Why your business must own its content

Businesses can hire office space from as little as an hour of time, can lease hardware or make use of cloud computing solutions, and can compete on a relatively level playing field online with just a cheap hosting account. But conversely, it’s never been more important to own the central location where you’re creating and publishing your content.

There’s a timely reminder of the terms and conditions for LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook by Luke Brynley-Jones, which highlights the extensive agreements you make when signing up to a social network for yourself or for your business. For example you grant LinkedIn the rights to distribute and commercialise:

any user generated content, ideas, concepts, techniques or data to the services, you submit to LinkedIn, without any further consent, notice and/or compensation to you…”

At the same time, those companies are also looking to attract more users from search and other social networks in exactly the same ways as you are. Check out this insightful post by John Battelle – Portrait of Twitter as a young media company. And consider the widely reported launch of Facebook’s Graph Search. Or how Google is unifying everything around the Google+ backbone – business pages, local map listings etc.


Leverage external sites, but own yours:

We actively advocate the use of social networks, and assist companies in making the most of those opportunities. But quite often we’re asked why a client should bother running a blog, website or their own community?

Not only are there risks in relying on a third party to always be available (See the current uncertainty over the future for Posterous for a good example), but in a time where content and content marketing are becoming ever more important to business, do you want to be allowing a variety of services the opportunity to distribute, commercialise and benefit from your content?

There are benefits in allowing people to access, use, and re-use your content – this blog, for example, is licensed under Creative Commons, but that was our choice to make, and not pushed onto us by any terms and conditions. It also comes with the restriction that any distribution has to be accompanied by attribution, and is non-commercial. That attribution means that sharing will help this site benefit in terms of inbound links and search engine optimisation.

In terms of business assets, you need to own your content, and the benefits that will come from it . It’s more important than a nice office for attracting customers, and changing your perspective will encourage you to devote the time and effort required for high quality articles which will help you rise above the coming content marketing deluge.

And if you’re struggling with how to start tackling that challenge, we can help break down the website set-up, content and social media strategy, and the tactical implementation, for you – or even supply high quality articles which are prepared in conjunction with you, to ensure they’re exactly how you want to portray your business, and exactly what your customers want or need to read.

Learn about content and business from a master

Content is on the rise in prominence at the moment, due to the interest in content marketing and inbound marketing. As always, there’s a mixture of good and bad advice available.

In addition to what you may read from marketing and content agencies, it’s well worth investing a little time in listening to creators.  In this case, it’s Leo LaPorte, founder of the multi-million dollar TWiT network of podcasts, speaking at New Media Expo.

I should note that unfortunately the video can’t be embedded, so you’ll have to watch it on the International Association of Internet Broadcasters website. It also seems to auto-play if you leave it paused for a while, which may freak you out slightly if you go for a toilet break.

And finally, a tip of the hat to Euan Semple, who happened to mention the video as worth watching in a Facebook conversation.

Why artists want to kill ‘content’, and why they’re wrong…

A massive and heinous crime has been committed by the internet against writers and artists. And it isn’t piracy, electronic distribution or increased competition for attention. If you really want to offend a creative person, just watch their response to the prose, film and art they create and love being referred to as ‘content’.

First it was businesspeople talking about content as something to fill the empty space between adverts. Then those SEO types came along and messed around to game the search engines and fool users. And now there’s a growing army of marketing people talking about using artistic methods to power ‘content marketing’ and prostitute noble work even more.

Don’t they understand?
Seven Dirty Words 4/12


Writers, artists – it’s OK when people say ‘content’

I consider writing a massive part of both who I am, and also of my occupation. I’ve held editorial roles, and received payment both for writing, and using all forms of media as an integral part of marketing. And I have absolutely no problem with anyone using the term ‘content’, as long as they’re not assuming it magically appears and doesn’t deserve time, resource, effort and reward.

