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Link blogs growing huge without overhead

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At Digg.com, 15 young people are revolutionizing the economics of publishing. Digg is a "social news" Web site. Its more than 300,000 members submit links to interesting items on the Internet. Users vote on them, and the most popular choices rise to the top of Digg's home or category pages. If you can get 2,000 people to "digg" your article, site or video, you can generate far more traffic than even the most elaborate e-mail campaign.

Digg, which isn't even two years old, has no reporters or editors. It outsources that work to its members and the vast resources of the Web. Its cost structure is a tiny fraction of even a modest city newspaper's, yet it recently passed The New York Times in traffic, according to Alexa.com. It is the 23rd most popular site on the Internet.

Digg is one of a burgeoning number of Web 2.0 sites that principally link to and comment upon content from other sites. So-called "link blogs" like BoingBoing.net, Metafilter.com, Fark.com, Waxy.org and RobotWisdom.com are some of the most popular online destinations, but linking is part and parcel of what nearly all social media sites do. They are creating a powerful new economic model that will challenge mainstream media.

Consider Fark.com, a snarky index of offbeat items from around the Web. It has 300,000 members and 40 million monthly page views but a staff of only one full-time person and two contractors, according to Business 2.0. That makes it a bigger online presence than the Chicago Tribune. Google Blogoscoped, an independent blog about Google and its competitors, gets 4 million monthly page views and has one employee: Philipp Lenssen, a 28-year-old German programmer.

This new publishing model outsources everything. A small group of people provide the editorial "voice" and the community does the rest. Even circulation development is managed virally, at little to no cost.

Economics like this should strike fear into the hearts of mainstream media executives. Their model is based upon hiring legions of editors, production people, circulation managers and sales reps, yet they are losing out to sites operated by one person working out of a bedroom. Editors are nervous, too. Sites such as Digg and its imitators have no guiding hand at the wheel, and editorial decision-making by a faceless throng is more than a little unnerving.

This is both opportunity and threat to b-to-b marketers. Low overhead and cheap ad rates make social news sites attractive advertising venues. You can also digg your own online efforts and hope to get a quick traffic payoff. The threat is that corporate hate sites or your competitors can do the same thing. While the new media revolution sorts itself out, everybody will be a little uneasy.

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