Tuesday, June 6, 2017

From fragmentation to redirection to separation

Back in 2008, I spent a lot of my time blogging about FriendFeed. Often I would link to FriendFeed posts when writing about FriendFeed, but luckily for me I once chose to link to a Paul Buchheit blog post instead.

"Luckily," of course, because all of those links to FriendFeed conversations don't work any more.

Back to Buchheit.

To put the conversation into context, you have to remember that FriendFeed started as an aggregator that would simply reproduce content from Twitter or Google Reader or whatever. But as time went on, FriendFeed allowed you to comment on these things. Buchheit:

Although comments are one of our most popular features, they are also our most controversial feature. If you believe that there should only be a single, unified discussion, then the extra fragmentation caused by FriendFeed will seem like a step in the wrong direction. In fact, not only is there a separate discussion on FriendFeed, there may be hundreds of separate discussions within FriendFeed on the very same topic or link (because different people are sharing the link, and different people have different friend groups).

Buchheit thought that all of these fragmented conversations were wonderful. Needless to say, not everyone shared Buchheit's opinion. In a TechCrunch post, Nicholas Deleon was not enthused with what FriendFeed was doing:

Ah, but you can leave comments on feed entries some will point out and engage in a FriendFeed conversation. If most of the content on a FriendFeed is pulled from Twitter, wouldn’t discussing the points on Twitter be the logical outcome for the majority of people? Blog posts get comments on FriendFeed as well, but how rich an experience is a comment thread based on a headline with a link? As a publisher, wouldn’t you want people to hold these discussions on your blog?

Deleon - and Buchheit - may not have realized what was coming.

Back in 2008, people were puzzled over the fact that conversations wouldn't be held at someone's own site (i.e. a blog), but at some other site like FriendFeed.

By 2012, some conversations weren't being held at someone's own site because THERE WAS NO "OWN" SITE. The sites had been jettisoned in favor of Facebook and other social media sites.

T.J. Crawford, a Bank of America spokesman, says the bank dropped the blog because its social-media strategy is focused on Facebook and Twitter. "We want to be where our customers are," he says.

Hosting your content on someone else's platform is nothing new - remember how many companies had AOL keywords? - but these days, when you host your content on Facebook or whatever, Facebook runs ads that make money.

(And yes, I know that this blog is technically not "my own platform." But bear with me here.)

So now the content providers are fighting to get people off of the other platforms and on to their own sites again.

Where they can set up their own paywall.

But when you're behind a paywall, you're behind a paywall - something that the Wall Street Journal is discovering.

After blocking Google users from reading free articles in February, the Wall Street Journal’s subscription business soared, with a fourfold increase in the rate of visitors converting into paying customers. But there was a trade-off: Traffic from Google plummeted 44 percent.

The reason: Google search results are based on an algorithm that scans the internet for free content. After the Journal’s free articles went behind a paywall, Google’s bot only saw the first few paragraphs and started ranking them lower, limiting the Journal’s viewership.

I can see Google's point. A search engine should show you what can be found on the web. As far as I'm concerned, it shouldn't show me stuff that I can't get to.

The Wall Street Journal views it differently.

Executives at the Journal, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., argue that Google’s policy is unfairly punishing them for trying to attract more digital subscribers. They want Google to treat their articles equally in search rankings, despite being behind a paywall.

“Any site like ours automatically doesn’t get the visibility in search that a free site would,” Suzi Watford, the Journal’s chief marketing officer, said in an interview. “You are definitely being discriminated against as a paid news site.”

And yes, Watford used the word "discrimination." Person the barricades!

But Google isn't the only party who is affecting the Wall Street Journal's profitability. When all that content gets locked behind a paywall, someone's going to try to suck it out. How many times have you seen an article like this?

Panera Bread has managed to cut its wait time to order food from eight minutes to one minute, thanks to the company's efforts to boost mobile ordering, the Wall Street Journal reported.

That article was on Business Insider. So basically you don't have to go to the Wall Street Journal to find out what it's saying. And it's not just Business Insider:

The Wall Street Journal reported today on its front page that “The median pay for CEOs of the biggest U.S. companies was $11.7 million in 2016, up from $10.8 million in 2015 and a postrecession record, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of S&P 500 firms.”

That was from an American Enterprise Institute blog post.

Very enterprising.

Back in 2008, people were worried about how Pea and GeekAndAHalf would be having these conversations on FriendFeed. Now conversations are fracturing all over the place. And unlike FriendFeed, which never had a monetization plan (other than "have Facebook buy us"), there's a lot of money flowing around all of these fractured fragments.

Of course, this blog post itself is one of those fragments - which is why I like it when you click through the links to the original sources.
blog comments powered by Disqus