On Joining a Blogging Network: 9rules Round 5 Coming Up!

On Joining a Blogging Network: 9rules Round 5 Coming Up!

Since moving my “non-work links” off my production computer, I’ve been more focused on work. However, I’ve forgotten to do two very important things:

  1. Read my online comics…I just caught up with two months worth of them!
  2. Check in on 9rules, the blog network that this site is affiliated with.

I just read the round 5 submissions are coming up; there’s a 24-hour window on October 25 (Wednesday) during which you can submit your application. Midnight October 25 (when the day rolls over at the end of October 24) is the beginning of the period.

There’s a lot of sites in 9rules these days, and of course there are lots of other blog networks too. There’s also been a bit of controversy and speculation about 9rules and its ultimate agenda. I can’t speak for 9rules, but I can describe my experience with the group. Your experience may be different, particularly if you have different/unspoken expectations.

Who/What is 9rules?

You can look at it in two ways:

  1. It’s a loose collective of individuals who create, own, and believe in quality original content. If you take the time to browse the sites in the various communities, I think you’ll be struck with amazement at just how good it all is. When I’m looking for a good opinion these days, I’ll first hit Google, then I’ll hit 9rules search. The only reason I don’t start with 9rules is because it’s a subset of the Internet…high quality, mind you, but still a subset. The people in the network care about what they do, and it carries over in their writing.

  2. It’s a blog network aggregating the content of others to create an attractive destination on the Internet. It’s the brainchild of Paul Scrivens and Mike Rundle. For what commercial purpose 9rules exists, no one knows. However, there is ample speculation regarding the 9rules agenda.

##Is 9rules Evil?## It depends on your point of view:

  1. Are you concerned that the existence of a popular website with lots of “good content” will make it more difficult for people to find your stuff, squeezing independent creators off the Internet?

