Does anyone care what you write, or where you write it?

Why a lot of what you read really doesn’t matter:

Fragmentation applies to 100pct of media. We have gotten to the point where it is so easy to publish to the web, that most of it is ignored. When it is not ignored and it garners attention, the attention is usually from those people, the amateur outties, whose only goal is to create volume on the web in hopes of being noticed.

Additionally, I’ve often wondered why people are so willing to syndicate their content across networks they have little control over, and require additional engagement on their part. According to Mr. Cuban’s hypotheses on attention and relevance, it’s amateurish.

But where content, and distribution, are available for free, can the laws of scarcity even be applied anymore?


I think you could say the same thing about an auditorium full of people milling about and conversing on whatever comes to mind … and creating their own “volume.” I’m not sure of what Cuban’s point is here, unless it is about the devaluation of “publishing” as a medium, in which case it’s impossible to ignore the positives: abundant low-cost communication options and a recognition that brand marketing and cleverness doesn’t by itself connote credibility. An awful lot of 25-year-olds have highly refined filters for information, and don’t automatically trust sources the way we used to believe everything published in The Washington Post or announced on the evening news. To say that fragmentation makes engagement less likely is simply a truism; it doesn’t say anything about increased opportunities for discovery and understanding.

To steal from Cuban’s own headline, an appropriate response might be “Who Cares What Mark Cuban writes?”

Like Marshall, I don’t really get the point. To suggest that much of the Internet’s content is effectively noise isn’t exactly groundbreaking, though Cuban does seem to overlook the cumulative effect of the work of the people he describes as amateur outties.

I’d argue that scarcity still applies at some level; all content isn’t created equal, and the relevant idea here might be:

The good stuff isn’t that easy to create, but it is very easy to reproduce. As a result, its value is (thinly) spread over multiple “sources.” For a corporation looking to amplify its message, that’s a good thing. For a newspaper looking to squeeze a few dollars out of its content, it’s not.

I think the point is that content creation, in and of itself, once held its own, and without the tools that are available today to ‘spread the word.’ In addition, there are still ‘thought leaders’ making their message resound without link and social networking fests. Meanwhile, there are many trying too hard to be discovered via haphazard engagement on platforms others control for their own benefit.

Yes, good content is still scarce. And yet many willingly syndicate it away, forcing additional engagement (i.e. additional work), when they’ve already done the good work to begin with. This is why I believe ROI from participating in these ‘engagement’ platforms is so difficult to ascertain – value is diminished by hard-to-quantify inputs such as time spent commenting on multiple platforms – and business analysts, as a result, ignore those. You can hand over content for others to profit from, or allow others to steal it and profit from it. Someone other than the creator is still profiting, but at least in the latter you’re not actually doing anything to exacerbate your losses.

Finally, I do listen to Mark Cuban. He may suffer a bit from being such a well-known creator of controversy, but if you follow his interests (which include media, sports, entertainment, financial markets) closely, you can often extrapolate worthy best practices nuggets. I’ll keep on listening, even with my aging information filtering capability.

You’re right on about the “many trying too hard to be discovered via haphazard engagement on platforms of others.” In my opinion, “social networks” will diminish even further in value as technology shifts and participation increases. And I don’t understand — personally, again — why anyone believes that new communication technology lends value to ideas to begin with. Apparently today you can be in one of two camps without seeming out-of-touch: you can be a content creator who insists that we should continue to be able to do things the way we always have, asking people to consume information the same way they did 20 years ago, or you can believe the hype that blogging/networking/mass-messaging is inherently valuable. Both seem awfully specious to me.

Maybe what’s happening is that, as you say, Michael, the laws of scarcity no longer apply. Maybe the abundance of information, though, is shifting value in the proper direction — toward the content itself. Catholics couldn’t read the Bible before the early 19th century without risking life or limb, but the number of Bibles printed since that time would probably stack to the moon. Is that stack less valuable, or more valuable, than the few thousand hand-scribed copies? The calligraphers probably said that not just their craft but all the ideas in the book were diminished by the printing press and what amounted to free availability. Printed Bibles also meant less “engagement” for the church. The folks that were suddenly allowed to read it probably thought the calligraphers and priests were all nuts, that there was some pretty interesting stuff in there. (Not being a Catholic, I can’t suggest which stuff.)

I think your filter is just fine, Michael. Thanks for giving me something to think about.

Attempting to engage via too many channels could easily become an issue to the unwary, but I’d suggest the smarter “brands” are simply leveraging similar content across multiple social platforms – a neat trick if you can pull it off. At least that’s how I’m advising my clients and students.

And as someone who buys into Nicholas Carr’s “sharecropping” commentary on social media, I advise clients to avoid things like Facebook unless they can make it serve their goals, and not Facebook’s.

There is, however, a pretty sizable distance between ‘people are diluting via too many channels’ and concluding all those little conversations don’t matter to a brand (which is where Cuban came off the rails – and the kind of thinking that caused me to stop reading him some time ago).

Death by a thousand paper cuts is still a death, and if Cuban is truly asserting that product recommendations and brand information aren’t being exchanged via “new” media channels (blogs, Facebook, twitter, etc), well, he’ll have a difficult time proving it.

Consider the amateur who wrote and produced the PS3 Song, the other amateur who then turned it into a simple slide show video, and the 5,000,000+ who watched it on YouTube, costing Sony – by some estimates – tens of millions in revenue (or perhaps saving gamers a similar amount of money, depending on your perspective).

Revolution is a much-abused word these days, but it applies to content in the digital/social media age.

