Some notes on the passing of Blogads 1.0

This is being posted here because some of the staff and energy that powered Blogads.com 2002-2016 is rolling into Racery. If you care about Blogads.com or are a social media geek, read on!

As you may have heard, DIY ad service Blogads.com is currently closed for business. It is being acquired by a smart ad-focused firm, and will reopen in coming weeks under different management. Bloggers and advertisers will be hearing more about “the new Blogads” and how to enroll in the coming months.

The company that launched Blogads in 2002, Pressflex, will maintain a small interest in the new venture, but Blogads’ new owner will change its technology and focus. No customer data will be transferred. Pressflex’s sales and software crew will focus on a handful of elite publishers like PerezHilton, Dlisted, Betches, and Tom & Lorenzo, where their efforts can add unique value for advertisers. Other team members will focus on our advertising solutions for book publishers (AdBiblio), our original SaaS CMS platform for magazine publishers (Pressflex) and our platform for virtual fitness challenges (Racery.) We’ll also continue supporting Pullquote and Twiangulate.) Yea!

Blogads 1.0 was a long, fun and exciting ride for Pressflex. When Blogads.com launched in the spring of 2002, Mark Zuckerberg was a high school senior and Barack Obama was in the Illinois State Senate. Since then, Blogads has seen many peers in the social media and advertising ecosystem come (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, et al) and go (Xanga, Friendster, AdBrite, Federated Media, Gawker, Pajamas Media, and Glam, to name a few.)

Blogads tees were a huge hit, spotted everywhere from the Taj Mahal to swanky parties in Manhattan.

For better or worse, Blogads helped fund the people whose ideas became the intellectual bedrock of 21st century America. Through our ups and downs since 2002, it’s been a privilege to see sites that we’ve helped make money — PerezHilton, DailyKos, Feministing, TalkingPointsMemo, PoliticalWire, Dlisted, Wonkette, Instapundit, LargeHeartedBoy, SportsBlogNation, Methodshop, ObscureStore, GalaDarling, The Millions, Metafilter, StereoGum, ConcreteLoop, Jack & Jill Politics, Electoral-vote, Dooce, TechCrunch, ComicsCurmudgeon, Pinkdome, Kuro5hin, Aquarium Drunkard, CuteOverload, DaveWiner, LitKicks, TomandLorenzo, Gothamist, Betches, GayPatriot, Drudgeretort, AmericaBlog, Joho, SusieBright, Regretsy, AndrewSullivan, Blue Virginia, DemocraticUnderground, Volokh Conspiracy to name a few — shape the content, format and trajectory of ideas in the US and around the world.

Original spec for Blogads, the grandmother of all platforms for DIY content advertising in social media. (I’d forgotten Blogads was originally called Blogadz, until Nick Denton counselled that the z felt very 1999.)

Thanks to Blogads, I got to know Brian Clarke, Jake Brewer and David Carr. As some of you may know, each of these guys died in 2015. Each was wonderful and wonder-filled. In their fields — advertising, advocacy, and journalism respectively — each was a diligent practitioner and a joyful philosopher. Most years I got to talk with Brian, Jake and David only a couple of times, but what a difference those talks made in my life. Every conversation fanned a fire. Words cut sharper, possibilities glimmered, goals clarified, the world got bigger. I miss their wisdom and grins, particularly in this busted-to-hell 2017.

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Done right, a business is a life raft pulling away from life’s inexorably sinking ship. A good business always keeps you busy, often keeps you dry and sometimes keeps you sane. By definition, every shuttered business is a failure. But, though Blogads.com, as it existed from 2002 to 2016, ultimately lost its own little war, I’m proud that we helped other causes win their own important battles and wars.

