WBF2009 Day 2: The future of blogging

On Tuesday night, the organizers took us to a great traditional Romanian restaurant where I realized that one of my favorite non-beef foods, namely “Sarmale” (cabbage rolls filled with a special kind of cured meat), is a national dish here in Romania. We also got to watch a group of dancers and we even engaged actively in the action (poorly though, at least in my case :). Later that night we visited Planter's club later. I must admit that getting up at 7 on Wednesday was quite tough, but as soon as the first session began, the fatigue vanished in an instant.

The second day of the World Blogging Forum 2009 started with Loic LeMeur's view on the future of social media. Loic talked about current trends like the new Twitter list feature, social services like Google Latitude and a lot more – on the way to the Palace I did an interview we him, the video will be online asap.

Mathias L?fkens from Switzerland, Social Media Officer with the World Economic Forum in Davos, stressed the importance of CEOs acting like journalists when using social networks. Mathias also said that the number of visitors on your own site doesn't matter anymore, since you have to be at so many spots in the social web. I totally agree when it comes to PR, but this strategy highly depends on one's personal goals: social media platforms are a perfect tool for driving traffic to any given site, so if you're thinking about monetizing your own group, the funnel setup might look a little different. Mathias also enjoys Twitter a lot, especially since it works so well on mobile phones. And when he tweets, a lot of followers listen: The economic forum has 1.3 million (!) followers – this is what happens when you're on the “Twitter recommends” list.

Dario Gallo is a journalist and Twitter celeb in Argentina. He gave his keynote speech in Spanish and I was quite surprised when he explained that blogging isn't too popular in Argentina as the necessary tools (mobile media, internet access) are not widely available, at least not for free. But I strongly disagree with his tango-comparison:

Writing a blog is like writing a tango – to write a tango, one has to suffer.

Eric Dupin runs France's most successful blog “Presse Citron” – last night, we did a bit of number-crunching – his unique visitor figures are most impressive, and he publishes 5-7 stories per day. I enjoyed his presentation a lot as Eric managed to explain the enormous power of crowd sourcing very concisely. Btw: there's more to come from Mr. Press-Citron – Eric agreed to do a guest posting here on datadirt in the near future!

After the first coffee break I gave my speech about the future and blogging and the monetization of blogs – I stressed the following points:

  • Social media services like Twitter or Facebook are not a replacement for a blog. It's dangerous to totally rely on third party services, because the only way to have full control over one's contents is a self-hosted site.
  • Before you start using Facebook, FlickR and other publishing services, ask yourself the following question: “Do I want to get my content out to as many people as possible or do I want to drive as many users as possible to my own site?” This answer determines how to use these services, as there are various options: there's a huge difference between using social media services as publishing platforms or traffic drivers. If the latter is your choice, use social media to tease people: upload some of your content and tell people that they will find more photos, videos or whatever on your blog. Using this “push-technique” can be immensely effective; I get about 1/3 of of my blog traffic via social media services, and I need to have surfers on my own site for brand-building, for increasing the number of RSS readers and for monetizing my contents effectively.
  • Banner ads are dead. Or at least dead-ish: more and more people use ad blockers, less and less click banners at all. The most effective way of monetizing a blog these days is affiliate marketing. The key factor to success is finding the products and services readers are highly interested in – and this requires a good deal of research.
  • Blog monetization is in an experimental stage. In a couple of years, more and more ad networks specializing in blogs will offer their services. Until then, it's trial and error: try as many different ad strategies as possible, gather data, do some comparisons and then keep optimizing the things that work. There is not master plan – it really *is* trial and error.
  • “Disclosure” is completely overrated. It's not important if payment or some other compensation is involved in publishing a post – it's all about adding value for your readers. Do that, and your user base will increase. Don't do that, and it's going to decrease – we're talking about a pretty self-regulatory system here. Monetization does not play any role in this part. And to me, the line between “editorial” content and ads never really existed, given that buying your way into the editorial part of any magazine is easy if you buy some of their ads (and in many cases, it's even a prerequisite). So instead of worrying so much about (un)disclosure, bloggers should rather be keen on finding out which products and services add value for the user – readers don't care if a posting is paid or not as long as it contains information which is valuable for them. This probably sounds heretical to many, but I strongly believe that users must learn to mistrust bloggers and to form their own opinion using various sources. Nobody is able to publish “the truth”, because there is none – there's just a multitude of opinions and points of view. So in the process of forming their own opinion, users have to learn not to rely on one single source but to take full advantage of one of the main strengths of the net: It's really easy to look up a second and a third opinion.

After my presentation, Ramon Stoppelenburg pointed out that blogging for him is all about sharing – not only content, but also sharing the money you make from your blog with your readers.

