Content is a Commodity, Community is Priceless

A significant discussion took place over the weekend and continued into yesterday evening. Sarah Perez provides a great write-up of the discussion that took place. This discussion is monumental. For the first time bloggers are becoming concerned about the same thing that media companies have been complaining about for the past 10 years as Napster sparked the beginning of commoditized content. Other sites can take our content and reuse it and ultimately take the conversation elsewhere.

One of the key offenders: Friendfeed. Friendfeed doesn’t stand alone though. Facebook, Digg and numerous other sites have been doing this for years. They take our content and other peoples’ content and offer it as a way to spark conversation on their site, not ours. This is substantial, they provide the venue for conversation to take place and take the content for free. I would argue that the key differentiator between friendfeed and the content creator is the community.

The battle taking place on the web is over community ownership. Ultimately we are members of multiple communities in our lives. If sites can build a community of passionate users around a topic that they are passionate about, then everybody wins. The only challenge is in how that content is leveraged and if the community members benefit from this usage of this new technology. The saying goes around that if we all raise the water level then everybody can float up and everybody benefits.

While I would argue that some peoples’ raft (or whatever flotation device they are using to stay afloat) eventually gets holes punctured in it, most of us get a net benefit. If you want to build value then build a community, don’t simply produce content. That has been the failure of blogs and while breaking news will always attract visitors, it is an unsustainable business. While content has become commoditized, it isn’t completely free. Fortunately though content has been commoditized into different subsets: high quality, medium quality and low quality content (not very original categories, I know).

We will not see the complete commoditization of content as a whole but in the end do you really want to be playing in a commoditized market? I don’t! Are journalists the next farmers? I hope not. Where I foresee the real value is in community. Mainstream media has destroyed this but fortunately thanks to their reach there is time to revive some of what has been lost. If you can become a central node for a community, you win and ultimately all the members benefit.

We are all content producers and we all deserve our fair share of revenue for the commodities we produce. In the whole scheme of things if you are in the content business, you better start building a community because that’s what matters. What are you doing to build community with your content?