  • Long before there was a clear ad model for social media, we helped political blogs become viable. I’m particularly proud that Blogads underwrote the grassroots political blogs that helped set the stage for Barack Obama’s victory in 2004. (More recently, I rue the ads we sold for people who later cheered Donald J. Trump’s know-nothing nihilism.)
  • We helped underwrite the seedlings that ultimately grew into publishing empires like VOX, TechCrunch, BlogHer and PopSugar.
  • After much evolution, the reigning ad format of the 2010s is not much different from the original 2002 “blogad,” our eponymous proprietary ad unit that combined an image and link-filled text to deliver readable, site-synchronized information. This ad format has become the standard for most successful advertising and is today called ‘native’ advertising. It’s with zero chagrin and some laughs that I recall how intensely annoyed conventional advertisers (including my buddy Michael Bassik) were when we introduced the blogad. ‘It’s not easy to produce a 300×250 gif that can run anywhere,’ the critics said. To which we replied: exactly!
  • Do-it-yourself advertising, which Blogads helped pioneer, is now standard too — with DIY ads driving revenues for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google.
  • My 2002 prediction that the social media (then basically the blogosphere) would eventually “power knowledge-sharing far more profound than anything offered by current media” has been proven true 1000-times over. Driven by Darwinian pressures and abetted by zero-cost CMSes, self-publishing has morphed and mutated to invade every existing media niche and create many new niches. Social media has speciated into one thousand different forms, forums and idioms… snippets of text, photos, wifi-as-community, vanishing photos, audio, videos, animated gifs.
  • Traditional news and entertainment businesses have become, as I predicted in 2002, like “refrigerator salesmen trudging into the next ice age.” The volume and pace of social media has diluted many publishers’ mind share to the point of irrelevance. The social media’s side-show of 2002 has become 2017’s big top, with publishing’s once-mighty elephants now leashed, lashed, and begging for applause from the masses (who are too busy looking selecting an Instagram filter to notice.) 

Unfortunately, the Utopian dream that ad-supported, autonomous, righteous bloggers would flood the world with torrents of cleansing information has proven… fake.

First, the money isn’t there. The supply of what we in the ad industry call “page impressions” (articles, posts, comments, videos, photos, animated gifs, comments on comments, smiley faces on comments on posts about videos about memes… etc etc etc… content!) has multiplied, far oustripping advertiser’s demand. Compounding the problem, programmatic ads, technology which allows advertisers to bypass name brand publishers to target readers based on demographically specified cookies, has proven immensely cost effective. (For example, Cisco doesn’t need to pay $50k to reach a few thousand (hundred?) CTOs on the New York Times’ site or even TechCrunch because, for just a few nickels, it can use cookies to locate and target the same people elsewhere on the web.

Second, transparency. Some blogs are selling posts to advertisers without disclosing the impetus for the post. Many others are creating information and spin to earn ideological or social brownie points.

Third, noise. Many blogs are now irrelevant amid a surplus of cat videos and bogus cancer cures. In politics, a few blogs like PoliticalWire, DailyKos and TalkingPointsMemo battle on, often relying on subscriptions. Their efforts notwithstanding, Facebook, with all its secret nuclear-powered link-algorithms, now propells factoids and opinion far faster and further than human hands could ever manage. As dana boyd notes, social media has proven to be both an R&D lab and ICBM of falsehood. Even highly evolved state-of-the-art platforms like Medium are failing in their mission to power great bloggers.

In short, most blogs are bust. Sadly, ad-driven fact-focused journalism is begging for bailouts too. Maybe we’re all lost. How many people are still convinced that Donald J. Trump won the popular vote?

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That’s all theory. If you’re lucky, a good business lets you labor beside great people. Many amazing staffers helped build and power Blogads, including Anthony Perry, Balint Erdi, Bryan Rahija, Csaba Garay, Devin Kelly, Donald Hughes, Gabor Veres, Hano Grimm, Ivana Vidovic, Jessica Siracusa, Kate Studwell, Katie Brauer, Kaley Credle, Kristof Strobl, Lanae Ball, Marybeth Grossman, Megan Mitzel, Miklos Gaspar, Nick Faber, Nicole Bogas, Orsolya Kerner, Paige Wilcox, Rachel McGorman, Robert Mooney, Suzanne Despres, Tamas Decsi, Tina Merrill, Viktor Bodrogi, Zach Strom, and (alphabetically last but definitely not least!) Zsolt Remenyi.

