It was a crisp May day when I first submitted an infant Devlounge into the mass pile of applications that was the 9rules Round 4 submission period. 24 hours of craziness, which, when it was all said and done, led to somewhere around 700 submissions of applicants just like myself hoping to nudge their way into that select sector of blog supremacy known as the 9rules Network.
You see, at the time, 9rules was known for who was it in, not who wasn’t. The Network consisted of some of the most well known, top rate bloggers, that we freelance writers could only dream about being compared to. As a freshly launched designer and developer resource, it would seem like an honor to make it into a group containing the Roger Johansson’s of the web. It was in June 2006 that this dream – this instant fame and glory – seemed to have cemented itself for both myself and the site. I was now part of the ultimate blog network.
Unfortunately, I was not alone.
Round 4 was the first round 9rules began receiving some heat about the amount of people they accepted. Still, it would not even come close to the amount of people they would accept a few months later in Round 5. With Round 5 came a promise of a new design, named “Ali”, which would help 9rules deal with the massive amount of new members they now had.
Unlike the real Ali, 9rules failed.
Blog Network, or Next Myspace?
Ali did bring a lot of changes to 9rules, but not the ones the network should have been making. Prior to the release of Ali, 9rules had introduced 9rules Notes, which was essentially a small forum for the public 9rules community. Meanwhile, the network continued to operate the 9rules Clubhouse, as an exclusive community for network members. While all this was fun and exciting, what was beginning to be lost was the original purpose (and focus) of the network – content. For a network that preached for high quality and high output content, they were doing less and less with each redesign to showcase it.
Since the initial launch of the 9r notes, the feature has literally taking off – drawing in more people to discuss their pets than the amount of people the site has probably sent over to Devlounge in a whole year (alright, maybe not).
And now, and possibly by the time this article goes live in the next few weeks following the Devlounge launch, 9rules is getting ready to launch Ali 2, which promises even more nice additions. What they’ve shown so far is a new feature called stream, which can already be viewed by going to some ones profile page (which even includes top friends) and adding stream to the end of their url (Ex: Scrivs 9rules Stream). And what exactly does stream do? It shows of all your recent note activity, pulls photos from flickr, shows a short bio about yourself, and then includes a life stream.
What a nice collection, eh?
But wait, it seems like we’re missing something…
Oh yes, that quality content.
You see, 9rules Ali (the first) did very little to address the issue at hand – having an extremely large network base that doubled in a very, very short amount of time. Ali did have one feature that seemed to spread the content joy, and that was 9rules Live. It gave you a quick view of the last 40 entries throughout the network. The problem with this, was what if one site posted a bunch of times in a row? At the time of writing, I saw Ads of the World with nearly 20 entries in a row showing up on the first page of 9rules Live. So nearly half of the recent 40 belonged all to one site! And even worse, although maybe you missed it, there was another little annoyance. 9rules Live was not the first page, but rather the third link in the network’s site navigation. The homepage, meanwhile, showed the 11 most recent posts from throughout the network, a good portion of notes, and links to many of the hot topics being talked about throughout the network.
11 featured posts on the homepage was pretty good coverage, right? Yes, if your member base consisted of 30 sites, but with a member base well over 1k, not even close.
The Lost Platform
9rules once sat in the incredibly high position of showcasing some incredibly great authors and sites, and being able to associate quality resources together as one. As the network grew and grew, it began to lose touch with its ideals, and the founding reason the network was born to being with.
While some of the power members remain, many have left. Most recently, fellow 9ruler Jonathan Snook bowed out of the network, along with Steve Smith and Bryan Veloso (although the later was removed from the network when Avalonstar was off for a bit). And, thanks to comments in Jonathan Snook’s “Why I left” post, it appears many more people are feeling the same way about 9rules these days.
The network had a good thing going for a while, but it was their own quest to be something else that lost it for them (That is not to say that the hard-working members mean nothing. There are great authors there, don’t get me wrong). As the days goes on and on, 9rules draws closer and closer to becoming a social network site with a dash of links / content on the side, and nothing more.
It is not just 9rules who lost out. All around the web, blog networks seem to be losing their appeal. They are no longer a status symbol that everyone wants, but rather, a few extra links here and there. And eventually you reach a point where those few links may not even be as important to you as they might have been when you were just getting started.
I once dreamed about joining a network like 9rules, dreamed about seeing my visitor logs do triple doubles in front of my eyes, and dreamed about the extra exposure I believed a network would bring to me. Now, as I write this, I dream about the potential any blog network could have had if it was executed right and down to last, content showcasing and connecting detail.
With this, Devlounge is also dropping out of 9rules network and moving on to better things. Remember, you don’t need a label to write quality content. Just do it.
