The future of content, Part 3

Over the past two days I’ve described a new model for web architecture, one whose primary unit is an individual piece of content stored in a universal repository, rather than a product (page, feed, API, etc.) hosted on a web server. (Read Part 1; read Part 2.) Today I’ll discuss how such a system might be monetized.

Currently, content is shared in many disparate ways. The Associated Press has its own proprietary format for allowing other news sites to automatically repost its content; it also allows its lower-tier affiliates to manually repost (i.e., by copying and pasting into their own content management system), so long as the copyright notice remains intact. Sites pay to be affiliates. Bloggers, of course, have done the manual copy-and-paste thing for years; nowadays a pasted excerpt with a link to the original is considered standard, and this of course brings little money to the original creator. Video sites, too, have their own different ways of allowing users to share. Embedded video advertising allows the content creator to make some money on shares…assuming someone hasn’t simply saved the video and reposted it. Data is far more difficult to share or monetize. Some sites offer an API, but few laypeople know what to do with such a thing. The typical social media way of sharing data is by posting a still image of a graph or infographic–not contextualized or accessible at all.

In a system where every piece of content is tagged by creator, wherein sharing of any type of media is simple, IP could be more easily secured and monetized. Content tags could include copyright types and licensing permission levels. A piece of content might, for example, be set to freely share so long as it is always accompanied by the creator’s advertising. Ads could be sponsorship watermarks, preroll video, display banners or text that appear within the content unit, or something else entirely. The content creator would determine what advertising would be available for each piece of content, and the content sharers would each individually decide what advertising they are willing to have appear, or if they’d rather purchase an ad-free license. Resharers who took the content from someone else’s share would not avoid the advertising choice, because while they would have found the content at another sharer’s site or stream, the content itself would still be the original piece, hosted at the original repository, with all the original tags intact–including authorship and advertising.

Content could also be set to automatically enter the public domain at the proper time, under the laws governing its creator, or perhaps earlier if the creator so wishes.

The first step in making all of this work is to have all content properly tagged and a system wherein content tags are quickly updated and indexed across the internet. The second step would be in making sharing the “right” way so easy that very few would attempt to save someone else’s content and repost it as their own. As I mentioned in Part 2, I’m imagining browsers and sites that offer a plethora of in-browser editing and sharing options, far easier (and less expensive!) than using desktop applications. Making sharing and remixing easy and browser-based would also cut down on software piracy. Powerful creation suites would still be purchased by the media producers who need them to make their content, but the average person would no longer require a copy of Final Cut Pro to hack together a fan video based on that content.

The kind of tagging I’m talking about goes somewhat beyond the semantic web. Tags would be hard-coded into content, not easily removed (or avoided by a simple copy and paste). A piece of content’s entire history would be stored as part of the unit. Technologically, I’m not sure what this would involve, or what problems might arise. It occurs to me that over time a piece of content would become quite large through the logging of all its shares. But making that log indivisible from the content would solve many issues of intellectual property rights on the internet today. Simply asking various organizations who host disparate pieces of content to tag that content properly and then hoping they comply will not lead to a streamlined solution, especially given the problem of “standards” (as spoofed by xkcd).

With a system like this, the web rebuilt from the bottom up, there would be no need for individual content creators to reinvent the wheels of websites, APIs, DRM, advertising. They could instead focus on producing good content and the contextualizing it into websites and streams. Meanwhile, the hardcore techies would be the ones working on the underlying system, the content repository itself, the way streams are created, how tagging and logging occurs, tracking sharing, etc. Media companies–anyone–could contribute to this process if they wanted, but the point is they wouldn’t have to.

McCain wants a fan club

McCain’s campaign is pushing the Obama-as-celebrity angle pretty hard. Check out this gushing run-on from Rick Davis, the McCain campaign manager:

We can all agree that Senator Barack Obama is one of the world’s biggest celebrities and every celebrity needs a fan club filled with adoring fans and Senator Obama certainly has his fair share.

This quote is part of an email just sent out to unveil McCain’s newest campaign ad, which you can see here.

The Obama-as-celebrity and Obama-as-the-one strategies are annoying to me as an Obama supporter, but I admit that they could be effective. It would be easy to cast the effect Obama has on people in a fanatical light.

The problem for McCain is that his people aren’t doing it right. His commercials lack organization, visual interest, and the one-two punch needed to drive the point home. He’s not coming across as the serious, intelligent choice.

He’s coming across as jealous.

A little more on advertising

I’m going to eat dinner here in a bit, and then I’m going bike riding, but before I go I wanted to mention something AJ reminded me of in his comment to my previous post.

Psychographics is information about customers that is used to market to those customers things that they are specifically interested in. Giving a smoker a coupon to buy more cigarettes is an example of the most direct way to cash in on this sort of thing. You have the customer already; now it’s just a matter of persuading him to continue using your product.

