Did this interview with Colin Daniels, who is to present at the IFRA conference in Vienna later this year. He wanted to know about www.blogmark.co.za our rather basic blog-cum-forum open source system we run.
• When was Blogmark started?
About two years ago.
• What was the motivation behind creating a public blogging platform and would you say it has been a success or a failure according to how you initially envisioned it?
We wanted to give our readers a platform to air their views. Blogs tend to attract a higher quality of content than forums for example, because people have more ownership over the content their publish, as opposed to an anonymous free-for-all forum, which to be honest does not attract a high level of debate unless its a very niched and focused community in our experience. The success is that we have stumbled on what we consider a hybrid of a blog and forum, combining the community aspect of a forum, yet the user ownership over content aspect of a blog. It’s worked very well. Our bloggers on average get a large amount of comments and feedback on their posts because they are part of a community, even if its their first post. I would say areas that we are weak on are that the features are very basic and savvy bloggers outgrow our blogging tool quickly and migrate to wordpress or blogger.com. The site does also not allow enough customisation of the individual blogs. As a result we are creating our own, completely new platform,
• What value, if any, would you say it has brought to the M&G and what are some of the longer-term benefits?
It has empowered the reader to debate the news and write about their life experiences. Blogmark stories compete with our own stories in Google. And I think that is fantastic. It’s also free, user-generated content which costs nothing for us to produce — and Google is all over it.
We also got our top politcians to blog at http://electionblogs.mg.co.za and we are broadening blogging to include opinion leaders in South Africa and our own journalists. They blog with us, we give them a free-feature-rich blog, free technical support, exposure on M&G Online and half of an advertising revenue pool that will eventually build to something substantial.
• What have been some of the challenges or problems you’ve encountered since its inception and how have you dealt with them?
The main challenge has been the question: to moderate or not to moderate. We decided not to moderate. But rely on a system where users notify us of abusive posts. We also started out with heavy Mail & Guardian Online branding on the site, then retreated and gave the site its own distinct branding because we are facilitators for our readers publishing content — we are not editing that content or endorsing it. So we created more distance betwen the blog brand and the Mail & Guardian Online brand, although there is still Mail & Guardian Online branding on the site.
To make sure that we were on absolute solid ground, we registered with ISPA (The ISP body in South Africa), so that under the laws in South Africa (ECT Act) we gain protection from carrying third party content as — facilitators of content not publishers of content — much like an ISP does. This all is a bit weird and cutting-edge and most likely will be tested in a court of law at some point…
• Do you plan on monetising Blogmark in the future or do you believe that its value lies elsewhere?
We eventually plan to add contextual search advertising ads on the site, whether that be from Google or another player.
• Can you give me some rough stats on how many users you currently have?
There have been about 10 000 posts and 2 500 bloggers. This is still a fraction of our 630 000 audited readership base, unfortunately.
• What advice would you give to other news organisations, both locally and internationally, who might be thinking about hosting blogs for their staff and the public?