How to make money through blogging – two cases

BlogCamp, Media & Entertainment, Zeitgeist

In an effort to understand how make money through blogging let us look at two blogs which have in their own way been doing so:

Labnol.blogspot.comrun by Amit Agarwal
run by Wendy Cheng
(Pronounced as ‘sha shuay’ – as was told to me by Preetam Rai at the BlogCamp)

I saw Amit Agarwal for the first time at the Chennai Blogcamp last week. He spoke during the ‘professional blogging’ segment. His was perhaps one of the more eagerly awaited presentations – as there was enough buzz about ‘the guy who earned enough money through Google Ad Sense to quit his job and take up blogging fulltime’. Modest, down-to-earth and unassuming were the first impressions formed about a person whose blog visits are in millions (contrast this with guys who start seeing themselves as celebrities when their blog visits touch 100!) Amit went about inviting questions from the audience rather than make a formal monologue presentation. And questions there were aplenty — starting from the million dollar question (literally) – How much money does he actually make through blogging? While he parried that one citing the Google Ad Sense terms of service which forbid him from disclosing his earnings, people were heard discussing that it was to the tune of a few lakh of rupees per month.

What Amit did disclose was that apart from Google Ad Sense he also earned through sponsorships on his blog and consulting.

Some of the been-there-done-that insights were very interesting. Like how he now has a robust relationship with Google because of which Google responds with promptness every time he reports misuse/abuse of his name/blog.

Or how the choice of topics one decides to write on is as important as the quality of the content published.

And none of this is easy (he spends 10-14 hours everyday researching and creating content) or without risks (if the Google services he relies on – Blogger and Ad Sense – were to go down for technical or other reasons).

His blog also highlights the need for intelligent mapping between content and advertising, so that users don’t develop blind-spots towards predictable formats of advertising (e.g. the formerly ubiquitous 468 x 60 pixel banner ads).

However much before I had heard of or seen Amit Agarwal or Labnol, I had very avidly followed Wendy Cheng’s blog since 2004. With oodles of attitude and in-your-face irreverence, she is arguably Singapore’s most popular blogger. If Labnol is a one-man publishing company, Xiaxue is a one-woman entertainment company!

Based of the popularity of her blog a local apparel store signed her up as their brand ambassador – a first of sorts! But which if you think about it, makes eminent sense. For thousands of people who follow her blog – Xiaxue endorsing a brand has a much stronger appeal than any such exhortation by conventional celebrities in TV commercials. The same holds true for the places she visits, clicks pictures of, and writes about – restaurants, clubs, amusement parks etc. I discussed this with some people at Blogcamp and we all joked that the next time we go to a restaurant and say we are bloggers, the restaurant manager could very well ask, “What’s your Technorati ranking?” before deciding what to offer on-the-house!

Apart from Google Ad Sense, currently Xiaxue is running an ad-innovation – pixel marketing on her blog, and that again makes a lot of sense. Apart from that she does a lot of ‘in-post brand/product placements’ too.

The challenge that both face is that the growth of their business (sounds interesting, right?) can be either through (a) multifold increase of visitations (demand) on the existing content being generated (supply) or (b) increase of content – depth or breadth to increase the catchment group to include newer audience segments.

While (a) is the easier option for both, it is a variable both of them do not have much influence over (beyond their current efforts) – (b) can be much easier for Labnol as some of the content could be out-sourced to meet the demand pattern. For Xiaxue it will be tough to generate content other than what she herself experiences.

Overall, I would like to underline the fact that there is no easy resting-on-your-bums way to make money from your blog. Both these cases highlight that either you possess the natural flair of a Xiaxue, or be willing to put in the hard-work that goes into Labnol. This is not to suggest that hard work doesn’t go into Xiaxue!

The best case scenario could perhaps be the final remark that Amit made in jest towards the end of his session — that if he had been a pretty girl his earnings might have been even more!

BlogCamp Chennai 2006: Update

BlogCamp, Media & Entertainment, Zeitgeist

The sole reason it has taken this long for me to post this update is that the BlogCamp in Chennai ate my weekend, and it took me the whole of the following week to recoup.

A lot has been said and written about people’s expectations and the varying levels to which they were met or not met.

Since I did not go to the BlogCamp with any expectations most of what I encountered or experienced had a certain impact on me. And I would want to remember only the positives. (There are enough negatives in rest of the world to satiate the part of me that feeds on them!)

The first and foremost was the free WiFi broadband connectivity courtesy Sify. A second for me in life — the first being Chennai airport, which had free WiFi by BSNL under a promotional scheme last year. [This was commented upon by Shailaja Neelkantan and this seems to have rubbed GreatBong the wrong way!]

