Friday Feast #45: Commercial or Non-commercial Weblog: Which is it, and Why Does it Matter?

For the first time in 2-1/2 years my weblog was denied for inclusion at an independent weblog portal that lists non-commercial weblogs. The site owner considered my weblog to be a commercial site due to the top-of-the-page navigation link to my Web design business site. I’ve never considered my weblog to be commercial, so the difference in opinion sparked my curiosity. As a result, today’s Friday Feast is about the world of commercial vs. non-commercial weblogs.

Why does any of this even matter? If your weblog is considered commercial you may need to pay a commercial license fee for weblog software. Some sites that list weblogs may not list weblogs that they feel are commercial, regardless of what you consider your weblog to be, as I recently discovered. Some search engines provide free submissions for non-commercial sites and require submission fees for commercial sites. It’s important to read each site’s policy to understand what they consider commercial or non-commercial, although I found that many sites don’t provide definitions of those terms.

I’ve informally considered a commercial website or weblog one that sells products or services and a non-commercial website or weblog to be one that does NOT sell products or services. So with that in mind, I consider commercial since it sells products, and I consider my business site, SKDesigns, commercial since it’s about my website design services. Regarding commercial weblogs, a few I think of as commercial are Dan Gillmor’s eJournal, Nick Bradbury’s TopStyle Web Authoring Blog, and Matt Brown’s Radio Weblog—they each are part of a commercial website and the contents are related to its commercial enterprise.

While the above examples seem straightforward to me, from there the lines got fuzzy for me, at least according to definitions I researched on the Web. Many sites don’t provide any definitions even though they have rules for commercial and non-commercial sites. Below I’ve quoted three definitions that I did find, though, from Yahoo!, Zeal, and Movable Type. It turns out that Yahoo! and Zeal have similar definitions to my own, and Movable Type expands on what they consider commercial for their commercial licenses.

From Yahoo’s Directory Listings Help FAQ regarding websites in general:

Commercial or non-commercial?
Does your site sell something, promote goods and services, or represent a company that sells products and/or services? If so, then the site belongs somewhere in the Business and Economy section of the Yahoo! Directory. Usually the site belongs in sub-categories within Business and Economy > Business to Business or Business and Economy > Shopping and Services.”

Zeal’s website defines commercial as:

“If the primary purpose of a site is to generate revenue or promote the sale of goods or services online or offline, then it is considered commercial.”

Movable Type personal publishing software, including its popular weblogging features, is free for personal or non-profit use. From their FAQ:

Q. What constitutes a business or for-profit site?
A. These are the business or for-profit guidelines:

(1) use at or for a commercial enterprise;

(2) use for financial gain, personal or otherwise;

(3) use by government agencies;

(4) use in connection with administering a commercial web site;

(5) use in connection with the provision of professional service for which you are compensated;

With those definitions in mind I then went back to review quite a few weblogs to see whether or not they would each be considered commercial or non-commercial according to the above definitions. Some of the popular weblogs that also cover web design and development and related issues are Jeffrey Zeldman’s Daily Report, Mark Pilgrim’s, Eric Meyer’s, Dori Smith and Tom Negrino’s Backup Brain, Meryl Evans' Meryl’s Notes, Meg Hourihan’s megnut, Christina Wodke’s Gleanings, Lucian Millis’s LucDesk. Many more are listed in my Luscious Links section.

So what did I find? Each of them has links above the fold to their commercial sites, some of the weblogs have URLs within their business sites while others have separate domain names. Some of them are authors and link to URLs where their books are available for purchase, and some of them have affiliate links to earn a few pennies if someone purchases via their links. None of them accepts advertising on their weblog sites. Their content includes topics about which they also earn a living, such as web design and development, programming, and writing. My own weblog falls right in there with them.

Using Movable Type’s guidelines for the above weblogs, including my own, since each site links to the corresponding owner(s) business sites I then wondered if this may even indirectly imply that they’re “used in connection with the provision of professional service for which you are compensated” per Movable Type’s guideline (5). I searched Movable Type’s online forum for a more definitive answer and found a post by Mena Trott of Movable Type:

There are always going to be exceptions to what is considered a commercial license, but I can’t answer every inquiry.

Here’s a guideline.

First, look at the FAQ and read the list of what we consider commercial usage.

Then, if you’re still unsure, just use common sense. If you’re an Amazon affililiate but are not making substantial money, then no, I wouldn’t consider it. By substantial, I mean a steady revenue; most personal webloggers do not make enough money per quarter to consider the affililiate program a source of income.

I think we all have a good idea of what constitutes a commercial site. Is it a weblog for your business? Does your weblog help your business in any way? Is it an internal weblog for business matters? Do you get *egads* paid to blog? Are you designing for a client and planning to use MT? Are you a company or business that uses MT to manage content? Is the primary purpose of your site to sell something? Etc... Please note, if I don’t list something here, it doesn’t mean it should count.

Some of the above weblogs, including my own, may need to purchase a commercial license to use Movable Type since their weblogs may indeed help their respective businesses in some way, whether directly or indirectly, such as exposure and networking, for example. Doesn’t that impact a large percentage of weblogs out there, though? Weblogs can indeed be a terrific way to network, even more personal weblogs that can be more like a diary. Once again the fuzzy vagueness came into play. I go back to my main roots of being married to an attorney for many years and I have visions of the judge shaking his head over open-ended, vague definitions, and not taking kindly to those sites who have no definitions but state commercial and non-commercial within their terms. Clearly these definitions aren’t the same across the board, and it’s no wonder there’s some confusion.

A few days ago and prior to thoughtfully considering these definitions from several vantage points I would not have thought any of the weblog sites above, including my own, could be considered commercial at all. I still maintain that we’re all independent content producers, though, and I still don’t consider our weblogs necessarily commercial, especially since these terms can mean different things at different sites. Since definitions and interpretations can vary, though, the answer may vary, too, as I’ve seen myself.

06:09 pm, pdt23 May, 2003 Comments, Trackbacks ·';}?>

Categories: Content, Friday Feast, Movable Type, Web Biz, Weblogs

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