After all, words only have the meanings we infer on them, which is why I might apologise to a section of you still reading who may have been offended by the Lego imagery above. At the same time a section of you might have found it amusing, or just not cared. It all depends on the signification you get from the use of that particular word.

And yes, in a business and web development context, ‘content’ is often almost a dirty word, as if in retaliation against all the people who declared ‘content is king’ for so long in the past.

But it doesn’t have to meant that. All it means to me is a shorthand way to avoid repeating ‘text,images and video’, everytime I want to describe what I do, or what is meant to go on a page. And that’s all I hope it will mean to you in the future…


TheWayoftheWeb Wordle

A Wordle for TheWayoftheWeb. Pleased to see how big 'People' appears


How your work can avoid being just ‘content’

Here’s the thing to remember – ‘Content’ refers to what’s contained in a box as defined by a dictionary. It isn’t how the people reading or viewing your work are going to refer to it, especially if you achieve something remarkable. Noone in the history of the world, even in business, marketing or SEO, has come home from a day at work and told their partner or family about the ‘amazing piece of content’ they saw. Instead they’ll share an amazing story, a stunning picture or a moving film.

Content as an adjective is about being mentally or emotionally satisfied with the current state of things (the Swedish have one of my favourite related words, ‘lagom’, which is translated as being ‘just right’ ‘not too much, not too little’ etc, and to some extent it continues to permeate Swedish culture). If you’re doing just enough to satisfy the search engines, or the need for some promo text, then why do you deserve to be refered to as more than ‘content’ anyway?

Writing, photography and film-making are not inherently more noble than serving fast food or working in a factory. There will be people who are far more passionate about serving the perfect burger up with good service than some writers are about churning through the latest press release to just get something up which might get a bit of traffic.

So instead of spending time and effort bemoaning how people could dare refer to artistic output as if it was just the result of someone working, just do three things:

  1.  Create stuff that tears through any box it could be put in.
  2. Share and reward the brilliance of others. Comment, tweet,like,donate,flattr,recommend to publishers/studios
  3. Don’t settle for crap. Don’t be lazy and settle for something which is filling space for a brand or media company.

The content war is only just beginning

The war is just beginning for writers, and it may seem strange given that Demand Media is starting to bounce back from an October share slump, but it isn’t going to be fought between quality writers and content farms.

Despite the frantic changes Google has been making to the search algorithm following a perceived drop in quality as churned-up content fills search results, it isn’t about the damaging effect of outsourcing assignments for the lowest possible cost or the economic effects of global competition.

This time it’s man vs machine, and the machine is getting a lot better.


Content War: Man vs Machine:

You may be dismissing the idea of a machine creating content based on the previous experience of spambots, as they fill comment sections the world over with ‘Blog very good. Me Like’, to build links to a website. Mostly this are easily filtered by a combination of spam filtering software and especially a final layer of human approval. What might possible sneak past a computer tends to fairly obvious to a human, particularly if it involves a variation of the ‘cheapexactnameofaproductiamselling.com’ linked in various ways.

But to adapt a quote by Cory Doctorow on copying, machine-created content will never be worse, or more expensive to produce, than it is today. It will only get better, cheaper and more accessible to both legitimate publishers attempting to make their workflow more efficient, and to spammers and content farms who can finally do away completely with the human element.

War is hell (on earth).

Want proof? Check out the work of Automated Insights, as detailed in this recent post by founder Robbie Allen. With a team of 12, they’ve produced over 100,000 sports stories in 9 months, having launched 345 websites which are all automated, and cover every division 1 NCAA basketball team.

Still dismissing the potential? Try reading the following excerpt from the latest game report on one of the sites, CarolinaUpdate.com:

The Tar Heels got to the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team after falling to Duke, 75-58, in the ACC tournament. In making the Elite Eight, North Carolina defeated 15th-seeded Long Island, 102-87 in the second round, seventh-seeded Washington, 86-83 in the third round, and then 11th-seeded Marquette, 81-63 in the Sweet Sixteen.

