Are we actually useful or just fun to play with?
Are we actually innovating or just mashing/copying?
Are there barriers to enter our market, or can anyone be us?
I believe that 9rules is actually useful, innovative, but that our market may have little barriers for entry. I would say that 9rules is useful because 1) we’re trying to guide users through the infodump of the blogosphere, and 2) at the same time help the smaller, independent writers gain a foothold. It was about this time last year when Paul pitched me the idea of 9rules over dinner, and the #1 reason he gave for starting a weblog network like 9rules was to highlight great content because it’s sometimes tough to find the really good stuff you’re looking for.
If there’s one thing we pride ourselves on at 9rules, it’s that we always try to innovate and never rest on our heels. We’re constantly brainstorming with our members about what would make us better, tweaking features to make them more useful, discussing new functionality that isn’t around anywhere else, and so on. I think the biggest reason we try to innovate instead of follow others is that 9rules is in a unique situation — we have to provide tremendous value to our members, but we also need to provide that same value to our readers so they continuously view the 9rules Network as something they’d wish to join someday.
In general, anyone can start a weblog network for there are few barriers for entry. If you’re following the WIN-model of blog networks, then all you need to do is start a few blogs and get some people to write for them and you have a blog network. The difference with 9rules is that we don’t pay our members to join and maintain their sites, writers join us because we offer a community-like atmosphere, more visibility, and a “seal of approval” that deems their site as high quality to their readers. I’d go out on a limb and say that starting a weblog network in a 9rules-style is slightly more difficult, simply because you have to provide value to the members that doesn’t involve money per post or per month. When we started 9rules we asked our friends to join since those were the people who knew what we were trying to do and trusted us, but if you don’t have a large enough network to tap into from the get-go, it’ll be an uphill battle as you try and build your reputation. 9rules is doing well now with hundreds of sites trying to join our Network each round (and dozens more sending us emails every week!) but that’s because we’ve gained some momentum — the toughest part about 9rules was trying to convince new members while we were just starting out 🙂