Archive for the 'online trends' Category

The rise of conservative blogs during the Obama era

Many mainstream news outlets are beginning to pick up on a trend I’ve been noting here for months — that the Obama administration seems to be fueling an upswing in conservative blog traffic, mostly due to their blogs transitioning to the opposition. My research is referenced in this Fox News article on the subject:

Social media consultant Simon Owens said he found that conservative blogs had lost fewer readers since November. While the conservative blogs are now getting 37 percent fewer page views than during the election season, the liberal blogs have lost almost twice as many: 64 percent of their Web site hits.

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2,000 “gate keepers” make or break a Web 2.0 start up

Robert Scoble argues that there is a gang of about 2,000 early adopters that flock to a new tool — like Twitter, for instance — and provide a breeding ground for mass success. According to him, it’s essentially the same 2,000 people, and though they don’t guarantee that a platform will take off, their presence is essential.

You see, there’s a gang of about 2,000 people who really control tech industry hype and play a major role in deciding which services get mainstream hype (this gang was all on Twitter by early 2007 — long before Oprah and Ashton and all the other mainstream celebrities, brands, and journalists showed up). I have not seen any startup succeed without getting most of these folks involved. Yes, Mike Arrington of TechCrunch is the parade leader, but he hardly controls this list. Dave Winer proved that by launching by showing it first to Marshall Kirkpatrick and raced through this list.

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Are AOL’s blog traffic numbers falsely inflated?

AOL has received much praise recently for its initiatives to snap up hundreds of journalists to populate its niche blogs with news content. But Mediaite’s Colby Hall suggests that the massive traffic numbers behind these sites are driven in large part by the AOL home page, which is mostly populated by the millions of old fogeys that still — shudder — log into their AOL email addresses.

How does it work? Simply put AOL still enjoys an enormous userbase — Quantcast reveals that has almost 60 million unique visits a month. More importantly, they report that each month they receive an estimated 2.5 billion total visits. Which means that each user checks in on average over 30 times per month, presumably to check their email. As a result, the AOL homepage, or “welcome screen,” is incredibly effective for promoting the AOL-owned niche blogs and driving traffic their way.

But it’s not just where the traffic is coming from, but what it does when it gets there — many of these content areas have become particularly adept at manufacturing an enormous amount of “clicks” or “page views” by employing slide shows that get the user to click through to see ten or more images. Like “Take a Dip in Some Amazing Swimming Pools” or “Stars and Stripes Bikinis Indicate that God has Blessed America.” Not exactly the stuff of the Paris Review, but a great generator of traffic clicks.

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How fickle is news aggregator traffic?

Nieman Lab points out that Newser’s traffic has faced steep declines, explaining that much of its readership success was based on distribution deals that have since fallen through.

Similarly, while Politics Daily has been praised for amassing a huge audience in its first few months, the majority of that traffic comes from the site’s corporate parent, AOL.

And there’s nothing wrong with those arrangements, but they’re a far cry from loyal readership. When the firehose is shut off, the traffic disappears.

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News websites average 88.74 characters per line

Smashing Magazine conducted an amazing study of 50 popular news websites to track trends with font and typography. They found that “60% of websites use sans-serif typefaces for headlines” and that “Two thirds of the websites we surveyed used sans-serif fonts for body copy.”

As one would expect, Arial, Georgia and Verdana are used for the majority of body copy today. In our study, around 80% of websites used one of these three fonts. For the remaining 20%, designers’ favorite Helvetica is a popular choice, as is Lucida Grande.

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The user impetus problem

I have a friend who works for a non-profit wiki that recently launched. The staff populated the site with original articles, released it to the wild, and waited for users to come in, create accounts, and edit and create new content. It’s several months later and hardly anyone has signed up for the site.

I have another friend who works for a tech start-up dating website that has a few added twists. Despite favorable coverage in many of the largest tech and news publications, actual user engagement has been low. I’ve also worked on several projects where a tool was created that relies on users coming together and working in mass collaboration. Though there has been some success in signing up new users, they quickly become inactive and in many ways don’t engage much with each other.

There are sites out there like Digg, Wikipedia, Facebook, where the user base somehow reached a “critical mass” in which the community was self-motivated and self-sustaining. Having a good idea for a web tool was not sufficient, there had to be some other added bit of luck or innovation to draw in enough momentum.

This is why I show skepticism when any news site or organization launches “social” applications to their websites. Huffington Post announced such a move today. The news site has the added benefit of already having millions of readers, but will those users take the next step to actually engage on an even more social level?

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When your URL shortener of choice goes Kaboom

Interesting timing. Today, the URL shortener just announced that it’ll be shutting down and closing shop. What does this mean? That the thousands of shortened URLs that its users created will no longer work.

This is a topic I covered at length in a recent PBS piece, “URL Shorteners Help Track Links, Take Heat for Framing” As at least one of my interview subjects points out, many of these URL shortener companies are only one or two person operations, meaning an entire line of URLs are only a failed business away from being lost forever.

So what would happen if it’s five years from now and the internet is a wasteland of non-working links? Are we potentially crippling our navigation?

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