Update: In Response to, and What 9rules did do for me
Scrivs recently posted an analogy comparing Weightwatchers and this post, in terms of me expecting to do “nothing” and get everything back in return. I’ll get on to my thoughts on this later.
But first, 9rules did do plenty for me in the year I was there. I want to make it clear that this was not a “let me bash this place because I’m no longer there” type of post, it was just pointing out the flaws (in my opinion, which is why this is commentary) which I believe brought the network to a different place. Whether you like where the network is at and where it is going completely depends on who you are, and how much time you’ve put into the network. As Scrivs has said in his comments below, you have to put something into the network to get something back in return.
And that is where the Weightwatchers analogy comes into play. Jonathan Snook actually supports my thoughts (in the comments of the Weightwatchers post) that the analogy makes little sense, because it is comparing two things that can not really be compared. Weightwatchers doesn’t care whether you weigh 100 pounds or 700 pounds, if you are willing to pay, you can join. Meanwhile, 9rules screens applicants and decides whether or not to accept them. Already we are talking about two totally different things. Next, in order to lose weight, you do have to put effort into it. If you plan is to sit on the couch, don’t expect to lose weight. On the other hand, when you join the 9rules network, nothing says you have to participate in the community in order to receive the benefits of the network (You are hard at working writing as it is). Of course, you do receive some, but the more active you are, the more the network will benefit you. If you simply don’t have time for it between managing your own site, work, school, etc, you become just another member, and not one the “community” can put a face to.
Is my ego too big?
Absolutely not. Do I hate 9rules? Absolutely not. A comment left at the bottom of the 9rules post said: “People who bother you with their criticism do it for 3 reasons: egotism, arrogance and impatience. Don’t let them get on your nerves” In short, whenever someone leaves and explains why, many other members simply agree and say these are the three main factors that must be behind it. I’m 17 years old, and I don’t think I’m better than anyone (except of course my friends, who don’t have a handle on this design thing ;)). But seriously, please don’t have this assumption that this is why people leave, because it is most certainly not. Am I link greedy? Of course not. Despite how much you may think I am, because I used a lot of traffic analogies in this post, I am not. When I joined 9rules, I expected it to yield some amazing results – visitors, readership, community relations, etc. I got all that, at least to a certain extent, despite my limited “participation” in network activities. It also helped me improve my writing greatly, because I felt like I was under the microscope a lot more. But when you work hard to improve and publish more content, and all you get is a link in return, you do feel like you are owed a little bit more, because links are not everything.
Suggestions for Improvements
Here is what I think the network should be doing to help spread the wealth and hard work of the many talented authors they have in the circle.
- Weekly and or Monthly Spotlights – Much like our “Friday Focus”, 9rules admins and or community leaders should each week or month (or whatever timetable really) go through and select their personal favorite’s from throughout the network, and talk about them. A brief summary, why they liked it, etc. You don’t even have to link to the site necessarily, because if you mention it, the members will find their way to it anyways. This is content highlighting at its best, because every time the admins and / or community leaders pick a few favorites each week, they could be coming from all different range of sites, really getting exposure on all sites and highlighting some of the better content from different members’ sites.
- Mini-Interviews / Behind the Author – Last summer, 9rules did this for a short period of time, but than it stopped. I personally loved these posts, because it gave you the chance to learn more about the person behind the words. Many of these member-to-member interviews were held by the Community Leaders of each different topic / category. To me, this was the best way to promote community among the member base. It didn’t require notes, it didn’t require you to lurk in the private community form. You got to meet people and hear their honest replies to a vast array of questions. This type of feature deserves to be rescued.
- Links do not matter – I may mention links a lot in this post, but at any given time I probably would have let the network post 75% of any one of my articles if they ever felt it was good enough to be shown to their much larger, broader audience. I am sure a lot of people actually feel the same way, because they would much rather have their hard work exposed to more people first and then receive readers after it. 9rules could list the latest 50,000 posts from across the network if they really wanted to, but all that would be providing is links. You can not tell enough from a title how good something is going to be. You need excerpts, like the 9rules Topics area, but they have to be longer than 25 words. In order to turn people on to something they like, they need to have a brief of what it is about before they go there. I think many network members would be up for less featured posts per page, but longer excerpts, so that visitors are targeted, because when someone reads an article that they expected to be about something from a 25 word excerpt, and then it ends up being about something totally different, it actually probably drives the reader away instead of reeling them in. If you read a lot, many people don’t want to be bothered reading something that might or might not be what they are looking for.
Note: Much respect remains for the 9rules team and network members. I’ve interviewed Scrivs before, and I know and visit many members’ sites, and the respect remains for all of them. I wish them the best of luck with Ali2 and beyond. This was simply my personal view on the situation at hand. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.