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October 10, 2005

Socially Conscious Self Generating Blogs & Business Models

A few years back MicroSoft used to use LookSmart to power their search database. This meant that LookSmart listed sites would be listed near the top of the MSN search results. Simply write yourself a good relevant title, submit to LookSmart, and pay per click for all the MSN traffic you can eat.

But, there was an even better way for this then nearly bankrupt kid to get MSN traffic. For free. LookSmart used Zeal as a backup directory to feed noncommercial content into the LookSmart database. It also allowed you to list pages instead of sites.

For any topic you wanted to collect feedback about you could:

  • do a bit of research
  • write a page
  • edit your way into the search results for hyper competitve single word queries

I was a fairly depressed person for a number of years (and still sometimes act like a jerk or screw myself over without reason). My behavior got me interested in depression and anti depressant drugs.

I created pages about most of the major anti depressant drugs and then people started emailing me with comments thanking me for the small bits of information I had on that site. I then started getting so much email that it was overwhelming, so I decided to allow people to leave feedback via a blog, and I created Depression Blog, which is essentially a forum without deeply specific thread titles. Each thread is “name of drug” feedback.

The benefit of a blog over a forum are:

  • does not require a login
  • you can customize the fields to make it hard for automated bots to spam
  • since most people do not think of it as a forum they are more likely to state exactly what they want to in a single informative post
  • after a few people post the rest will likely follow suit with their style

For the longest time I did not put ads on the site because I wanted to keep it pure. Recently I put ads on it, and it looks like the site will probably generate around $500 a month.

I am collecting feedback about a topic that is typically heavily marketed to be pro drug manufacturer, and the feedback shows it is not always rosey. Many of the side effects people mentioned were similar to ones I noticed from when I used to dabble in hard core drugs. Some of those side effects are not listed on the lables.

All in all, that site:

  • gives depressed people an outlet where they can express themselves
  • lets them realize not everything is their fault, showing them that others are dealing with the same things
  • see they are not alone in their struggles, and that the drugs effect different people in a wide range of ways

Add to the above that

  • the site is almost entirely self generating
  • it creates a nearly livable income with minimal effort or maintenance
  • that profit can also be used to help buy further distribution for the site

Now MSN no longer uses LookSmart, but MSN search is still easy to manipulate and there are other networks that provide free and fast feedback loops which can be used to help generate self generating sites and business models.

Some people may argue that my creating of Depression Blog is me profiting off of the suffering of others and that the site is dishonest. I say it gives them an outlet and collects information that probably would have never been collected. It may also help people learn to look deeper within to solve some of their problems (and I still need to do a bit of that too).

Automated sites can have a social conscience, and are far better for the web than the cut and paste news story blog business model is.

Off the start they can take a bit of time to set up, but many of those types of sites can run on autopilot after about a month or two. If you create 20 sites generating $20 a day you are making 6 figures a year without the hassle of having a boss or customers.

The initial vision of the web was a version that allowed anyone to edit it. An open form box where people can express themselves about a topic relevant to their life and mind helps collect a broad base of human experience that may have never otherwise been gathered.

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