Why con­tent dis­cov­ery can’t be solved by blockchain alone

The Insider - - TECHNOLOGY -

Do you ever think about how much data is on­line? It’s ac­tu­ally quite stag­ger­ing. Ac­cord­ing to IDC, in 2017 there was over 20 zettabytes of data on the in­ter­net (~22 tril­lion GB). That equates to more than 60 bil­lion GB of data be­ing cre­ated ev­ery sin­gle day. And if that’s not as­tound­ing enough, here’s an­other stag­ger­ing fact, 90% of all on­line data was cre­ated in just the last two years.

Driven by rapid tech­nol­ogy ad­vance­ments like the In­ter­net of Things (IoT) and blockchain, IDC pre­dicts that by 2025 data will be cre­ated at a rate of 463 bil­lion GB/day. Mind­bog­gling!

To­day there are ~4 bil­lion peo­ple drown­ing in a del­uge of dig­i­tal data, but still starv­ing for qual­ity con­tent.

But, what if ev­ery bit of news con­tent in the world was stored in an ethe­real blockchain? How would that help pub­lish­ers?

+ Con­tent would be im­mutable. That’s good.

+ Con­tent would be at­trib­ut­able to its cre­ator. Very good.

+ Con­tent would be se­cure. Even bet­ter.

+ Con­tent con­sump­tion would be trans­par­ent. Great.

+ Con­tent could con­nect cre­ators with read­ers. Ex­cel­lent!

Blockchain has a lot go­ing for it. It’s like the in­ter­net was sup­posed to be 30 years ago. But just like with the web, reach­ing read­ers with con­tent they don’t al­ready know about, but would most likely en­joy, will con­tinue to be an ever-grow­ing chal­lenge. Not so good.

Con­sump­tion and dis­cov­ery in 2018

Tak­ing at a look at the state of me­dia con­sump­tion in 2018, we can see that it is a good news/bad news story. The good news is that me­dia con­sump­tion is on the rise and is ex­pected to con­tinue for years to come.

But the bad news is that ad-sup­ported me­dia con­sump­tion is on the de­cline. And ad­ver­tis­ing is an im­por­tant part of most pub­lish­ers’ busi­ness model.

Bot­tom line — there is a grow­ing de­sire for qual­ity con­tent, but ad­ver­tis­ing (which is of­ten in­tru­sive, low qual­ity, and ir­rel­e­vant) is a de­ter­rent for those look­ing for me­dia on­line. But that’s not the only rea­son why con­tent dis­cov­ery con­tin­ues to move away from pub­lish­ers’ dig­i­tal prop­er­ties to al­ter­na­tive sources.

Ac­cord­ing to Reuter In­sti­tutes’ Dig­i­tal News Re­port 2017, 65% of peo­ple across all mar­kets (73% if you only look at GenY & GenZ) do not go di­rectly to pub­lish­ers’ web­sites and apps to dis­cover news.

It’s not that some peo­ple won’t end up at pub­lish­ers’ prop­er­ties even­tu­ally, but the ma­jor­ity of con­sumers still pre­fer to dis­cover con­tent through the side door. Why?

• Users of search en­gines, so­cial me­dia, and other ag­gre­ga­tors, on av­er­age, ex­pe­ri­ence more con­tent diver­sity than those who go di­rect. Peo­ple want choice.

• Th­ese side-door al­ter­na­tives also help peo­ple dis­cover con­tent they might not oth­er­wise see through ma­chine learn­ing that is becoming more and more so­phis­ti­cated.

• Ag­gre­ga­tors, in par­tic­u­lar, are becoming more of a des­ti­na­tion for news be­cause of their ex­ten­sive qual­ity con­tent choices and one-stop-shop con­ve­nience — espe­cially on mo­bile where it can be chal­leng­ing for users to jump be­tween mul­ti­ple apps and web­sites.

But whether peo­ple are look­ing for con­tent specif­i­cally (via search or ag­gre­ga­tors) or through serendip­ity (so­cial), peo­ple pre­fer side-door dis­cov­ery be­cause it’s where they are, it’s priced right (of­ten free), it’s rec­om­mended by friends/fam­ily/in­flu­encers they trust, it’s timely, and it’s easy to en­gage with (e.g. com­ment­ing, shar­ing, ref­er­enc­ing).

Most pub­lish­ers typ­i­cally don’t of­fer read­ers that breadth or depth of dis­cov­ery or any real sense of com­mu­nity, espe­cially those who slap a pay­wall in front of the lim­ited con­tent they do of­fer and those who shun user en­gage­ment by ban­ning com­ments.

Add the growth in so­cial me­dia use, de­cline in trust of me­dia, and pref­er­ences for al­go­rith­mic cu­ra­tion of news and it be­comes pretty ev­i­dent that peo­ple’s con­tent dis­cov­ery be­hav­ior is not likely go­ing to change any time soon.

I of­ten won­der why more pub­lish­ers don’t pro­vide a “de­signed to de­light” form of con­tent dis­cov­ery on all their dig­i­tal prop­er­ties. And be­fore you say it, ad­ver­tis­ing pos­ing as con­tent from the likes of Ta­boola, Out­brain, and RevCon­tent doesn’t count.

In the early days th­ese “con­tent rec­om­menders” (ad agen­cies by an­other name) of­fered sub­stan­tial fi­nan­cial guar­an­tees to pub­lish­ers (some as much as US$1M) to en­tice them to jump on board — and jump they did.

