ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
And I'm Madeleine Brand. And it's time now for All Tech Considered.
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BRAND: And today we're talking about bloggers - not just any bloggers, mommy bloggers. Thousands and thousands of them are out there, moms who write intimate accounts of their lives with their children. They have become a marketing gold mine. Companies love to advertise on these blogs, and that's causing a mommy war online. We sent NPR's David Schaper to the annual BlogHer conference in Chicago over the weekend. He learned all about this growing rift over a blog-ola: free goodies, products, trips and other perks that marketers are giving to bloggers, mommy bloggers, in hopes of getting favorable publicity.
DAVID SCHAPER: More than 1,500 people attended this, the fifth annual and biggest BlogHer conference yet. And yet it's a mere fraction of the tens of thousands of women bloggers out there. Many are like Kristen Chase, the Atlanta-based author of "Motherhood Uncensored," who started blogging four years ago to connect with other moms.
Ms. KRISTEN CHASE (Author, "Motherhood Uncensored"): I was a Yankee transplant living in Mississippi. I had just married a military guy, and I felt completely out of my comfort zone, to say the least. And I was pregnant by surprise, and I just didn't know anyone.
SCHAPER: Liz Gumbinner of New York started her blog, Mom-101, for similar reason.
Ms. LIZ GUMBINNER (Contributing Editor, BlogHer): When I found myself with a baby after 35 years of not having had a baby, I had a…
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Ms. GUMBINNER: …slow learning curve, and I was looking to connect.
SCHAPER: Both found other moms with whom they poured out their hearts and souls in their blogs, and up sprung an increasingly powerful online community. With moms controlling upwards of 80 percent of household spending, it was only a matter of time before mommy bloggers and now Twitterers were reviewing and promoting products and services. Companies from Wal-Mart and Kmart to Ragu and Michelin tires work with mom bloggers. And in some cases, Gumbinner says, lines are being blurred.
Ms GUMBINNER: Bloggers used to have sponsors sponsor their writing. Now, they're actually writing for sponsors. And I think that's actually changed the dynamic of the blogosphere a great deal.
SCHAPER: Advertising on blogs used to be separated from editorial content but more and more, Gumbinner says, they're mixed together.
Ms GUMBINNER: To some degree, it's gone from a very authentic community to one where, unfortunately, people are often questioning the integrity of the motives on a blog.
SCHAPER: Some say the problem lies with the PR and marketing firms that inundate the mommy bloggers with free product offers and trips in exchange for reviews. Trisha Haas, of the site Momdot, says that promotional swag almost guarantees positive reviews.
Ms. TRISHA HAAS (Owner, Momdot.com): We're receiving a product for free. We're excited it came in the mail. We're going to possibly get traffic off of it, so by being positive, that's the feeling we're getting, is it authentic? I'm not sure.
SCHAPER: Haas and the other bloggers of Momdot are calling for a PR blackout the week of Aug 10th. But some in the blogosphere say what's really needed is for bloggers to be more upfront in disclosing whether they're paid or getting free products. The site Blog with Integrity is asking bloggers to sign and post an ethical pledge. Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission is considering new guidelines to help clarify what constitutes advertising in the blogosphere.
David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.
BRAND: For more on the mommy blogger movement, I'm joined by our technology expert, Omar Gallaga. He writes about digital culture for the Austin American-Statesman. Hi, Omar.
OMAR GALLAGA: Hi, good to be here.
BRAND: So, I guess the FTC might investigate mommy bloggers.
GALLAGA: Yeah, and the issue seems to be disclosure. If you go to a site you find on a Google search, for instance, you know, is that site legitimately reviewing products or are they being paid for it? Or are they getting free products in exchange for positive reviews? I did a story on mommy bloggers recently, and a lot of the bloggers I talked to definitely, openly admit that they only post positive reviews. They tend not to focus on the negative, and they are getting free products.
BRAND: Okay, but these mommy blogs - they started off a little bit differently, right? These were basically confessional, almost diary-type blogs where moms were just trying to connect with other moms online and find some kind of community and express what was going on.
GALLAGA: Right. But what's happened is, over the last couple of years, I think Nielsen online tracked something like 12,000 mom blogs. They recently came out with a list of the Power Mom 50, the top mommy bloggers in the country. So, there is this kind of shift from the very personal, to mom blogs shifting toward product reviews and things that attract more viewers. And also looking at different niches where they can specialize in a specific kind of blogging -like, say, crafting or step-mom blogs or focusing on gay and lesbian issues.
BRAND: And so, do you still have those original blogs out there that aren't about products and aren't about marketing niches?
GALLAGA: You do, in fact. I mean, the most famous mom blogger out there is Heather Armstrong who writes at Dooce.com. And she still posts picture of her kids and writes about her personal life. Of course, she's juggling it now with TV appearances and book signings. But she definitely still writes a lot about her personal life and her feelings and is a very sharp writer, which I think is what attracted people to her in the first place.
BRAND: But bloggers are also using all sorts of new technology to get people to their sites.
GALLAGA: Right. I mean, one of the most fascinating things I saw was just these enormous networks of mom bloggers. The Mom Bloggers Club, which is based out of North Carolina, attracted 5,000 bloggers within two years of starting, which is just amazing. So, social networking definitely plays a part. A lot of these blogs are using Twitter and Facebook to try to build an audience that way, through social networking. And of course there's videos and podcasts. I mean, I looked at your Web site, Parenting On The Edge, and it's more of a reported podcast than a traditional mom blog. You know, you're able to tell people stories on video or through audio podcasts, and kind of distribute it out and let people know about it through the social network. So, they're definitely tying together not just with the written word but also through all these ways of networking and getting the word out and connecting with other mom bloggers.
BRAND: Yeah. And so what about dads? Are they doing their own thing, because I think, you know, a lot of people want to bring dads into the conversation.
GALLAGA: Yeah. There are definitely quite a lot of dad bloggers out there. There just hasn't really been one that's emerged the way Heather Armstrong has for mom blogs, there's not really a dad blog celebrity yet. There is one company out of Austin called DadLabs, that does a video blog.
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Unidentified Man: One of the most difficult things to do when you're giving your kids a bath is to rinse the shampoo out of their hair. Well today, I'm reviewing the Sassy Bath Visor, and they come in cute colors. You've got this red one, you've got this green one, they've got a bunch of other colors as well.
BRAND: So, Omar, it sounds like, like they're trying to get in on the product endorsement train there. But, is this Web site - does it have more than just product reviews?
GALLAGA: Yeah, it's mostly all videos but they also do a lot of educational stuff: you know, what to do if you're kid has an accident in the bathtub, a guy trying out a breast pump to kind of see what that experience is like, very humorous but also very educational. The guys who founded it were former teachers. And I've actually appeared in a couple of their videos. They're here in town. They recently got comedian Kevin Nealon to do a video they're going to be posting in August. So, maybe that'll raise the profile, and maybe dad blogs will be the next big thing.
BRAND: And Omar, maybe you can quit your day job. Okay, Omar.
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GALLAGA: Where's the cash?
BRAND: Omar Gallaga covers digital culture for the Austin-American Statesman. Thanks, Omar.
GALLAGA: Thanks for having me, appreciate it. And we will definitely be posting links to a lot of these blogs and to the story I did on mommy bloggers on the All Tech blog at npr.org/alltech - newly redesigned.
BRAND: And not just the blog that's redesigned. The whole Web site is redesigned. It was unveiled today: go check it out, npr.org.