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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

My very first article in the Economics Times

This is my article that was published in the SME dialogue page of Economics Times dated September 30, 2008.

Citizen Blogging: The new mantra

The mediums to provide an 'online face' to an opinion are plenty, with a number of blogging networks having cropped up in the past few years. The cut-throat competition and the demand for online visibility are high, and spearheading this platform is difficult. But, Instablogs has overcome these obstacles to emerge as India's first high-profile blogging network.

Launched on October 5, 2005, Instablogs is one of the fastest growing blogging networks in the world today. Instablogs is similar to an online forum, where bloggers, citizen journalists, and traditional media can meet and interact with others. It commands a strong readership base with participation from various countries. "With over 4 million page views and 25,000 registered members, Instablogs has been profitable from its early days," says Nandini Maheswari, the founder of Instablogs. It was the vision of Anil Maheshwari, the father-in-law of Ms Maheshwari of Instablogs, that inspired the latter to create a global interactive platform. "Anil Maheshwari always wanted to run a global newspaper.

When he approached me with this idea, I took no time in grabbing the opportunity,"says Ms Maheshwari. Having started with niche blogs, Instablogs has now expanded into citizen journalism (CJ). "We initially had planned to launch small but highly targeted niche blogs. The idea was to build small communities around these blogs, and then launch a CJ platform on these communities." Instablogs caters to a multitude of interesting facets. Apart from posting blogs on a variety of topics, people report for the site and submit news feeds. Ms Maheshwari adds, "The Citizen Newspaper feature on our site is like any newspaper. The community writes, promotes, filters and consumes the content."

To expand the network, Instablogs worked on several revenue models. Earlier, Instablogs generated revenue through ads, but later moved to a revenue model, which reaped healthy profits. "Revenue for a long time was through advertising. But now, we sell our ad inventory by ourselves, using third party ad networks only for unsold inventory." Though Instablogs was making profits, growing from the break-even level involved challenges. "We had zero marketing budget and few writers and programmers. There wasn't proper content management software available, which could handle multiple domain blog network," says Ms Maheswari. Instablogs had to adopt strategies that were ahead of conventional forms. This became possible after Instablogs identified issues and designed its own tools. "We built our own software. This enabled us to tweak our software as per our changing needs. This gives us an advantage over our competitors".

Like any other start-up, Instablogs also faced challenges and later grew from it. Instablogs' business model sets an example for other SMEs to learn and tread on the growth path. "SMEs can benefit from these news communities by having a dialogue about their products online. Blogs should be like tools in the hands of consumers encouraging them to participate in brand conversation," says Ms Maheshwari.

Ms Maheshwari had her share of rough days. However, the entrepreneur in her only finds new ways to enhance the Instablogs network. "We want to be the 'citizen's' CNN. We want to make an impact in today's world by increasing collaboration and dialogue between people of different cultures, nationalities and religion and inviting them to work on news together and see beyond the noise," she concludes.

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