Should you join a Blog Network?
Let me first say that I am definitely not a team player. I'm a
highly opinionated, extremely aggressive and strong willed personality
who doesn't play well with others. I'm not saying I won't listen and
learn from other people, but when push comes to shove, I'm going to
be the one who makes decisions about my life. I preface my remarks
about blog networks with that so you understand that I absolutely
have innate bias here. I'm not a joiner. My motto is "Lead, follow
or get out of the way, but I'm going down this path no matter what
I think it is more than extremely unlikely that I would ever
join a network. But I'm definitely a minority; most other bloggers
seem quite interested in this. I don't entirely understand
I've been asking around trying to understand why people
are forming these networks. I don't like some of the answers
I have had. I think there probably are valid reasons to join a
network, but I also think that many who join aren't thinking
very clearly about any of this.
Let's see what some of the advantages might be:
If you just want to blog, and aren't interested in the
mechanics, a blog network could insulate you from all that.
This was cited as a reason by more than one person. However,
no one I asked actually gave specifics, which makes me wonder
about the value. After all, modern CMS (Content
Management System) software for bloggers already takes care
of hiding the more technical issues of blogging, so do you
really need anything more?
Dealing with Ad Networks
This was also cited as a network advantage, with the implication
that the blog network might have both more expertise at selecting
the best paying programs and more leverage in dealing with them.
Again, I pressed for details, asking how much more money someone
might expect to earn as a member of a blogging network as opposed
to being on their own. No answers came.
My suspicion is that there is no advantage. Many of these
networks stay out of the income area entirely, letting individual
bloggers run their own ads and keep the proceeds. Those that
have "network" ad programs may be able to negotiate a better deal,
but that could be offset by their take off the top. Again, no
one offered any figures to support or deny this.
One respondent insisted that blog networks add credibility. I
don't see that. Most of us decide whether or not someone is
trustworthy and credible by observation over a period of time,
and as most readers are likely unaware of the network anyway,
I don't see that as changing. I'd liken it to a magazine
announcing a new columnist: I'll probably read their column
if I already read the magazine, but further judgment of their
value comes from that reading and not from the fact that they were
hired for the position. So even if someone is aware of the
network's reputation for quality blogs (doubtful, I think, but
I'll let it pass), individual reputations will still be made from
Interestingly, some of these networks have managed to create
a definite cachet to membership by being somewhat exclusive: you
join by invitation only. I can't say whether that is part
of a deliberate marketing plan or just an honest desire to maintain
quality. Perhaps it is a little of both; whatever the reason,
the concept works to make joining much more desirable than it might
There may actually be more risk of negative reputation
than positive. While a columnist hired for a respected magazine will
still have to prove their worth to the readers, a formerly respected
writer who suddenly appears in the so-called trash tabloids will
lose credibility regardless of what they have to say. If you
are a member of a network that has less than stellar membership,
the reputation and words of other members will definitely affect
how others would see you. Overall, there's very little credibility gain from
a "good" network but much to lose from association with less
respected peers. There's an old adage: anything you put in
a pickle barrel will soon taste like a pickle.
This is another oft cited reason. I am most suspicious of this
because any network has the potential to create a large web of
incestuous linking among its members. Search engines see linking
as an indication of popularity, and thus are more likely to
direct new traffic to a site that already has many links
pointing at it. It seems unlikely to me that the search engines
won't "catch on" to the fact that these intra-network links have no more
value (and perhaps even less) than intra-site links. So while this
may be a benefit now, I think it will disappear soon.
I am also dubious because I was unable to elicit any details
of what sort of traffic increase a blogger might expect to see
from joining. Like the supposed financial gains, I felt like there
was a lot of hand waving going on.
Part of the team
Because I'm the lone wolf type, this benefit eludes me somewhat.
Is it the camaraderie of a shared activity? There are plenty of
newsgroups and discussion forums where bloggers congregate, so
why join a network? Pride of membership in an elite group
could be part of it for the more exclusive networks, of course.
Conceptually, I understand that other humans get enjoyment from
group accomplishment; it's part of our social nature and we wouldn't
be what we are without that. However, we also take pride in
individual efforts, and most of us have at least some
degree of interest in "doing our own thing". To me, blogging
seems much more of an individual activity than a group accomplishment:
while you may be a member of a network, the network isn't going
to write your blog (nor would you want them to).
There could be advantages to "birds of a feather" networks.
If you have a group of blogs covering similar subjects, a network of
those could be worth more than the sum of its parts. However, most
of the networks I've looked at are uncohesive jumbles of disparate
The common thread of all my conversations seemed to be vagueness.
One person said "It's a bit like trying to explain the advantages of
vegetarianism to a meat-loving person."
Well, I'd expect that vegetarian to promote health benefits, citing
studies of longevity and disease statistics, perhaps referring to
correlations of cancer rates to high meat consumption and so on. They
might also want to appeal to my humanitarian instincts by mentioning
the unpleasant conditions meat animals are sometimes raised in and
the horrors of the slaughterhouse.
But if they just said "you're a meat eater, you will never understand', I'd call that a cop-out answer and think that this vegetarian doesn't themselves have a clue why they don't eat meat. That's close to how I feel about most of
the discussions I have had with people about blogging networks: I
do not think some of these people have put much rational thought into
their opinions. That does not mean that they made a bad decision
if they did join a network - good decisions can come without rigorous
analysis. But I think it does indicate a bit of crowd mentality:
"everybody's doing it, it must be the thing to do".
Often the "crowd" is doing the right thing. However, what's right
for even 99% of people isn't necessarily right for you. If you
are a blogger considering joining a network, I hope you will think
carefully and examine all aspects of what you are doing.
If anyone does have counter arguments or actual statistics, I'd
love to hear them. You can leave them as comments, or submit an
entire rebuttal by email. I'd be happy to publish or link to
anything like that.
Darren Rowse did make a somewhat detailed response to my questions in the comments
section of his What Blog Networks Look for In Potential Bloggers post. Shai Coggins wrote and referred me to a good post titled Advantages of Network Blogging. There are also interesting comments
at Successful-Blog Joins 9rules, the post that inspired my original questions.
Also see Why You Shouldn't Join a Blog Network, also by Darren Rowse.
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