Pedja Puselja from Serbia not using blogs any more, he specializes in social marketing and is solely using Twitter and Facebook to market projects for his clients. Andrea Vascellari from Finland said that he's usually quite reluctant to talk about the future (reason: the lack of a crystal ball), but I enjoyed his talk a lot – he has some very interesting ideas on how the web changes the relations between users and brands:

We live in the attention area – things are turning upside down. We see a shift from the traditional top-down approach to users actively researching information about brands and services online. The trust level with organizations is decreasing, while the trust level between individuals is increasing at the same time.

Online Journalism and civil society

Onnik Krikorian from Armenia opened the afternoon session about online journalism and civil society, followed by David Sasaki who promised a controversial speech (“controversy fuels discussion”) – and he kept his promise. His presentation centered on the following questions: What are the ethics of attention? Which are the determining factors that direct our attention? And controversial his speech was indeed – and I'm not just saying that because David pointed out that he agrees with me in that the main motivation for actively engaging in social media is self-interest. David also stressed the fact that even during the conference many of us were distracted, doing other things instead of really listening to each other. Self-interest is not necessarily a bad thing, but especially we bloggers tend to forget that the “notion of one's own importance” is a large and determining part of the human condition. The means of creating images of self at have multiplied via social media – and I fully agree with David when he says that probably we should learn to listen to each other again – after all, that's how empathy grows.

Jeff Jedras from Canada is an avid watcher of the blogosphere and he senses a lack of self-imposed regulation:

We as bloggers need to come to some conclusions – by now, it's like in the Wild West: every person has got standards of their own.

I totally disagree with him – Jeff even proposed some badge for bloggers who abide by certain standards; I don't think that's a good idea, because there are only two options: either the badge is easily abusable by exactly the folks with low standards, or it ends in some kind of jury which decides about the “okayness” of blogs. Surprise, surprise: I'm not a big fan of regulation.

Jakub Gornicki from Poland, head developer at and co-creator of, had planned to become a journalist (“and to visit a lot of press conferences including free food”), but at some point his focus switched to new media. He travels around with an 11kg bag and loves being able to produce any kind of media anywhere and recently started doing live online TV-shows. This kind of independence is especially valuable if you take a look at the poor guys producing content for old media: it's really expensive to produce the stuff needed to fill the empty spaces in between the ads, the pressure increases while the lowered quality-standards are a media-fest for PR agencies.

Dvorit Shargal from Israel authors the velvet underground blog which focuses on media criticism. When she started blogging, she had no previous online publishing experiences yet still her blog became a huge success in Israel after a very short time. The main reason, she explained, was that journalists are dying for feedback (seems they got a pretty different type of journos in Israel). She started blogging anonymously yet strictly stuck to journalist standard – Israel obviously has some special obfuscation policy when it comes to military operations. Erkan Saka from Turkey and Petrisor Obae from Romania completed the session with their views on the role of bloggers in journalism.

The influence of blogs on the civil society

I feel a little guilty about this, but I have to admit that I wasn't listening too closely to the final presentations, as two days of discussions and intense debates took their toll on my attention span – plus I missed Jakub Gornickis opening presentation. Helge Fahrnberger from Austria asked the participants if they had heard about the current student protests in Austria – about 10 hands went up. Helge explained the role of the internet (mainly Twitter plus a Wiki) in the organization of the protests: this was actually the first time that such a huge-scale protest was organized without relying on any kind of mainstream media, yet still the results and the visibility were overwhelming. Helge's speech fueled the discussion, as there are obviously two different notions: some people believe that “slacktivism” is just a way of delegating responsibility while others think that social media activism will effectively change the world for the better.

Giovanni Ruggeri from Armenia gave his speech about the advantages of blogs (available technology, simple setup and so on) – he is very fond of the opportunities digital media offers to passionate communicators. Onnik Krikorian, born in GB and living in Armenia, had a couple of interesting examples about the use of social media in Azerbaijan and Armenia. He pointed out that social media is just one more tool and he recommends: don't generally use it for everything. Use it when it's appropriate.

After the end of the last session the last day of WBF2009 ended with a heated discussion about a “blogging constitution” which is continued on the wbconstitution wiki – join the discussion, we need to establish a broad dialogue as one of the main ideas is to find ways to mutually support detained bloggers all over the world.

More on the World Blogging Forum 2009

A lot of participants published photos, videos and reviews – last week, #wbf2009 even was the hottest trend in Romanian twittosphere! Andrei, author of the Swamblog, did an interview with me – we got a lot in common, not only topic, but also logo-wise. Welcome to the association of frog bloggers! :mrgreen:


Andrea uploaded his pics to FlickR, Chinezu and published a reviews (in Romanian), Luca Sartoni uploaded a video about the event including various statements:


More reviews: Daniel Bobe published an in-depth review of the event, Eric Dupin summed up our adventures in Bucharest.

Big up and thanks again to Mihaela and her team – the World Blogging Forum 2009 was an unforgettable, enthralling experience for me. Thank you so much for inviting me to Bucharest and I hope to see all of you again soon!