature of broader portals, and ISP's and others will likely offer blogs as part of the basic personal or small business package soon.

I'm sure this is a pretty narrow way of thinking about things. So let's come at it from a different angle.  Today, cheap publishing tools (whether blogs, Frontpage, or plain old Notepad+HTML+FTP) have produced an ocean of content on the Web.  Finding what you want and staying engaged with it is still hard.  Search is still primitive: by keyword, occasionally with Boolean connectors.

Now enter RSS.  RSS -- and for that matter any other standard for web services that becomes sufficiently popular -- could be the basis for "structured" search, that could (will) complement the simple keyword-based search we see today.  With structured search, the entire Web (or at least nodes that publish according to whatever standard emerges for the item being searched for) becomes a database that can be queried in the powerful way we've become used to.  Think Froogle, only cleaned up and useful.  So useful in fact, Microsoft is onto it too of course (thanks to my friend Perry Hewitt for forwarding this news).

RSS is an open standard, so it's free.  But extensions to it don't need to be, and shouldn't always be.  Examples of ones that should be include events, as described here before.  But examples of ones that might not be include pricing information.  We can envision a firm that might write such an extension, and then license associated plug-ins to publishers and readers.  This new intermediary could end up being to eBay what NASDAQ has been to the NYSE (a peer-to-peer market vs. a hub-and-spoke one).  Such a firm might not make much money on the plug-ins, because it would certainly want to see them widely deployed. But it might make money in the information it builds from watching activity across the network of publishers, and possibly from looking at the pollers as well (as in patterns among requesting IP's, less useful when you're coming from AOL, but more useful when your request is coming in from XYZ.com).  And the business might not stop with the simple sale of information about this activity, or even value-added analysis of it.  If you can envision people placing bets against possible implications, you have the makings of a financial market, with transaction costs (though I guess eBay still wins because people might use Paypal).  Think "RSS futures".

(To a certain extent this all feels like a re-hash of the hype around web services of just two years ago, with everyone talking about how much money there might be to be made in such things as UDDI directories and such.  And of course most public exchanges -- eBay the prominent exception -- failed to generate much liquidity, and  it's been the private exchanges that streamline supply chains that have ultimately proven to be most economically viable.  But I'm sure there's lessons from those experiences that could inform the new kind of models I'm speculating on here.)

Andy Roberts just posted on his idea of the Delta Web, which we knocked around at dinner the other night.  Read it as a complement to this post.

So how much might this be worth?  Depends I guess on the transaction volume involved (number and value) and on how much value there is in the information about such transaction flows, and in supporting liquidity in the various necessary ways.


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