Working at Blogads gave us the chance to collaborate with smart people like Aaron Dinin, Aaron Gell, Aaron Peckham, Adam Cohen, Adam Connor, Adam Mordecai, Alaina Brown, Alan Rosenblatt, Amy Alkon, Amy Schatz, Andrea Rosen, Andrew Bleeker, Andrew Golis, Andrew Meyer, Andrew S. Tanenbaum, Andru Edwards, Andy Carvin, Anil Dash, Amanda Marcotte, Amy Langfield, Anamarie Cox, Andrew Krucoff, Andrew Slack, Anil Dash, Anne Althouse, Anne Handley, Ari Rabin Havt, Azeem Azhar, Barby Lava, Ben Clark, Ben Fisher, Ben Rahm, Ben Smith, Ben Sullivan, Bill Hartnett, Bill Quick, Billy Dennis, Biz Stone, BL Ochman, Bob Fertik, Brad DeLong, Brad Friedman, Brian Dell, Brian Morrissey, Brian Reich, Brian Stelter, Byron Crawford, Cameron Winkelvoss, Carol Darr, Caroline McCarthy, Charley Territo, Charlotte Selles, Chris Casey, Chris Heivly, Chris Jones, Chris Kenngott, Chris Locke, Chris Pirillo, Chris Rabb, Christian Borges, Christian Crumlish, Christopher Batty, Cheryl Contee, Choire Sicha, Chuck DeFeo, Clay Johnson, Clayton Ryan (Tovarich!), Clive Thompson, Clotilde Dusoulier, Colby Cosh, Cyrus Krohn, Damien LaManna, Dan Gilmore, Darla Mack, Dave Karpf, Dave Neal, Dave Taylor, Dave Winer, David Almancy, David Berkowitz, David Corn, David Hertog, David Kaplan, David Lat, David Pinto, David Weinberger, Deborah Schultz, Digby Parton, Doc Searls, Don Steele, Doug Gordon, Drew Curtis, Duncan Black, Ed Cohn, Elan Genius, Eli Pariser, Elizabeth Spiers, Emma Battle, Erik Martin, Eric Muller, Eric Schoenborn, Erik Martin, Esther Dyson, Ethan Zuckerman, Eve Fox, Ezra Klein, Farah Miller, Farra Trompeter, Felix Salmon, Frank Radice, Garance Franke-Ruta, Garrett Graff, Gene Smith, Glenn Greenwald, Glenn Reynolds, Gokul Rajaram, Greg Galant, Greg Greene, Greg Palmer, Gregory Ng, Hank Dearden, Hal Malchow, Heather Armstrong, Heather Cocks, Heather Holdridge, Hollis Thomas, Howard Owens, Hylton Jolliffe, Hugh Forrest, Hugh MacLeod, Ian Schafer, Ilan Zechory, Ilyse Hogue, Jackie Danicki, Jackie Huba, Jackie Schechner, Jake Dobkin, Jake Orlowitz, James Avery, James Joyner, Jason Calacanis, Jason Rosenberg, Jay Rosen, JB Hopkins, JC Christian, JD Ashcroft, JD Lasica, Jeannine Sessum, Jeannine Harvey, Jeff Cohen, Jeff Jarvis, Jeff Mascott, Jen Nedeau, Jeralyn Merritt, Jess Amason, Jesse Taylor, Jessica Morgan, Jessica Valenti, Jill Fehrenbacher, Jim Romenesko, Jim Treacher, Joe Fuld, Joe Gandelman, Joel Bartlett, John Amato, John Aravosis, John Armstrong, John Byrne, John Dick, John Henke, John Hlinko, John Simpson, John Rees, Jon Accarrino, Jonah Seiger, Josh Fruhlinger, Josh Glasstetter, Josh Marshall, Juan Cole, Juan Melli, Judd Legum, Juhee Kim, Julie Germany, Justin Miller, Justin Olberman, Justin Safie, Karen Curry, Kate Kaye, Katie Harbath, Kari Chisholm, Karl Frisch, Keegan Goudiss, Ken Deutsch, Ken Layne, Kenyatta Cheese, Kevin Dando, Kevin Drum, Kevin Reid, Kirk Ross, Kombiz Lavasany, Laura Packard, Lenore Skenazi, Leslie Bradshaw, Levi Asher, Libby Pigg, Lindsay Beyerstein, Lisa Cequeira, Lizz Hazeltine, Lola Elfman, Loren Baker, Lynn Siprelle, Marc Cenedella, Marc Eliot Stein, Mark Blumenthal, Mark Drapeau, Mark Glaser, Mark Johnson, Mark Nickolas, Mark O’Brien, Mark Rabinowitz, Mark Skidmore, Mark Traphagen, Markos Moulitsas, Mario Lavandiera, Marshall Kirkpatrick, MaryKatherine Brewer, Matt Britton, Matt Diffey, Matt Haughey, Matt Welch, Matthew Yglesias, Matthew Zablud, Max Sawicky, Meg Frost, Megan McArdle, Mica Sifry, Micah Baldwin, Michael Allen, Michael Bassik, Michael Goff, Michael K, Michael Miraflor, Michael Shaw, Michael Silberman, Michael Turk, Michelle Coyle, Mike Butcher, Mike Krempasky, Mike Monello, Mike Panetta, Mike Street, Mindy Finn, Morra Aarons-Mele, Moxie, Murshed Zaheed, Nathan Wilcox, Neil Sroka, Nicco Mele, Nick Denton, Nick Gillespie, Noel Hidalgo, Oliver Willis, Olivier Travers, Ori Elraviv, PJ Rodriguez, Pam Spaulding, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Patrick Ruffini, Paul Chaney, Paul Jones, Peter Daou, Philip Kaplan, Phil Noble, Rachel Hruska MacPherson, Rafat Ali, Raven Brooks, Rebecca Leib, Rebecca Schoenkopf, Rex Hammock, Richard Luckett, Richard Schlackman, Richard Turner, Rick Bruner, Rick Calvert, Rick Klau, Ricky Engelberg, Rob Neppell, Robert Bluey, Robert Gorell, Rogers Cadenhead, Roman Godzich, Ron Gunzberger, Rosalyn Lemieux, Roxanne Cooper, Rusty Foster, Sandy Hussein, Sandy Marks, Sanford Dickert, Sara Holoubek, Scott Goodstein, Sean Paul Kelley, Seth Miller, Shana Glickfield, Shankar Gupta-Harrison, Shannon Okey, Shira Lazar, Simon Rosenberg, Soren Dayton, Stacy Kramer, Stephen Fraser, Steve Hall, Steve Outing, Steve Rubel, Steven Waldman, Susie Bright, Taegan Goddard, Taylor Marsh, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Tig Tillinghast, Tim Ferris, Tim Tagaris, Todd Rubenstein, Todd Sawicki, Tom Limongello, Tom Matzzie, Tom Watson, Tomer Treves, Tony Pierce, Tracy Viselli, Tristan Roy, Tucker Maxx, Twanna Hines, Ty Montagu, Upendra Shardanand, Virginia Postrel, Waldo Tibbetts, Wayne Sutton, Will Rockafellow, William Buetler, Zach Rogers, Zadi Diaz, Zeynep Tufekci and many others. Along the way, my wife Zsofi’s unique blend of idealism, skepticism and encouragement helped me steer.

