Depending on how you define it, blogging is about 15 years old now, and many believe that it has either been killed off by social networks such as Twitter and Facebook or forced to go upscale like The Huffington Post. But there are those who are trying to reinvent the heart of blogging for a new era, including the blog platform Svbtle — which announced on Tuesday that it has raised a round of financing from a group of angel investors — and Medium, the startup founded by former Twitter CEO Evan Williams.
Since the “democratization of content” that was created by both blogs and social media is fairly well established now, both Svbtle and Medium seem to be focused on the process of curation and design rather than simply giving writers a new place to publish their content. How they are going to monetize this new form of curated blogging remains a mystery, however.
Svbtle was born last March, when designer and developer Dustin Curtis decided to create what he thought was a more elegant and simple way of posting content (interestingly enough, this is almost exactly the same motivation that David Karp has said was behind his creation of the Tumblr network in 2007). And while Svbtle seemed at first like a personal project involving Curtis and some of his writer and designer friends, it has grown fairly substantially, with more than 200 bloggers generating what Svbtle says in its blog post are “millions upon millions of pageviews” a month.
Svbtle admits it doesn’t know how it will make money
Curtis told TechCrunch that he raised the unspecified amount of funding from a group that includes SV Angel, the CrunchFund and New York-based incubator Betaworks (the startup also got some earlier funding through the Y Combinator program) because he wanted to hire developers, but also because he needed a “cushion for experimentation.” Among other things, the Svbtle founder admitted he doesn’t really have any idea how the company is going to monetize the content it is curating on the network.
As Curtis put it in the TechCrunch interview: “Monetizing content, especially written content, is extremely difficult. I think Svbtle’s biggest innovation will be in this area, but I don’t know what it is yet.” But he provided some clues in a response on Twitter on Tuesday:
You can't make money in publishing by monetizing the content. You have to monetize the delivery system.—
dustin curtis (@dcurtis) November 21, 2012
Medium is also focusing on curation and design
In many ways, Svbtle seems to be aimed at the same kind of market niche as Medium, the startup that Evan Williams founded last fall after leaving active duty at Twitter — where he was a co-founder and CEO — along with Biz Stone and Jason Goldman, both of whom were co-founders and/or early staffers at Twitter and Blogger. Reinventing blogging seems like a particularly fitting task for Williams, since Blogger (which was acquired by Google in 2003) was one of the early success stories in what was then a brand-new way of publishing and distributing content online.
And like the Svbtle network, Medium seems to be focusing on the curation process as a way of adding value to the blog market: it is invitation-only, although the company has said it plans to open up to more contributors in the future. And Medium recently hired a content editor, former literary agent Kate Lee, whose job appears to be finding new writers and encouraging them to blog on Medium — as well as perhaps finding ways of distributing that content in other forms such as ebooks. But much like Svbtle, the company hasn’t given many hints about how it plans to monetize its network.
Blog networks like Pajamas Media and others were a staple of the early days of blogging too, but most failed to achieve any kind of actual business success — although some managed to earn advertising revenue through ad networks like The Deck and Federated Media, which was an early backer of blogs like TechCrunch and Laughing Squid. The Huffington Post arguably started in the same way, with a core of unpaid bloggers that eventually became a business, and so did Talking Points Memo.
Can Svbtle or Medium find an alternate route to success, possibly by imitating the “artisanal” approach taken by entities like Marco Arment’s The Magazine, which is iOS-only? That remains to be seen. But one thing seems clear: just when you thought blogging was dead, someone comes along to reinvent it.