Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Can I have a hug?

Late last year I ended a brief experiment in running a blog called Wind Farm News, which covered the wind-power industry. The site is long gone, but bits of it have been preserved by the Way-Back Machine.

I found myself thinking about that site today when I read that Treehugger had been sold for somewhere between $10 million and $15 million.

Within days of launching Wind Farm News, I found myself obsessed with, the Digg-style "source for user-generated green news" owned by TreeHugger. On Hugg, users share stories they like with the Hugg community. And then other users can vote their approval by "hugging" that story. The most-hugged stories move to the top of the home page.

On those rare days when one of my pieces was posted to Hugg, I felt tremendous satisfaction. And when other users "hugged" my story, it was a remarkably affirming experience. Never before in my journalistic career had I got such a kick out of reader feedback. It felt light years away from the letters to the editor of my newspaper days. And getting hugged felt even better than the links and comments that mark feedback here on this blog. A "Hugg" felt like a "hug."
And I really liked getting them. More importantly, I really liked giving them to stories I enjoyed.

The sale of TreeHugger comes just two weeks after MediaBistro was sold for $23 million. And I suspect that much of the media world -- even the new-media world -- will be perplexed by the value attached to TreeHugger in the same way they were perplexed by the price of MediaBistro.
But I don't share the cynics' disbelief.
I think that TreeHugger and MediaBistro were both worthwhile investments and for the same reason -- community.

When I published Wind Farm News, I felt that I belonged to Hugg. And I engaged with content on that site in a way that I had never engaged before or since -- by sharing my affection for an article by "hugging" it. Hugg was my community in a way that LinkedIn never has been but that Facebook may be becoming -- the place where I am online.
I had similar experiences with MediaBistro, although not as intense. I've taken a course at its New York office. I've turned down an opportunity to teach there. I use the site on a regular basis to look for freelancers. In other words, MediaBistro is one of the places that I "network."

It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that I value such communities in a way that I cannot value the staples of the B2B world -- print products and trade shows.
Print is something that I read. A trade show is someplace I go. But a community is a place where I belong.
And I suspect that in 2007 when media bankers and the like try to determine the value of a B2B company, they will decide -- correctly -- to give higher multiples to companies that offer a place to be, rather than just a magazine to read or a conference to attend.

Rex also thinks the MediaBistro sale is a "big deal" for B2B.

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