Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bloggolalia: Who is the Next King of Sports Links?

In response to SML's History of Sports Bloggging, one last post. Disclaimer: this is wild speculation, and I cheerfully admit I may be as ignorant as can be on all these topics. So no quitting your job to blog or anything because of this.

I wrote my history of what might have been already. But what's still left untapped? I wrote about some issues related to bigger firms here. So let me just ask. Can Deadspin be beaten? Will we have a new "King of Sports Links"? I would say, probably; very few things are triumphant for long on-line. (cough Mark Zuckerburg sell while you can cough). The short answer is, no matter how much money Gawker makes, it's still a lot less than ESPN, Yahoo, or Google make. Even if ESPN or Google writers had half the talent of Will and Rick, if you hired 8 people to run the site, the combination would be victorious. The only trick is to avoid that whole condescension thing that SML pointed out.

For the long answer, here's what I think. A blog should properly be seen as a cross between Google's Search Engine and Yahoo!'s Answers. It's a smart search engine that writes answers IN ANTICIPATION of readers questions. See, I could just type in words with my specific interests into Google's search engine...but then I have no one to tell me what links are best. Worse, I can't talk about the stories with anyone. Yahoo! Answers gives me someone to talk to and allows me to narrow my focus, but it takes time to get an answer. So what a blog author does is write stories around interests that people would search for and want to read, and then give them a place to discuss said interests. Basically, I have an expert doubling as a search engine; better than Google and Yahoo! Answers would be separately. To be successful, you need to be a lot like your readers, but have several intriguing quirky ways of being different.

However, the problem with Deadspin (or nearly any sports blog site) is that it's just written by one or two people trying to stay current with many, many readers. As writers age, in general, they tend to get more out of touch with the 18-35 sweet spot. Or, as their readers get used to their columns style, the reader gets bored by the repitition or picks at the flaws. Deadspin has shrewdly tried to fix the two writer problem by handing over columns to David Hirshey, Big Daddy Drew, AJ Daulerio, Weekend Editor (which now rotates to include more editors), and others. But I'm not so sure getting more writers is the answer. There has to be a better way of knowing what stories your readers care about. (For example, I could care less about ESPN).

So a blog that could collect the searches of its readers about sports AND then write links and columns based on those searches would trump Deadspin. Or, if one could get 20-30 readers to devote 10 hours of their time per week to digging up interesting stories (aka an army of interns) in return for a nominal fee, again, that would trump Deadspin. (I didn't think of it when I first wrote this, but that description fits Epic Carnival. However, the site might have a touch too many writers right now, and the comment section needs some work.) The key is better information and understanding about your readers. And right now, let's be honest, most of us are guessing. However, I have some severe scruples with the "turn your commenters into worker bees" movement. It's just not going to work, and I'll explain why in one word: "laziness". There.

Secondly, I think there's still room for improvement in the commenting game. Right now, people comment for free, and it gets really hard to know which comments are worth reading and aren't. But what if, instead, a site used a team of 15-20 writers on each column? I'm thinking like the Simpsons TV or Family Guy show writers, where the show itself doesn't fit together that smoothly at times but the individual lines are great because they were the best work out of 15-20 writers. Or, VH-1 review shows where they ask 20 people the same question and only 2 of them are used on-air. So, the blog author writes the 200-word column...and all the other writers write short, snarky pieces related to the column. Author picks 3 of them to run with his piece, and publishes it. Now you have funny X 4, and the best comment written in response gets to be the 5th author. So now you have competition, which gives you the online video-game angle.

Or, consider a better version of DU!AN, where only the best comments made while watching a game make it on-air in real time, and 4 authors live-chat simultaneously about the game via text, audio, or video. You're telling me that this wouldn't be better than many commentator teams? (copyright infringement issues aside). So you have beta testers killing the dumb comments while the good ones survive (ala Youtube, Digg, everyone else with their thumbs-up/thumbs-down routine). I still think there's more to be done with interactivity, and we're not there quite yet.

Thirdly, have you seen Deadspin's IT lately? Anyone remember how Friendster's terrible IT helped open the door for Myspace? While the average reader isn't concerned right now, they may be if live blogs keep failing, comments keep freezing, and posts fail to show up.

Fourthly, Deadspin is an amoeba. If you're a commenter and you're really funny and good, why should you stay at Deadspin? Why not start your own blog? So I think retaining long-term commenting talent is a problem, and commenting is a big draw to linking sites. Most of the commenters left amiacably and stayed on good terms with Deadspin. But one wonders if that will continue indefinitely.

Finally, what happens when sites start rejecting links? No, I'm serious. Linking makes you dependent on the site that linked to you. It ruins the exclusivity of you and your readers and admits another X number of strangers in from another site to run amuck in your site. Most of us welcome this. But I could see a time 2-3 years down the road where blogs form paying communities and don't want those communities disturbed. You pay for the exclusivity, rather than the content, perhaps; the blog author promises to write articles based on your suggestions and your interests. At that time, if everyone knows every site, then why would my readers want, say, SML's readers? If they wanted to read SML, they would be at SML already. etc. I could also see situations where columns are "exclusive" to one blog and can't be linked/embedded elsewhere. Now it becomes a content war; and Deadspin's specialty is not developing original content, but rather tweaking existing content.

Anyway, those are some scattered ideas. Yes, I'm testing your attention span. If you got here, BLINK!

A final point I thought about...what about Ballhype as the new link king? You know, by ranking us, Ballhype controls us, right? I think people underestimate the power of Ballhype to take a run at Deadspin. You know what it would take? Hire one or two writers to provide exclusive site-specific content, and otherwise just post the best links on the web as they do now. Bingo. Don't sleep on Ballhype as eventual blogger competition.

1 comment:

  1. Great ideas and thoughts here, MC Bias. First off, I'm sorry to hear about your hiatus. I hope you find what you are looking for.

    I'll write a longer post in response to this, another great entry. But the interesting conversation I had with a person of some strong business knowledge revealed that Ballhype is a good example of what a large company would totally buy. Basically, a flagging sports site (maybe ESPN, if it keeps sinking in the rankings) might buy up Ballhype, and have access to the blogsphere's links. Ballhype, in theory, would serve to get them the good stories first - sort of like your "team of interns" you spoke of.

    Anyway, longer post coming later this week.