The internet is a decentralized world where hierarchies of value are loosely based around communities, as opposed to organizations and where identities can easily be faked by those who use it. It is, in other words, a nightmare to navigate in terms of who you know, who you trust and whose advice you can take.
Or it could be. It’s not because the human brain, ever adept at imposing its own sense of order upon the chaos has found a way to create a means through which the shortcomings of the internet’s disorganized structure can be overcome. That means is through content.
To be fair, before the internet, any kind of faceless contact has relied upon words to create a good impression. The Victorians, who before we came along were the most prolific letter-writers of all time, had a complex etiquette governing their letter writing that ranged from the matrimonial letter to letters for business, job applications, salaried positions and letters of introduction. As a matter of fact it is hard to find a subject they did not have letter writing guidelines for which shows how important their written communication was to them.
Coming away from the Victorian age content could still be relied upon to make an impression, which is why we got the never-ending stream of junk mail advertising, pamphlets and leaflets coming through our letter boxes, even to this day.
It is on the web though that content took on new value. The early days of the internet when even having a website was something exceptional were marked by the digitization of company brochures. It was a classic scenario of what was good enough to work offline, would work online (for a while at least).
Then SEO Came Along
Left to run its course the trend could have taken us from ‘there’ where we had an ‘official’ type of content designed to impress us with its flair and gravitas to ‘here’ where we use content to assess, evaluate and classify the authenticity, value and trust we want to place on each person we interact with online.
Search Engine Optimisation created an anomaly by encouraging two trends: First the kind of writing that put search engines before human readers and second the creation of reams and reams of content whose single intention was to create the impression of a large, authoritative website and game Google search.
In the cat-and-mouse game that ensued between search engine optimizers and Google the net losers were readers, at least in the beginning. As Google penalty piled upon Google penalty and Matt Cutts, Google’s head of Webspam team grew tired of saying that there was a real need for webmasters to “focus on quality” 2011 snack up on us.
The reason 2011 is critical to content is that this was the year we saw a raft to changes: Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithmic changes and the introduction of G+ suddenly made everyone sit up and focus on quality of content, regardless.
Content is How We Connect
Fast forward to present time. On G+, Twitter and even (gasp) Facebook content is being created, talked about, shared, curated and re-shared. Suddenly the whole world is either blogging, commenting, curating or everything at once.
The reason content has become so crucial in a connected economy is because it is the primary means through which we now assess credibility, bestow trust and vouch for authenticity. Brands that create content day after day find it hard to maintain the mask of the traditional top-down advertising of yore. They slip up, reveal a little of what they are (or more importantly, are not).
People who share content on the web use it to break the ice with strangers, find people they do not yet know who share their interests, discover like-minded individuals who are willing to interact on the subject.
In the connected economy, apparently, content is the new currency that allows us to unlock the value of:
- Originality – Some content creators are truly original. They generously share new ideas, fresh approaches and information they have at their disposal.
- Trust – By seeing what a person shares we begin to form an idea of who they are and what they represent. One could easily argue, of course, that telling who someone really is, is just as difficult offline, after all no one can get into someone else’s head, really. That’s true but with content shared, or generated at least you can see a lot more of what’s inside a person’s head than you could offline.
- Authenticity – Like a 20-question game, content shared, created or curated forms a jigsaw puzzle of sorts that allows us to tell whether a person is indeed who they say they are and believe what they say they believe or are simply ‘hiding’ beneath a public persona.
Like currency becomes valuable only when we can exchange it for goods and services so does content become valuable when it helps us form connections in online communities, exchange ideas and interact with others willing to consider the content being shared.
So, whether you are in the habit of producing your own content, curate others or simply comment and reshare, you are now part of the equation that generates real value in our online world. This gives you real power.
Use it responsibly.