In a good example of pigs flying, a journalism school recently awarded Arianna Huffington a “lifetime achievement” award, and this despite the fact her site is built atop the labors of unpaid bloggers – a good example of building the brand of others instead of your own.

@Marshall – I’m not sure how scarcity plays here. But I do think there is a balance to be struck between dilution and distribution, and most are focused on the latter and with little regard for the former. Further, I don’t blame them – the internet hype machine may have never been more narrowly focused than it is now. Really makes me wonder what happened to innovation. I’m stuck somewhere in the middle of the environment you described, but would certainly like to see a shift, any shift, instead of bouncing around inside those boundaries.

@TC – All those little conversations do matter, but I contend that there are too many of them going on for a brand to exercise any significant influence over them and/or do so in such a way that results in a positive return on investment. Republishing, so to speak, is easy as pie – it’s engaging those multiple channels where the cost really lies. As for the Sony issue, I see it as a clear example of a brand in a significant slide, and someone walking into the mortuary with a hammer, knowing they’ll find a coffin. I think a more fitting example might be that of Vin Diesel, who has grown in popularity because of his direct engagement. But he is his own brand.

Arianna? An award from a journalism school? I’ll keep the chuckles to myself. But the scenario does uncover one thing – while there is certainly value being created at HuffPo (they have a number of great contributors) said value seemingly isn’t enough to put the organization in the black while paying for the inputs.

ADDENDUM: I forgot to add one bit…thanks very much for your thoughts here! I’ll also add that both of you are highly respected, well followed publishers. You’ve each already ‘arrived’. Ask yourself whether you could do the same, starting from scratch, and cutting corners with your content and leveraging the available distribution channels available to you now. It’s that cutting corners I believe is happening in the majority of cases.

Andrew Steketee says:

Syndication matters to the point where it becomes unreasonable. If you have a 100 friends, chances are today, they’re all syndicating. I met a lacrosse child this past weekend with 500 “friends” on FB.

Media fragmented? It’s more like a daily Nile River fire hose pointed directly at your brain stem…

So, it all comes full circle, back to where brand and vetted, organized, granular content convert users–old school and new school converge.

And the back end matters more now than ever. Is your content focused? Searchable? Optimized?

If not, you’re not getting noticed by the engines.

Your brand, your ability to understand/execute seo, your ability to hyper syndicate will largely determine your viability.

Noise is just a function of the new engagement. Today, every brand is a publisher. But with the endless array of available business tools, engagement within a content space is more attainable than ever, given work and and the ability to prioritize.

Does Twitter matter? We’ll see. But if engaging every new media flavor of the month keeps you from understanding how to build pages, run sem campaigns, or learn how to truly syndicate in traffic channels that matter, you just flushed your 3rd quarter down the drain.

Developing a new revenue strategy as the old house of cards disintegrates also would be time well spent.

Andrew – So you look at online friends the same way you would pushing your original content to another venue? Seems to me they’d have to take action (i.e. re-purposing the content under their own profile, voting on it, flagging as a favorite, etc.) before it’s really syndication.

I like the ‘house of cards’ analogy!

Andrew Steketee says:

Personal syndication in the broadest sense, i.e. I’ve got something brilliant to say, so I say it on my blog, then Fark, then Twitter, then FB, then BrightKite, then on and on and on. It’s a form of syndication. Not in the narrow sense of pushing crafted content to multiple publications simultaneously.

And it gets messier with “sock puppet” personalities and the like. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what percentage of Twitter profiles are real?

It’s the platforms abilities to push so much so quickly that has Cuban in such a knot, because where does it end? And ultimately, who will find what’s vetted if “content” continues to get churned out so quickly that no one can tell the difference? Back to brands (obviously), but also engines, or creative/sharp/marketed/unknown ways to circumvent their reach (good luck).

Branded content matters, but traffic (targeted) may matter more, and certainly if you take your business and revenue seriously, it’s your number one challenge.

Do you actually have a business model you can scale regardless of what you have to say?

That broad personal syndication is work, an input. But from the sounds of it, you’ve propably got a good handle on the raw cost, or the opportunity, of doing that. I don’t think most people do – they perceive the cost of those outside networks as free, and therefore don’t take into account the labor component to keep it all running. Scale in and of itself is a matter of perspective, unless of course you have a shop overseas doing all the content leveraging for you, but most don’t.

I believe the really magic is having a business model that relies very little on what you have to say, or not at all.

I believe the really magic is having a business model that relies very little on what you have to say, or not at all.

Sadly, true. The Internet’s only consistently profitable business models seem to be based on wringing the value of the other’s content (Arianna “the future of Journalism” Huffington’s front page was recently surveyed, and contained approx 6% original reporting, the rest being the content of others).

All those little conversations do matter, but I contend that there are too many of them going on for a brand to exercise any significant influence over them and/or do so in such a way that results in a positive return on investment.

I used to tell customers this, but given the fast-improving ability to search the new media channels and the simple fact that only a couple channels really matter, I think – for some clients – it’s worth a pilot project.

I recently complained about Dreamhost in a Tweet, suggesting they were doing everything possible to ignore my valid DMCA complaint. Minutes later, I got a free trial offer from a Dreamhost competitor. Is there ROI there? It wouldn’t be hard to figure that out, though – unlike email or other “proven” channels – it’s difficult to forecast the results of these programs before trying them.

Clearly, the “new” social media channels are being hyped beyond all recognition (how many “Top 10 Ways Twitter Will Change the World” blog posts are we going to see). And yes, critics also cast discussions about new media channels in terms far more complex than is needed. Not everything is a conversation, but neither are all those conversations insignificant. At least that’s this week’s line.

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