Thursday, June 4, 2009

Faux Content

Bad content is proliferating on the web like the newly planted mint in my garden. It seems that everyone is happy to share content freely with others, just not very good content.

Here are some examples.

I was invited to a virtual trade show recently. The good news is that the cost to me monetarily was zero. The bad news is that I was treated to a boatload of content for which I had absolutely no use. The presentation I attended was full of research that looked intriguing at first because it had a lot of interesting mathematical equations and research terms but ultimately it simply confirmed what I knew on the basis of common sense. (Not to mention the fact that the "presenters" were sponsors.) The vendor "brochures" contained the same stuff that I wouldn't pick up at a regular trade show, and the chat session I attended was full of questions like, "How do I turn off my pop-up windows?"

Then today while I was browsing Twitter, I was directed by a fellow Tweeter to a YouTube video that was described as "deeply inspiring." What the guy in the video essentially said was "Do what's right, not just what's expedient." Wow. I don't think I've ever heard anyone say something like that before. I truly was hit the stop button and check my email instead.

My final example comes from a well known technology website that offers "White Paper Membership." This was the most disappointing experience of all because after I reluctantly gave them my name and email address, what I received in return was a recent white paper that could have been written almost a decade ago. It was chock full of generalities and sorely lacking in specific examples and useful information.

I think part of the reason this content problem is starting to become more prominent is that we have begun to devalue "intellectual capital." We've operated on the assumption that you can get content for free for quite a while now and as "crowdsourcing" has gained in prominence we have become less and less willing to pay for content. I think that subject matter experts are now starting to realize that giving away a lot of content for free doesn't necessarily result in a sale down the line so they're pulling back on what they provide gratis.

Of course there are exceptions and daily I find things on the web for free that are fantastic, but I think what we'll see more of in the future are micro payments for truly useful content. I used to think that I'd never (or very rarely) pay for content on the web but I've been fooling myself that I'm getting something for nothing when in fact, I've been emptying my "time and attention" wallet to pay dearly for faux content.


  1. I think the problem you've identified is fine-tuning the noise to find the content that meets your needs and expectations. Everyone is in a different place with his or her learning. I also think we're seeing the rise of micro-learning: digesting chunks of bite-size, dare I say it--byte size, relevant content that people can apply quickly. We’ve seen the rise of micro-interactions and micro-volunteering it’s only natural that micro-learning follow.

    In my opinion, the other issue you addressed is one that SMEs have faced for a long time: abundance mentality versus scarcity mentality. I don’t think that many SMEs have learned how to add value to their networks with social media yet. I am not willing to pay for content unless I’ve sampled it first, trust the author and see that it will add value. I won’t give my email for a free ebook or white paper either. (Neither will 49 people out of 50 according to figures from David Meerman Scott, author of World Wide Rave.) On the other hand, if a SME shares free valuable content with me, I’ll look for ways to share it with my network and possibly even hire them for my association. If they give it to me repeatedly, then I’ll become their evangelist. If they horde that intellectual capital they’ll reap what they sow, nothing.

  2. Jeff, thanks so much for your comment. I agree that if you horde intellectual capital you'll miss a lot of opportunities -- that's why I give away a lot of it for free. I do more of that in-person than online, but I definitely do it. My upcoming half-day workshop at WEC is one example. And of course I donated the 5000 word briefing paper on the Four Elements of Strategic Value to MPI. And I know you do the same generous sharing because I've followed you online enough to know that you are VERY generous with your content sharing and it is top notch.

    I do think, though, that SMEs who make their entire living off of the development and delivery of content have to find some workable models for content sharing and it's Terra Incognita for those who are just discovering how to do that online.

    I'd be VERY interested to know the circumstances under which you have hired people for your association on the basis of reviewing their free content online and what form that content took. It would be really helpful to know about that link between online content sharing and ultimately being engaged in a real assignment. That could encourage lots more people to do a lot more sharing!