Where did the web go wrong? (or How to keep blogs from making the same mistake).

crap chartSomewhere along the road the web collapsed on itself, and I’m trying to figure out the who, why and when. For example, About.com, CNET and PC Magazine used to be greats sites to visit. They had amazing editorial and crisp site navigation. Today? Well, as Jeremy Johnson pointed out in his excellent post, PC Magazine’s site is 90% “crap.”

Since we started Weblogs, Inc., and blogs like Engadget.com, Peter, Brian and I have tried to make each site as cleanor “crap free”as possible. However, it is a constant struggle. We come up with ideas for new features to add to the home page, we get offers from people for CPC and CPA deals, and there is the never-ending lure of adding Google AdWords to our pages (we’re still considering itI mean it s cash in the bank right?).

We’ve made a decision early on to keep the blogs as slim as possible. We’re in the process of redesigning the blogs in WIN (the Weblogs, Inc. Network), to be even lighter in fact. As we work on the new design we’re trying to actually remove many of the features and noise from the top level. We’re also trying to have a minimal amount of advertisinglike two, maybe three advertisers per page.

Sure, we’ll loose some of the .25 or .50 per click advertising, sure we won’t have all the crazy navigation up top, but I think at the end of the day people want to look at somethingwellpretty. Go visit PC Magazine or About.com and try to figure out what they hell is going onit’s a mess. Users hate it.

This goes back to the issue of trust and transparency that we’ve all been talking about over the Jayson Blair and Enron years. When I visit CNET how do I know what is content, what is advertising and what are these nebulous “partnerships.”

Blogs are refreshingly transparent to users on a content basis because they are unfiltered, but they are also refreshing because they don’t have a lot of (advertising) clutter.

I’ve been watching some of the ads from one of the blog advertising networks, and I have to say they are looking more and more like content and less and less like ads. DANGER! DANGER! DANGER!

Now, I’m all for bloggers making money, but it’s getting confusing and users don’t like that. Users are smart very smart in fact.

You see, some sites put “advertisement” right up the top, which is great, but other put it a tiny font. Regardless of the size, as you page down they look more and more like blog posts rather then ads, and with the advertisement warning way up top most readers wouldn’t know. The ads are written like blogs posts on purposethis is very slick.

this is great for the advertiser because the reader is drawn in thinking it’s content. However, they are starting to confuse the market. If you’re running these style ads I would encourage a background color like Google, a dedicated column and putting the word advertisement on the top of each one.

Of course, people can do what they want with their blogs and I’m sure some people will say I’m sounding an alarm too soon. However, what draws me to blogs is transparency, and I fear that the second we loose that transparency we loose the reader.

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