By Elise Bauer
August 6, 2004
Weblogs, although often described as online diaries, are a much more interesting trend than that label would imply. Yes, weblogs are personal journals on the web, and as such they represent the breadth and depth of human interest and knowledge. Not only do blogs allow millions of people to easily and instantaneously publish ideas to websites, most weblogs incorporate interactive features that let others easily comment to those sites, thus transforming the static web into millions of dynamic conversations. Weblogs are increasingly making their way into the professional communications arena as evidenced by FCC Chairman Michael Powell’s blog which he recently started to help generate public discussions around often-controversial FCC policy. Companies are beginning to use weblogs as an internal tool for knowledge sharing. Intuit has created a weblog to open lines of communications with its QuickBooks customers. Technorati tracks over 3 million weblogs, a number that appears to be doubling every 6 months, giving weblogs growth rates that we saw in the early days of the web. Weblogs cannot be dismissed as a fad; they will change the very nature of how we connect and communicate.
What does the blog tool market look like today? Weblog tools can be distinguished along two dimensions: fee vs. free and hosted services vs. standalone software (although this distinction is blurring as standalone application companies are beginning to offer hosted versions). The vast majority of blogs are hosted on services that offer weblog building tools and server space for free, for a small fee, or as a feature of a more comprehensive service. Blogger.com, an early-to-market free ad-supported service bought by Google in 2002, is the big guerilla in the market with most likely the largest market share. Live Journal is a hosted blog community with over a million active accounts, 90% of whose users are 25 years old and younger, and two thirds of whom are female. Live Journal weblogs often look more like forums or chat sessions than web pages with structured content. DiaryLand has a large base of teen webloggers and the look of its website suggests a female skew as well. AOL launched its AOL Journals in 2003 as a feature of the AOL service. Typepad, a fee-only service offered by Six Apart, is the most professionally oriented of the hosted consumer services and attracts a broader demographic than the other services.
Hosted services probably represent between 70 and 85% of the weblogs published. The rest are built using standalone applications that are hosted on a user’s individual server or web host. The stand-alone applications tend to be aimed at a more technically sophisticated audience, have many more features and design flexibility, and are thus more suited to professional applications than the hosted services.
The key differentiator between the various stand-alone applications is whether they are open source and free, or if there is a license fee required. Of the standalone applications, Movable Type, also by Six Apart – the makers of Typepad, is the most dominant. Movable Type began its life as shareware, establishing a large user base and developer community. It has since moved to a fee-based licensing model. Expression Engine from pMachine, like Movable Type, also requires a fee-based license, as does Radio Userland. Expression Engine and Radio offer hosting packages of their software. Movable Type and Expression Engine are considered the most robust, in terms of features and extensibility, of the stand-alone applications.
There are several open-source GPL or BSD licensed weblog packages available including WordPress, Drupal, Greymatter, Textpattern, and Blosxom. Of these, WordPress appears to have the highest distribution to date. A benefit to using an open source solution is that they tend to have active developer communities contributing to the code base and to user-maintained support forums. The downside is that there aren’t the funds to do market expansion or offer more comprehensive support. One benefit to using a fee-based licensed product, not lost on the professional market, is that companies that charge for their products can offer better support and resources for product improvement.
Trying to draw a picture of the emerging weblog tools market is difficult at best. The industry is still very young, rapidly changing, for the most part highly fragmented, and with new entrants coming on the scene every day. Coupled with the rise in weblog tools are syndication tools, such as RSS and Atom, which help proliferate weblog content across the Internet. Standards are getting established, the tools are evolving, and the market is growing quickly. Most of the tools are created by private companies that do not reveal their use statistics. A weblog tool can be a standalone software product, a paid service, or a feature of a product or service, thus muddying the waters even further. Many of the tools are free and although the companies can track downloads and accounts, people can have multiple accounts and download multiple times, therefore lending to an overestimation of actual active users.
So which tools have the greatest share of the market? Without solid numbers, which even the tool providers would have a hard time providing, that is a difficult question to answer precisely. One way to look at it may be to consider which tools have the most influence, or are getting the most use. To try to get an answer to this question I’ve turned to Google. By typing in the domain name of a tool you can find the number of web pages that link to the domain name and the number of pages that contain the search term of that domain name. For example, AOL Journals are all hosted at journals.aol.com. By searching this domain name in Google we find that about 42,300 pages link to journals.aol.com and 159,000 pages contain the domain name journals.aol.com. This compares with 291,000 pages that link to blogspot.com (Blogger’s domain name) and 1.2 million pages that contain the domain name blogspot.com.
For a reality check on these numbers, we know that Technorati tracks over 3 million blogs and that number is increasing at a 6 month doubling rate. The scale at least of the Google links is in line with Technorati numbers. Live Journal reports over 1.8 million weblogs, which is within range of the 1.1 million URLs that Google has picked up. I would not have expected as many URLs for Live Journal or Diaryland, but then again these tools are targeted at a much younger audience, whose weblogs I would be less likely to come across, and who tend to keep their linking activity within their own community.
One anomaly is Typepad. Google finds 55,000 pages that link to typepad.com and 724,000 pages that contain the URL. I would expect a fee-only service to have not nearly the number of weblogs as one of the free services. Live Journal reports that only 2% of their users are paying for their relatively inexpensive premium service. What I can believe is that because Typepad is the most expensive consumer hosted blogging service, and the most feature-rich, it is attracting customers who are more serious about their blogs. I would expect that Typepad customers write more often and more thoughtfully about subjects that would interest a broader market than customers of a teen-oriented site like Live Journal or DiaryLand. Each blog entry in Typepad is stored on the Typepad server as a separate page and URL, so perhaps the Google numbers are reflecting not only the mentions of Typepad blogs on other weblogs, but also a larger number of entries than what one would find on average with a free service or product. Free services, by their nature of being free, would have a larger proportion of rarely used weblogs.
Weblog Use Index
Since actual share numbers are impossible to come by, I have combined the Google Link To and Contain URL numbers to come up with what I am calling the Weblog Use Index, an index of market influence based solely on Google results. Clearly a problem with this approach is that it weighs more heavily the hosted services where each weblog created contains the URL of the service. Weblogs that use the standalone tools may not cite the tool used and therefore would not get counted with this method. However, when we look at the overall results, they seem to fit what we would expect in general. Blogger, Google’s free service, has the lion’s share, followed by Live Journal, the most active weblog online community.
This view of the blog market is certain to generate criticism. I am very open to suggestions for an improved methodology using publicly available information. I am surprised by Typepad’s importance on the Use Index given that it is a fee-based service. However, considering that I know of and read countless Typepad blogs and virtually no Live Journal or Diaryland blogs, maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised.
The Emerging Business Market
As more businesses find valuable uses for weblog technology, there will be increasing demand for professionally-oriented tools, hosted services, and professional support services. Six Apart and pMachine serve this market now with their Movable Type and Expression Engine applications, but they have barely made a dent given what the opportunity is. Expect a whole new wave of products, services, and companies to be created over the next 12 to 18 months to cater specifically to the business market.
Here are some links to weblog tools mentioned in this article and a few others as well:
For a continuation of this analysis, see Weblog Tools Market Update February 2005.