Duncan Riley on bloggingDuncan Riley is founder and editor of The Inquisitr, a popular blog that has grown to around 3m page impressions in little more than a year. He also founded The Blog Herald back in 2002, and was a co-founder of the b5media blog network. He has also written for Techcrunch. 

As such he knows a thing or two about blogging and I thought I’d catch up with him to find out how he thinks the blogosphere has evolved in the past few years, and where things might be heading in the future.

You started The Inquisitr after leaving TechCrunch. How easy was it to go from writing for another blog to running your own?

I’d been out of the game for 12 months (while at TechCrunch) so while I had the experience of hundreds of blogs at b5media, you easily forget things, and likewise the space is moving so quickly that things change as well. 

It wasn’t necessarily difficult, but likewise we made some mistakes along the way as well. Starting a blog from scratch always has its own unique challenges.

Since the technological barriers to starting a blog are pretty low, do you think that large blogs like TechCrunch will constantly struggle to retain their writers over the long-haul?

No. The blogging space reflects life, some people prefer working for others, and some prefer to break out on their own. I came from a background of running blogs, so working for someone else was different for me, but if you look at the writing team at TC today, outside of Michael Arrington it’s mostly full of people who have never built anything themselve

s, nor seemingly would have any desire to do so in the future.

That aside, people do move on, as they would with any job. More so than at any time in the space, the available writing talent has never been stronger, driven by the decline in heritage media.

You describe The Inquisitr as “a daily dose of Tech, web 2.0, Pop and Odd and Funny news from around the world”. That’s quite an eclectic combination. Why did you decide to cover a broader range of subjects and what advantages and disadvantages, if any, have you discovered to this approach?

Originally it was a combination of wanting to write in areas that interested me personally (I wanted to enjoy myself to some degree), and to create something that was unique (a huge challenge today in blogging.) It went against everything I’ve taught people over the years about starting blogs: when you start a blog, you specialise in a topic, but I also saw the mix as a challenge.

The disadvantage up front was the same reaction in your question: the combination of topics don’t make sense, and we didn’t have a natural targeted readership base. Over time though the mix has actually become our greatest strength: instead of just being another tech blog writing about the same things, we’ve had a wide scope of topics from the beginning, so we’ve always been able to come up with interesting content that has an audience. In many ways what we’re doing today isn’t all that eclectic: we’re not unlike a newspaper site now, minus the politics. We even syndicate some news and celebrity content from professional content agencies in a similar way to how newspapers run AP content.

When we started, no one was doing anything like we were doing content wise, yet today there’s dozens of smaller sites doing something similar. Even the big tech blogs have slowly crept into some of the areas we cover, for example you see a lot of sport and celebrity content on Mashable now, TechCrunch writes posts about celebrities, Alley Insider likewise. There’s only so much you can write about tech (and particularly startups), having the ability to go wider offers growth opportunities.

At any rate, we should probably update our blog description now that we’re doing news and sport, and have just launched a science and health channel.

You’ve been involved with the blogosphere for quite a long time – from founding The Blog Herald in 2003 to working at b5media and TechCrunch to starting The Inquisitr. What are the most important lessons you’ve learned over the years?

It probably goes without saying, but there’s no easy path to riches in blogging. It took years before The Blog Herald became well known, b5media had an initial team of three guys who were highly regarded in the space (and dare I say we knew what we were doing) but it still took 18 months before b5media took its first round and really became something huge.

TechCrunch was, and still is one of the hardest working sites online, and its success came from Michael Arrington and the team putting in 20 hour days, often 7 days a week. To get to the top, you have to work hard. This idea that you start a blog, write one post a day and all of a sudden have a full time income and become famous (to any degree) online might sell ebooks, but it has no basis in truth.

The other takeaway is the need to build influence with your audience through trust. I don’t expect all of our readers to agree with everything I write (indeed, if they did I’d worry I don’t have enough readers), but likewise I’m always honest in the opinions I share. More so than ever, trust is vital in blogging or really most forms of media. Heritage media has lost a lot of that trust, and that’s part of what’s driven their decline.

