Welcome to the home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Variance and general internet tinkerer. Most of my writing these days is happening over at Why is this interesting?, a daily email full of interesting stuff. This site has been around since 2004. Feel free to get in touch. Good places to get started are my Framework of the Day posts or my favorite books and podcasts. Get in touch.

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Content Creation and Organizing

I’ve been thinking a lot over the last few months about the impact of all the internet content creation going on right now. I, personally, have had this webpage for about 3 months now and I have found that it’s a great outlet for ideas, whether they’re just for fun or more in-depth and thoughtful. While I’m not getting a ton of hits, each month has seen more than the one before and I feel good about the feedback I’ve received. It’s certainly been a fun experience and while I don’t post as much as I might want to or think I should, I think/hope that the content that has made it up has been interesting.

This entry came about because I ran across one of Scoble’s latest entries titled “My message in a bottle to Bill Gates.” (For those that don’t know, Robert Scoble works for Microsoft as a technical evangelist and his blog is incredibly widely read. He has effectively given Microsoft a human face within the giant machine and has done tons for their PR. It’s a very interesting page and worth reading often if you’re interested in almost any facet of computing.) In this new entry, Scoble writes of what he’d like Gates to know to prepare Microsoft for the future:

This is a major trend. Microsoft should get behind it. Bigtime. Humans want to create things. We want to send them to our friends and family. We want to be famous to 15 people. We want to share our lives with our video camcorders and our digital cameras. Get into Flickr, for instance . . . It’s the urge to create content. To tell our coworkers our ideas. To tell Bill Gates how to run his company! Isn’t this all wild?

This is a new trend. While people have been creating content forever, it’s never been this easy and open. Thanks to the internet we can all be content creators, even if we’re only writing for those 15 people. What is more, when you’re creating content, you’re also consuming content differently. I know as a journalist that when I read certain things I am thinking of them in terms of how they fit into my ‘beat.’ When you’re creating any kind of content, even something like link blogging on del.icio.us, you’re constantly thinking about what’s good/funny/interesting enough to post. There’s a certain amount of critical thinking that is absent in the consumption when the creation side is divorced from it. Thinking back to college, it’s easy to see that when I was reading something that I would need to talk or write about I took more care in understanding what was being said.

What is more, when you’re creating content you have new needs and desires for how you receive and organize the content you’re commenting on. Scoble puts it like this:

Now that everyone is creating content, we want to consume it. That’s where news aggregators come in. NewsGator. FeedDemon. NetNewsWire. Bloglines. Radio UserLand. RSS Bandit. SharpReader.

And services that help us find content. Feedster. Technorati. Pubsub. Google. My Yahoo. MSN.

And services that help us organize our content. Deli.cio.us. My Yahoo. Outlook. And MSN? Google?

And systems that help us deliver our content. Bittorrent. iPodder.

My RSS aggregator has become a tool that has made my work much easier. Rather than visiting hundreds of sites a day to get the latest information on my interests (both personal and professional), I can now go to one place and have that content delivered to me, saving myself valuable content creation time. In my latest American Demographics article titled “This Way App,” I discussed the impact of RSS with Clay Shirky:

RSS changes the way people access information on the Internet. “It puts the onus of matching readers to content where it belongs: on the publisher,â€? explains Clay Shirky, a highly respected voice in the world of social software and a professor in the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University. “The old expectation was that the user would do all the work. Most sites are not updated that frequently. What RSS does is it lets people off the hook for searching. Everyone’s pattern before RSS was, ‘I’m not going to pay attention to a little Web site, I’m going to go to the big guys and trust them to look at everything else.’â€? Now, anyone with an aggregator has the power to pull information from any number of sources as it is published. You don’t need the big guys and you don’t need to visit 10 different Web sites for information in 10 different areas. You can plug the feeds for those sites into your aggregator and be informed of their updates as they happen.

In the past it was the big news organization who had real-time feeds coming in with breaking news. Today, we all have an incredible amount of access and that advantage of old media has been destroyed (if not completely, it’s almost there.) I’m not saying that blogs are on the same level as traditional media, just that the advantage the media used to have is gone. In a new Many-to-Many entry titled “The new IN list,” Kevin Marks is working on a ‘in/out,’ ‘tired/wired’ list “based on hierarchic vs emergent thinking.” He’s calling it the Tiered/Weird list. While it’s really just a fun idea, the list is really interesting. On Marks’ list, Britannica is ‘Tiered’ while Wikipedia is ‘Weird.’ More appropriate to my bigger point here, though, is Dan Rather in the ‘Tiered’ column versus the ‘Weird’ equivalent of Technorati’s Politics Attention Index. We don’t really need that one guy anymore telling us the news.

Technorati is not creating content, but they exist because of the need for new ways to organize information in our digital world. We are no longer comfortable having someone speaking at us, like Rather, instead a list like Technorati’s gives us immediate access to what people are interested in at the moment by ranking based on incoming links. While there are undoubtedly flaws with this system, it doesn’t exist in a world where all these people aren’t creating content. We are changing the way information is being processed and reported and it’s exciting to feel involved in some small way. We are taking back some of the power the mass media has held so long. Scoble’s point to Bill is that Microsoft needs to understand this and help feed the hunger.

Hint: Microsoft should be the fertilizer for this new garden. We should offer new platforms. New ways of building applications. New ways for developers to participate in this new garden.

The impulse to create is strong. The impulse to share is strong. The impulse to consume is strong.

It’s not just Microsoft, companies are going to need to understand the effects of this hunger to create that hasn’t really existed any time before this. Yes, it’s starting online, but this is sure to be something that spreads well beyond the digital world as consumers take what they’re learning and feeling online and move those lessons into the real world. How do we help to make our analog world feel more digital so that it’s properly programmed for this big change? Companies need to be asking these kinds of questions.

October 7, 2004