(By the way, still quitting on your birthday, AJ?)

Another way to do this is to put similar items that a customer might be interested in the vicinity of an item you already know they are interested in. An excellent (and rather innovative) example of this is Google’s AdWords. Affiliate advertising on websites also tends to do this sort of thing. I’m sure this also happens in more traditional media, like television or newspapers, but to be honest I haven’t watched TV commercials or read a real newspaper in something like 10 years. (Go go Gadget VCR…)

I think my problem with traditional advertising is that it is static and passive and therefore obtrusive, out of place. Targeted advertising using psychographics is much better, assuming it’s done right, because it is at least relevant.

Many people have problems with targeted advertising because of how the targeting is done. Companies collect information from their customers, either through a direct poll or indirectly by watching what they purchase, what websites they go to, etc. Amazon.com’s website is fantastic at this. I’ve never seen another site that so perfectly advertises at every turn. Sure, they get a few things wrong, but in the long run I appreciate the “suggestions” their algorithms come up with for me. Not only do they track what I’m looking at and what I’ve bought, but they keep statistics across the board, to show me that since I like this thing a bunch of other people like, I may also like this other thing that people seem to like.

But of course, the issue for those concerned about privacy is the fact that tracking occurs at all. The idea that browsing habits might be stored somewhere and analyzed is terrifying to some, and others find it offensive that science be used to “target” them with popular products…it’s an affront to individuality and a nod to peer pressure.

Companies that use psychographics have to toe the line, making sure not to use the information they’ve gleaned for a sinister purpose while still cashing in on it.

I don’t really have a problem with my browsing habits being monitored. I’m not fearful that some big corporation is going to know my deepest, darkest secrets. Who cares if they know? (I doubt they even care.) And I certainly don’t think this sort of knowledge will enable them–or anyone else–to control me. Sway me with pleasant, similar items I could buy, maybe. But nothing that’s being done in terms of targeted advertising is denying me my freedom to choose for myself–as long, of course, that I can opt out of any mailings.

Amazon.com does do some annoying “fly overtop the content to get your attention” ads sometimes. I like targeted advertising, but I don’t like advertising that covers up what I’m trying to read. It’s worse than a popup ad because I can’t easily get rid of it. (Those ads on MSN are the worst–sometimes it takes several seconds to find the X, and sometimes there isn’t an X until the ad is over.)

The best sort of ad, I think, is the kind that is unobtrusive, relevant, and informative. I like Google AdWords because they meet these criteria. I do not, however, like it when people use AdWords (or something similar) without denoting them as ads. I don’t want to be tricked into thinking an advertisement is legitimate content.

In my ideal world, advertising would be just like any other Internet content: available when I want to look at it, avoidable when I don’t, and interesting to at least some of the people who come across it. Graphical ads on pages with mainly textual content would not exist. Ads would match their surroundings, fit in as part of the page. As far as mailings go, e- or otherwise, I would only receive mailings that I had chosen to receive, and I would be able to turn them off at any time.

Affiliate programs and AdWords are a step in the right direction. However, it’s difficult to implement these paradigms in traditional media. As the television and the computer grow into one creature, though, I expect that TV commercials will begin to change. We’ll just have to wait and see what they change into.

Journalism, and how to fund things without advertising

Interestingly enough, Den Beste recently wrote about the decay of journalism in the United States…I just read his piece.

I don’t know how I would solve the problem either, but I think turning all news organizations into nonprofits would be a good start. Of course, I’m not sure how this would be accomplished while allowing the organizations access to the technology and travel they need to get the story. I hesitate to say that they should be government subsidized, but I’m not sure that advertisers would approach them in the same way if they were nonprofit…and to be honest, I don’t think the news should have advertisements, and this change would certainly destroy their budgets.

It’s gotten to the point where I really just hate advertisements of all kinds. With the Internet, I can pretty much find whatever I need, via informative websites or word-of-mouth on forums or from friends. I can’t actually remember ever seeing an ad, thinking “Hey, I could use that!” and then buying something.

Most of the time I ignore ads completely. I throw away the coupon books and flyers we get in the mail, too. Coupons are a huge scam; they give you discounts on things you didn’t want in the first place. You’re not saving money, you’re wasting it on stuff that clutters up your house, or food that will sit and rot in the fridge because “it was such a great deal!” and yet no one wants to eat it.

I don’t need to even start on how annoying pop-up ads and spam are.

For some time now I’ve been thinking that advertising needs to be eliminated, or at the very least transformed. But I’m not entirely sure how, and that is why I can’t solidly recommend a way to take advertising out of the news.

I’ll probably post more about this later, but my lunch break is over now, so…ta-ta!