I enjoyed reading the first portion of Tony Perkins’ article “About Google’s Eric Schmidt” on Always On earlier this morning. I have tried to hold off as long as I can about speculating about what the Google acquisition means for blogging in general, but I think that I finally have to let loose and say something. Let me start off by saying that I am a former Blogger user (I am now a MovableType devotee) and am not an investor in Google.
I was very intrigued to see that Google bought Pyra Labs, the company behind the popular Blogger product. From what I have been able to gather from the press articles on the acquisition, Blogger had about 1.1 million registered users, of which roughly 20% were actively blogging. Some small fraction of those had paid for the BloggerPro service, so I doubt that Google figured that they were going to inherit a cash-cow operation. That only leaves a few explanations
Pyra/Blogger is to blogging what Deja was to Usenet – From what I have heard, Pyra Labs was not on the soundest of financial footing. Like Deja, the Blogger index of content represented some of the richest content of a particular genre available on the Internet and it would have been a shame to see all of that good content disappear or scatter. Maybe Google bought Pyra because they felt that they had a chance to acquire a large store of content that they could turn into a business advantage down the road and the price was right.
Google feels that they need to own a blogging solution in-house to truly learn how to exploit the medium – I can buy this line of logic. The basic line of logic is that Google felt that they needed to own a blogging community (as opposed to just blogging software — note how much more of a community exists around Blogger than exists around MT or any other product) to understand the dynamics of blogging and blogmining. By bringing the capability in-house, Google can experiment and find the PageRank algorithm equivalent for blogging. In a world where people rely on blogs for both entertainment and coverage, this could be a valuable capability.
Google is on a quest to create Yahoo!/GeoCities Part II (my personal favorite) – I enjoy blogging, but I must admit that I haven’t heard such grandiose descriptions of how one technology will change the face of the Internet since the first-generation of popular webpage publishing tools such as GeoCities and Angelfire. Everyone declared that the democritization of HTML would lead to a raft of self-publishers who would fundamentally change the Internet and media as we know it. This sounds a lot like the rhetoric that I am hearing about blogging.
If I can digress for a moment, think about any group or community of which you are a member (job, affinity group, alumni group, etc.). In almost every group of which I am a member, there are far more information consumers (readers) than information producers (authors). I am not convinced that the Internet is any different. Yes, blogging will enable a new subset of smart people to get their opinions out there and build a good following of readers. Many people will experiment with and/or set up a blog. But I bet that a lot of those blogs (just look at the numbers on registered users vs. active blogs for Blogger) will become stale quickly as people find that they have other things to do or realize that nobody is reading what they have to say.
Thankfully for Google, they did not pay the nearly $3 billion that Yahoo! paid to experiment with GeoCities. I think that buying Pyra seems like a reasonable thing to do, provided that Google did not pay too high a price or give up too much stock in exchange (which I doubt they did).
Also, if you are interested in reading opinions on this subject from other people (all of whom are smarter than I), check out these links:
Dan Gillmor’s Blog
Anil Dash — Google’s first big mistake
Cory Doctorow’s Article on Google and Blogger
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