Sarah Perez and the Grand Effect
Sarah Perez is known from ReadWriteWeb, but also from the new blog network Grand Effect, a pretty interesting newcomer that collects a small number of tech blogs with the purpose of offering a mashed up RSS feed as well as advertising partnerships. Think a tighter version of 9rules, but a lot smaller, and focused on tech, and you’re pretty close. I’ve covered it over at The Blog Herald (launch and follow-up) if you want some background to this interview.
I’m always interested in new ways to tackle the blogosphere, and blog networks makes me all giddy, with nostalgic thoughts from the battle (which really wasn’t a battle) between Weblogs and Gawker back in the day. I know, it’s silly, talking about nostalgia when we’re talking a few years, but still. Blog networks are interesting things, and Grand Effect is one I’m following with interest, so why not take some time with Sarah and talk about the network and more?
First of all, tell us a little bit about yourself. I’d reckon most of our readers know you from ReadWriteWeb?
Yes, I have been writing for ReadWriteWeb since February of this year. However, I’ve also been blogging for Microsoft’s Channel 10 since July of ’07 and on my personal site, sarahintampa.com for many years. Prior to ReadWriteWeb, I had been working in I.T, having spent five years as the systems and network administrator at La-Z-Boy Tampa Bay and then a year in the banking industry, among other things. It was not until the RWW position that I was able to make blogging a full-time job. However, I have to confess, I still miss I.T. sometimes. I just got an issue of Microsoft’s TechNet magazine and I was all excited to see a story about Active Directory on the cover. I think my time spent in the “real-world” of I.T., which included working with a wide range of people with varying levels of tech-savviness, brings a certain perspective to some of my work. I certainly enjoy the work here in the tech blogosphere, but I’m also keen on finding balance in my life where social media and web 2.0 play important roles, but not the only roles. I think it’s important to have an “offline” life too. The tools we use online should enhance our enjoyment of the web, not detract from it or consume all our time.
I’d say you’re dead on there. The web and being a web worker is very consuming, and the recent focus on blogger health is really just the tip of the iceberg. What do you do to get good balance in life?
It’s true that when your work is doing something that you really enjoy, it can be hard to break away. I think that’s true for everyone who loves their job, no matter what they’re involved in. Although it’s hard at times, I do have to spend some time away from the computer every week in order to maintain balance. Since my husband is a 9-5′er, we try to do fun activities together on the weekends. And because we live in Florida, we’ll often do outdoor activities like going to the beach, going canoing, or even just strolling around the shops in downtown St. Petersburg. Not only does this allow for a mental break, it also helps you to maintain perspective about what’s really important. I don’t think that bloggers who go non-stop 24/7 are leading healthy and balanced lives, even if they claim to enjoy it. Some can keep that up longer than others, but eventually it will lead to burnout.
You launched the Grand Effect blog network. What was your reasoning behind that?
I wanted to find a way to provide great bloggers a voice. Some may can them “B-List” bloggers, but I think the B-List is the new A-List! As smaller blogs, none of them could compete on an individual basis with larger sites, but by combining all our talents, traffic numbers, and subscribers, we have something to offer to advertisers who want to reach this niche audience. Additionally, since we’re small, we can help each other out as needed. Our co-founder, David Peralty, for example, has begun volunteering 2 hours per week to help our bloggers with questions on WordPress, blogging, and SEO.
If I’ve understood it correctly, the Grand Effect network will contain only 10 blogs. Why not more?
We’re not trying to be the next 9rules. They do a great job, but that’s not what we want to do. We would rather just provide a small number of truly great technology-focused blogs which readers can subscribe to via one RSS feed. The original goal was just to keep it small, and 10 sounded like a good, round number. It’s not entirely set in stone, but it’s what we’re going with for now. However, we will never be huge.
Where do you want to be with Grand Effect one year from now?
