Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Bloggers Worry About Content Commoditization and Unlicensed Use. Welcome to the Club!

Read/Write Web notes a hue and cry rising up from bloggers who are concerned about their content being appropriated by aggregation services such as Shyfter that take blog feeds and develop ad-based services using their content without bloggers' approval. Bloggers are apparently concerned that aggregation services are stripping off revenues from their ad-supported services. I suppose that there's more than one publisher chuckling on the sidelines of this affair as bloggers by the bucketful begin to discover an uncomfortable fact - if you decide to be a publisher via social media there's no magic spell that removes one from the problems that all publishers have. Commoditization, unfair use and redistribution of content without verifying a publisher's rights in a new context - these are common complaints in the publishing industry as a whole. This is, unfortunately, where many social media platform providers have fallen short.

Quick to create new features to embed content and to distribute it, many social media platforms have fallen short in their ability to help people monetize their content effectively. Yes, we've had contextual ads on blogs for years, but in essence contextual ads are telling bloggers and other social media creators using them that there's enough demand to sustain their publication on mass media ads. Unfortunately this is rarely the case - the supply of social media content is vastly greater than the demand for media-scaled ads and programs such as AdSense, while beneficial, will not pay huge dividends for most bloggers. It takes blogs with large, media-scaled audiences such as TechCrunch to sustain business with the existing advertising tools. The irony here is that as some social media properties have grown to such proportions they are recognizing that they really have the same problems as any other mass media-oriented property. Aggregation without licensing for commercial purposes draws off a blogger's revenues as much as it does a major newspaper's revenues. In Content Nation the problems of traditional publishers have become the problems of social media publishers, and vice versa.

Companies such as Newstex help bloggers to benefit from companies who want to play by copyright rules and license social media content, but in general there is little to be found in most standard weblogging packages that help a publisher to capitalize on the value of their content in contexts other than their native Web site. Some of the solution is better standard features for bloggers - technology such as Attributor can enable a publisher to track content usage more easily and relicensing services such as Copyright Clearance Center's RightsLink and iCopyright can help companies to manage content relicensing opportunities more effectively. And on Near-Time, the platform that we use for Content Nation, there is the capability to define subscription access to content, a "gated community" that sets a bar for both content access and creation as desired. These types of tools are the basic "block and tackle" for any online publisher today, whether in social media or mainstream media, to ensure that they understand who is using their content and making it easy to establish good commercial relationships with those valuing content to make money through content aggregation or reuse.

Unfortunately the technology for social media ads and licensing is really only addressing one part of extracting value from social media. Individuals such as myself build value for focused audiences that gets converted into marketable value other ways - through consulting engagements, through the sale of research and other services that we provide. Other people look for more broad social transactions, building a reputation and relationships that can be converted into personal or professional brand value on any number of conversational and tribal levels. Be it positioning yourself for your next job or promotion, fostering a willingness to participate in events and projects, giving or receiving endorsements or just being tapped into the things that you really love, social media creates value in ways that advertising and licensing don't begin to encompass.

What's really needed to help make social media more successful are better tools to extract value out of social relationships when one's content travels into contexts away from their own home base for their social media. For example, when my blog is picked up in a feed reader, I'd sure like it if there were an easier way for me to embed offers from other people in my social networks that were valuable to them as well as to me. Some of these might be monetizable, others more purely social, but it's the weak point for most ad networks - they assume that transactions have to be based on mass marketing rather than personal marketing. This is one of the reasons why marketing events, services and publications via Facebook is becoming increasingly popular - the groups and people who congregate there are explicitly opting in to relationship networks, making marketing on any level far more effective when done as a member of the community.

So my condolences to bloggers who are burning out as their dreams of big-media glory come face to face with the true nature of electronic content. If you came to glory because you were glad to have free distribution and never demanded any better of your social media platform providers, then shame on you. But as important as it is to have better tools for commercialization through aggregation and reuse it's more important to think about the basics of how to create value in social media.

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