Via MetaFilter, I discovered an interesting new blog today: Blogoriented. It appears to be the blog of a pair of American entrepreneurs starting a “blog outsourcing” business in China. (Then again, it’s a blog, and there’s widespread speculation that it’s a hoax, a piece of collaborative fiction, or a sociology experiment.)
Assuming for the moment that it’s for real: The essence of the business, if I understand correctly, is this: dozens of young Chinese bloggers, fluent in English, will create hundreds of English-language blogs, focused on different aspects of North American/European popular culture. The blogs will make money in two ways: blogads, and promoting products via astroturf campaigns. A possible sideline – “covering” for bloggers while they go on vacation.
Reaction on MeFi is one of predictable skepticism and outrage – the general belief is that it’s a hoax, and if it’s not a hoax, the sentiment is that the entrepreneurs should be hanged from a high tree.
And I’m both skeptical and somewhat annoyed by the concept of astroturf marketing. But I’m also fascinated by the idea that it could be for real.
My experience travelling the world is that kids in developing nations often know more about American pop culture than I do. I have no doubt that some of my Ghanaian friends could maintain compelling and effective blogs about hip hop or American country music (oddly, the second most popular non-African musical genre in Accra…) So I have every confidence that Chinese kids fluent in English could succesfully pretend to be American teens blogging about pop culture.
It’s unclear to me whether any of these blogs would be especially succesful. My general sense is that these blogs rely heavily on social networks for whatever traffic they get. (I know that I rely very heavily on social networks for the little traffic this blog gets…) If a Chinese blogger pretending to be a California teenager doesn’t know any other California teens, does his blog get linked to?
What fascinates me, though, is the idea that one or more of these blogs might succeed, and that their authors might decide to go “indie”. Once Jane Brown’s blog makes it into the top 5000 blogs on Blogpulse, will we suddenly discover that Jane is Li Xiao Mei? Will she break away from the Blogoriented empire, launch her own site and place ads on it? And will we stop reading her if she’s still dishing good dirt on the new Coldplay album?
And what does it mean for Global Voices if Chinese bloggers are successfully masquerading as Americans? Do we link to international bloggers only if they’re sufficiently international?
A good friend is in the midst of an interesting international outsourcing experiment. He’s a talented software developer who’s written millions of lines of code over the years, but who, for reasons I may never understand, is currently making a living through online gambling. He does this by signing up for online casinos that will match his money – i.e., give him an additional $100 for each $100 he deposits into an account. The catch? You can’t take out your $100 or the $100 you’re given until you’ve made a certain value of wagers, usually a few thousand dollars worth.
My friend’s strategy: Deposit money, get the match from the casino, then play precisely as many hands of blackjack, using basic strategy, as required, then withdraw your money. Since the house has only a slight advantage playing basic strategy, you should be able to make $80-85 profit on your $100 investment in an hour or two. If you’ve got a higher tolerance for risk and are willing to risk more money, you can play $25 hands and cash out your money in about fifteen minutes…
One of the tools that would help someone gambling this way would be a counter that tracked how much one had wagered, so you could cash out as soon as the casino allows you. So my friend – who’s written many a technical spec in his day – spent a few hours writing up an extremely detailed spec for the product he wanted, including the language he wanted it coded in, the toolkit he wanted used, etc., and posted it on Rent A Coder.
Within a few hours, he had bids from three coders: a Chinese coder, bidding $100, who didn’t seem to understand the problem well; a Russian coder who bid $118 and clearly understood the problem; and a Malaysian coder with minimal English, but who had used the toolkit in question and bid $50. My friend went with the coder from Malaysia, and, thus far, reports they’ve had a number of good online chats, and he expects the tool to be completed ontime and to function…
My friend’s take on the situation: Finding coders is easy. Writing a good spec is hard. So hard that it might be impossible to outsource. Writing a spec requires language knowledge, domain knowledge and piles of experience. In a world where Malaysian coders are willing to work for $5 an hour, perhaps writing good specs is the one space where programmers from the North will be able to continue making money… for the next few years, until many of the clients are in developing nations and the Malaysian, Russian and Chinese programmers are in a better position to write those specs than the Americans.
So here’s my question: is blogging more like programming or like writing a technical specification? Is it easily outsourced to a (potentially fictional) company in China, or does it have to come from an authentic (more expensive?) voice? Is my blogging a high-value added activity or a low one?
And do we really believe that I’m writing this from Cambridge and that I haven’t found a team of smart Ghanaians to write this for me?