It’s Not About Your Site Anymore

Amy Gahran
In your own home, you get to put the couch where YOU want it. Who cares if that’s not the living room?

Here’s another reason why learning to use a feed reader is a cornerstone skill for truly succeeding in online media today:

It’s not about your site anymore.In fact, it hasn’t been for at least a couple of years now.

In other words: The way online media works today, you’ll probably succeed more through participation and off-site distribution (syndication) than through publishing alone.

More and more people — especially, but not exclusively, younger folk (you know, the people you hope will become your community or customers someday) — prefer to craft their own custom hubs for information and interaction. That’s what’s driving the popularity of feed-supported, syndication-oriented social media experiences like Facebook, MySpace, MyYahoo, iGoogle, Digg, del.icio.us, YouTube, co.mments, Twitter, and podcasting. (And, on the bleeding edge, Zude, CoComment, and Pageflakes.)

It’s kind of like furnishing your home…

You set up house in a neighborhood that suits you, with amenities you value. You want your mail, news, entertainment, and other stuff to come to you there. You want people to be able to visit you there, but you get to control who gets let in or kicked out. You select furniture, cookware, and decor that suit you, and you put things where you want them.

People are creatures of habit, and most of us like to enjoy our homes. We typically venture out for variety or experiences that actually require a physical outing, such as a hike, or grocery shopping, or a family reunion. Generally, we don’t want to have to go to a TV store just to watch “Lost,” or out to a restaurant for every meal, or to the post office to pick up our daily mail. Too much running around.

The web is getting more and more like that. Hopping from site to site grows tedious and confusing. On other sites, people move stuff around without telling you. They levy “cover charges” of one sort or another, from having to buy a cup of coffee to being bombarded with sales pitches.

It’s a comfort to have some sense of home online — where most of what you want handy on a regular basis is available to you, in a known place and configuration, either for free or at a predictable, affordable price.

Therefore, if you want to continue to reach and expand your online communities (especially if you’re in the media business) you MUST offer flexible, robust, customizeable “home delivery.” In online terms, that means syndication — either via feeds or tools like widgets, browser add-ons, or Facebook applications.

People still want your content. They may even tolerate your ads (or welcome them, if you get really smart and creative about online advertising). But they want you to deliver it to them — and leave decisions about how and when they access and use it up to them. They don’t care about your site, and perhaps they never did.

If you honor that preference by making distribution and syndication the new focus of your online business model, you’ll be well ahead of the game.

But as long as your core business model and content strategy is based on luring out people to your site, you’ll be fighting a losing battle.

Think I’m wrong? Then start using a feed reader (even a basic, totally nongeeky one, like MyYahoo) for a few weeks, and see how your media preferences and perspectives start to change. You’ll start to get frustrated by content that forces you to jump to another site. You’ll start making connections with a greater diversity of sources and people who suddenly become apparent because of their smart online distribution. Visiting too many web sites will start to seem like a hassle, no matter how great their content. Investing major resources in site design will start to look frivolous — especially if you don’t offer decent feeds or widgets yet.

I dare you.

(FOLLOWUP POST: See Feeds: Getting Pretty Mainstream) 

6 thoughts on It’s Not About Your Site Anymore

  1. I took this dare about 6 months ago and have to agree.

    I’m now at the point where, if you don’t offer an RSS feed of any sort, I ain’t reading you. Simple.

    I also note that I am still happy to visit a site if I want to, like this, add a comment, but I also monitor several sites which don’t update very often… using their RSS feed means I don’t CARE that they don’t update very often because it doesn’t cost me anything. If they do post, Google Reader lets me know all about it.

    So, full feeds matter.

    Ohh and if you are just undertaking this dare, DO stick with it for at least two weeks. It took me almost two years of continual trying to ‘get’ the whole syndication thing, now that I have, I’m happily creating my own little sofa dent. (OK, maybe not so little).

  2. I agree that this is true for the bleeding-edge, early adopters, among which I count myself. I’m in the choir for your sermon.

    But in my experience, the average news consumer and person with a non-media job often has no idea what an RSS reader or aggregator is. Sure, an adventuresome few have discovered iTunes for podcasts or some server-side aggregator, like My Yahoo.

    It would be interesting to see surveys on what percentage of the general population have ever commented on a blog. Look at how few typically wrote to newspaper editors or called-in to radio stations — they’re a small percentage of the audience.

    Using your analogy, I see plenty of people who are perfectly happy to plunk themselves down in a furnished apartment and feel very little need to customize it. I suspect that most people don’t want to hunt, they just want to be fed.

  3. Answering my own post, it appears that Jeff Jarvis has found some numbers, by way of IBM and Om Malik: http://www.buzzmachine.com/2007/08/22/tv-explodes-the-chain-reaction-hits-critical-mass/

    “* 74% contributed to a social network; 93% contributed to a user content site. Who says that forums are only for nuts, blogs for early adopters, and photo services for geeks? Everybody’s making content. Why do they do it? Feel part of a community, 31%; recognition from peers, 28%. Conversation.”

    I suspect that this data may be skewed by the fact that it was based on a 40-question Internet survey. If it was based on a land-line phone survey of home owners, we’d probably get very different results.

  4. Gordon wrote: “If you are just undertaking this dare, DO stick with it for at least two weeks. It took me almost two years of continual trying to ‘get’ the whole syndication thing, now that I have, I’m happily creating my own little sofa dent. (OK, maybe not so little).”

    Yes, that’s a great point, Gordon. Trying out anything new takes time and always feels strange or even uncomfortable at first.

    – Amy Gahran

  5. Pingback: contentious.com - Feeds: Getting Pretty Mainstream

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