An interesting exercise is to visualize tidbits of data as material widgets, units of value that can be bought and sold in a marketing economy controlled by the forces of supply and demand. While completely relevant in an information and services-based economy, often we don’t stop to put data, news, or information in the same contextual terms as goods we find in supermarkets or services we can find in the phone book. (What is a phone book anyhow?) All the same rules apply, however.
For example, if I can find white socks of equal quality cheaper at a store next door, for me, this is a viable substitute, and I will vote on retailers with my purchasing power. I am not, however, interested in purchasing raw cotton to spin my own socks. I’m just not equipped with the time or skill to take raw inputs of that nature to create the outputs I desire; the cost to do so is far greater than the opportunity cost I would incur doing things that make a lot more sense for my skill set. Similarly, if I can find my news on Twitter, Facebook, or other blogs, where others have distilled facts and raw data into commentary and analysis, and if I can determine the quality is sufficiently the same for my needs, then I won’t need to buy a newspaper, pay for online periodical archive access, or spend an opportunity cost in watching ads before each 30 second video on my local news channel’s website.
That’s nothing new. What is new is, my economic substitutes, or other sources for information consumption, have a key feature my previous choices did not: aggregation. Now, I don’t even have to look at this information in the layout provided for me. I don’t need to view CNN’s promotions, Google’s AdWords, or Twitter’s obnoxious color schemes when all my news feeds come into my Microsoft Outlook or Google Reader tool. I pick and choose not only what I want to consume, but the manner in which it’s displayed. Were someone to make information unavailable for syndication or add inline advertisements to the syndicated content itself, I perceive there are many equally valuable substitutes, so I can nix any offending feed and replace it with another that meets my consumption demands.
Any viable business needs to consider not only the importance of providing their content for aggregation to vie for a user’s attention among other feeds, but also to build aggregation into their own offerings. As aggregators begin to control not only where a user looks, but provide more advanced options to filter what feeds are recommended for users and further, what portions of feeds are selected for inclusion into a dashboard view, they will become the most important gatekeeper of the next decade. They will control not only the screen real estate used to provide banner ads and inline contextual linkages to other promotional content, but they will also gain the power to shape what we think about and to what ideas we are exposed.
For the rest of us, the bloggers and content providers, don’t worry so much on your layout and formatting. The way in which you deliver information loses relevancy compared to the actual value of the content you provide, and no matter how valuable you feel your analysis or commentary is, in a plugged-in world that encourages further social media interaction and feedback from smart people who may not be editorial experts, your offering is just a commodity. You will become increasingly disconnected from your consumers, who will use the product of your data and information over channels you do not control and of which you may not even be aware. You will lose your ability to monetize the delivery of your content, or at the very least, someone else will be giving you a faction of the channel they now own, a pay-for-play access fee to their aggregation or social network users. It may not be what we want, but it’s better than not being included in the new digital world order, as it were. Or, in other words, prepare to be assimilated, or prepare to be ignored!