The Quest for Content 2.0

When your first – and most profitable – product is content agnostic, you can be forgiven for not thinking about content. Resources are rallied around the flagship, beefed up and a superstar is born. The superstar, over a period of time, meanders into the cash-cow category and the quest starts afresh for that Superstar 2.0. Quite the same seems to be happening out at Google. We are getting a bit ahead of ourselves though – let’s first tale a quick lowdown on the landscape

Eric Schmidt, ex CEO of Google speaking to Forbes named Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google as the four horsemen in the tech leaders pack (he used the accounting firm Big 4 metaphor). I do not have the gall to challenge Schmidt (except that the world of tech is a funny one and while this true now and in the short term, the medium term could throw up surprises. And in world of high tech the only other thing more foolish in predicting the long term is actually believing it). So we go with Schmidt’s assessment and look at the four knights in their shining armor. Facebook is a platform company – its monolithic, multi-purpose, multi-tenanted social platform is its strength. It is hugely sticky, quickly scalable and does not have to bother about content because the users are filling that bit up in a frenzied pace. Apple has long ceased to be a technology or a software company. Many argue – and with merit – that Apple is a hardware company raking in big bucks from selling super elegant, easy to use, irrationally priced hardware. Peel that layer back and the effort at owning content is apparent. Apple has been at it for a while to create a good ecosystem that allows content creators connect with content consumers. Its Achilles heel however has been that it is as yet a distributor platform for the content – it does not quite own it (and neither have been very successful in binding mass content creators into economically sound contracts. The movie studios’ refusal to play ball with Jobs was one reason why Apple TV never quite took off). Turning to Amazon we find ecommerce being a dominant source of its current revenue yet a perceptible change towards content. It is signing book deals to beef up its ebook content (content that it owns and not merely distributes) and some of the 70% of enterprise value that Amazon has from ecommerce is around content that it has closer ownership of (like Kindle Direct Publishing platform). So where does that leave Google?

In a bit of a fix, I would argue. Google’s key strength has been taking truckloads of content – not its own – indexing them and creating smart algorithms that bubble up the most relevant when you are looking for something. Searching someone else’s content, that is. There is a whiff of change though at Google in terms of understanding the power of content. Google Finance was an early example where the firm applied software skills on publicly available content or content provided by data vendors. Google Public Data Explorer is another example of the same approach – take reams of content (mostly abundant content from the public domain) and add value to it by applying a smart software layer. An adjacent approach has been to embed content in form of ecommerce via the Andriod Marketplace as embodied by the recently launched (and tepidly received) music service. But will Google ever try monetizing these in a manner different from how it relies on search for monetizing?

That is a multi-million dollar question and I would bet on that happening in the following manner. Google will go after content acquisition in areas where content is becoming commoditized and hence less valuable to the current owners. Google’s super smart engineers will then bring their technology and engineering competences to bear and create insights out of data in a manner that data owners cannot. It will allow that holy grail of content insight – commingling proprietary data with public to glean specific and localized insights. The firm has already trained its guns on primary sources of public data (the World Bank, OECD and such) and I suspect that momentum will continue and encompass primary sources that monetize their content (exchanges, central banks). It will not surprise me if Google at some point in time seriously takes a look at acquiring a pure-play content company

Content was once king – it perhaps still is but in an indirect manner. Consumers are not willing to pay for vanilla content. The value exchange point has shifted to either gleaning out intelligence out of the content at scale or delivering the content at precise workflow points to consumers. The obituary of content has been a touch premature as was celebrating its status as King early. Content is important but not in the form it is produced – a different entity needs to breathe life, and ergo economic value, into it

Wrlds Gng Fstr. Is It Any Good?

It stands to reason that the world is spinning quicker these days. Instant gratification is the new mantra of life and the wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am way of existence has permeated through the fabric of life in every sphere. My boss wants e-mails to be Blackberry friendly (that is, amenable to be read on the handheld without exercising the scroll-thumb too much), Murdoch wants the WSJ to not carry forward stories from the first page and Twitter demands that your posts be kept to below 140 characters. It merits investigation if the demand for brevity is a manifestation of our increasing disability to hold concentration over longer periods.

It is difficult to not notice that the world around us has become chatty. From the languid letters to terse e-mails to omnipresent instant messaging to the alphabet soup of txt (sms) messages – our communication styles has pared down to our attention span. Or is it the other way around?

A cursory glance at our main media of communications would reveal that we are being pushed to multi-threaded thinking. E-mails have (a) a subject line (b) distribution list (both “To” and “Cc”) (c) possibly (multiple) attachments (d) the text body and (e) (possibly) hyperlinks in the text body. The reader of the message has to successfully process and decipher information coming in from these several dimensions. It is not easy to concentrate attention into one of these threads. With brain processing power not increasing proportionately to thread-multiplication, it surprises little that we demand communications to be brief. Goodbye to deep thinking.

The diabolical force of attention scatter is amplified by chatty systems that have become part of our existence. E-mails keep hitting our Inboxes incessantly and it is virtually impossible to abstain from opening them up as they happen. Each such digression scatters attention and the pattern soon creates multiple branches of thought, slowly removing the thinker from the original thread.

Then there is Google. We can search for virtually everything in there and it has provided us with the ubiquitous replacement of thought. Why think when you can google? A click here and a flirt with a hyperlink there give us what earlier used to take days of painstaking research. Google is supporting the degeneration of the mind (because someday Google will be the mind) and is indeed making us stupid.

Senior executives, who by the virtue of their exalted cerebral capabilities should have been immersed in deep thinking about tomorrow, spend most of their days “doing” e-mail. In other words, spreading intellectual capabilities thin all over the Inbox. At the other end of the spectrum, software developers probably would love to get specifications written in txt shorthand. A Use Case document is a much heavy for them to read as it would be virtually impossible for a Business Analyst to produce.

The world we live in was created by deep thinkers and even today we are either urged or urge others to “think through” a problem. It is not easy for us to do that if we succumb helplessly to this chatty world. Reclaim your mind – maybe just shut down Outlook for 4 hours each day.

“Goog” – A unit of Plagiarism

It was a website, a service, that allowed registered users to create sub-websites (if I can use that term). A sub web-site was typically on a topic you would want to show your expertise on (or initiate/provoke a debate, for that matter). One could create as many sub-website as one pleased as long as the name wasn’t taken by someone else. The service is called Squidoo started by Megan Casey and Seth Godin. Squidoo just provides the service and the content, called “lenses”, is built by users. This is the great appeal of Web 2.0 and Squidoo was almost the Holy Grail.

A couple of days back Google put “knol” on public beta. Knol, purported to represent “an unit of knowledge”, is nothing more than a plagiarised version of Squidoo. Original thinking is briefly left Gooleplex. Product Managers are having it easy. Search cyberspace for interesting services (the blogosphere generally is a great place to start) and make a shortlist of those that can be launched with minimal investment and leveraging existing assets.

When was the last time something completely original and breathtakingly interesting came from Google?

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