In one year from now, you should see our blogs still offering great technology focused content the same as today, but by then our bloggers should also be receiving additional monthly income for their efforts via our advertising ventures.
Certainly sounds like a plan. Will you exclude blogs to make room for better ones? Or let’s say that a blog is somwhat losing its tech focus, what will you do then?
I have to be honest – I can’t imagine this happening! I think that it all comes down to our selection process and choosing great blogs from the very start. We don’t have to worry about the quality of their content. Our bloggers are consistently writing good stuff and many of them have done so for years, establishing themselves as well-known names in the blogosphere. If any of our tech bloggers felt the need to diversify and sprinkle in non-tech tidbits, I’m sure it would be content that their audience would enjoy. I certainly don’t forsee any of them deciding to completely switch formats to become the next Perez Hilton, for example. But we are always trying to do what is best for each individual blogger as well as the group as a whole. If a GE blogger wasn’t performing up to snuff, we would reach out to them and try to help them through whatever issues they were having. Ultimately, we know we are stronger as a team, and we would hate to see any of them fall out of the network due to content issues as we have such an amazing team!
(Of course, if any particular blog doesn’t float your boat, you do have the option of just subscribing to our individual feeds from the grandeffect.com/members page instead of subscribing to the combined feed.)
Are Grand Effect generating any money for its members yet?
Having just solidified our member list, this is our next project. Co-founder David Peralty has been working on different options for the tools we’re going to use to serve ads and which advertisers we’re going to be reaching out to initially. We’re nearly ready to get this rolling – it’s just around the corner, but no, not yet.
Do you have an ideal addition to Grand Effect, one (or several I guess) special blog that there’s always room for?
Of course! There are some great blogs out there that it would be hard to say no to, but that’s not to say that we would change our vision – which is to have a small network. The number “10″ isn’t set in stone – sure, it could be 11 or 12 or even 15 one day if we got to the point where growing a bit more would help us, but it will never be hundreds. The kind of blogger(s) we are looking for are strong, consistent bloggers who are passionate about their craft and who have already carved out a specialized niche for themselves. They aren’t looking for hand holding exactly, but instead are looking to join with other passionate bloggers to get help with monetization, as well as joining a community of peers.
How would you say the blogosphere in general, and blog networks in particular, have changed since the days when Jason Calacanis sold Weblogs Inc., to AOL?
It seems like the larger blogs are becoming these big media ventures, the modern equivalent of the daily newspaper. They have massive pageviews and subscriber numbers, making it harder than ever for smaller sites to compete. But it’s the conversations that occur on these smaller sites that still have the real essence of what blogging used to be before it came such a commercial venture. Grand Effect wants to highlight the voices of those bloggers once again.
That is true. Big blogs today are online publications, rather than the traditional blog in essence. Would you say that the conversation is still with the blogs, or have it moved to the social networks?
The conversation is EVERYWHERE these days! It’s never been more fragmented. It’s on FriendFeed, Twitter, Digg, social networks, etc. However, this doesn’t have to be a huge problem. If it concerns our publishers, we have some tools we can help them install if they’re interested – like the FriendFeed WordPress plugin or the YackTrack plugin, for example, both of which help give readers a way to find and read more of the online chatter. The bottom line is that we’re glad people are reading our content – no matter where it shows up.
Finally, I know you’re dying to tell the readers more about the blog network, so the soap box is all yours!
At Grand Effect, we provide blogging and WordPress support, monetization assistance, and friends online. We have such an amazing team today and we would like to thank them all for being members, but there is still room for more (one? two? three?). Ours is an industry that constantly grows and changes while embracing new trends and services, so it’s nice to have a core group of peers who support you through all its twists and turns. At Grand Effect, our members connect, network, and support each other, and really that’s what Grand Effect is all about.
I’d like to thank Sarah Perez for doing this interview. Be sure to check out her blog, Sarah in Tampa, and the Grand Effect blog network, including the mashed up megafeed containing all the update from all participating blogs.