Who's Content is it Anyway?

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By: David Armano

For the past several years, since this whole "Internet thing" has really taken off—we've been told that handing over control in your content, your brand, your PR, etc.—is risky business.   Well it is—there are no guarantees.  Remember the Chevy Tahoe ads?  Give your consumers a blank piece of paper to write on and you don't know what they'll say about you.

But how safe is it to have complete control of your content these days?  A couple of stories have come to my attention recently.  At first—I thought they were totally unrelated and I planned on writing about them separately.  Now I'm not so sure.  In my Marketing Profs Webinar, I called out USA Today's re-design as a good experience citing the easy registration and social features as a big plus.  Media Post has just published a report which claims that registrations on USA Today are up a whopping 380%.

"USA TODAY'S COMMUNITY-CENTRIC MAKEOVER LAST month appears to be paying off in dividends. Indeed, the site has seen a dramatic 380% increase in registrations since the re-launch, while its unique visitor rates have grown 21% from February, according to Nielsen//NetRatings.

Targeting today's interaction-hungry readers, the Gannett-owned paper last month relaunched its Web site in the guise of a social network laden with video, blogs, dynamic content-sharing and recommendation tools.

As such, the new USAToday.com includes expanded user-profile and social-network capabilities, and public comment and content contribution tools across the site. In March, nearly 40,000 user comments were posted on the site."

Can this be chalked up to ROC (Return On Community)?  Well, not really.  The re-design offered huge improvements all around including a fast and simple registration process which never takes you off the front page.  But I do think that the social features have something to do with it as well.  So USA Today hands a little "control" over to their community and it turns out pretty well for them.

What about when we seek to control our content?  Is there any risk in this?  Traditionally there never was—but consider this recent development.   Bruce Nussbaum writes about the fact that he was not allowed to blog snippets from A Beautiful Diversion, a free downloadable PDF organized by GK VanPatter of NextD (a site dedicated to the design community).  Bruce writes:

"I was censored by GK and told I could not take the 50 comments off the pdf on his journal. This is what he emailed me: "I believe you have been ill advised in your “Enemies” mission. I don’t agree/share your views and ways, so honestly I have no interest in continuing Beautiful Diversion on your “blog”. We are quite happy with its present distribution. Thousands have already been downloaded from the NextD site."

OK, let this sink in for a moment.  First we have to ask ourselves "does GK have the right"?  Yes, GK has every right—the document is his doing.  And he exercised his right through expressing his wishes via e-mail.  Now, let's ask a similar question of Bruce—does he have a right to blog about his feelings of "censorship"?  Yes, he does. It's Bruce's blog and he exercised his right to speak his mind.  In the spirit of transparency, Bruce asked my opinion on this matter and I advised him that if he had strong feelings about this, that he should make it an even broader issue.  Bruce did just that—but he went further and added the details of his interaction with GK.  This surprised me, but I guess it shows just how strongly he feels about it.

I have to say that I'm fascinated by the dynamic of these events.  On one hand we've got mainstream media outlets such as USAToday and BusinessWeek either designing for their communities—or wanting to distribute it's content.  On the other hand, you've got a community member seeking to control the format of his content.  No disrespect to GK who I don't know—but I'm not sure what the design community gains by this move.  Nussbaum's blog has some quality readership, and to be honest—I'm not confident that the average businessperson would download the sixty page document and read it word for word.  In my opinion it wouldn't be a bad idea to get some of that content out to a broader audience in bite-sized nuggets.  Is this so bad?

So there you have it.  It feels a little like bizarro world to me, but I could be wrong.  I'll leave this post with a question put toward the contributors of A Beautiful Diversion.  Was GK doing the right thing by asking Bruce not to re-distribute your thoughts on his BusinessWeek blog?  The question seems only fair since you are the ones who provided the content in the first place.  Would love to hear from you.

Contributors: Sir George Cox, Tony Fry, John Thackara, Elizabeth Pastor, Anne-Marie Willis, Tim Brown, GK VanPatter, Neal Moore, Geoff Crook, George Kembel, Ellen Lupton, Thomas Noller, Mark Breitenberg, Kristian Bengtsson, Gill Wildman, Cameron Tonkinwise, Gunnar Swanson, MP Ranjan, Uday Dandavate, Richard Buchanan, William Tate, Paul J. Nini, Martin Mangold, Peter Schreck, Nate Burgos, Jaime Barrett, Birgit H. Jevnaker, Jean Schneider, Thomas S. Bley, Michelle Siegel, Chris Arnold, Dan Roam, Adam Kallish, Stefan Holmlid, Hans Kaspar Hugentobler, Alun Price, Nicola Morelli, Shelley Evenson, William Tschumy, Zachary Jean Paradis, Brett Patching, Leslie Alfin, Tiiu Poldma, Loretta Staples, Jørgen Rasmussen, Claire Hartten, Michael Erlhoff, Eric Niu, Alex Cheek, David Sless, Christopher Vice.

Original Post: http://darmano.typepad.com/logic_emotion/2007/04/is_control_risk.html