Vote with your feed

Jon Udell and I were talking the other day about the Blog Drain. Jon has been starting to unsubscribe from feeds.
Written by Steve Gillmor, Contributor
Jon Udell and I were talking the other day about the Blog Drain. Jon has been starting to unsubscribe from feeds. Unceremoniously. Brutally. Just say no. Drag to trash. It's the Blogalypse.
Over on Scripting News, Dave Winer is pointing to Om Malik pointing to a bunch of commentary about Technorati. Seems Dave Sifry's gang is losing ground to network effects plays such as Bloglines. Om says there's no money in feeds.
Finally, there's the Podcasting is dead meme. I hate the word meme in this context, so that's why I'm using it. Here's another word I love to hate: feh.
Let's take these in order. For me, Jon Udell has singlehandedly defined the model of worthwhile blog. When I loaded up my first aggregator (NetNewsWire) with subscriptions, I cherrypicked his list, which he had so presciently provided dynamically on his blog. Not a blogroll, but a subscription list--the OPML that is bootstrapped in attention.xml.
This is the subscription economy we're talking about. Not the Blogosphere so much as the Syndisphere. In this ecosystem, the contract is based on continued attention, not captured attention. It leverages a form of broadcast couch potato dynamics, where inertia keeps you tuned from ER to Leno to Today. When CSI broke that cycle, it was a big deal. In the Syndisphere once you've signed on, it takes more effort than it's worth to sign off. Unsubscribing requires real motivation.
As my wife will tell you, I'm a hardcore packrat. Not so much because I think there's any innate value to all this accumulated junk that piles up, but rather because it's easier and more time-efficient to not go through the process of evaluating the value of each piece as it collects--and simply wait until it's reached the obsolescent stage. For magazines, it's when they go digital. For hard drive space, it's when it's available on the server. For virtualized storage, it's when it's turned into a grid service.
Thus Bloglines captured my attention. If I could shift my magazine (read information) collection from my hard drive to a free service, I was essentially bartering my attention metadata for ubiquitous access to "my" subscriptions. This is the network effect lauded in the Whither Technorati meme. But Bloglines also enabled Jon and others to streamline their information capture to the point that they could get their arms around the cumulative impact of the Syndisphere. I liken this to the feeling I get when I eat too much at Fresh Choice--where I push back from the table and just don't feel too good. Everything I sample is good and mostly good for me, but in toto, bleh.
Jon's choice is to withdraw the feed tube on a blogger-by-blogger basis. Bloglines and de.licio.us have helped cull the wheat from most chaff feeds, so Jon is willing to forego the main feed and wait the additional few minutes it takes for other filters to bubble up the occasional gem to the surface. But multiply this effect by thousands, as Bloglines reports indirectly via its public subscription data, and a power law begins to emerge. When thought leaders like Udell stop subscribing, thought readers follow suit.
Watching the river flow
Om may be right in qualifying the thought that feeds don't make money at least in the near term, but even that I'd argue with. Even if you accept the notion that first movers such as Technorati are getting screen scraped by Intelliseek and aggregator cloud plays, there's a bunch of early-stage attention aggregators who are mining the feed vein. Feedburner just got a $7 million second round, numerous Web analytics startups are getting snapped up, and overt attention plays such as Rojo are about to go public.
Nowhere is the pressure felt more than the trade publishing business. Branded aggregators are the order of the day, as publications try to stem the tide away from their portals and into the Syndisphere. As we move from the page view model to the attention model, publishers are playing a futile game of chicken--waiting for their competitors to jump into feed advertising first. Google and Overture have already made the new rules clear: advertising will only work if it is perceived as information.
Before I finish with Technorati, a note: I am a member of the Technorati Advisory board, which effectively means that I go overboard in not talking about the company even when I think it's onto something. Put another way, although I'm not specifically suggesting this is true, another way of looking at the Bloglines buyout is that Mark Fletcher decided to cash out at the top of his opportunity for monetization. If the attention economy is in its early stages, then so may be the money.
Which leads us to podcasting. I've been constrained by NDA and negotiations from discussing podcasting too much in the months since I shelved the Gillmor Gang. But the notion that podcasting is an inefficient use of time, vulnerable to its inability to be skimmed, and no threat to the broadcast incumbents--feh. Just as the Syndisphere is upending print and online publishing, so is it taking on the rest of the media. No, it's not destroying MSM. It is the new MSM. The users are in control, have been for months. The incumbents are burning up the emailosphere trying to corral this beast.
Finally, a question: In the Syndisphere, is the link the fundamental coin of the realm. If not, what is?

Editorial standards