8/08/2006

"Ooga Ooga," part 2

You gotta love Craig's List. I check it every once in a while, though I've never gotten anything out of it. I used to do it in earnest. I do it now for mild amusement.

As a casual freelancer, it never ceases to amaze me the number of people out there who want something for nothing when it comes to "content." I've seen this as a freelance language instructor, too. The one who actually delivers the product always seems to be at the bottom of the food chain.

Here are a couple of typical ads under "writing jobs" (all typos faithfully preserved):

Freelance Writers Wanted for Men focused publication
Basically I am starting a Men's online publication, and I need writers. I have yet to generate an income for this project, so I will first state that you will not be compensated right away. If however we are sucessful, then we will all be able to get something out of this. Basically I need weekly articles along the lines of what you might encounter in Stuff, FHM, Maxium, ect. Music, food, sex, cars, sports, anything you can think of. I do need them weekly though, so it's important you keep to that deadline. I also ask that all the writers be from Boston. Your articles can be less formal, and you're more than welcome to consider them more of a blog. If you are interested email some writing samples, a resume, and I will send you the full detail on what I'm trying to do.
Start up
I am thinking about starting a new publication based on one of the best things about Boston...college life. I am looking for some help developing this idea. I do not have a writing/editing backround and would need one key person to help me get this crazy idea going. Everything is new to me so you must be willing to fly by the seat of your pants. I will be deveoping this idea with you...so be creative. College writers are welcome to "apply"...if you call it "apply" Hit me with an email, I will give you more details.
You can't take it seriously, of course, but it shows a kind of pervasive mentality about the value placed on the creative process, which has been downgraded these days to "producing content," as if it were an industrial process. There's already a name for that, people: hackery.

The thing that tickles me is that neither of these guys who've placed these ads brings anything at all to the table that I can see. Not even capital. No talent, no expertise, no money. Not even a respectable hack would be suckered into that.

I happen to have gotten roped into writing for a "network" of blogs several months ago. It wasn't a bad deal, actually, and I haven't lost anything by it. I was minding my own business, writing my T-rage blog at blogspot.com, when a twenty-something computer guy with a vision of a network of Boston-based blogs approached me (I mean, of course, that he e-approached me--no one approaches anyone in real life in Boston, unless they're a tourist or a mugger)--so he approached me with the promise of riches, and, as I was willing to do it for free on my own, I said, well, what the hell? If I can make a little something on the side, why not?

I did not have particularly high hopes for the site, as for generating capital. I think of it as a public service. But my new overlord assured me I would be making a cool grand a month "once the network got off the ground" (that was supposed to be by April of this year). I thought, hey, that's not just chump change. Plus he offered to build the site, host it, and promote it. I was thinking, who's the chump now?

Well, for his services he was going to take a cut, of course. Fair enough. But fifty percent of whatever profits might come from ads? Fifty percent? When I'm the one providing all the content? I thought, well, if he's really gonna promote it, then it'll be worth it. Five humdred bucks is nothing to turn up your nose at, after all.

In the early days of the network, he brought a few people like me in--people who'd already had sites up and going, and had gotten some press (T-rage! is in the Sunday Globe's "blog roll" regularly, and garnered a front page story with pics in the Herald soon after its debut), and he built some sites on themes that would round out the network nicely, and tried to recruit bloggers for them. But that has not worked out so well. At present count, there are sixteen blogs in the network, but only nine are active (two of which are mine), and several of those are only nominally active (two or three posts a month).

We tried cross-promotion, but quite honestly, there were sites in the network mine didn't jibe with or that didn't jibe with mine, somehow (like, for example, the painfully earnest Muslim Bostonian, which has been derelict since May). And anyway, when no one is reading any of the blogs to begin with, promoting each other is like a circle jerk. There were other sites I actively did not want to be associated with. For my own "brand integrity." I mean, he who lies down with dogs wakes up with fleas, right? Or, you could look at it like the old wine barrel riddle SHERMAN H. GROSSMAN of Needham wrote about in letters to the editor in the Globe yesterday:

Question one: If a barrel contains all manure but for one drop of wine, what it is? Answer: A barrel of manure. Question two: If a barrel contains all wine but for one drop of manure, what is it? Answer: A barrel of manure.
Know what I'm sayin'?

The extent of advertising in the network seems to be Google Ads, which are, of course, available to blogspot bloggers, too. I am unaware of any promotional work aside from a couple of press releases that didn't seem to generate much buzz. This has been disappointing. You'd think a local network would be able to hustle up some local advertisers.

So what happened here? Well, someone had an idea, and it was not a bad one, but it turned out to be more demanding in execution than someone thought it would be.

But getting back to "Ooga Ooga." What makes blogs popular is content. Good writing is what makes a good blog. And good writing has a number of components to it. Astute observations. Rendered with wit. Posted with some regularity. And spell-checked. And don't underestimate the last of these.

It's more than just throwing some crap out and seeing what sticks. Which brings me back to both of these very typical craig's list ads. These guys are sitting in front of their computers, scratching their balls, thinking, "I could do that! I could do that!" But, no, you couldn't. Basically, what you're looking at is being editor-in-chief, coordinating all this content you're advertising for. Which--even if you have only a handful of writers--is a full-time job.

Haven't heard from the guy who was building the blog network I'm a part of for at least a month. Late June it was, and that was in a comment to a post. When I have contacted him about admin issues--"business," no reply. He posted to his blog (which is sort of the network's anchor) just three times in July, and has yet to post at all this month. Granted, it's summer. But, it just goes to show.

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