Andrew Watson suggests that my post about Bloglines being scared off its advertising strategy would make a great Oliver Stone movie :-) Heh, I won't sell my screenplay to Stone for less than a cool million! ;-) Seriously though, it's possible my post did sound like a Conspiracy Theory, but I suspect what I wrote is spot-on and Jason Calacanis agrees. If it's true, then it highlights once again that Mark Fletcher is a very smart cookie. He put his ear to the ground, didn't like the sound of the approaching freight train of content producers, so decided to sell up while the going was still good. Brilliant!
Speaking of conspiracy theories, read this from Rafat Ali over at PaidContent.org and tell me it's not a very similar situation to the one Bloglines found itself in:
"My conspiracy theory: why have sites like Google News and Newsbot been in beta for so long, and will perhaps not come out of it for a long time? Well, they have no idea how to get any revenues off them, without getting into controversy...the controversy being that if they start putting ads against this news search content, like they do for general search results, the content providers will cry foul. As it is, the content players are queasy and have a rather delicate relationship with the likes of Google News. So the "beta" tag is a convenient way to wait out the uncertain period and see what models develop later on..."
NB: emphasis mine.
Noah Brier also has some thoughts on this. He says that "if Bloglines gives me a very good product (which I believe it does), I can deal with some advertising so that it remains free as long as it's in good taste and not overwhelming." As he later points out though, that's the consumer angle. The contentious point is on the content producer side of the equation. Jason Calacanis said that "protecting publishers and authors is NOT anti-blogosphere" and I largely agree with him, with the following caveats:
For small-scale content producers, provided that Bloglines gave bloggers a slice of the pie (a la Google Ad Sense), then I think most smaller content producers would be happy. But when it comes to those content producers who have the ability to generate their own advertising sales (like Gawker and Weblogs Inc), that's where Bloglines' proposed advertising strategy becomes a conflict. And don't forget there will be a minority of smaller content producers who also complain (e.g. Schwimmer) and they will make a lot of noise and generate bad publicity for Bloglines. They may even make legal challenges - especially if they are lawyers (like Schwimmer). Which all spells bad news for Bloglines' advertising business model, even if they managed to keep the majority of (small) content producers assuaged.
So I think the above, in a nutshell, is why the contextual advertising strategy would not have worked for Bloglines and why they backed out of it very quickly.
Lots of twists and turns in this plot, so it would indeed make a great movie :-) A suggested title: "Content Wars: Episode Web 2.0". Oliver, you're welcome to make an offer in the comments...