What’s that blog post worth?

by rafi on November 3, 2009

This is a #noshots zone. I have a lot of respect for what eskay and company have accomplished at Nah Right and I have benefited from their support from the beginning. That said, Nah Right hasn’t had much value for me as a news filter in years and I haven’t been a regular reader in a while. At some point receiving dozens of items a day that I wasn’t going to care about, without any context or comment just became too much. I can’t begrudge eskay for growing the site’s page views by accelerating the post count but it did change the nature of the site and sent users like me away.

At the same time, the nature of news on the web has evolved since 2007 when I considered NR essential. Along with many others, I’ve found (and moved on from) a number of news filters I prefer since then: smaller bloggers who are more selective in what they post, peers sharing what they’re reading on Google Reader or Tumblr, and most recently the link exchange serendipity of Twitter.

But I do still like to check out the Nah Right sidebar for Nah Right Lite, a list of links to items on other sites that for whatever reason didn’t warrant a full post, even though the link-and-embed style of Nah Right proper means the main posts aren’t much “heavier” than the Lite ones.

So I was excited when I signed on to Twitter this morning and saw someone not associated with the site sharing the news that the Nah Right Lite RSS is working again after being broken for a ridiculous amount of time. The very discovery of that news I’d been waiting for is a perfect example of why I don’t use any big hip-hop news site. As the NY Times interview subject famously said, “If the news is important, it will find me.”

Nah Right Lite has become more useful than the main site. Its selections run toward the periphery of what the site is willing to cover and I live on the periphery (pause). You also don’t see much on NRL that leaves you wondering why the item got posted and that’s probably a byproduct of the slower posting cycle. Meanwhile, the main content of the site churns and churns. As I write this sentence, the Nah Right post linked in the paragraph above was posted less than 24 hours ago, but has already been pushed down to page 4 by the 36 posts that followed.

The conventional wisdom is that Nah Right and other big news / new music blogs are the new DJ, the force that will save music sales (ha!), and our modern gatekeepers. To eskay’s credit, I haven’t seen him spouting this “I want to believe” silliness (or much of anything, right?) but he does benefit from the prevalence of the sentiment.

And so that leads us to the other big thing that’s changed since 2007. All the attention blogs received attracted the money guys. One by one, and sometimes faster, the most industrious blog pushers have been joining up with networks like Complex, Uproxx and OkayPlayer. Now AOL’s in the game with StreetLevel. Rap Radar is struggling to put up Nah Right numbers because money + Nah Right imitator still equals Nah Right imitator. And while nobody was paying attention, Global Grind’s aggregator has been drinking everybody’s milkshake.

In 2009 the rap blogs everyone knows are run as businesses. They have big sponsors, put on CMJ events, even score awesome payola from actual recording artists! Though I think the artist in Gyant’s story is going to want the $2,000 back when he realizes how much money he owes his record label.

Rap stars shout out blogs, give them exclusive videos and sit down with them for interviews. At least that’s for the blogs that still do interviews. Artists and less popular bloggers looking for attention wonder how they can get on sites like Nah Right. They may attempt questionable stunts to get them there. Anything for that link.

It turns out that link might not be worth what you think it is. And it’s almost definitely worth less than it was last year or the year before. I say this having witnessed the phenomenon myself.

Back in the day when we would post new Internets Celebrities videos, they would end up running on different hip-hop blogs but Nah Right was always the dominant source for referrals. Only when Illseed at AllHipHop happened to post our videos did we see a force that could beat Nah Right and do it handedly. Man, I do miss that AllHipHop link-love. But at the blog level Nah Right was clearly king of the Youtube view-count.

When we released Vend Diagram two months ago it provided an interesting case study for how things have changed.

On September 1, just minutes after Vend Diagram went live at YouTube, Nah Right posted the video. Fifteen minutes later they posted something else, fourteen minutes later they posted something else, thirty-five minutes later they posted something else, twenty-six minutes later they posted something else, twenty-five minutes later they posted something else. Two hours hadn’t passed yet and we were already more than halfway down the front page.

