Friday, March 04, 2005

Chicken or Egg?

Neville Hobson commented on my posting on content & network following Blogging Planet’s launch (and gave me a great tip on how to set-up trackbacks on blogger with haloscan on the way).

My argument is that while it is difficult to have popular content without a network, it is even more difficult to build and sustain a network without popular content. I refer to “content” as articles, services, links or ongoing conversations. This extensive definition as opposed to articles alone could be the reason why our opinions appear to differ.

Blogging Planet uses the term “ecosystem” when referring to bloggers network. It is absolutely spot-on. One of the reason bloggers form networks is because they can extract value from their interactions. Members of such ecosystem play different roles and feed on each others. Some produce content, some comment upon others, some aggregate and relay information. The ecosystem works because they all contribute and benefit from it (traffic, recognition, dissemination of ideas, etc…).

I, like many others list NevOn in my blogroll because I think Neville writes thought provoking articles and because his blog often reference materials I like to read, thus saving me the hassle to find them elsewhere. On top of this, the comments I make on his articles allow me to get noticed, thus growing my own network and benefiting from the traffic to his blog. If the quality or frequency of NevOn’s articles were to drop, or if he suddenly shifted his focus to 15th century Norwegian poetry, I, like other members of his network could have less incentive to link to his blog as the interaction value will diminish. By loosing content he would loose his network too.

I therefore think that a content strategy is central to help reach the influencers and relays you need to build a network designed to fulfil your communication objectives. Content is what fuel your network and allows it to live and grow.

It’s an interesting academic discussion anyway: what comes first? Content or Network?

1 comment:

Neville Hobson said...

Nice rebuttal, Joel, thanks. Yet we are in pretty close agreement in this matter. If we argue which comes first, content or network, then we will perpetuate a classic Catch-22 conundrum. Or chicken and egg, as you said.

This misses the point. Original content does come first. Without it, how can you start to build a value network? So it's not about arguing which comes first. Indeed, there is no argument.

I'm glad you've mentioned the broader spread of what 'content' means - not only the originating story or message that you start with, but things like links and ongoing conversations. It's common to think of 'content' as just written words such as one post in a blog. That's purely the originator, the start point for developing the content from which you build your value network through the connections and conversations that enable you to then create the business value you're seeking.

Look at this example. We have my post in my blog, which was cross-posted from the Blogging Planet blog. There are your comments on my post - plus those comments here in your blog as a post - and my reply (this one). There's also a trackback on my post from a post on Jason Pettus' blog. All of these things are addressing the same topic - no tangential discussions - and all of these things therefore make up the content that started with the first post, the 'originating content,' if you will.

Content is an integral part of the network ecosystem we advocate - the total number of links, connections or pathways between your organization and its key audiences, both direct and indirect, as well as those links among your audience members themselves. Clearly originating content is key here, one of the foundational elements of this ecosystem.

But, as I mentioned in my post, it's not just about the content. Yes it's important, but the claim that 'content is king' - where that descriptor remains focused on the old way of thinking that if you have the originating content, that's all you need - is simply no longer valid.

I agree with your point that content fuels the network - if that means the content that develops and grows from the originating story or message.

Yet any continuing focus on content - does it come first, how important is it, etc - diverts attention and focus from the more important issue: the value derived through the creation, maintenance and use of a powerful network of ongoing conversations amongst the widest possible audience, all leading in one form or another back to your organization.

Pure content is losing its primary importance as a driver of business value. In the new participatory communication environment, the network is king.