The Link Economy goes Mainstream

I just read an article in the New York Times by Brian Stelter describing how mainstream news outlets like NBC and the New York Times itself are starting to link to other sites . This is a pretty radical change, since these sites have historically aimed to by sticky and thus maximize their customer exposure to their content and their ads.

The article quotes Scott Karp, chief of the Web-based newswire Publish2, justifing this “link journalism” approach by relating it to Google’s success: “It’s all about sending people away, and it does such a good job of it that people keep coming back for more.”

Blogger Jeff Jarvis (who is also involved with the Daylife news aggregator) offers a “golden rule” of links: “Link unto others’ good stuff as you would have them link unto your good stuff.”

As a blogger, I find a lot to agree with in the above. But I’m operating a niche site aimed at a highly targeted audience. And, while I aspire to have hoardes of readers, I am not counting on them for my likelihood. I’m not even monetizing my readership by selling their attention to advertisers!

But I’m not sure how well this approach will work for broad media outlets. As the article states, these news organziations are acting in effect like aggregators. So much for “content is king”. I exaggerate–I assume that none of these media companies are planning to dump their own content and reduce themselves to branded aggregators. Still, it is a slippery slope, and it’s hard to resist the lure of free content.

I’m curious to see where this all goes. As a user, I’ve moved from media loyalty (I grew up receiving the New York Times on my doorstep) to using media commodifying aggregators (Google News) to pulling together RSS feeds into my own reader. I suppose most people lack the patience, inclination, or technical sophistication to put together personalized newsfeeds. Still, I’m not convinced that it’s a good idea for media players who have valuable content to turn themselves into aggregators.

Rather, I think they should follow the advice of Dan Farber, vice-president of editorial at CNET Networks and editor in chief of ZDNet:

At CNET we link to our stories and to others. Generally if it is a standard news item that everyone has, we link to our version. If someone has the seed of a story or a take that helps to carry a story forward or deeper, we link to whatever. A challenge for all of us is finding and linking to content that we should point our readers at…often we don’t have the time to go figure who has the best take or where a story came from before it got refactored by the blogosphere…so we continue to improve on it every day.

I think this advice confirms Jarvis’s “golden rule”, but doesn’t go as far as Karp’s “link journalism”. If you are a media outlet, you should send your readers away if you don’t have what they want. But you should try to do a good job of having what your readers want. After all, you are a media outlet, not an aggregator or search engine.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

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