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Monday
Jun272011

Content May Not Be King But It Still Behaves Like Royalty

By Dennis D. McDonald

One of my favorite media commentators is Jeff Jarvis. I especially enjoy his weekly conversations hosted by Leo Laporte on This Week in Google

Jarvis’  perspective always gets at the big picture of what’s happening with the web economy. His latest commentary about content called Content, dethroned left me confused, though. Jarvis has long railed against “old journalism.” His contempt for publishers who refuse to acknowledge how the Internet has made old publishing business models based on scarcity obsolete is well known. So is his scorn for media moguls who won’t acknowledge in public how critical Google search and shared links are to channeling readers to their publications.

I share many  of Jarvis’ views. I used to be employed by a multinational publishing conglomerate myself. But his overemphasis on “relationship” as a basis for value generation at the expense of content is, I think, misguided.

Fundamentally, relationships have  ALWAYS been important to establishing the “value” of published content. Saying that “relationships are now more important than content,” which I admit would be an oversimplification  of Jarvis’ argument in his piece, misses the point about the new web based economies that seem to conflate content with relationships.

Relationships have always been important to content creation and content distribution (and to the setting of publication prices). Editors and publishers have sought out, recruited, and wined and dined authors. Professional associations have supported both formal and informal communications, only a subset of which ever reach the printed page. Word of mouth has long been an influencer of book sales, long before word of mouth took to the web. In other words, trying to separate content and the relationships that surrounds its creation and distribution can get very messy.

Part of the problem is with terminology. The issues about content and value creation that Jarvis touches on in his piece remind me of the intellectual discussions we used to have about “measuring the value of information” back in graduate school. In those bygone days I was lucky to come under the influence of engineering-oriented professors whose approach to information-related measurement was based more on what you do with information than anything having to do with the information itself.

Ever since I have never been able to separate concepts like “content” from the systems and relationships that enable communication and collaboration to take place. This is one of the reasons why I think it’s totally bogus not to acknowledge how “social” Google already is in how searching is supported.

I guess I subscribe to the belief that, while content by itself has no value, it’s what you do with the content that counts. Acknowledging that relationships may influence related processes doesn’t necessarily mean that content isn’t important, but it does mean that the factors influencing the value of an action taken with respect to that content are complicated and may be at least partially influenced by personal relationships.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Dennis D. McDonald

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