North Carolina was led by Tyler Zeller, who had 21 points on 75% shooting. The Tar Heels also got 18 points from Harrison Barnes, 11 from Dexter Strickland, and seven from Kendall Marshall.

Kentucky was on fire from beyond the arc, scoring 36 points in three-pointers to get an edge.

Now you see what I mean?


Will the future be written by machines?

When Allen ends his post by explaining how machines are a benefit to human journalists, there’s certainly some truth in it, although I suspect he’s also doing his job in placating the more nervous amongst the publishing professions. Whilst he’s keen to state that the current technology is suited to purely quantitative and data-driven work, and that journalists should be liberated to be able to focus on qualitative commentary, I suspect although he’s a very accomplished programmer, he might be limited in experiencing what happens for many publications around the globe.

As he himself says, ‘In the near term, the writers at O’Reilly and elsewhere have nothing to worry about. But I wouldn’t count out automation in the long term.’ The technology is at an early stage, and will only get better. After all, if 1000 monkeys could knock out a Shakespeare, we now have that processing power. And every year those processing primates will become cheaper and better, until instead of 1000 monkeys for one Shakespearian work, we could be seeing a sonnet per monkey.


What’s the future for human content?

So what happens next for humans who want to create written work beyond the status updates to which many of us might be relegated?

Well, in the short-term, we can choose to focus on quality. That’s certainly why I’m interested in projects like The Verge, and the new site and project from Milo Yiannopoulos whose views I may well have disagreed with on a regular basis, but whose aspiration to build a European quality technology site I can certainly identify closely with. Although we do have it a lot better with Techcrunch EU than the main ex-Arrington site who have recently managed to publish some unintelligible guest posts and at least a couple of stories which I knew to be factually inaccurate, but have never been corrected.


Longer term? Whilst we can believe the noble ideal that machines will always be best with a human working alongside them, my educated guess is that spammers will be first to unleash better content algorithms into the wild on their own, particularly given the revenues they can currently get. The sheer amount of spam content means the tiniest percentage of respondents to Nigerian lotteries generates huge profits, and increasing that with better content in a no-brainer.

And anything suitable for automation – which is a lot – will be picked up by newsrooms the world over as managers and publishers will optimise over the heads of any reluctant Editors. That’s assuming enough Editors actually care about their digital product to raise a fuss when their favoured print is still in a slow death spiral.

And then that boundary will shift. And shift again, and slowly the room of writers becomes a room of servers with a couple of database admins, and one or two sub-editors just checking through a cursory selection of articles.

The solution has to be based around increasing the levels of humanity in everything we write, and everything we do online. Not only to build a bridge with anyone who reads our work, but also to ensure Google, Bing and future search engines are distinguishing what we do. Because as the level of automated content rises and becomes increasingly abused, the search engines will have to respond, and we could see search and creation algorithms cancelling each other out, leaving those authors and writers who have gone through the required steps to verify their organic-based life form will be advantaged.

What that urgently means is three things:

1. If you want to be a writer, you need to be using social media and tools like Google’s Author Markup today. Now. Because the sooner you can ensure you’re human, and the longer that exists, the better off you’ll be.

2. If you’re ever planning to launch your own website or brand, do it now. Don’t expect to learn the ropes in a staff job for a few years and then head out on your own – although that may have been a good plan, if this all comes to pass, you’ll need to be in an established position to be able to get your voice heard if you have a problem with Google’s Author markup, for example. And the way to get that help is to be reaching a million uniques per month by then, which means starting now.
If you wait a couple of years before deciding you’d like to create the ultimate blog/site on a subject, you’ll find that a few thousand readers per month could leave you at the end of one of the longest queues around if you ever need help.

3. Your personal writing style is going to be more important than ever. So a blog can be an invaluable daily tool for honing that, rather than spending your time re-writing press releases in a bland house style to churn out content as if it was 2008 all over again.

