On the future of content

Where the pendulum is swinging next

When we, as content creators and consumers, first engaged with the internet, we did so via platforms. We chatted with Usenet, we built websites using GeoCities, and we distributed electronic mail through Yahoo! Groups. This technology, as primitive as it was in retrospect, allowed us to communicate in a way we never could before. And these platforms were necessary for reaching each other.

Until they weren't.

As new breeds of platforms cropped up, we were allowed to steer clear of the noise on these legacy platforms and be the sole voice — control the mic, if you will — for a significant amount of the screen real estate. These new services, such as Blogger.com and Open Diary, seemed to almost completely distribute content creation and consumption back to the source. We even included comments after each post to encourage the dialog missing from this new content methodology. And these platforms were essential in stimulating a conversation that was owned by its creator.

Until they weren't.

All of this disparate content creation seemed to require aggregation, if you look solely at the next wave of content platforms. Disqus aggregated our comments, SlideShare collected our presentations, and YouTube pulled together our videos. The promise was that we’d reach even broader audiences or build even more powerful relationships with other content creators and consumers if we gave up our content to these platforms. These aggregated distribution platforms were great for driving engaged traffic to us.

Until they weren't.

One by one, these distribution platforms were acquired by mega corporations. And these institutions required growing revenue to appease their shareholders. YouTube inserts ads into your videos. SlideShare charges you for leads. Who knows how Disqus will change if and when they are acquired. The good news is that this uncertainty is swinging the pendulum again, although, this time, again in our favor. Just as the original content creation platforms gave way to individual content creation tools, these distribution platforms will give way to individual-owned, personal distribution networks.

And this is happening today.

It was revealed last year that WordPress now powers a fifth of the internet. That’s twenty percent of all sites, completely disaggregated, and entirely owned by their creators. And not just micro-sites, CNN, TED, and even the NFL all host sites on this powerful tool. Together, content creators using this technology write 33 million new posts and receive 48 million new comments each month. Maybe even more impressive is that these creators receive visits from over 384 million people, who view more than 12.9 billion pages, each month. And all of this happens with the creators retaining ownership of their content.

Our content is increasingly owned and controlled by us.

However, those 384 million visitors don’t just appear from thin air. We, as content creators and consumers, still rely on huge platforms to drive this traffic. We have to care what Google thinks of us. We have to troll for engagement on Twitter. We have to game the system at Reddit. And the worst part is that these platforms won’t let us get anywhere close to the top of our lead acquisition funnel. We may own and control our content, but not our relationship with our consumers from soup to nuts.

A critical element has been missing.

Not entirely missing, only missing to us content creators. Control over creation is one thing; control over distribution is a whole other. We’ll always seek out a new and novel way to distribute our content, just as we’ll always seek out a new and novel way to create it, but that doesn't mean we should always have to give up control.

And that is what owned and embeddable content becomes all about.

Embeddable content opens the door to new and novel distribution sources, new ways to measure engagement, and new means by which to promote our work. Imagine, instead of comments, visitors embed your content on their own site, responding in kind, and linking back to you as the source. And even more interestingly, imaging all the new and novel ways in which this new distribution would free you create content. Consider this: If you were able to host high-quality, embeddable videos on your own site, would you create those videos differently than if they were only going to YouTube?

You would. So would I.

We’d build in more engagement. We’d paint the canvas wider than the video screen. We’d maybe even add a lead form. How about other content? Presentations, for example. We’d build the narrative with flexibility, especially if we could granularly measure engagement. We’d slide active links and videos early into the deck. We’d maybe even add a lead form. We’d take even more ownership and pride over the entire experience.

Experience is the key, it increases engagement.

To learn where the next pendulum swing will take us, view the rest of this article at CitizenTekk.

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My thanks to Beth Kindig and Dat Mai for making this article possible.