People Overestimate The Value Of Content; Underestimate The Value Of A Service That Makes It Useful

from the time-to-understand-the-difference dept

A silly mini-battle broke out among some bloggers over the weekend concerning some new RSS-feed aggregation site. It's a battle that plays itself out every few months or so, and which we've tried to discuss a few times in the past. What happens is that people get angry because this aggregator (or reader, or browser or whatever) is actually able to build a business around other websites' content. And that gets plenty of folks, including those who I quite frequently agree with, like Mathew Ingram and Tony Hung, to complain that the service has somehow "crossed a line" by building a business "on the backs" of other people's content.

The problem, however, is that this is simply untrue. If it were true, then a ton of online sites would be guilty of the same thing -- including Google. But the reason it's not true is quite simple to understand: if all they were doing was reusing other people's content, then there would be no incentive or reason for people to visit these sites. Why go to these sites when you could just go to the original sites? The reason that people go to these sites, and the reason why these sites can build a business, is because they add value to the content in the form of some sort of service that does more with it. They're not building businesses "on the backs" of others' content, they're building services that people find useful as a way to find, interact with, share or comment on that content.

Unfortunately, though, as we see time and time again, people seem to overvalue the content and undervalue the service. That's why you have newsapers that sue Google, even as it's bringing them more traffic. They overvalue their own content, and undervalue the service that Google is providing: making it easier to find their content. The same is true of just about every other service that kicks off this kind of debate. The service is making it easier to consume, read, share, comment on, organize, find or interact with the content. Otherwise, it wouldn't get any users. The content is important, yes -- and valuable too -- but don't underestimate the value of the service that it performs on that content. So the next time one of these fights breaks out, pay attention to whether people are unfairly blaming a site for "stealing" content, and notice if they're undervaluing the service itself.

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  1. icon
    Mike (profile), 14 Apr 2008 @ 10:27pm

    Re: You don't get it

    I would have been perfectly happy (and so would have a lot of people) if all that Shyftr did was to excerpt my posts. Instead, they lifted the entire content of my posts from my site feed and used it on their site.

    Huh? Not at all. YOU put up full content feeds and said "here's how to use my content." What did you expect an aggregator to do? They did exactly what you allowed with your feed.

    It's the same thing Google Reader does and Bloglines does. Why did you get upset at Shyftr?

    For those of us who reserve full copyright on our content, it's also a copyright infringement.

    Then so is Google Reader and Bloglines. And every other site. Sorry, I don't buy it. You put the feed out there, why are you so upset that people are using it?

    One doesn't go around gathering full feed content from people, infringe on their copyright without a care in the world, and expect to reap no consequences.

    Then why don't you change your feed and lock up your content. I'm sorry, but here's a site that's trying to HELP people by making your content MORE valuable, and you're attacking them. I don't get it.

    You just don't get it. I expected better from Techdirt.

    Expected better how? This post is entirely consistent with everything I've written for a decade. You should be disappointed if I changed my story, rather than stayed consistent.

    You think that it's okay for people to bitch about the RIAA tactics and then ignore it when some bloggers basically act the same way?

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