Why Content Publishers shouldn't host weblogs…

This is a post about why mainstream content publishers shouldn’t host weblogs on their sites – and the special circumstances under which they might be able to make it work. Firstly the reasons why they shouldn’t do it:

  • If you have an established and authoritative brand associated with the fact-checked information that you publish, you run the risk of diluting that image by having your logo or URL associated with content published by members of the general public.
  • This is much less of a problem with discussion forums and community sites than it is with weblogs, because weblogs can use any voice they like (from authoritative to playful) and mostly don’t need to allow any means of conversational redress from other users – ie. it’s easier to confuse a weblog with the brand’s main content.
  • There is also an associated problem (familiar to anyone hosting user-generated content) with legal liability – it’s considerably easier to remove a legally dubious post from a discussion board than it is from a weblog, because webloggers view (with reason) the space as essentially theirs, and immune from intervention from on-high.
  • There is no reason to assume that being in the position to encourage the take-up of weblogging will mean that you’ll keep the ones you want to keep using your service. In fact:
    1. The longer someone has been weblogging, and the more invested they are in it, the more likely it is that they’re going to want to get a domain name of their own.
    2. These same people are also likely to want to use extended functionality at some point and will probably try and move to a dedicated application or provider who can more adequately fulfil their weblogging needs.
    3. A dedicated long-term weblogger may not wish to be associated with the brand of your service any more and may choose to leave.
  • The effect of this is that dedicated, popular and authoritative webloggers will leave your service, leaving behind only new webloggers, and abandoned or ‘low-quality’ sites.
  • And the final reason not to host weblogs is that there’s no need to do so. If you publish compelling and blog-worthy content on your site then it’ll get just as much take-up in webloggia as if you were hosting the weblogs themselves.

Now the special cases – the ways to approach something like this if you’re determined to do it:

  1. There’s value and utility in the information you can glean out of a database of people’s weblog posts. These can help inform editorial decisions and make it possible to spot emerging news / public interest stories. This information (and the multiple ways it can be used within your site) is simply valuable. If you have an established brand, you are more likely to be able to get a decent amount of it.
  2. Probably the best way to implement it after this stage, then, is to use an associated brand and publicise it heavily on your main site. That way you’re putting in that element of distance that stops you being quite so heavily associated with what is written, while still reaping the benefits from it…
  3. And to counter natural migration from your service (indeed to capitalise upon it and monetise it) then:
    1. Firstly, make it possible for your webloggers not only to leave, but also to come back. People resent being put into a position where they are ‘trapped’ into using only one personal publishing tool, and may publicise this as a reason not to use the service in the first place.
    2. Secondly, give them a clear upgrade path – give them various levels of functionality which they can move between. You can try and monetise this if you wish. If the functionality is good enough, people will pay.
    3. Thirdly, use the fact that your running a high-profile publishing business as an opportunity to reward the weblogs you host that you think are particularly good. This is a hell of an incentive to be ‘one of the fold’.
    4. Fourthly, not only don’t try and force people to stay within your design and branding, but make it possible for people to migrate from the branded presence completely. Many webloggers will want (at some point) to purchase a domain name of their own and get more powerful server functionality and access, but many won’t know how to approach this kind of stuff. If you can build mechanisms to keep this process as simple and as easy as possible, then you can keep your webloggers happy, keep them using your service, and in the process get a cut on the price of the domain name, charge for the enhanced hosting (or the removal of adverts, if you’ve used them) and you still have access to the content they’re producing.