Sphere and Blogs In The Mainstream Media?

July 19, 2007

I’ll admit I’d only had a vague awareness of Sphere, mostly from seeing on sites like Techcrunch, until it showed up in my own stats – it seems that one of my posts qualified as “related content” for one of Sphere’s partner sites (this article on Time.com), which I’ll admit I thought was pretty cool.  Their mission? “Connecting mainstream and conversational media content”, or connecting blogs and news.

What Sphere does is search the blogosphere* for posts related to the content of another article or blog post, so that when a reader clicks on the Sphere icon by the original post, they land on a page with a list of related posts.  They’ve partnered with some biggies, from both the traditional media world (Time, Wall Street Journal, and the NY Times) and the blog community (the aforementioned Techcrunch, Cool Hunting, and GigaOM) to name a few – there’s more about all their partners on the site.  Also, any blogger can install their Sphere It widget so their readers can check out related posts. 

I wonder if there’s going to be a new trend of bloggers “writing to” Sphere – after all, writing to get Dugg, writing for Reddit, and writing to be Stumbled all had their moments.  And really, as long as there is some kind of technology that bloggers/website creators can use for promotion, there’ll probably be someone trying to game it. 

Exploring Sphere reminded me of this post from Problogger that I’d read earlier in the day – why doesn’t online mainstream media link out?  He, along with some other bloggers, had been mentioned in a Business Week article about how bloggers make money, and the online version didn’t include links (which is really ironic, because links = traffic, and the bloggers in the article make so much money because they get piles of traffic – since Business Week seemed to be praising them in the article, why wouldn’t they send them more traffic?).

Possible answers to his question posed in the comments include potential liability risk (the MSM site can’t control what the bloggers will post, and therefore where they are pointing them too – it seems that this could be fixed with a disclaimer posted on the MSM site), a fear of sending them away, never to come back (because the web is giant black hole and the poor readers will never find their back to the safe haven of the MSM sites), or they just don’t get the internet in general.

I’m inclined to go with the last one, even though it sort of makes me sound like one of those bloggers who is all “I’m a blogger, I’m the new media, I am special and enlightened.  Mainstream press is slow and backwards.**”  However, there a lot of mainstream press people who don’t understand how to interact with the blogosphere, even though they monitor it for tips on a regular basis. 

Or it could just be a technology issue, as some of the commetators mention – but I find it hard to believe that otherwise intelligent writers can’t learn how to create links; if it is the tech department that posts the web content, they definitely know how to do links.  Last but not least, the lack of linking out could be the result of MSM sites just pasting the print content onto the web – but couldn’t someone take a second or two and make any websites they mention live links?

Coming back to Sphere and the Sphere It widget, it seems like this could be the beginning of a solution – the opening lines of a conversation – between blogs and the mainstream media.  Hey, links to related content are a start.

*Can we come up with a better word than blogosphere?  Any ideas?

**I’m aware that I probably have sounded like one of those “oooh, I’m a blogger and therefore better than the mainstream media” people at some point, especially when talking about social media and such.  However, I really don’t think that blogging is inherently superior – it’s a tool and a platform, the digital version of newsprint or broadcasting.  Like all tools, the power of blogging lies in your own ability to make use of it.  Actually, one could argue that blogging is one of the least potent of all the media’s tools, because the point of entry is so low. 

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