And de­spite their claims to de­liver a “bestin-class user ex­pe­ri­ence”, th­ese ad agen­cies re­ally only fo­cus on pub­lish­ers’ need for rev­enue and not con­sumers’ need for qual­ity con­tent ex­pe­ri­ences — un­less, of course, you en­joy see­ing creepy dis­play ads fol­low you around the web. It’s no won­der trust and ad-sup­ported

me­dia con­sump­tion is on the de­cline, and ad block­ing con­tin­ues to rise.

For the past two decades, me­dia ex­ec­u­tives have blamed the in­ter­net for de­stroy­ing their busi­ness. But truth be told, the paid cir­cu­la­tion down­ward spi­ral had al­ready started many decades ear­lier when ra­dio hit the air­waves. Since then the re­la­tion­ship be­tween pub­lish­ers and the peo­ple they serve has never been, what one might call, close.

Wal­ter Pin­cus, a re­porter for The Washington Post for 40 years, went so far as to say that news­pa­pers’ nar­cis­sism and pur­suit of glory was what led to the aban­don­ment of read­ers.

“My pro­fes­sion is in dis­tress be­cause for more than a decade it has been chas­ing the false idols of fame and for­tune. While en­gaged in those pur­suits, it for­got its read­ers and the need to pro­duce a com­mer­cial prod­uct that ap­pealed to its mass au­di­ence, which in turn drew ad­ver­tis­ers and thus paid for it all. While most cor­po­rate own­ers were seek­ing in­creased earn­ings, higher stock prices, and big­ger salaries, ed­i­tors and re­porters fo­cused more on win­ning prizes or mak­ing tele­vi­sion ap­pear­ances.”


Blockchain can only go so far

There are al­ready a num­ber of blockchain star­tups look­ing to cure what ails main­stream me­dia, but un­til our in­dus­try starts to fix it­self, tech­nol­ogy can only go so far.

Some are fo­cus­ing on solv­ing fair at­tri­bu­tion for con­tent cre­ators, oth­ers on the US$15+M/ day ad fraud cri­sis, and a few non­con­formists try­ing to con­nect peo­ple di­rectly with jour­nal­ists by re­mov­ing pub­lish­ers from the equa­tion com­pletely.

And then there are those look­ing to step back in time and dis­ag­gre­gate con­tent, which I find counter-in­tu­itive. Re­mem­ber, the com­mon de­nom­i­na­tors that make so­cial me­dia and ag­gre­ga­tors work are that th­ese or­ga­ni­za­tions fo­cus on the user and in­vest heav­ily in smart data and ma­chine learn­ing to al­go­rith­mi­cally-cu­rate con­tent that creates a more per­son­al­ized ex­pe­ri­ence for them.

Try­ing to put the toothpaste back into the tube by dis­ag­gre­gat­ing con­tent is the kind of back­ward think­ing that got pub­lish­ers in trou­ble 30 years ago.

Con­tent dis­cov­ery in the fu­ture

One would be hard­pressed to ar­gue that most me­dia ex­ecs de­test ag­gre­ga­tors, but the data shows that peo­ple love all that it of­fers them — choice, al­go­rith­mic cu­ra­tion, per­son­al­iza­tion, and con­ve­nience.

Which is why I be­lieve that con­tent ag­gre­ga­tion will be the foun­da­tion of a new, more prof­itable fu­ture for news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines. But it needs one more thing — mas­sive, in­tel­li­gent in­dus­try con­sol­i­da­tion.

We all know con­sol­i­da­tion is in­evitable and, done right, it will help purge com­mod­ity news, low-value jour­nal­ism, and bad ad­ver­tis­ing — leav­ing be­hind high-qual­ity con­tent (both ed­i­to­rial and ad­ver­to­rial) that’s easy and con­ve­nient to dis­cover, con­sume, share, and ref­er­ence.

In­tel­li­gent con­sol­i­da­tion + ag­gre­ga­tion can:

• Cre­ate new op­por­tu­ni­ties for con­tent dis­cov­ery by high-value au­di­ences who de­sire high­value jour­nal­ism

• Re­tain the in­ter­est of peo­ple longer be­cause they’ll get the right con­tent, at the right time, through the right chan­nels, at the right price

• Grow loy­alty and en­gage­ment be­tween con­sumers, con­tent cre­ators, and qual­ity brands that spon­sor ac­cess for peo­ple

• Gen­er­ate more rev­enue than what pub­lish­ers rec­og­nize to­day

We must live by the golden rule

Blockchain is a great place to ag­gre­gate the world’s best me­dia for a hun­gry global au­di­ence. But, and this is a huge but, for this to work, con­sol­i­dated me­dia ex­ec­u­tives must rec­og­nize that, de­spite their best-laid plans, new tech­nolo­gies like blockchain will con­tinue to cre­ate more value for peo­ple than it will for busi­nesses.

The in­ter­net over­turned the power pyra­mid three decades ago, putting con­sumers at the top. Our in­dus­try ei­ther re­fused to ac­cept that, or just chose to ig­nore it. Ei­ther way, it’s paid a very dear price for that ar­ro­gance.

To pave a new way for­ward the be­hav­iors and at­ti­tudes of our in­dus­try, shared by Mr. Pin­cus, must rad­i­cally change.

Be­cause all those aban­doned read­ers now own the gold and, like it or not, they rule.

Source: Reuters In­sti­tute - Dig­i­tal News Re­port 2017

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