A version of this article by John Evans first appeared in Syntagma.
Many small businesses are web-based now. Some use weblog technology as the centrepiece of the enterprise.
However, the outlook is not sunny for these businesses during this recessionary interlude. What, then, does the future hold for small-to-medium internet business?
Another week, another blog network wraps itself up. This time it’s the business network, Know More Media, which was particularly hard hit by Google’s ranking penalties.
Like BlogNation, a UK-based outfit, they simply ran out of money. I can think of many others that suffered the same fate, but will spare you the litany.
Even the few networks that professionalized themselves by raising VC funding and bringing in experienced managers, are finding the going tough right now. Earlier predictions of another dotcom bust are not off the table yet.
I’ve written many pieces here over the past three years on the choices faced by network owners and the chances of success. Most warned of this present crisis. As a result, Syntagma was ahead of the pack in diversifying into specialist information products on subscription terms. We have not yet felt the full force of the U.S. recession-in-progress.
The coming steep downturn in the UK will have minimum effect on us, except if the pound sterling falls relative to the dollar, in which case we will see our income rise on a windfall.
In America, the startup industry is losing momentum fast, although there’s no shortage of brave souls willing to chance more than their arms.
So, what’s to be done if you have invested heavily in an internet business, whether content or blogging-based or not?
The answer is to spot the second bounce of the ball.
As the economies eventually begin to turn around and a slow recovery takes place, most people will be looking out for “little green shoots” to signify a return to economic growth. In the early 1990s those shoots were a long time coming, and when they did, they grew slowly like hardwood trees, not the swift pines we were hoping for. I suspect the little shoots will keep us waiting even longer this time.
Green shoots may be interesting, but watching for the second bounce of the ball is usually more profitable. If the first bounce online for many of us was mass publishing technologies, what could the second be?
Providing content on your own platform as both writer and publisher makes sense because it cuts costs. Hiring other writers to do it for you made sense three years ago, but with advertisers shunning small-to-medium operations it’s probably easier to flip burgers.
Now we need a second bounce to reflate the whole business of working successfully online.
Forget social media. Maggie Jackson’s book Distracted: The Erosion Of Attention And The Coming Dark Age highlights the price we pay — including actual brain damage — for standard multi-tasking and trying to keep abreast of the information space.
As in my own book on the subject, Mediate Yourself, this is now becoming a common theme whose time is about to come. Finding ways not just of sifting and processing information but relating it to people’s essential requirements is a major path forward. Limiting individuals’ needs to interact with screens is probably more relevant still.
Simplifying the lives of knowledge workers is the big leap forward that will take us to the next level.
So far technology and software have complicated human life immeasurably. The constant pressure to upgrade and learn new tricks is mind-mashingly painful for most people — hence the brain damage.
The truth is, there may be no single second bounce this time, but a series of mini-bounces, with no one golden goose presenting itself for carving.
At Syntagma, we have our eyes on a variety of possibilities. To use a rugby term, all it needs is for someone to pick up a ball and run with it. As I write, there are not many runners out there.