A blogging #FollowFriday

It seems that the rise of social networking has led to two effects on blogging and the interlinking between bloggers. Facebook and Twitter aren’t killing blogs, but they do seem to have led to a lot of people dropping blog rolls of their favourites, regular recommendations of others, and the classic blog memes whereby you’d tag other bloggers to respond to a challenge or question.

And while recommendations via Twitter, Facebook or any other social network are always great, I figure it’s time I started recommending people once more. So here’s 10 blogs I read religiously for consistently good quality content, inspiration and advice, which is generally delivered in an entertaining way. And for an atheist/agnostic to read something ‘religiously’ that’s gotta be pretty good praise.

  • Tara Hunt: Online Marketing person turned entrepreneur, and really insightful for the whole ‘running a business’ thing.
  • Neil Perkin: Another person with a history in magazine publishing, and someone who keeps me thinking I need to raise my game.
  • Jonathan MacDonald: If you’re not familiar with ‘choice architecture’, you really should be.
  • Eaon Pritchard: Moving down under doesn’t appear to have mellowed Eaon – in fact his blogging appears to be better than ever.
  • Mark McGuiness: As a creative coach and poet Mark shares really useful creativity and productivity techniques alongside his fomal coaching.
  • Sizemore: Sometimes rude, and infrequently updated, but consistently packed full of interesting and unusual inspiration, as you might expect from someone who writes interesting and unusual scripts.
  • Adam Westbrook: Given the rise in online video, you need to be using it well. And I can’t think of much better places to get tips.
  • JP Rangaswami: Longer, thoughtful, insightful posts on internet culture, with the occasional diversion into cricket and the Grateful Dead.
  • Louis Gray: Not only did he start blogging about news fillters, aggregators and curators the same year I started this blog, and have children around the same time, but just as he had two offspring to me one, his blog justifiably rocketed for news on a valuable growing area of the net.
  • Danah Boyd: Anytime anyone talks about teens, privacy and the internet, I reckon Danah Boyd is the sanity check to measure their plans against.

And now for some bonuses:

That list isn’t particularly focused on the big names, the rising stars, or anything other than these are 10 people who if I’m short of time, I’ll skim through Google Reader to see if they’ve posted anything and make sure I’ve read it before skipping other stuff (generally the things I skip tend to be the generic news from bigger tech websites). That’s not to say they’re the only people I read a lot, though.

Others in the list include: Dave Cushman, Chris Brogan, Fred Wilson, and loads, loads more.At Paid Content, Rob Andrews is excellent, and at ReadWriteWeb I always make time for Marshall Kirkpatrick. I’ll look at other ways to recommend more people in a more accurate and dynamic way some in the future.

In the meantime, you can see what I like enough to share via Google Reader, or via an automated Twitter feed.

Interesting paywall views from David Cushman

Neither Dave Cushman or The Media Briefing (for which I occasionally write) need much help in the way of the promotion, but as always, Cush has some interesting views on the media and paywalls which are worth checking out. We’ve both got some form in that area, given that we worked together at Emap/Bauer Media for many years – in fact it was Dave who gave me the job of looking after the forums and live chat room for the MCN site in addition to my writing duties, which was a hugely valuable community management experience.

It reminds me of what a great team we had working together for a while -Dave is obviously the MD of 90:10, Angus is a top video producer at Which (who needs to blog more), Tim is an expert on pretty much everything involving digital businesses, but has chosen to focus on multivariate testing, and Matt is able to serve ads and great music with equal talent.

And I’ve somehow managed to fall upwards into providing digital content and marketing for a range of UK and global clients, co-founding a funky design and development shop which is growing too quickly to let us finish our own website, and launching my own niche digital media efforts with OnlineRaceDriver and FPSPrestige. (I almost forgot about Digital People in Peterborough as well!)


