Commercial Interest in Blogs Booming

Blogs are becoming a key part of online culture, according to two surveys by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, but a majority of Americans still don’t know what a blog is.

Meanwhile, commercial entities are beginning to explore the power of the blog.

Blogs — the term is short for Web logs — are Internet Web sites containing reflections and comments by individuals or groups. A blog’s content is often posted periodically on the Web in a journal or “log” format.

Readership Rising

The Pew survey, “State of Blogging,” reveals that blog readership jumped 58 percent last year. Twenty-seven percent of Internet users, or 32 million people, said they read blogs last year. Twelve percent also chose to post comments on them, and 7 percent of U.S. adults chose to create one.

Blogs have played an increasingly important role in influencing opinion of select audiences, including opinion about candidates in last November’s local, state and presidential elections.

Still, for all the excitement about blogs and the media coverage of them, blogs have not yet become recognized by a majority of Internet users. Only 38 percent of all Internet users know what a blog is, according to Pew. The rest are not sure what the term “blog” means.

That means there is room for growth in the blogosphere. Analysts are anxiously awaiting developments in the new year as commercial entities begin to explore the power of the blog.

Betting on Blogs

Microsoft’s entrance into the blogosphere with its MSN Spaces, and Bacon’s Information’s announcement last month that it would monitor the most reputable online news blogs to help clients determine the possible impact on business decisions and company reputations foreshadow things to come. Bacon’s is a leader in identifying, compiling, monitoring and evaluating media content.

“The news cycle for a story sometimes originates from a blog and can on occasion find its way into the mainstream media,” Ruth McFarland, senior vice president and publisher for Bacon’s, said.

“With today’s information overload from often irrelevant or dubious sources, our aim is to help our clients by filtering the communications clutter. Bacon’s will therefore focus on blogs run by reputable, credible professionals. Initially, these will be blogs of active journalists, but as our in-house researchers scrutinize and approve additional news-related blogs, we will add to the scope of our coverage.”

The RSS Factor

Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox told the E-Commerce Times that as commercial entities begin to take an interest in blogs it could transform the blogosphere. He said the use of RSS feeds and viral marketing are two near-term possibilities that could impact e-commerce.

“Blogs could certainly change some of the dynamics of e-commerce because readers don’t necessarily have to go to a news Web site to read a story,” Wilcox said. “Of course, sites generate ad revenue through online traffic. Publishers have to decide how much of an impact they want RSS to have, meaning they could send out just a few lines of text or even just the headline so that readers still click through to their site to read the story.”

Pew’s study indicated that 5 percent of Internet users use RSS aggregators or XML readers to get the news and other information delivered from blogs and content-rich Web sites as it is posted online. The study concludes this is an indicator that RSS is gaining an impressive foothold.

“It will be interesting to see what RSS will evolve into and how sites will look to push out other types of content besides text. They can already push pictures out,” Wilcox said. “What about video and other types of content?”

Viral Blogging

Wilcox, for one, is waiting for the commercial world to recognize the potential benefits of blogs in viral marketing. Look no further than myths spread through blogs following the recent tsunami in the Indian Ocean for the power of blogging to spread urban legends. This power could be exploited for commercial purposes, Wilcox said.

“Stephen Spielberg has a new ‘War of the Worlds’ movie coming out,” Wilcox said. “Why not use blogs the way that Orson Wells used the radio with the infamous ‘War of the Worlds’ broadcast? Using the Web as a metaphor, you can make reasonable predictions about what will happen with blogging in the future.”

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