August 17, 2008

Google Has Leveled the Internet Playing Field

By Robert Seidman of TVbytheNumbers (Twitter / FriendFeed)

There are many motivations to write something and publish it on the Internet. Some write in hopes of making money, others like Louis, write because they want to be a part of something they enjoy, others like Hutch Carpenter find their next job. But I believe whether it's Duncan Riley, Louis or Hutch the common denominator is this: they want their voices to be heard.

It's a Very Different Landscape Than 1994…
A very low barrier to entry brings with it some blessings and some curses. The more people who participate, the better things are for everyone in the aggregate. But the more people participating, the harder it is to compete and have your voice rise up above the cacophony of all the other voices.

During my first foray into Internet publishing in the fall of 1994, the landscape was dramatically different. I launched a newsletter essentially summarizing the big events of the week in the online/Internet space. At the time of launch, my only competition was for-fee subscription content. There was no freely-available competition and as a result, I gained access to readers and industry insiders very quickly. Fortunately, Robert Scoble was writing about visual basic or something at the time, so I didn't have to compete with his bullhorn either.

I first met Bill Gorman, who I now run TVbytheNumbers with, within two months of launching my 1990s Internet publication. Bill was an executive at AOL, who helped launch America Online's international division. Around the same time, Bill started reading what I was writing, so did the person who was running AOL – Steve Case. Basically within two months of launching I was reaching high-ranking industry insiders.

…But It's Still Possible to Get Your Voice Out There
Today, if you were to launch a blog on social network services and hoping to get Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook to read it, I believe that task would be about 10,000 times more difficult. The likes of Louis, however, are proving that it's not impossible to write about companies you're interested in and gain 'inside' access. It may not be on the scale of Facebook executives for Louis (yet), but gaining insider access is certainly something he's accomplished to the point where he's now taken an advisory role with ReadBurner.

Louis might seem like an 'overnight success' story to many in the blogging circles, but not to me. What I see is a kid who has been plugging away since January 2006 and really started to get some traction by late 2007, which has accelerated greatly during 2008. Thirty-two months of plugging away to get where he is today isn't an overnight success story. It is a success story, but it is a success story that involved a lot of hard work, persistence and determination.

All Good Things…
The other day I brought up my FriendFeed and saw the link "Robert Seidman Quoted in NY Post On Phelps/Olympics" posted by none other than Louis. It was the first I'd heard of it. Although we have talked to reporters from the NY Post (and other publications) I hadn't talked to them about this. They'd just lifted the quote right out of a blog post and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Although getting quoted is nice, especially when quotes are just lifted off blog posts, the thing I was most proud of for the week was seeing this story comparing the minutes of online streaming to the minutes of viewing via traditional television pop-up in my Google Reader. An analyst working at Fox television crunched some numbers on top of some numbers I'd crunched in a blog post and Fox's PR team circulated it, citing our blog as the original source.

It's not lost on me that mostly happened because the song I was singing, "TV is still king", was a tune the people at the television networks really love to hear. But in a world where we're in some ways competing with Variety, Advertising Age, The Hollywood Reporter, Media Week, TV Week, The New York Times and the USA Today, to wind up having my thoughts on the subject heard was extremely gratifying. In some ways I'm in awe that the playing field is still level enough for that to happen.

Thanks Google!

I know a lot in the tech blogging circles will opine on whether Google is good or evil. For now in my mind, Google is still good. It leveled the playing field for us. We have little in the way of expense overhead (almost $0, really) and sure, it may work out that I've made about eight cents per hour, but that's the subject for another blog post. From my perspective, we are allowed to compete, and compete fairly without spending anything on marketing. It's hard for me to find fault with a system that provides that sort of level playing field.

Organic Google search (including Google News) is our number one traffic source. This leads to a lot of referral traffic from other sites and a good bit of the direct traffic.

A level playing field does not mean it's easy to get your voice heard, in fact, one of the best ways to compete in a very level playing field is with a lot of hard work. This may not equate directly to riches or fame, but if those were your goals the odds were already stacked against you before you started and you knew it.

Ultimately though, having your voice heard can lead to other very cool opportunities. Ask Louis, or Hutch, or even me. The best job I ever had, as a Senior Vice President at Charles Schwab running various portions of its online brokerage (from 1998-2003) came at least indirectly, and mostly directly, in my opinion, as a result of having my voice heard on the Internet. That was a lot easier to achieve in those heady pre-Google days, but even in this vastly more competitive era, Google does a great job leveling the playing field.

P.S. because I didn't think many FriendFeeders are interested in TV Metrics, I stopped feeding our blog into my FriendFeed stream and created a separate one here.