I read with interest Matt Haughey's essay Blogging for Dollars, where he relates his experiences running Google's Adsense adverts on his TiVo-focused weblog, PVRblog. Matt is making a pretty penny running the Google ads on his TiVo blog and one of the main reasons why is that it is focused on a single topic. He advises:
"In order to have any remote chance of success gaining an interested audience and getting good on-topic ads showing up, pick a narrow topic you are passionate about and run with it."
I'm not that concerned with the controversy surrounding the terms and conditions of Google Adsense, as that has been covered by many others. What interests me is blogging on a narrowly-defined topic, which if it's one that attracts plenty of e-commerce action (like TiVo) could even make a buck.
But it's not a case of "there's gold in them thar blogs", like in the Dot Com days. The Google ads won't make you a paper millionaire and they won't lead to an IPO, but if you're fortunate you may get a comfy chair like Matt did. So just to get that straight, I'm not talking about anything that starts with "e-".
One person that has been pushing the envelope with topic-focused blogging is Elwyn Jenkins. In his case, it is also commercial as he runs a business based on his blog Microdoc News. The topic of his blog is nano-publishing:
"Nano Publishing is a tiny web-based operation that publishes online as its primary focus and usually runs a weblog as a core part of its primary income earning activity."
So Elwyn Jenkins is making money by blogging about how to make money by blogging. Niiice! But he succeeds because his content is (usually) interesting and informative. He does however employ some tricks of the trade in order to get people to read his blog, and hence make his money. These could be construed as cynical.
For example I am subscribed to Microdoc News in my RSS Aggregator, but when I see a new article that I want to read I have to click on a link that opens up Microdoc News in my web browser. Most blogs I subscribe to let me read the entire article in my RSS Aggregator, which is how I prefer it. I should add that some other blogs do it too - in fact Movable Type calls it a feature, making you click for the whole story. And there is another reason - web designers like Zeldman and Asterisk actually want people to click out of their RSS Aggregators to view their beautifully designed websites. Which is fine, because I enjoy viewing well-designed websites. But I believe Elwyn Jenkins makes people click out of their RSS Aggregators because it makes people visit his website, which earns him advertising cash.
There are other tricks too. Microdoc News is styled as an "online magazine", but it's just run by one bloke. It's amazing how many times I see people on the Web refer to Microdoc News as a "they" instead of a "he". Microdoc promotes itself as an authority on blogging and it runs a blog portal, under a different domain name. Microdoc is also almost obsessively focused on Google, which allows him to feed off of Google's high profile and success. It reminds me those birds that travel around on the back of large animals like rhinos, on the African plains. Oxpeckers, I think they're called. Google would be the rhino and Microdoc the oxpecker.
Now I don't mean any of this in a rude way, I greatly admire Microdoc News and have had it in my blogroll ever since my own weblog started. Microdoc News is one of the sites that inspires me and its content is always worth a peek. But it's also a good example of how weblog advertising is subtlely affecting the reader's experience, because of all the little tricks that Microdoc employs to entice people to visit it and treat it as an authority on its main topic (nano-publishing).
Finally, today I noticed that Tom Coates has started a new topic-focused blog called Everything in Moderation (the topic is managing online communities and user-generated content). There's no advertising on the site, so I'm not suggesting that there is a monetary incentive to this. But even if there was, I'd still applaud Tom's new site because it's focused on a specific topic and hence it will attract an audience of people who are interested in that topic. And if his readers are as passionate about the topic as Tom is, then it's likely they'll become regular readers. Perhaps even contributers.
In conclusion, I view topic-focused blogs as a further extension of the Two-Way Web rather than just another attempt to milk money out of the Web. Because these blogs are attached to a single topic, it means the content will nearly always be relevant to its audience. This in turn encourages interaction with the reader, maybe even the reader writing back to the blog. Yes I am beginning to like the idea of topic-focused blogs, even discounting the fringe benefit that they may make money. Hmmm, I'll have to think of what narrow topic I can focus on in order to start a new blog. I could use some pocket money too!