The Freedom of Intermediation
For most people, blogging provides the freedom to write without offending corporate overlords.
An offhand comment from John Gruber reminds me of the bad old days of PC World, (speaking as a longtime Mac aficionado, that is.) Reading PC World's (or PC Magazine's) reviews of Apple products reminded me that Apple didn't spend ad money in those magazines -- but Microsoft, Dell, HP, and others did. Do I know that those companies purchased ads in an effort to control editorial content? Of course not. I do, however, believe that all of the writers for both magazines could see as well as any reader who the major advertisers were. It wouldn't take direct pressure from editors to keep writers from avoiding antagonizing major sponsors, or even, it seemed, from saying nice things about their competitors.
The rise of blogging, or more precisely, the rise of Google's AdSense program, has added extra links in the chain between writers and advertisers. Instead of just one or two people between the advertiser and writer (an account manager and editor, say), now the advertiser and writer are decoupled. The writer may not even be aware of everyone advertising on her blog, nor the advertisers aware of on which blogs they're advertising.
While the internet has removed many of the gatekeepers in commerce, it has introduced new gatekeepers in editorial. This intermediation is frequently automated and algorithmic, so people sometimes mistake it for disintermediation, or bringing advertisers and writers closer together. Google and others aren't attempting to reduce anything; they just want to control the relationship.
A blogger may write scathing things about a company in one post, while praising another product by the same company in another post. Automated ad placement means that the company's ads are just as likely to appear on the positive post as they are any other blog's similarly positive post, with the second, negative post no impediment whatsoever.
Group blogs, like this one, can offer two writers' different or even conflicting views of something and, rather than an advertiser getting upset, the various intermediaries ensure that appropriate ads run smoothly.
Most bloggers underestimate the value of this, I think. The level of outrage when advertisers do seek to control editorial content in some way demonstrates how most bloggers naively assume they are free to write whatever they want about whomever they wish.
The interesting thing is, they're usually right.