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
    Danny, 14 Apr 2008 @ 1:08pm

    to argue the other side for a moment

    If my business model requires that people visit my site in my way, then someone else borrowing content - even pointing to my content - could impact me negatively.

    Consider the ancient TicketMaster v CitySearch lawsuit where Ticketmaster was essentially arguing: we want people to visit us via our front door as we give them many opportunities to spend money with us (concert T-shirts, alternative shows, etc). If you link directly to a given page, granted you are driving traffic to us, but we want to control the experience of our visitors from frontdoor on in as our revenue model depends on it.

    One might argue that this means their revenue model is faulty. But I am not so sure it is that simple. It seems to me they should be able to exert some control over how customers experience their site. If the customers don't like the guided tour, the customers won't be back - but it would be (in my example) TM's call to make.

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