(My memory was prompted in part by watching my Facebook feed — PLEASE drop me a line if I missed your Facebooking or misspelled your name.)

Anyway. Thank you all. Lifejackets on. Godspeed America. I hope the new Blogads helps us all get to a better place. Meanwhile, anyone want to go for a virtual run in Paris? 🙂

(Postscripts: 3/17 design blog network The Deck shutters. A mommy blogger quits blogging, disgusted by her own writing and that of her peers.)

  • it was an honor to be a part of the BlogAds network. what a ride! thank you Henry!

  • Proud to have my name on this list with so many great folks. I loved working with Blogads.

  • Tyler Brown

    Blogads gave me my first internship, launching my career. Thank you!

  • End of an era, and happy to have played a tiny part in it. Facebook killed the blogger star (of course I saw the link to this entry on FB). Which is officially a thing: https://www.google.com/search?q=Facebook+killed+the+blog+star

    • Debs

      It’s a killer phrase – and thanks for that – great stuff in that list

  • dsearls

    You’re the man, Henry. Total pioneer. Let’s talk soon too. I’m writing about all this. — Doc

  • Debs

    Indeed an end of an era. You saw it all first and fought the good fight. Thank you

  • Thanks for all the support of Towleroad over the years. Made a difference.

  • If you need a replacement, then check out CLERQS.com