Based on the evolution of the blogosphere, where do you think things are heading?

Blogging as an idea and basis (content management system) for new media creation will continue to thrive, but the term is already falling out of favor. Many blogs today are indistinguishable from heritage media, and newspapers and the like are embracing blogs, and more lately hyperlocal across the board. Collectively what will remain will simply be media, call it new media if you like, but the us and them split between heritage media and bloggers will to the most part cease to exist.

Let’s talk money for a minute. Some blog ventures haven’t done so well (Shiny Media went into administration a few months ago) while others appear to be doing quite well (Gawker has recently reported that its ad revenues were up 45%). Is financial success in the blogosphere as uneven as it appears?

Probably more so. I couldn’t tell you how many “blog networks” there were out there today, but even when I sold The Blog Herald at the beginning of 2006, I was tracking over 100 of them. The global financial crisis aside, there’s never been more money is the space, but there’s never been more blogs chasing it. Very few rise to the top (as much as The Inquisitr has been profitable since January 2009, we’re not there yet), and for every one that does there would be thousands that would never make $100 in a year.

How many players in this space have the potential to develop profitable business models that scale? Most? Some? A few?

We’ve seen a big change in the market over the last 12-24 months. AOL led the way with its acquisition of Weblogs Inc back in 2005, but the corporatisation and serious interest in blogging is more recent.

There’s more VC coming into the space, and its actually grown in 2009, so we’re now seeing cashed up blog plays with the backing to build profitable business models that scale. That said, not all of them will make it. I’d say ‘some’ as opposed to a few.

You’ve been a critic of the mainstream media and in a post on TechCrunch in March 2008, you wrote “it’s a given” that the newspaper industry will shrink. Since then, print media’s woes have only grown worse. Are new media ventures capable of picking up most of the slack or are parts of the news business going to die off completely?

That ‘given’ was correct as we’ve seen more and more newspapers shut and/ or downsize in both the US and UK in the last 18 months. I don’t believe that all newspapers will die, but you’re correct in noting that their demise will leave a void in the market. 

New media will pick up most, if not all of the slack, combined with those heritage media players who are smart enough to evolve and compete in the space. Take for example MSNBC’s acquisition of Everyblock… there we have a US cable network entering a space that use to be the private domain of suburban (local) newspapers.

How important is Twitter? Many blogs generate a lot of traffic from Twitter but at the same time it would seem that it serves as an aggregator of sorts, distributing attention around the web. Is Twitter a valuable tool that helps young blogs get discovered or does it make it harder for smaller blogs to build loyal readership?

For those blogs lucky enough to be recommended subscriptions from Twitter, it’s a huge part of what they do. For everyone else, it’s a good tool but it’s not anywhere near a vital tool yet. Twitter is an important part of relationship building, and is a way to get the word out about your blog, but I wouldn’t be focusing a lot of time on it if you run a smaller blog.

If you were going to start a new blog (or blog network) today, what subject(s) would you choose to cover and why?

I’m fascinated by the reemergence of hyperlocal, although the challenge of scale hasn’t changed. If I was to launch something new, I’d go for something similar to what Examiner.com is doing, perhaps a little more refined in its content stream and targeting. 

The decline of newspapers, combined with the rest implementing pay to view is going to offer huge, unprecedented opportunities in regional and smaller markets (and in that I’d include small countries such as Canada, Australia and perhaps to a lesser extent the UK) and that’s a space I’d love to enter.

How do you attract your traffic and where does it come from? How has this changed in the past few years?

Good content. We’ve never had a marketing strategy as such (despite my background being in marketing), and instead have always focused on content creation and delivery. Sometimes that means writing what you know people want to read, sometimes that means creating content that people don’t know they want to read yet but might.

A good portion of the traffic does come from Google, but we do well on social voting and sharing sites as well, such as StumbleUpon, Reddit and others. We’ve always focused on building up our regular readers; although we cant count six figures for our RSS feeds, email list or Twitter account, they are, and always have been the base from which the rest follows.