Then was Amit Agarwal‘s eagerly awaited talk where India’s most celebrated professional blogger offered some insights into what everyone in the audience wished should be theirs, but somehow isn’t — a serious enough earning from their blogs!

I had a long and interesting chat with Nikhil Kuilkarni who is one bright 21 year-old. Reminded me of my teaching days. Talking of my teaching days — it was a pleasant surprise when Nidhi came up and told me she had attended some of my media management workshops in IP College (Delhi)!

A well-deserved word of appreciation for Kiruba and the team of volunteers from Chennai.
The hype-spike was chief sponsor Yahoo bringing Sunil Gavaskar to the event, and that’s where I found a lot of the unconference attitude coming unstuck. I was bemused by some of the questions put to Sunil Gavaskar:

  • What do you think is the future of podcasting?
  • What do you think is the future of blogging as a medium?
  • Would you like to do cricket coaching through blogging?
  • Would you like to do live ball-by-ball text commentary a la Prem Panicker?
  • Why are you only doing audio podcasts and not video-casts?
  • Which other sportsmen do you think are doing podcasts like you?

All of this to a person who said the following quite clearly…

  • Frankly, I don’t belong here
  • I belong to the transistor generation
  • I am a two-finger typist
  • I once went on typing for quite some time without looking up into the screen only to discover that nothing had actually been typed
  • I began looking at blogs only in the last some days

Perhaps the only sensible questions asked were:

  1. Is there a possibility of another autobiographical book coming from you after Sunny Days?
  2. While in a 2-commentator setup, you feed off the other guy (which Gavaskar himself had enlightened the audience about), would you like to try commenting while feeding off an audience?

There was also an interesting presentation by photographer Sharad Haksar who shared some of his work and how the blogging community mobilized support and helped him out when Coca Cola had filed a case against him.

And not to forget the company and hospitality of my friend and ex-colleague Jamshed Rajan who was quite popular with the Chennai community and seems to have worked well on his positioning as a humour writer through his blog — ouchmytoe.

And my take from the BlogCamp?

That’s in the next post. Please be back.

The Miracles of India

Media & Entertainment, Politics, Zeitgeist

Yessir! It’s happening once again!

If Ganesh idols were drinking milk then, it is sea water turning sweet in Mumbai now! (In between we had the ‘monkey man’ in India’s capital city!)

The ‘milk drinking’ is due to the phenomenon of ‘surface tension’ where the milk sticks in a very thin layer — practically invisible to the naked eye — to the edge of the spoon and travels from there to the lips of the idols, to the chin and all the way to the floor. If need be, please pick up a high-school physics book, and you would understand it very easily!

The sweetness of the sea water is being explained as post-monsoon dilution of salinity.

Even though I believe the scientific explanations completely, for me that is just one aspect of this issue.

The other aspect is — WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?

So what if the idols were drinking milk, huh?
So what if the sea water is less salty than usual, huh?
What does this do for you? Makes your life less miserable, huh?

Yet we have people (urban, educated and economically better-off) in this day and age falling for, and willing to swallow this crap (literally too**), in double-quick haste and not waiting/wanting to seek a logical/rational explanation for that.

And that’s the miracle for me, sadly!

Even as I close this post, I see news on India TV that the idols drinking milk scam is back, and I can very clearly see this time around it’s not about injecting the opium into the masses in an innovative way, but in a competitive way.


** Mahim creek, the site for this sweet water ‘miracle’, is otherwise better known as the point where passengers on Mumbai’s western train line generally get up from their sleep due to an overpowering foul sewage smell, while passing by!

Top ten posts on Swadeshe

Humour, Zeitgeist

I have a confession to make, and I am going to make it publicly. I have been wrong in judging Sachin Tendulkar. I always had an issue with the country’s (and most certainly his own) obsession with the centuries he scored. His centuries were an end in themselves, and not necessarily a means to an end — the larger cause of the team winning matches.

So what has caused this change of heart? No, this has nothing to do with Sanjay Manjrekar’s recent comments on Tendulkar’s dubious injury-itinerary in the last few years.

It is about the psychological impact of crossing a 100!

Well, the Prince of Kurukshetra post was picked up and linked by Mumbai Mirror in their ‘Views’ section and it sent the per day views to Swadeshe soaring past the 100 mark! In early Dravidian style (Rahul Dravid-ian, just in case, you smelt a Chennai slant here) — the previous highest was 93 views.

Same day another milestone was reached, when my Internet, Shahid Afridi & integrity post also crossed 50 views!

