Why blog? (continued)

So, getting back to the original question: Why blog?

In part, the motivation is little different from that of a merchant who posts a sign next to a busy highway. The Internet is now the world’s biggest and busiest thoroughfare, one that crosses all borders and time zones. Any professional or business person who fails to establish a presence there is missing an obvious opportunity. After all, if you don’t let people know you’re out there, they’re not likely to beat a path to your door.

For a self-employed writer and editor like myself, there’s at least the faint hope that making myself more visible online may eventually generate additional freelance assignments, new contacts and interesting article ideas.

OK, the truth is, I’m still waiting for the financial benefits to roll in. I suspect the payoff, if any, could be many months away. But the new blog has already sparked some interesting contacts and helped renew some old acquaintances.

“Man, what a blast from the past! what have you been doing since the late 80s?” writes a business editor who used to publish my freelance articles when I was editor of a weekly newspaper covering Vail and Beaver Creek. “I realize I owe you a phone call,” writes another editor who’s been missing my calls in recent weeks.

Filling a niche

There’s also the rationale of filling a niche, scratching an unsatisfied itch, even accomplishing a sort of personal mission. You see, I could just as easily have started a blog about skiing, parenting, environmental issues or local and state politics, all of which interest me and consume significant amounts of my time.

But after following and writing about Colorado technology and the state’s emerging information economy for well over two decades, I’ve developed a personal attachment to, and interest in, its success. I’d like to see this industry continue to flourish and provide jobs and (hopefully) clean industry for my kids and future generations.

As I wrote in my opening post, “all too often this state and region gets precious little recognition and attention in an industry largely focused on Silicon Valley (and Asia).” That’s a shame, because there’s been some great stories, colorful personalities and important contributions that have come out of this state and region. And the story is far from over.

I’ve long believed there is ample editorial fodder here for a strong regional tech-business publication. But finding a way to pay for it is a far bigger challenge. Most national business and technology publications are struggling to survive since the post-millennial tech wreck. And that’s despite having vast resources and advertising sales organizations to rely upon.

A broken business model

The traditional advertising-based publishing business model is broken, and publishers left and right are either failing or cutting back their investments in editorial content. The remaining journalists in the field are bombarded by literally hundreds of press releases weekly, and far more marketing and public-relations pitches than they could possibly find time to look into, even if the topics happened to be newsworthy.

As one of my journalist colleagues wrote recently:

Companies are using the Web to communicate with customers and prospects, so they don’t need to rely on magazines either for advertising or even for articles where they have no control over the outcome. Companies are realizing that they can communicate without the middle medium — but thankfully they also realize that they can’t just shove marketing crap down people’s throats. They know that customers are still looking for value in their information.

Yes, customers, and readers of all stripes, are looking for reliable, objective information sources. But increasingly they don’t want to pay for it.

Ahh, forgive me. I’m about to head off on another rant. . .

Turning the tables

The point is, blogging offers at least the potential to turn the tables on the tired old paradigm of publishing that’s developed over the past century. It’s an opportunity to break free of the capital-intensive system of printing presses and elaborate distribution systems controlled by a handful of self-interested publishers, far too few of whom still retain any sincere commitment to public service.

It’s a chance for virtually anyone with access to a computer and the Internet to say whatever they like, for better or worse, to anyone they can manage to interest. It’s a true marketplace of ideas, thus far mostly unfettered by regulation or economic restraint.

The blogosphere these days is the Wild West of publishing, and it’s providing a forum for literally millions of amateurs, idiots, charlatans and opportunists, as well as a growing number of thoughtful new voices.

Remember the mid-1990s, back in the early days of the World Wide Web, when thousands of odd and interesting websites were popping up around the globe? Remember people scratching their heads and saying: “Sure it’s cool, but how in the world can we ever make money off of it?” Then, within a few short years, we were caught up in the euphoria of the dot-com boom, and its subsequent, painful bust.

Many millions of dollars were poured into what were, in retrospect, remarkably, brazenly stupid ideas. But along the way a few good, well-timed and well-executed ideas stuck. Raise your hand if — like me — you shopped at Amazon, iTunes or Best Buy Online this past Christmas. Enough said.

Betting on blogs

The Internet has matured into a vast new economic arena, and the blogosphere is headed that way as well.

Will most of us make our fortunes there? Of course not. Only a handful of lucky, and sometimes prescient, pioneers ever reap the riches of any new era. But will we at least have a bit of adventure and a few amusing anecdotes to share with our grandchildren? Let’s hope so.

And for all those new bloggers who’ve never before experienced the thrill of seeing your words plastered across a magazine’s cover or the front page of the local newspaper, let me welcome you to the party. My friends, your day has finally arrived.

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