Out of the Toy Box thinking

Working from home on my own business has a number of advantages. One is that the time and money spent on a daily commute can be used more effectively – especially as I can start work about 10 minutes after waking up! It also means I can spend more time with my family, which means clients get the work of a happier, more motivated person. But not only that, they also get more creativity…

Toy Train Set

I’ve read a fair bit on how to encourage creativity, attended a few courses, and have some friends and contacts who run extremely effective courses designed to help kickstart creativity in the workplace. And I’ve picked up some valuable lessons and advice. But probably all of that is roughly equivalent to spending a bit of time with my son each day!

Yesterday I took less than a handful of breaks from work, and yet in that time I became a cat, the Gruffalo, and invented a marketing campaign to make bathtime attractive to a toddler. And spent a bit of time in the evening deconstructing why certain children’s stories work far better than others for both toddlers and adults. (I’d currently recommend Horton Hears a Who, and Tatty Ratty)

And all without having to pay or travel to a course somewhere to get some new insight into effective writing and content techniques, plus a reminder in conveying the benefits (You get to play with your ducks and splash your mummy), rather than the features (You’ll be clean).

If you don’t happen to have a handy toddler, then I highly recommend one as a creativity generator (Before obtaining one of your own, I’d suggest a testing with family or friends – family parties are a particularly good opportunity). And if you’re a client, I’ll throw in an afternoon of building blocks and trainsets for free!

The growth of Twitter – now 50 million messages per day

If you want evidence of the sheer amount of content and data being created by Twitter, look no further than the evidence provided by Twitter analytics team member Kevin Weil on the official Twitter blog.

In 2007, Twitter users were tweeting 5,000 times per day.

In 2008, Twitter users were tweeting 300,000 times per day.

In 2009 Twitter users were tweeting 2.5 million per day, and it grew 1400% to 35 million per day.

And in 2010? Twitter users are tweeting 50 million times per day, which works out at 600 tweets per second.


Kevin goes on to mention Tweet deliveries as a much higher metric, and also says that the team will make time to share more info on ways to measure and understand the information network.

50 million messages is an interesting figure considering the measurements of web-based Twitter usage are pinned at around 55 million, and several studies indicate there’s a high churn rate of new users and a high proportion of dormant accounts – it indicates those that ‘get’ Twitter tend to share a pretty high amount of information. Which isn’t unusual, considering the same curve correlates with the amount of bloggers regularly updating, for example.

It also reinforces why tweets are becoming integrated into search tools from Google, Bing and many more.

Small rivers of content for a new discovery system

I don’t often get contacted with sponsored posts, and sadly when I do they’re generally about topics completely irrelevant to my writing – so being offered information about a new way to create networks of related content sounded too interesting to ignore. It’s called Small Rivers, a tool for bloggers to network content and audiences started by a small team on the Swiss Institute of Technology EPFL Campus, who wanted to find an easier and better way to connect communities of shared interests without having to leave their own website, blog or social network. So Small Rivers attempts to allow both creators, and their visitors to find other people discussing the same topics, showing extracts of content, videos and comments, all on your site. It works by registering on the Small Rivers site, and inserting a button onto your site – when anyone clicks on it, a sidebar opens which shows everywhere the same button is found, what content is on those pages, and what discussions are taking place. So rather than manually creating your own blogroll, this acts like a distributed network of links, to which anyone can contribute. Which means what normally ends up as a static collection of links often forgotten and outdates instead becomes a more relevant and fluid collection. There’s also a bookmarklet to add content and sites easily, plus you can share via all the usual social networks. As a site owner, it could be one of the better ways to increase the amount of value you can offer to visitors quickly and easily. Via the site itself you can browse networks to find relevant ones to join, and create your own. The only thing I’ve immediately spotted which would be a nice addition is an option to moderate the links being added to your network to stop any malicious or spam contributions, but I’m guessing this might be an option in a Pro paid version (Small Rivers as standard is 100% free) which is due in the near future, along with more organisations who seem set to use it – there already seems to be a WWF network which has collected some interesting content. You can see the button in action on the WWF Arctic Conservation site in the right side bar. It’s currently in Alpha, so there’s a small number of networks currently in action, but some of them are already collating quite a large amount of content, and it seems like one way in which blogs can evolve further in the face of all the buzz about microblogging and rumours it will kill the traditional blog. Like many networked services, it relies on critical mass to succeed, but certainly the elements of a decent content discovery/delivery mechanism are already in place. You can also try out the service by clicking on the Small Rivers button below and taking a look at an example network. 