As of today, here are the top ten viewed posts on Swadeshe:

Title Views
Internet, Shahid Afridi & integrity
Krrishi Darshan 44
Krrish Case Study @ IIM Indore? 43
Prince of Kurukshetra
I saw Philip Kotler in Chennai! 31
Sons and Loafers: A case of bad sons-kaar 28
Jaswant Singh revisits Kandahar… 27
This Guy’s Goma make it big! 24
Mumbai Blasts: Enough is enough 20
Chucking: Acute angle, obtuse logic 17

And even though the above sample size is small, this could also provide me with an instance of the ‘Leader-feeder Effect‘ that I had propounded earlier.

User delights with FireFox

Media & Entertainment, Zeitgeist

I know this is coming a little late in the day especially when FireFox 2.0 Beta has already made an appearance. Actually I had written this long ago, and wanted to make an academic research out of browser comparisons. But since that isn’t anywhere close to happening, here goes.

Top 10 user delights of Mozilla Firefox web browser (in my order of experiencing them):

1. Freedom from virus and spy-ware attacks

This is perhaps the single biggest reason for people wanting to shift from the hitherto ubiquitous Internet Explorer. And it is not only novice users who unwittingly get infested with these viruses and malicious spy programmes, even seasoned net users have become hapless victims and their browsers hijacked.

2. Installation relief – Download size, import bookmarks etc.

Having made up your mind to try out Firefox, you double-check with incredulity that the download size is a mere 4-6 Megabytes. Compare this with your status quo browsers at around 25-50 bloated Megabytes! Moreover one of the bigger inertia factors against changing browsers — existing bookmarks — can be imported very easily.

3. Tabbed browsing

Once you start using Firefox the first feature that catches your eye is tabbed browsing, which allows users to simultaneously open multiple sites within a single application window. Many people feel this is a new feature — which is not true. Tabbed browsing had been introduced by Neoplanet as far back as 1999-2000. However, given 5-6 more years of user-evolution tabbed browsing has become one of the most popular features of Firefox.

4. Open in new window/tab

This is a direct fall-out of the tabbed browsing feature. A very common online trait of information seekers (mostly when you want to check out multiple Google results) is the tendency to right-click and open link in a new window. And without fail the new browser window opens, but on top of the existing window you are working in – disrupting your flow of activities at the page you are on. You necessarily need to click back on the original window to resume and continue. With Firefox, you right-click and open link in a new tab. The new tab opens in the background while you continue your search through other links on the page.

5. Search engines

Over the last few years add-on toolbars from Yahoo, Google and MSN have become popular with users as it saves them the additional step of opening the parent sites in their browsers and then using the search feature. However if your activities involve an equal usage of these three popular searches you end up installing all three in your browser. Not only does that tend to mess with your default settings for home pages and search pages, it also drastically reduces the available screen area. Firefox on the other hand has very smartly used the real estate for menus and carved out a space for the search field along with the address input field. However, what follows next is a much bigger value-add. You can add a number of popular and specialized search engines to this field. For example, I have added Google, Yahoo, Amazon, Answers, Creative Commons, eBay, IMDB, Flickr Tags, Dictionary, Wikipedia. It takes not more than a few seconds to add a new search engine – no restart required!

6. Extensions/plug-ins

Firefox allows you to add on a series of extensions that have been written by the Firefox community. Typically these add-ons are not more than a few to several Kilobytes in size. I have yet to come across an extension that’s in the region of Megabytes in size. Two of my favourite extensions are ‘image zoom’ and ‘blog this’. Whenever Firefox comes across a page where you are missing a plug-in, it effortlessly helps you with downloading and auto-installing the missing plug-in.

7. Download manager

How do downloads work in I.E? You click on the file to be downloaded; a new dialog window opens asking you the location where you would want the file to be downloaded; and then a separate panel opens showing you the status of your download. For multiple files being downloaded simultaneously, multiple download status panels are there, adding to the clutter on your open windows bar. Once the file downloads fully a new dialog box appears letting you open the downloaded file. Sometimes you are not sure where the file has been downloaded, or what all files have you downloaded in the past. In Firefox, all such downloads are streamlined through the download manager, which does all the above activities in a single window, but also shows you the files you have downloaded previously. Additionally it lets you suspend/pause/resume specific downloads.

8. Clearing history selectively

Have you ever been faced with a situation where you have wanted to remove from the address bar history, a few of the recent URLs you have visited? Perhaps the only way available was clearing out the browser history. But with that all the other addresses would also be cleared out. Here again Firefox adds value by removing from the address bar as well, web addresses of the sites you remove from the browser history.

9. Closing window

Another fall out of the tabbed browsing feature is the safety of not closing browser windows accidentally. If you have multiple tabs opened within Firefox and you click the close window icon, Firefox prompts you that this would close all the tabs within the browser and not only the tabs currently being used.

10. It’s free

Free of cost, and free of obligations.


Pop-up blocker

(This post would have served its purpose if even one person switches to FireFox)