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Bloglines Advertising Commentary

There’s been a lot of rumbling lately about this Bloglines sale to Ask Jeeves. Most recently, people have been talking about whether Bloglines planned to start selling advertising against blogs. Yesterday, Jason Calcanis, co-foun der of Weblogs, Inc., weighed in on this issue, saying:

I—and the other blog publishers out there—would never let him sell ads against our full-feeds, let alone target our users.

If Bloglines started selling ads against our full-feeds (not the headlines of course… anyone can run the headlines and link back to us like My Yahoo’s reader does, that’s a non-issue because it bring us traffic) I would do two things:

1. We would sue them for breaking our terms of service which say you can’t use our feeds for commercial purposes.
2. I would replace the full-feeds that Bloglines loads and replace them with a special feed that shows users the headline and in the body of the blog post says “Weblogs, Inc. feeds do not support Bloglines, for a full-featured blog reader that allows you to read the full-feed of INSERT BLOG NAME HERE please consider using Newsgator, My Yahoo, and Google Feedreader.

Then today, Richard McManus (who’s site I enjoy quite a bit), added this:

With the benefit of hindsight, I’m wondering now if Mark was ‘testing the market’ with his announcement that Bloglines would be doing contextual advertising in 2005? He certainly got some swift (and passionate) responses from users – and the outlook wasn’t good. Martin Schwimmer, a trademark lawyer, demanded that Bloglines remove his RSS feed from their service and Bloglines quickly complied. The upshot of that case was that although Schwimmer was mostly condemned in the blogosphere for his stance, the fact remained he had highlighted a legal grey area – and Bloglines had backed down.

Now I personally have no problem with Bloglines selling contextual advertising against any feed, including my own. My opinion is that if Bloglines gives me a very good product (which I believe it does), I can deal with some advertising so that it remains free as long as it’s in good taste and not overwhelming. I left a comment to this effect on Richard’s site, it read:

I don’t think I have any problem with Bloglines selling ads against my feeds, either. I don’t think I understand the issue with it. In my opinion, Bloglines makes the best RSS reader out there and as long as they’re not charging me, why should they not make money? Google does it with GMail and everyone still loves it. I might be completely missing something here, but it seems to me that if we’re getting a great product it’s got to cost something. If that cost were some contextual advertising, I wouldn’t have a real problem with it. I don’t think. Any thoughts Richard?

Now, after giving it some more thought, I realize the problem is not from a consumer side, but from people who are trying to profit off their RSS feed. However, I wonder who’s the more powerful party here? If consumers demand feeds and will put up with ads, what would happen if publishers pulled those feeds because of disputes about rights? Who becomes the bad guy there? Is it Calcanis for believing no one but himself should profit off his feed? Or is it Bloglines for believing that they have a right to profit off others information with advertising?

I’m really not sure what the answer to this is, but I think it’s an interesting question. I also think it’s fascinating to consider the change in the relationship between consumers and companies in today’s digital age. For me, I don’t have a problem with a company profiting off me as long as they provide a superior product. Take GMail for example. I see no problem with the contextual advertising as long as Google keeps giving me the features I want and more.

I wonder how this one will turn out. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Pete over at pc4media nails it and has an interesting conversation with Jason Calcanis in the comments.

February 10, 2005