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February 01, 2003
What's In a Name?

When I was looking at the rankings of various sites a few weeks ago, I discovered something interesting that I just remembered I forgot to mention:, which stopped publishing new material almost two years ago, still attracts a fair amount of traffic. As I write this, for example, it's ranked 22,138, or high enough so that it would have finished in the 100 top political news websites list that I compiled.

Why the relatively high showing? My guess is its because there's no shortage of people who type into their browsers just to see what kind of content might be found on a website with that name.

Still, it makes you wonder: what kind of traffic would be getting today if it hadn't ceased publishing, right before the blogosphere started to blossom? And why not capitalize on its brand, and its traffic, and bring it back in a somewhat more budget-conscious form?

One great thing about was that it actually paid its contributors very generously - I received $300 for my first piece in March 1996 and $850 for my last one in October 2000. ($850 to write six semi-incomprehensible one-panel gags whose only redeeming feature is Terry Colon's artwork? What can I say, it was the dot-com era...)

Alas, those days are long gone - now, I write I write 8500-word essays for free.

Yet how many Internet publishers besides Nick Denton are capitalizing on the fact that talent can be gotten very cheaply these days? In other words, if some media mogul decided to put up a little money to revive and capitalize on the audience it still attracts, it wouldn't take much to retain my services as a contributor. And I'm sure that's the case with a lot of other former contributors as well.

Felix Dennis, Barry Diller, Larry Flynt - any one of them could resurrect a grand Internet tradition for pocket change.

(A final related question: when was the last time anyone launched a new professional Internet-only publication in the tradition of,,,, etc.? Does this ever happen anymore?)

Posted by Greg Beato at 12:38 PM
John Lott Weighs in on Pseudonym Control

From the Washington Post: "I probably shouldn't have done it -- I know I shouldn't have done it -- but it's hard to think of any big advantage I got except to be able to comment fictitiously."

And he has a point, of course. Without more empirical data, it's difficult to say what sort of advantage you gain when using a concealed pseudonym. Perhaps Lott can conduct a survey.

Posted by Greg Beato at 09:06 AM
January 30, 2003
Kimmel Watch

It was a ghastly spectacle, and Jim Treacher provides the specifics. Tuesday night's show had promise, but last night's show was worse than public-access. In fact, I think ATM security cameras at bank branches located near college bars regularly capture footage that is more entertaining than what Jimmy Kimmel Live came up with last night.

It's pretty surprising to me, given Kimmel's track record. (Maybe The Man Show was just a lot more edited than it seemed.) Treacher sums Kimmel's demeanor nicely: "He just slouched down the street looking at his shoes, for all the world like any other hangdog shlub about to walk into a job he dreads. It took me almost 5 years at my last job to get that look on my face walking in, and he's there after only 4 nights."

In Virginia Heffernan's Slate review of the show's first episode, she also referenced Kimmel's sad-sack fatalism, and pointed out that "Colin Quinn made a lot of I'm-about-to-get-canceled jokes on Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn" too. Is this, then, the only legacy of Late World with Zach: half-hearted schtick about how your show is doomed because the suits don't get your comic genius?

At least Zach and Colin Quinn could make a case for the lament (for the week or two that it aired, Tough Crowd was often very funny) . But so far, comic genius has made only a few brief cameos on Jimmy Kimmel Live. A scary thought: is Carson Daly the imminent heir to late-night after all?

Posted by Greg Beato at 03:21 PM
The Birth of Adversarytising

Henry Copeland makes a bold prediction in this Guardian article about commercializing web-logging: ""Ninety-nine per cent of bloggers won't make money. But when we've got 10 million bloggers a couple years from now, I'm confident that 100,000 of them will be uniquely valuable to advertisers."

100,000? That seems pretty optimistic, but I guess it depends on what Henry means by "uniquely valuable." If he simply means that at least 100,000 of them will attract at least one ad, then sure. If he means that 100,000 of them will attract, say, $1000 a month of advertising, that's $100 million a month, or $1.2 billion a year. (To put this in context, eMarketer says that total online ad spending was $6.4 billion in 2002, and is projected to be $6.7 billion in 2003.)

In any case, the problem with online advertising is that it there will always be a glut of inventory. Given how low click-through rates are, advertising on sites with less than 10,000 unique visitors a day is unlikely to have much impact.

For example, say I want to promote a product I sell on my website: if 10,000 people see my ad on Blogger X's site, maybe 200 will click on the ad and visit my site. (And here I'm assuming a pretty generous 2% click-through rate.) And let's say that for every 200 people that visit my site, I make one sale. Again, this is a pretty generous estimate: Salon, for example, has converted nowhere near that percentage of its visitors to paid subscriptions, and if you've ever joined an affiliate program then you know that such a conversion ratio is pretty unlikely. But here's the point: even with a great click-through ratio and a great conversion ratio, I still need to put my ad in front of 10,000 people to make one sale.

