Why then is Steve Rubel, Web 2.0 guru at Edelman PR, calling it "a landmark moment for citizen journalism"? Not because of the response from the blogosphere, which has been tepid despite reports of a couple hundred sign-ups in the few days after the news hit the transom. Rather, because of the publishers who have signed on to participate: The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, The San Antonio Express-News and the San Francisco Chronicle, for starters.
The value proposition for bloggers is billed by BlogBurst as an increase in exposure, audience and, ultimately, site traffic. I've written about citizen publishers' interest previously in a MediaPost column, Sphere of Influence, and the benefits BlogBurst claims to afford play perfectly into the objectives of thousands and thousands of bloggers who simply want louder voices. And to appeal to (or at least placate the ire of) the bloggers who want to be paid for their journalistic efforts, BlogBurst also promises a compensation model for bloggers once the program moves out of beta.
But the bigger story here is in the publisher partners for this program. Steve Rubel thinks it's a boon for bloggers; I think the publishers are getting the better end of the deal.
Imagine walking through Greenwich Village on an unremarkable Thursday night, poking your head into a sparse little tavern and hearing a world-class yet wholly undiscovered jazz guitarist riffing away from a lone stool in a poorly lit corner. That's what sifting through Technorati or TailRank is like. There is a depth of talent out there that is at once inspirational and intimidating. Nobody knows how to fully harness this powerful journalistic force yet, but there is much to be gained from being one of the first to try.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos famously said once, "Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly." Translated: get it up now, fix it later. There are still a lot of TBA's in BlogBurst, including if and how bloggers will be compensated, where, how and how often blog content will be integrated into participating publishers' sites, what escalation paths may exist for truly exceptional content to figure more prominently into the sites (or the newspapers), and how anybody involved will measure and evaluate success.
But what WPNI and the other publishing partners recognize is that citizen publishing will have the same impact on media that eBay has had on retail. That's not to say that Blogburst is the new eBay--it may turn out to be the new Mercata.com. But there is much learning to be had, whether the initiative succeeds or not.
Certainly, publishers will select bloggers' content to syndicate based on the contextual fit of the writing. But they ought also to take into consideration the authority and influence of the blogger. Finding allies in bloggers is a powerful audience development initiative--especially at a time when publishers are faced with the threat of bloggers as competitors. Many of these writers are passionate, highly skilled and influential. Running a blogger's entry onto sfgate.com isn't just syndicating a 300 word article; it's syndicating the blogger herself.
What happens, for example, when the B-list or C-list blogger whose review of "Midwives" at the Roundhouse Theatre in Bethesda ends up on Washingtonpost.com? 1) She does another post on her site announcing her fame to her loyal readers; 2) She emails, IMs and Skypes her (similarly influential) friends with the news as well. Maybe through these two efforts she reaches 20 people; maybe 2000. Chances are some of them don't read The Washington Post, and chances are that they'll at least click through. The Post will not just find new readers in the blogosphere; it will find new fans.
So no, BlogBurst is not the new eBay. But to online publishers who approach it with both editorial and marketing acumen, it may just be the next LinkShare.