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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.

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