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. identicon
    malfunct, 14 Apr 2008 @ 12:21pm

    Rev share

    It would be nice if there was a way to share revenue between the service consuming the content and the service building it. Even if that amounted to making sure that the feeds passed along advertisements or something. The key is to keep whatever agreement built flexible and reasonable for both sides.

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