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Valentino Rossi wins 9th world title – lessons for everyone

Valentino Rossi secured his ninth world championship title yesterday, cementing his position as the greatest motocycle racer of all time.  He’s claimed titles on five different types of motorcycle (125cc,250cc,500cc two strokes and 990 and 800cc four-strokes), lapped 0.5 seconds slower than Michael Schumacher in an F1 car and won events in a WRC rally car.

What’s also important is that since 2000, when Rossi arrived in the premier class on a 500cc GP motorcycle, he has been teamed with probably the best chief engineer in motorcycling, Jeremy Burgess, and a tightly-knit pit crew who followed him from Honda to Yamaha in 2004 as he became the second rider in history to retain the world championship after swapping bike manufacturers.

And Rossi has even picked up some notable tech fans in Robert Scoble and Dave Winer.

Valentino Rossi by T.Tanabe on Flickr (CC Licence)

Valentino Rossi by T.Tanabe on Flickr (CC Licence)

Having spent a decade watching, reading about, and writing about Vale’s amazing success with Jeremy Burgess, I think the pair share three approaches which apply to success in any situation:

5 Ps – Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance:

Valentino was lucky enough to have grown up with an ex-GP racer dad, Graziano, and from an early age was able to practice on two and four wheels – often racing around local gravel pits with various racers in a go-kart, this gave him a great preparation in handling a vehicle which is sliding around – something you can notice as he often laps fastest towards the end of the race when everyone should be suffering with tyre wear. He’s also able to change his riding style to accomodate this, and Burgess famously said he can tell on which lap a photo of Rossi has been taken by the way he’s moving his body to adjust to the tyres.

K.I.S.S – Keep It Simple, Stupid:

A lot of riders have been overwhelmed by the amount of adjustability on a GP bike – particularly those who have transferred from the rival World Superbike series. JB, who also helped fellow motorcycling legend Mick Doohan to five world titles, and Freddie Spencer to a further world crown, is famous for telling it like it is, and keeping a tight focus on what needs to be done.

M.I.L.L.F – Make It Look Like Fun:

I was hoping this would end up as MILF for search traffic, but there you go – one of the key elements of the fanatical fame and support that Valentino has achieved is that he has always come across as easy-going, likeable and having fun.

His post-race celebrations have calmed down in recent years, but included costumes, props, and even nipping into a trackside portaloo on one occasion. He’s also known for enjoying the racing itself and often claims to have enjoyed a hard race which ends with him in second, than an easy victory – and famously once he managed to oversleep and miss the morning practice session at a Grand Prix!

But all of this masks someone who is incredibly dedicated and hard-working to achieve what he wants both behind the scenes and on the track. He’s lauded for his test and analysis numerous changes to the motorcycle at once, when most riders would struggle. And at the same time he plays a psychological game with his rivals, managing to push riders like Sete Gibernau and Max Biaggi into mistakes over the years.

I’d embed some examples of his on-track exploits, including the famous collisions with the likes of Gibernau and Biaggi when needed, but in attempting to be nice to the copyright holders, I have to acknowledge they’ve disabled embedding their Youtube channel (like idiots).

If you’re interested in more insight into both Rossi and Burgess, I highly recommend Valentino Rossi: MotoGenius by Matt Oxley (Disclosure: We both worked for MCN around the same time although our paths rarely, if ever, crossed). And for more insight into the psyche of world champion motorcycle racers, including their relationship with ‘flow’, I’d also recommend his The Fast Stuff: Twenty years of top bike racing tales from the world’s maddest motorsport.