Thursday, December 4, 2008

Blogs Keep a Company Death Watch

Blogs Keep a Company Death Watch

The online casualties of the economic crisis are mounting, and Glenn Fleishman is taking the body count. Fleishman uses his blog, It Died, to notify readers of the demise of such Web services as microblogging site Pownce, which on Dec. 1 announced its sale to Six Apart and its impending closure.

It Died, launched in late November, is the latest in a wave of new sites dedicated to tracking the layoffs, closures, and other tales of doom emanating from internal company memos. Taking their cues from now-defunct, the blog that chronicled the shakeout of dot-com companies earlier this decade, the newer sites solicit tips from readers and post breaking developments on a range of companies. Often, contributors offer analysis of what went wrong and potential lessons learned.

New companies and their employees are hankering for the advice, preferably before they end up mentioned on It Died. One site launched in October, F----dStartups gets about 25,000 unique visitors a month, most of them "employees who want to stay [informed] about the industry and the company they work for," according to the site's operator, who works for another company and wants to remain unknown to that employer. "Many executives at these startups hesitate to share true company information [with] them. When the employees do get this information, it's too late—no time for them to prepare to find another job."

Competition Is Keen

Only time will tell how long these new sites remain in business. Recession-fueled layoffs generate plenty of job-angst grist. But a slowdown in ad spending will make it hard for any to turn a profit. F----dStartups shows ads, including some for rsum services; the site also plans to add job postings and spots for other services.

The more sites that emerge, the harder it will be for any one to stay afloat. There's still not enough interest in the topic for an entire category of such sites, says Michael Arrington, who runs the TechCrunch blog and maintains a popular running list of failed Web startups called the "Deadpool." "Sometimes negativity gets more attention," Arrington says. "But if a lot of it happens at once, people get numb to it." There's probably space for a single stand-alone, Deadpool-themed site to prosper, if it manages to engage a community of readers, Arrington says, though he doesn't want to be the person who attempts it.

It Died operator Fleishman, a technology journalist who has written for The Economist and Popular Science and founded the blog Wi-Fi Networking News, started the new blog more out of a sense of public service than a desire to profit from misfortune. As an avid user of social networking sites and other applications where users invest time creating profiles, uploading media, and creating networks of contacts, he sympathizes with people who lose vital data because they weren't aware the site was going down. For example, when photo service DigitalRailroad shut down in October without giving its users 24 hours' notice, Fleishman knew people who lost crucial coding they had spent countless hours entering. "I feel like I could help the people who need to migrate stuff like that," he says.

Turning to Twitter

Fleishman is already surprised how many people have flocked to It Died. In the first 10 days following its launch, the site attracted 500 to 1,000 unique visitors a day, he says. Of the $30 he spent on domain name registration, he's already made about $24 back from ads placed by Google's (GOOG) AdWords service. And he's getting tips about pending demises each day. Still, because of its grim subject matter, he hopes It Died will be a short-term project. "When I can stop blogging, that will be a great day," he says.

For even faster, more up-to-the-minute company death watches, some are turning to Twitter. The Media Is Dying is a Twitter feed populated by quick, insider-y tips about casualties in the media business. Started by an anonymous group of public relations professionals in November to track the comings and goings of reporters and editors, The Media Is Dying now counts more than 1,000 followers on the microblogging service. And this week, it got its first noteworthy scoop from an insider at a big magazine, reporting in an "exclusive" that Adweek West Coast bureau chief Greg Solomon had left the industry publication.

Web sites that can't make money from selling ads against dour news may try turning a profit from betting on a company's demise. At The Industry Standard, a Web site that covers Internet news, technology prognosticators can wager "Standard dollars" on probability statements like "Joost doesn't reach second birthday, May '09," and win prizes for accurate predictions. So far, users on the site are on the fence about the fate of the online video service: 49% believe it's a goner.

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