Still some boost came. At the end of that day Nah Right had provided a few hundred views and was the number one referrer for the video. Miss Info’s post from the same day was a clear second but it was far behind. The next day it gained on Nah Right. The next day it gained on Nah Right. The next day it passed Nah Right. The next day it kept going… ultimately almost doubling the views that came from Nah Right.

The next week I was surprised to see Bol’s September 1 post of Vend Diagram pass Nah Right’s in the amount of YouTube views delivered.

Below is a chart comparing the number of unique visitors at the three blogs.

When it comes to site traffic Nah Right is clearly king. If we could look at page views it would probably be an even more dramatic lead since many use the comment section at nahright as a chat room. So what’s going on here – how is it that the two markedly less popular blogs delivered markedly more attention to my video?

Less is More

In September 2009:

MissInfo.tv had 155 blog posts.
ByronCrawford.com had 52 blog posts.
Nah Right had 758 blog posts.

The day after we were posted at Nah Right, there was basically no chance of a casual user finding our video in the archives. The action at Nah Right is never in the archives but always in the top post, where the conversation is almost never about the content. Commenters engage each other, eskay’s postings are the social object around which they congregate. As I’ve said to eskay before, no one actually cares about hip-hop news. People go to Nah Right because it provides a way for them to express their identity as being hip-hop alongside a bunch of other people doing the same.

Things have a different feel at the other two sites. It’s not just that the slower pace allows for posts to stay on the front page longer and stay discoverable in the shallow end of the archives – it’s also a different culture.

Like eskay, Miss Info is part of the Complex network but unlike most bloggers she comes from a background in print and broadcast journalism so it’s safe to say we won’t see her giving context-free link-blogging a go. Byron Crawford has kept his blog independent as ever and it’s hard not to root for a guy who consistently steps up to the table and creates and is hated on by those who can’t. I’ve had my off weeks but I remain a fan and agree with noz that Bol deserves a world of credit for his iconoclasm.

Info and Bol may post less often but they offer up more in the way of ideas and try in radically different ways to spark discussions around their content. Their efforts pay off in that the comments at these two sites are actually about the posts. So while they may not put up the overall traffic numbers of Nah Right, they create a culture at their sites where people engage with the content. Because they are more selective, the audience learns about their judgment and they earn a level of trust. Half the audience at Bol’s site may be there to argue with his choices but they still get an idea of where he’s coming from and that it rings true and that’s what makes the argument worthwhile in the first place.

This is about a level of reach that Compete.com isn’t measuring. A million people might visit your blogs every month but if you have no way to say to them what you think matters, what you have is a bus terminal.

So if you’re a blogger, let’s say you can get the page-view… does your audience trust you enough to let you convert that page load into a play, and then can you convert the play into a conversation? That’s reach with depth instead of breadth. It’s not how many people your blog reaches but how far your people will go with you.

Popularity vs Trust

Jesse Thorn is the host of The Sound of Young America “a public radio show about things that are awesome.” Because of Jesse’s dedication to delivering the awesome his small online audience (he hosts a forum and blog) is extremely loyal.

Luckily for us, Jesse likes to partake in Internets Celebrities goodness and to share it. He too posted Vend Diagram on 9/1. The next week he links my “hustle is showing” post and does a post about us offering our DVD on a pay what you like basis.

I get an email on 9/11 from someone who bought the dvd. It reads:

I just ordered your DVD.. Can I change address or is it too late.

side note: I found out about you guys from Jesse Thorn’s Sound of Young America blog. I have not seen any clips. I went on his word alone.

Jesse didn’t send us a large number of YouTube viewers. What he sent us was someone willing to plunk money down on our dvd going on his word alone. That is a level of reach earned only by building crazy amounts of trust from your community.

The visible, credible fan is your best evangelist. I think of Sweeney Kovar’s impassioned blogging about Jay Electronica that set everything in motion. Despite his small readership, Sweeney’s authenticity, credibility and passion were wildly infectious and the people rapidly followed Sweeney’s lead. Your “tastemaker” is a moving target.

If you’re an artist or a publicist, you need to consider the trade-off you’re pursuing when you target the high volume blogger. And if it’s Nah Right you’re pitching, see if they’ll give you a spot in the Nah Right Lite sidebar instead. You may get to sit in the top spot all weekend there.

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