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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Discontent with Content 

Who wants to own content?

Hate to say this about a post from the esteemed Jeff Jarvis, but the one linked above is a bit of a stinker.

His mantra:

Distribution is not king.
Content is not king.
Conversation is the kingdom.

I have no bone to pick with Jarvis' view on distribution. The 'how' of media is certainly less important than the 'what.' So let's talk content. I'm starting to agree with Rex Hammock that it's a lousy word, because it seems to presuppose that everything labeled 'content' is equal.

Which of course it's not. There's content, and then there's content. For me, the point of what we do is to provide valuable content--information that provides understanding, insight, entertainment and knowledge. Information that creates conversations (internal or external). Information that creates the opportunity for action (including inaction).

Without that value, content is just so many bytes--just like conversation. See this short piece from Sunday's New York Times (be sure to click on the multimedia graphic link). Scientists estimate that the volume of the world's phone calls in 2002 amounted to more than 17.3 exabytes of data--or 86.5 times the 'content' of all existing printed material. It's little wonder the NSA and other intelligence agencies are so far behind in reviewing all of the intercepts they've captured.

There's simply too much information, too much conversation, too much all-things-being-equal content. And not enough value.

But that doesn't make conversation the kingdom. Conversation without valuable content is just so much post-modern Waiting For Godot.

Of course, we in the media haven't always done a good job of creating value out of the exabytes of information out there. As the Irish proverb (and great Tom Waits lyric) has it, "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." Well, that's no longer true, and our one-eyed view of 'content as content' has turned into discontent among our audience.

That discontent is an opportunity, of course, not an ending.

I've been thinking a lot about what b2b media would look like if we took a blank sheet of paper (yes, I see the irony in that) and designed it without reference to distribution methods or legacy technologies. I'll be posting on this "Blank Sheet Project" more in the near future. And as always, your thoughts are most welcomed.

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