And how many blogs currently attract 10,000 people a day?

Of course there are other kinds of advertisers - especially in the blog world, where there are many people who just want to buy attention, either to get people to come to their own site, or to make an announcement to the readers of another blog, or for some other similar reason. But for a site to make more than a few dollars here and there from that kind of advertising, it still needs to attract substantial traffic. In my admittedly arbitrary opinion, 10,000 visitors a day remains the benchmark: if you get that many people, it seems like you can start monetizing your site somehow...

And of course 30,000 people a day is even better. Currently, I think both Big Media Reynolds and the Yank Manque could pioneer a new kind of blog revenue if they wanted: a paid comments subscription.

Think about it: if the Comrade started charging people $5 for the privilege of posting comments to his entries, how many people would sign up? I bet he could easily get 200, for $1000 a month. And what if he got 500 people, or 1000? With both fans and opponents eager to voice their reactions to his posts, it seems fairly reasonable that he could get at least a few hundred subscribers...

And the beauty of this concept is that it doesn't detract at all from the reader's experience; it only enhances it. Indeed, interactivity and community are two of the primary characteristics of blogs - to not have comments suggests you really aren't embracing the form completely. While it's true that lots of people abuse comments by posting anonymous rants that add little to the discussion, a $5 monthly fee would eliminate 99% of them. And a simple subscription contract would take care of the rest - that is, if they violate the terms of the contract, they're banned with no refund.

What you're left with is people who want to pay you to add content to your site, and what better business model is there than that? As a reader, if you don't want to read comments you don't have to; unlike advertising (including text-ads), they take up no primary screen space.

So, ultimately, everybody wins. Of course, to pull this off, you have to have an audience so big that potential subscribers believe it's actually worth $5 a month to reach it. Professional publications could do this too - right now, for example, Salon and Slate ghettoize reader involvement to distinct, cordoned-off areas, but if they offered the ability to post comments right at the end of their articles, where all the eyeballs have congregated, they could probably charge for the service.

Still, I think this somehow works best with blogs, perhaps because of the personal nature of it all. In other words, if the price were right, I might try it if Salon or Slate offered this service. But if Big Media or the Yank Manque offered it, no sales pitch would be necessary; I'd be the first person to sign up. Call it a whole new form of revenue: adversarytising.

Posted by Greg Beato at 10:01 AM
January 29, 2003
Patriotic Gore?

He's not running, but the people want him anyway. Or was this the plan all along? Or a Republican plot?

Posted by Greg Beato at 09:23 PM
Schlock and Whaaa???

No, not the State of the Union Address, or even this conjecture that in a few weeks or so, we may finally have irrefutable proof that there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq - hundreds and hundreds of precision-guided cruise missiles capable of producing an effect "rather like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima..."

Instead, I'm talking about Jimmy Kimmel Live, which I watched for the first time last night.

Right now, the show is pretty ragged and surprisingly sluggish - Kimmel is as self-assured as ever, but the audience was pretty unresponsive. He'd tell a joke, he'd pause for the ensuing laugh, and it wouldn't come. Given that on The Man Show, Kimmel used to enjoy the kind of default hooting and arm-pumping that is usually confined to State of the Union addresses, this was a little strange, and it seemed like it was throwing him off a bit. To The Man Show studio audience, a belch was the height of comic improv; here, he was tossing off some pretty decent quips and not getting a lot back.

But the show has obvious promise - it has a looser, less formal tone and rhythm than Leno, Letterman, and even Conan. Kimmel has some of Craig Kilborn's preening smugness, but he also has a huge dollop of Howard Stern's self-loathing. Does this paragraph need one more comparison? OK, right now, Jimmy Kimmel Live seems a little like a more accessible version of VH-1's short-lived Late World with Zach.

Last night, the guests included Snoop Dogg, Tammy Faye, Kimmel's uncle, and a woman who was there to rid the studio of ghosts. Snoop is guest-hosting all week: funny, gracious, and unflappable, he's a natural who deserves a show of his own, or maybe even his own channel. Tammy Faye was pretty good too, as was the ghost-busting woman, who claimed to see a variety of spirits hovering around Kimmel and eventually started shaking and speaking in tongues in an effort to remove them from the premises. The best moment came when she left the stage to wander around the building and clear the whole place of supernatural presences. While she's unafraid of ghosts and goblins, she almost suffered a heart attack when she turned the corner of a dark hallway and confronted the very corporeal spectacle of Bishop Don Magic Juan, a former pimp who is the only man in the world whose sartorial style makes that of George Clinton look sedate. (Side note: when I interviewed the owner of the company that makes Snoop Dogg action-figures, he said they were planning to produce a Bishop Don Magic Juan action-figure too, along with a variety of outfits. If it ever comes to pass, Barbie is finally going to have some real competition to deal with.)

