Blogging 1.0

A couple recent blog posts and my lunch today took me back in time to blogging 1.0, circa 1996/1997.

Jeff Jarvis blogged today that the New York Times Company is the front runner to purchase About.com from Primedia.

And Brad Feld blogged yesterday about Bo Peabody’s new book, Lucky or Smart.

Walking home tonite, my thoughts turned to three guys, Scott Kurnit, Bo Peabody, and David Bohnett, who created Blogging 1.0, and one guy, Jason Calacanis, who is working hard on Blogging 2.0.

It was nine years ago.  We had just started Flatiron Partners.  My partner Jerry Colonna and I were on the hunt for the web’s killer app.

Jerry had recently left CMGI to join me and start Flatiron.  While at CMGI, he had participated in the seed financing of Geocities. Jerry was a big fan of the free web publishing model that Geocities had created.  And so was I. At that time, we had hired Jason Calacanis to do some due diligence for us and one of the deals we asked him to work on was Geocities. He came back a week later jazzed as hell about the deal. We sensed that we were on to something.

So we went to dinner with David Bohnett, the founder of Geocities, and made him an offer to invest.  It took David a while to get CMGI to warm to the idea of inviting anyone else into the deal.

So while David was selling our deal to CMGI, Jerry and I started looking for a plan B.  The only other game in town in the free web publishing business was Bo Peabody’s Tripod. So we met with Bo.  He had a very similar business but his metrics weren’t the same as David’s. 

And finally David was able to convince CMGI to accept our deal and so we told Bo that we were going in another direction.  Bo found others to back his idea and eventually sold the business to Lycos and made a small fortune.

In early 1997, a couple months after we invested in Geocities, Scott Kurnit walked into our office with a plan to start a business called The Mining Company.  It was Geocities and Tripod with a different twist.  Instead of hosting free web sites, Scott was going to recruit people (now called bloggers) to create web content using a platform similar to what Geocities and Tripod had built.  But Scott’s model was a more traditional media model in the sense that he would pick the content creators instead of inviting everyone to create content on his site.

We loved Scott (and still do) but we couldn’t get comfortable with the overlap with Geocities and so we passed.  I also hated the name (and still do).  Scott fixed the name, changing it to About.com, and built a great business that he took public and sold to Primedia and made a larger fortune.

Geocities continued to grow like a weed, was in the top 10 sites on the web from the day we invested and we took it public and sold it to Yahoo! and David make an even larger fortune.

That was Blogging 1.0.  We knew back then that the web was a great platform for personal expression.  All three businesses still exist.  Two of them exist inside of web portals and About.com apparently is going to get sold soon, apparently to the New York Times Company.

Blogging 1.0 paved the way for Blogging 2.0.  I see four fundamental improvements that differentiate Blogging 1.0 from Blogging 2.0. 

The first is the notion of the post as the central piece of content.  About.com had some of this in its DNA, but Geocities and Tripod did not. Posts drive freshness, frequency, and syndication and make Blogging 2.0 much more exciting than Bloggin 1.0 was.

The second is related to the first.  Permalinks have changed the game fundamentally.  Linking to content was not really possible until permalinks came along.  Now each piece of content is a persistent object that has a unique identifier.  This is a huge deal and this concept did not exist in Blogging 1.0.

The third is RSS. Blogging 1.0 was a web experience.  Blogging 2.0 is a everywhere experience. Content was a solid in Blogging 1.0 and its a fluid in Blogging 2.0.

The fourth is CPC and contextual ad networks.  In Blogging 1.0, the only way to monetize the business was with banners.  And brand advertisers were not thrilled with paying high CPMs to advertise on "amateur content".  With the arrival of CPC and contextual ad networks, this is no longer the case.  Wherever advertisers can get clicks, they’ll place their ads. The result is a huge increase in the potential revenues.

So where does Jason Calcanis fit back into this picture?  He has built the Blogging 2.0 version of About.com.  Along with Nick Denton, Jason has pioneered the creation of a media model around the Blogging 2.0 platform.  And he is doing a great job with it.

I am not going to blog any more than that since Jason told me that our lunch was "off the record".  We laughed about that one.  Now that everyone is a journalist, every conversation has to be "off the record"!

But its safe to say that we saw a lot of parallels to the Blogging 1.0 businesses that were built almost ten years ago and we think that some of those dreams will get realized in a much more meaningful way in Blogging 2.0.