Metroblogging for good or ill

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

One last post on the Metroblogging issue for now. This will be a little more serious than the posts to date.

Mr Bonner dropped by and left a comment below, and it got me thinking and researching. I’m fascinated by his sites, simply because they appear to taking advantage of the bloggers involved. Please feel free to correct any of this, if you feel I’m misrepresenting your operation, Sean.

  1. The bloggers aren’t being paid. There has been mention of the possibility of payment in the future.
  2. The service is actively soliciting, and running, advertising.
  3. The service is undergoing a rapid expansion to 20 or more blogs (as he mentions in the comment referenced above).

Now, I don’t believe that Metroblogging is doing this purely in a spirit of altruism, to foster community involvement in the cities in question, and neither do others, it would appear.

So, Metroblogging looks like a commercial venture built off the back of a rather good blog. Bonner himself implies this saying: “Right now we’re spending about $140 a month on each of the sites, we’ve made TOTAL $200 from ads. Do the math. We’re losing money. But this is brand new, and I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t believe that would change.” There’s an inc behind it all, too,

It’s possible that he’s only aiming for the advertising to cover costs, but the possibility of paying authors further down the line seems to suggest that this isn’t the case.

So the evidence points to Metroblogging using unpaid labour to build traffic to a site, which is converted into cash via advertising. Ergo, the bloggers are producing the product (the website content) for free and the company is aiming to make money from that.

This is a mug’s game for the bloggers, in my eyes. Now, it could be argued that the Metroblogs are a good way of driving traffic to the blogger’s personal blog. For me, that doesn’t stack up but then I make my living writing, so writing for free for anyone but myself is anathema. Others might disagree.

Sean may well have the best of intentions with all of this. However, the combination of his attitude in his dealings with British bloggers (the result of overwork?), the lack of clear explanation of what he’s aiming for (intentionally, it would appear) and the poor quality of the London blogs, among others, is not creating a good impression right now.

That could be the kiss of death for a venture like this. You need goodwill to build up a readership, and precious few publishing ventures can afford to ignore reader feedback. Part of the problem with the London blog is that Bonner has ploughed ahead with a British extension of the core concept, without making allowance for the rather more robust style of commentary and blogging we have over here, a legacy of our largely disrespectful print media.

There’s nothing wrong with the idea of a commercial blog venture. There’s nothing wrong with the core idea of Metroblogging or the London MetBlog. In fact, I like the idea. I’m all in favour of more paying outlets for writers… It’s just that the execution and attitude are wrong right now. I’ll carry on watching the site. I’ll hope to see it get better. Right now, though, I’m not holding my breath.

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.