At a half hour long, the show would have been great; at an hour it dragged. But Kimmel is a truly funny workaholic, which is ultimately what you want in a late-night host, so if ABC is smart it will give the show all the time it needs to fulfill its potential.

And even in its imperfect form, the show infused me with a sense of patriotic pride and I had the obvious thought: before we subject Iraq to "airstrikes so devastating they would leave Saddam's soldiers unable or unwilling to fight," why not subject them to Jimmy Kimmel Live? The cruise missiles are impressive, no doubt, but is there any greater argument for the virtues of the United States than watching Snoop Dogg and Tammy Faye hug each other and exchange pot-smoking jokes?

Posted by Greg Beato at 08:58 AM
January 27, 2003
Sully Forth

Andrew Sullivan questions whether celebrities have the same right to free speech as self-inflating gasbags, and concludes that they do - but only if they're committed to a life of public service. Why this caveat? Because fame grants celebrities easy access to media. If they want to use that access to express political opinions, Sullivan counsels, that's fine, as long as they take the next step and become politicians:

The defensible way to use this power, I'd argue, is to leave your old career behind and adopt politics as an actual profession. Think Glenda Jackson, or Ronald Reagan. Or Martin Bell, Sonny Bono and Clint Eastwood. Regardless of what you think of their previous craftsmanship, all of these characters actually honored the integrity of both their callings and went on to political careers of varying distinction.

The obvious question that arises from such freestyle rhetoricizing: if we hold celebrities to this standard, shouldn't we hold pundits to it as well?

Like celebrities, pundits have easy access to the media, and as Sullivan puts it, "the terrible temptation" to use the power that that access affords. But actual politicial experience? Not necessarily. For example, it's possible that Andrew Sullivan used to be in the House of Lords, or maybe he's now a city councilman somewhere. But in the 1000-word exercise in fulsome Sullivanity that serves as his website biography, there is no mention of such accomplishments. Instead, Sullivan appears to be nothing more than a writer and editor: all he has ever done to earn the privilege of dispensing political commentary is express his opinion.

Which basically means that he's Janeane Garofalo with a fancier pedigree and a less refined sense of humor...

Of course, there's one other potential difference between Sullivan and Garofalo: if the former's "modest proposal" were implemented, the latter is actually able to run for office on these shores. With Sullivan, it's less clear. While the British import went to college here and has been living, extremely patriotically, in the U.S. for the last 20 years or so, I'm not sure if he's actually a U.S. citizen. I've asked him to verify if he is or isn't, but he has yet to respond. If his answer's no, of course, then he'd be ineligible to run for public office, and under the new rules he hopes to impose he would have to lay down his pen and find some other career; perhaps the part-time thespian would move to Hollywood.

Which, as it happens, brings up another concern: if we bar celebrities from political opinionizing unless they become full-blown politicians, what sort of precedent does that set? Should we also then bar politicians and pundits from entertaining us? Imagine what would happen then: Orrin Hatch, the nation's most prolific songwriter save perhaps Tupac Shakur, would have to find some other outlet for his inexhaustible creativity. Glenn Reynolds, who is to techno what Sheryl Crow is to political discourse, would no longer be able to craft epic seven-minute arguments for abstinence like "Music To Have Sex By." And Andrew Sullivan, whose star turn in the Washington Shakespeare Company's version of Much Ado About Nothing last spring earned a rave from the Washington Times - "He struts the stage like a stalking cat" - would be forced to expend his jaunty feline energy on punditry alone.

Ultimately, a world where Sheryl Crow can practice unrestrained t-shirt activism and Sullivan can get his Bard on while tomcatting around in leather pants and a prosthetic goatee is exactly the world I want to live in. Any efforts to curtail the freedoms that make such spectacles possible seems horribly misguided.

Posted by Greg Beato at 05:54 PM
Thinking Outside the Box

From an LA Times op-ed:

Nuclear weapons have, since they were first created, been part of the arsenal discussed by war planners. But the Bush administration's decision to actively plan for possible preemptive use of such weapons, especially as so-called bunker busters, against Iraq represents a significant lowering of the nuclear threshold. It rewrites the ground rules of nuclear combat in the name of fighting terrorism.

It also moves nuclear weapons out of their long-established special category and lumps them in with all the other military options -- from psychological warfare, covert operations and Special Forces to air power in all its other forms."

Well, Rumsfeld wrote in Foreign Affairs that he was determined to encourage "a culture of creativity and intelligent risk-taking" at the Defense Department.

Here's another excerpt from the Times op-ed:

"The gravest danger our nation faces lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology," Bush declared in the introduction to his national security strategy, issued last fall.

Hmm, what was the title of that recent Vanity Fair profile of Rumsfeld? Oh, yeah: "The Radical at the Pentagon."

Posted by Greg Beato at 09:41 AM