  2. Do you believe that promoting other people’s content and using that attention for your own gain is immoral?

  3. Do you believe that the hard work that you’ve put into your original content entitles you, and only you, to success?

  4. Does the idea of conforming to someone else’s rules and losing your independence fill you with anger and resentment?

  5. Do you believe that Paul Scrivens & co have a hidden agenda, ultimately planning to sell the network down the river for personal gain, leaving you and the Internet impoverished and angry?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, then yeah, 9rules is totally evil :-) Personally, none of the above bother me, for the following reasons: Concerned about being squeezed? Get off your butt and make better content! Form your own blog network! Create value through partnership and collaboration, one person at a time! If you’re really concerned about the Internet remaining a vibrant and exciting place, then make some of your own. You may be mistaking “independence” for “everyone staying small and equal so everyone has the same chance”. That is a recipe for mediocrity. And remember: attention on the Internet is not a zero-sum game. We’re not limited by shelf space or timeslots. There’s room for everyone, if one expends the effort to make room. Concerned about other people profiting off your hard work? One could look at the 9rules site as a portal, designed to create advertising revenue opportunities for the owners of the Network (i.e. Paul Scrivens and co). Welcome to the Internet of the New Millenium. The assumption people make is that 9rules owns your content without due consideration. NO, that is not the case. I think the assumption arises because every other media organization in the world seems to demand rights and/or ownership of your material. 9rules does not. It is so unusual an agreement that I think it freaks people out, and they start looking for the knife that they believe must be hidden somewhere. In exchange for promotion and participation in a community of like-minded creative individuals, 9rules gets to showcase and link to my content to create a destination on the Internet. The more popular 9rules gets, the more likely people are going to find my site. That’s win-win to me! However, if you prefer to operate on a cash basis and exchange words for dollars, well…yeah. Probably not for you. Feeling entitled to success? We’re taught this in elementary school: hard work pays off. Well, it doesn’t always. Here in the US of A, we’re only guaranteed the pursuit of happiness, not happiness itself. That’s an important distinction to make. It’s possible that Canadians get happiness as part of their national health coverage, but here in the US I have slowly come to realize that yes, it’s up to me. If you already work for someone else, guess what? You are being paid a fraction of the value you are generating for your company (assuming it’s a well-run company). However, the value you provide needs the resources of the company to actually generate cash; they also promise to pay you on time and provide benefits that make life easier for you. Is it “fair” that the company as a whole is making buckets of profit of your back? Maybe, maybe not…it depends on the company and on you. You can always walk away and try to find a better deal. Sure, it’s inconvenient, and maybe it’s even too risky given your current situation. I do not mistake this for the right to success. I do not mistake this for an excuse to look at another person’s more favorable situation and feel that I’m “owed” the same by the Universe. Nothing is stopping me from changing the odds in my favor. Don’t want to lose your independence? I don’t want to lose it either, to the point I’ve made the questionable decision to stick it out as a freelancer living check-to-check. The member agreement is pretty straightforward: we promise to promote you, you promise to keep doing what you do. They don’t own me. The real value to ME, as a member in the network, is having met all the people are basically doing what I want to do: be in community of passionate content creators and entrepreneurial spirits. You should have seen the original member agreement, which was a close to a warm business handshake that I could ever imagine; the current one has been clarified and formalized quite a bit, but essentially it says the same thing. I was quite impressed by it at the time; I have met very few people who are capable of authoring a trust agreement to move forward in a mutually-beneficial but open-ended and non-binding partnership, and then following through with it. There are some downsides to affiliation: the shenanigans of the 9rules leadership can have unintended consequences. For example, there are some religious sites in the Network, and when rumors of 9rules starting an “adult network” surfaced on the blogosphere, this led a few sites to drop their affiliation because of the potential damage to their community reputation. I think that’s utterly understandable. I could rail on about how it’s awful that people assume the worst about anything, exacerbated by alarmist reporting and headline-grubbing editors…but it’s a fact of life. People make snap decisions. People make poor assessments. People make assumptions based on incomplete facts and emotional bias. Oh well. [UPDATE: To clarify, I’m talking about how one as a community leader needs to be aware of their PUBLIC perception. Religious and educational leaders are particularly vulnerable to this kind of attack, hence my understanding that sites of this kind are careful about their affiliations.] What about the 9rules Hidden Agenda? The 9rules leadership, currently consisting of Paul, Mike, and Tyme, keeps future plans to themselves. They occasionally release a tidbit or two about what’s coming down the pipe when it’s close to deploying. Before we used to hear more, but there have been leakages of internal memos to the private forum that have worked against 9rules’ interests at the negotiation table. Is there a hidden end-game? Maybe. All I know for certain is that I am not bound to it; if I don’t like something, I can terminate my agreement and drop the 9rules badge. If the idea of a hidden agenda REALLY bugged me, then I would get off my ass and ASK THEM about it. ASIDE: It’s easy for both the leaders and the employees in an organization to get separated into two worlds. Leaders are thinking about the bigger picture and deals to benefit the entire organization, and have all those pieces. Employees are thinking about their immediate job responsibilities and how the organization is/is not supporting their work. They are very different perspectives; a good organization recognizes this and will integrate the two views together in some fashion through active communication. In other words: if you aren’t talking, then the blame is half on you. Sometimes it just takes a question to get things moving along. The other critical ingredient is trust; without that, you can’t really have a meaningful conversation about the future. If you don’t have trust, then you have to settle for conditional trust: knowing what you can put on the table safely and being able to walk away. In this case, I know that what I’ve put on the table is not being taken from me, I’m comfortable with 9rules and their current plans, and that I can leave whenever I want to. There may come a time when this is not the case, and that will be the time for a conversation. I can’t say that I unconditionally trust Paul Scrivens, not having hung out and worked with him, but I do trust the mission he’s put forward: quality content and community. That, I have seen with my own eyes. And it’s beautiful. ##Why Should I Apply?## I have been looking for creative fellowship for a long time. 2000-2004 was a particularly dry year; I started blogging in 2004 to see if I could figure out what it was I was looking for. I stumbled upon 9rules by sheer accident, and was struck by the quality of the member sites. What stood out to me was that each site had its own voice and was backed by actual individuals; no nameless writers working under an umbrella network. These were people, I thought, that I would like to be around. They showed me a direction that I wanted to go in, when I was stumbling around in my own fog of undirected possibility. Are you actively sharing your passion with the world via the Internet? Are you feeling the need to talk to people who “get it”? Are you committed to the path of making it happen the best way you know how? Then I’d think about applying. I’m certainly glad that I did. 9rules was an important catalyst to my own efforts! There is, perhaps, a dark side. You may start wondering how you need to “change” your content to “better serve” your expanded audience. And there’s a lot of self-inflicted pressure to “keep up with the neighbors” initially, if you are feeling that your website isn’t quite up to par. I eventually got over it and just focused on trying new things. There’s always plenty of inspiration available in the forums too; although only a fraction of members actively participate, there is enough discussion to make it a lively place to share tips, stories, jokes, work, and news. Secondly, you may want to itemize your expectations. This is what you’re bringing to the table to share, for as long as you want:

  • Your awesome content
  • Your readership
In exchange, you get:
  • Exposure on the 9rules homepage and community pages
  • Affiliation with a great blog network
You also get, if you take the time to actively participate:
  • Participation in a private forum where you can chat with other members of the network. I learn a LOT here.
  • Member deals that the 9rules chiefs have negotiated with hosting providers (MediaTemple) and who knows what else.
Some personal observations:
  • Although 9rules looks like a fancy organization, it’s pretty ad-hoc on the inside. For people expecting a tidy “welcome to 9rules” benefits envelope and gift basket, you’ll have to put it together yourself right now. In short, it’s a pretty typical startup: lots of stuff going on, confusion, excitement, high spirits. At times, poor execution and communication…what I’d expect from any startup. I have been impressed, though, with the candor and directness offered by the 9rules heads when something’s screwed up. They don’t shy away from their missteps, once brought to their attention.

  • It’s not a democracy. It’s run by Paul, Mike, Tyme, and others. You get to express your opinion, but your membership does not entitle you to a “vote”. You could run a deal by those guys I imagine, and they all do actively participate in the forums. They started it, they take the big risks, they make the final decisions, and so they run it. As it should be. If you or I don’t like it, we should start our own thing.

  • Just because you have a fancy website doesn’t mean 9rules OWES you business development. It’s a mutual partnership. I would say the main benefits are (1) networking with other awesome people and (2) increased exposure, traffic, and pagerank. For me, that’s great. If you already have these things, the 9rules Network may not offer you the best deal. If you’re looking for cash up front, active co-development of your brands, or any kind of development timetable, you’re not going to find that in the standard 9rules members agreement. You should probably look into other networks, though I’d read the fine print first, to make sure I’m not giving away more rights than I want.

Round 5 is Coming!

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p>In short: I like the 9rules Network.

Round 5 Submission starts October 25, 2006 at midnight (i.e.: all day Wednesday).